PART SEVEN: The Empire Strikes Back – 2006 World Cup

PART SEVEN
World Cup 2006

The Empire Strikes Back

Four years following on from its ignominious, damaging and crushing defeat to co-host South Korea at the second stage of World Cup finals and the debacle that followed – accusations of cheating, conspiracy theories and biasedness – Italy stood on the threshold of a fourth World Cup finals triumph. It was unprecedented for any European nation, even greater than that of host nation Germany – A penalty kick away.
This was amidst a major scandal within the national game with four clubs and 26 individuals to stand trial on charges of sporting fraud relating to alleged match fixing. Thirteen of Italy’s 23-man World Cup squad played for the four clubs on trial. Comparisons with 1982 were inevitable, as the Azzuri rose above the unfolding match-fixing scandal back home to scale new heights – any investigation clearly did not inhibit the team’s progress on the pitch as the squad-players understandably adopted a siege mentality, in regard to happenings back home.

Standing in the way of this history was French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, as the person that had glory within his sight was left-back Fabio Grosso.
Italy displayed a confidence in the shoot-out they had not shown in painful exits from the 1990, 1994 and 1998 tournaments. A Frenchman plying his trade in Serie A, David Trezeguet, missed the key spot-kick, France’s second that flew up past Juventus clubmate Gigi Buffon and ricocheted off the crossbar and away. It was the only one of eight missed, and had left the Azurri with one remaining kick and 4-3 ahead. Nemesis thus caught up with Trezeguet: he had scored one of the penalties with which France beat Italy in the 1998 quarter-finals and had scored the golden goal that beat Italy in Euro 2000 final. Sagnol had already completed his nations final spot kick in the spectacular arena of Berlin’s Olympic stadium.
It had seemed an eternity since Italy – only conceding its second goal – had fallen behind for the first time and to Zenedine Zidane’s outrageously cheeky chipped 7th minute audacious penalty spot kick, sending the world’s best keeper, Gianluigi Buffon, the wrong way before clipping the underside of bar and bouncing just behind the goalline. The effort was since equalised by Marco Materazzi’s powering header from Andrea Pirlo’s corner just 12 minutes later – the 147th goal of the finals. The Italian defender, only playing at centre-half because Alessandro Nesta had succumbed to injury, had himself righted his wrong after conceding the penalty (for Zidane’s goal) by tripping Florent Malouda after a clumsy intended interception. It had been an anti-climactic finish to a tense, eventful and dramatic contest (the sides locked at 1-1) in which a fully-strength Italy or France had not appeared like finalists after the first round – stumbling through the groups. The contest descended into a scruffy and gloomy chess match between two sides who offered only the tactical shapes and shifts to cancel one another out and lack the nerve for the grand occasion – with it no surprise that a shoot-out was the final outcome. Italy had faded physically in the second half and were looking towards a penalty shoot conclusion. France made most of the running, showing movement, spirit and creativity – but Italy stood firm and did not concede, showing a determination and conviction to survive a penalty shootout; Fabio Canavarro immense in defence, Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso dynamic in midfield.
As it turned out, the pendulum got swung by perhaps the World Cup’s most explosive moment, as the French suffered the dismissal of its super talisman and a rejuvenated Zidane. In the tragic final moments of a brilliant career he inexplicably in the style of a charging bull head-butted Italian defender and goalscorer Materazzi, sinking-plunging his forehead deeply into the chest of the defender, who crashed to the floor, this following a 110th minute altercation. The world looked on in confusion only for TV replays to show that the Frenchman had knocked the Italian from his feet, and that this was no dive in a tournament besmirched by play-acting.
Zidane had continued to push for an opening but began to be frustrated by the flagging efforts of both his teammates and his own body. Then suddenly, off the ball, the Frenchman retaliated to provocation with Argentine referee Horacio Elizondo, on the evidence of the fourth official Luis Medina Cantalejo, left with little choice. On a stage where one of the greatest players of his generation should have bowed out in a blaze of glory instead he was to depart humiliated, in tears and ignominy. His image (to some) tarnished by his hot-headed and shocking antics-actions, memories of the final forever blighted by the incident. Zidane, whose quiet demeanour always shadowed a hot temper, left the field wordlessly, passing the trophy with a rueful glance and sloping into football history. He had already done enough to earn the golden ball award as the tournaments best player. There were a record-breaking 345 yellow cards and 28 red cards issued at these finals. France, who had already substituted the somewhat misused lone striker Thierry Henry, its most impressive player of the final, thus would miss their two finest exponents for the shootout.
Italy’s appearance in this final seemed the more remarkable considering its performance at the most recent major tournaments of 2002 and Euro 2004, suffering humiliating first round eliminations, Italians say, contrived by Nordic nations, Sweden and Denmark conveniently drawing 2-2.
France had fared no better since the 2000 triumph over the Italians in Rotterdam. Humiliation at the 2002 World Cup of Japan/Korea was followed by a lacklustre performance in 2004 ultimately leading to a premature exit at the hands of eventual winners Greece. Zizou duly announced his retirement, only to be persuaded to return by a mysterious “voice in the night” – later revealed to have been his brother’s. Its performance in the original qualifying section saw them fail to defeat Israel (twice), Switzerland (twice), and Republic of Ireland (on one occasion).
Historically and notoriously slow starters Italy broke with tradition with a masterful opening display in Hanover, its tournament experience the telling factor in taming the spirited debutantes from Africa, Ghana. Its performance was ultra-professional and solid before the decisive and superior finishing in attack was to cut through an outfit that lacked the cutting edge possessed by its European opponent. Pirlo’s brilliant goal settled the nerves five minutes off half-time before Samuel Kuffour’s under-hit back pass was finished off by substitute Vincenzo Iaquinta. An eventful and controversial topsy-turvy duel followed with the USA, rich in incident but poor in quality ending in a hard fought share of the spoils. Daniele De Rossi for elbowing United States striker Brian McBride picked up a four game ban. Czech Republic, still shell-shocked by the Ghana loss and fighting for its own survival wouldn’t find the Azzuri, despite dropping Luca Toni, in any charitable mood, fully taking advantage of a Czech side weakened by injuries and suspensions; Italy duly winning 2-0. A second round victory over the courageous plucky Aussies owed more to fortune than any craft and a dive from Grosso (falling over a legitimate challenge) to win the late penalty after facing extra-time. Ten-man Italy showed organisation and spirit following the controversial dismissal of Materazzi. Substitute Francesco Totti expertly dispatched the gift past Schwarzer as Italy gained its revenge for a painful loss to Guus Hiddink’s South Korea at same stage 4 years earlier in 2002. Ukraine would be bowled over by a two-goal spree in a 10-minute second half spell, Luca Toni (though not in Paolo Rossi mould) adding to Zamborotta’s opener on 6 minutes. It was all too easy as bar a spell early in second half Blokhin’s side was never in the game, Italy displaying attacking ambitions considered alien by some of their previous teams. The confrontation with host Germany in Dortmund promised to be a contest of a totally different kind in front of 60,000 mostly partisan fans now rapt by a belief of ultimate victory with the chant “Berlin, Berlin, wir fahren nach Berlin (we’re going to Berlin)” now sung in full voice. The German side were unlike so many of its predecessors in so many ways. Though not the classic of the 1970 semi-final (Italy 4-3 victor’s a.e.t) it proved a tense ferocious-fast-paced hard fought battle and looked to be heading towards a penalty shoot-out conclusion. That was until left back Fabio Grosso on 119 minutes stationed on the edge of the area curled and executed exquisitely past Germany’s floundering keeper Lehmann. A minute later Italy, who had edged the balance of play, broke clear with a masterful counter-attack with Del Piero putting the finishing touch to end the dream of 80,000,000 populated Germany and send the small band of Italian fans into raptures. The snap had gone out of Germany’s legs as the emotional weight of domestic expectation took its toll – tearful players collapsed to the ground. Lippi’s positive substitutions were to prove vital as Germany’s suffered its first defeat in Dortmund after having played there 13 times.
Reaching the final was remarkable and totally unexpected for France with the turnaround in fortunes and brilliance of Zenedine Zidane (whom his team over-depended on) unlikely as it had been brilliant, written off by so many people as being too old too slow. Domenech faced heavy criticism for sticking with the ageing Zidane with his berators insisting that his languid style inhibited French moves. Only the recall of the veterans edged France through the qualifying campaign and kept Domenech in his job. Frank Ribery added a new dimension to the attacking armoury, and Henry finally raised his game when it mattered – he had a recent tendency to under-perform at the highest level. They were particularly strong at the back, with central defender Lillian Thuram immense as were Claude Makelele and combative Patrick Viera powerful influences in midfield.
France’s progress to the last 16 had been anything but spectacular or the finished product highlighted by traditional French weaknesses, performances distinctly underwhelming, and managed only poor displays in draws against Switzerland and South Korea. The drab 0-0 draw with Swiss meant France had equalled the World Cup record of going 4 games without a goal, though lone front-runner Henry ended the drought against South Korea. But a late equaliser by the Koreans meant France had to beat Togo by two clear goals to make sure of progress. Zidane picked up a booking in both, meaning he had to sit out the final game against Togo on June 23, his 34th birthday. France had to win, but their inability to score raised the possibility that Zizou, who had announced that he would retire from football completely at the end of France’s campaign, could have already played his final game. France would do just enough winning 2-0 and so were dragged back from the brink. Patrick Viera, captain in absence of Zidane, scored the first goal and then helped create the second for Henry – assisted with the presence of a second striker for first time – Trezegeut.
Controversy shrouded the contest with the Spanish after Thierry Henry feigned a blow to the head by Spain’s Carlos Puyol which led directly to the free-kick from which the French scored the second, decisive goal – the Spanish overpowered. France played with fantastic spirit against Brazil, Zidane, silencing the doubters and back to his best was fantastic, controlling play demanding the ball, his teammates playing with a great sense of purpose. Henry evaded the attention of the entire Brazil defence volleying home Zidane’s floated free-kick from close-range at the far post. The momentum continued as France marched into the World Cup final with Portugal defeated by yet another Zidane penalty, as they had 6 years earlier in Brussels. France showing desire and commitment were the more cohesive of teams and defended like lions as put by Thierry Henry who won the decisive penalty hit perfectly past Ricardo.
Since reaching the World Cup final in Yokohama, Germany had been in turmoil and free-fall, the pitiful showing and early elimination from Euro 2004 led to the resignation or termination of manager and former star Rudi Voller’s tenure. A new man was at the helm, Jurgen Klinsmann another former star striker, and Voller’s former striking partner. He had suffered routine ridicule before the tournament as a crank and a novice; his refusal to move to Germany from his California base had not gone down too well also. Performances in a series of build-up friendlies that included a 4-1 defeat to Italy were nothing to gloat about either, then there had been the reported differences over tactics between Klinsmann and Ballack (seemingly never fully fit and absent from opener) before the Costa Rica game. In the end they bounced back to win over the harshest of critics. Though most Germans expected the team to progress beyond an easy group, few believed it was possible that the team could recapture past glories. But as the finals progressed the fans believed that they could overcome the shortcomings. They possibly did play above themselves, and probably went out at right stage. They won more friends than could have been imagined, showing a new German face to the world as they combined traditional virtues of grind and graft with a refreshing attacking mentality and a pre-emphasis on unconventional ideas on fitness and mental preparation. A break from tradition saw the hosts rather than holders get the show underway and they did so in a style not often associated with German football. The bandwagon had been set in motion, goals to come thick and fast with an attack-minded approach that saw Costa Rica swept aside in a thoroughly entertaining flowing fare-opener in Munich’s futuristic Allianz arena in Klinsmann’s first competitive match as coach. Its best moment was the opening goal, a cut-in and smash from full-back Philipp Lahm that revealed Jürgen Klinsmann had retained the attacking instincts of his playing career. A dramatic injury-time winner by Oliver Neuville in a grudge Dortmund match with Poland secured the passage ahead, and roared on by 72,000 fans in Berlin the momentum continued with a 3-0 win over an already qualified Ecuador confirming them as group winners. The win over the Poles was Germany’s first win against a European opponent at a major tournament since their victory over the Czech Republic in the Euro 96 final. It was their best start to a World Cup since 1970 as suddenly the national mood gradually transformed from one of resignation to one of cautious optimism. The fired-up home nation had matured with every match and a second round duel with Sweden would be equally a non-contest and a walk in the park for a nation that had seen Luka Podolski strike twice in the first 12 minutes. Fan zones, showing matches on giant screens in open urban areas, were introduced and subsidised by sponsors. An estimated 750,000 fans packed the zone at the Brandenburg Gate for the contest. Klinsmann said he had never seen the team play like they had in the first 30 minutes. Their opponents then lost the plot as it got worse with Lucic picking up two yellow cards within seven minutes, for fouls on Klose – and then there was the wasted 52nd minute penalty opportunity, spurned by Larsson. Argentina would surely prove a different proposition in several ways, as there was an ugly end to an enthralling encounter between two World Cup heavyweights. A melee followed the hosts dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Argentina with one of star performers, Torsten Frings, who had snuffed out the threat of Riquelme to get suspended for the semi-final. He was adjudged to have punched Julio Cruz, as bad feeling erupted, after Jens Lehmann had put the Germans into the last four by saving Esteban Cambiasso’s spot kick. Argentine reserve Leandro Cufre was another dismissed as punches flew. Inspired by captain Ballack, Germany saved themselves from elimination with just 10 minutes remaining. A tense 120 minutes was followed by the drama of a penalty shoot-out, Germany proving once again they have no equals. It looked like they were heading for another shootout as the semi-final with a slightly superior Italy moved into the final minutes of a 120-minute marathon. Sensing certain defeat were it to proceed to a penalty contest – history was against them losing three in the last four World Cups – Italy went flat out and hit the German net twice; a cruel end to a thrilling match for the hosts. The tearful Germans departed with honour preserved and belief restored and did gain some consolation following a Bastain Schweinsteiger-led assault to gain a third-placed finish with a convincing 3-1 victory over Portugal; two goals from right-sided midfielder helping to make Germany the tournaments highest scorers with 14. Miroslav Klose picked up where he left off at the 2002 finals, scoring the goals that gave the hosts the belief they could go all the way and provided the cutting edge in attack with Lukas Podolski. He claimed the golden boot with five goals, even though he did not score against the Portuguese.
Portugal, the finalist of its own Euro final of 2004, for perhaps a slight over-achievement had emulated the success of the 1966 team by reaching the last four, this despite losing key players for the quarter-final through suspension following a second round clash with Holland. It was a tournament with all-European semi-finalists, including the same three from the 82 tournament – Italy, France, and Germany, minus Poland.
Portugal’s defeat to France in semis brought an end Scolari’s record breaking run of 12 consecutive World Cup wins – one after a shoot-out that included seven with Brazil – that equalled Vittorio Pozzo’s record, set with Italy in 1938. The man the English FA wanted to replace Sven Goran showed his pedigree and why he was in demand as the attacking talents of Pauleta, Deco, Ronaldo, Simao and captain Luis Figo – 33-years-old and in his last major tournament of an exceptional career. For Figo, displaying creativity, great technique, and fine possession play, it was a stark contrast from his mediocre performances in 2002 and at Euro 2004. Despite being overwhelming favourites they found the game with Angola far from being a stroll in the park, the colonial connections with them added an extra dimension to the opener. They had met twice before, most recently in 2001 in Lisbon when on that occasion, Portugal led 5-1 before the game was abandoned after Angola had a fourth player sent off following a brawl. A similar scoreline was on the cards when Portugal scored early through Pauleta, who did not score at Euro 2004. However, they failed to build as their opponents played their way back with some confident possession football, without ever threatening in front of goal. Limited, workmanlike and compact Iran had no answer to Portugal’s guile and technical prowess with first Deco opening before Ronaldo’s clincher. They ensured they would take top spot in the group with a tenth consecutive victory for Scolari, despite the coach omitting 5 players on yellow cards. It had been the first time in 40 years that Portugal had qualified for the next stage, in stark contrast to its mood after 2002. A hard won victory over Holland in a game that was an explosion of anti-football, disintegrating into a scrap and kicking match, illustrating the negative side of European football; four dismissals followed as Ronaldo survived systematic attempts to intimidate him – gamesmanship a let-down. In the final few minutes, dismissed Barcelona clubmates Deco and Giovanni van Bronckhorst sat arm-in-arm from the vantage point of a stadium step. England stood in its way of only a second ever semi-final appearance. The English had been defeated at the 1986 Mexico finals in Monterrey, as well as at Euro 2000 (3-2), and then finally in a Euro 2004 penalty shoot-out that followed a 2-2 draw. Portugal would be taken by England all the way with fatigue and desperation to set in. Cristiano Ronaldo, later blamed for the dismissal of Rooney, clipped home the deciding penalty for a 3-1 shoot-out win – Scolari to celebrate a third consecutive win over Eriksson. They found the semis a stumbling block after producing a performance unworthy of the occasion, failing to capitalise on its few chances it did not take; Scolari spending most of the evening flapping his arms in frustration after suffering his first defeat in 13 matches. The goal conceded was the first time they had been behind and tried any means to get back even resorting to diving from Ronaldo, jeered each time he touched the ball. Ronaldo was now firmly established as the tournament’s bad guy and was booed in Munich throughout, though he also rose to the occasion as something approaching a one-man attack. He was outshone only by Zidane, who was set to retire from all football at the end of the tournament and was determined to go out at the highest level. A foul on Henry by Carvalho gave him a penalty chance that he took with aplomb, succeeding against Portuguese keeper Ricardo where England had failed. Thereafter, despite the efforts of Ronaldo and Luis Figo, himself on a last hurrah, France were destined for Berlin; Ronaldo eventually shedding tears that were not met with much in the way of worldwide sympathy. Losing to the hosts mattered little in the third-fourth placed play-off in Stuttgart, Nuno Gomez heading in a consolation goal for a side already 3-0 behind.

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