Italy outlasts France in World Cup shootout |

Italy outlasts France in World Cup shootout

It is more than just a figure of speech to say that without great tragedy, there could be no glory.

Without the bloodshed, tears and true despair, the unrivaled magnificence of realizing what was previously only a dream would be impossible.

So without the looks on the faces of the French players after Italy’s Fabio Grosso buried the fifth penalty to win the World Cup, the elation of the Azzurri side would not be so special.

There are two great regrets a player can have ” the first is missing a penalty.

Shootouts are the only opportunity a goalkeeper has to truly win a soccer game, but in Italy’s World Cup final win over France, it was not Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon who won the game.

In this very rare World Cup final shootout, it was David Trezeguet who has to live with the sound of his shot ricocheting off the crossbar and ultimately leading to France’s defeat.

The other great regret a footballer can have is being ejected in a match that’s within reach, forced to watch his team battle on and ultimately lose without him.

For one of the greatest players of the Cup, Zinedine Zidane, to lose his head in overtime of a World Cup final and throw an off-the-ball headbutt is the epitome of tragedy.

While the world will wonder and scold Zizou and curse him for his lack of restraint, it is the retiring Zidane who will have to live the rest of his life contemplating his last international football action as a vicious headbutt that cost him a chance to win a second World Cup.

But in the end it is these tragedies that make the image of Fabio Cannavaro thrusting that polished golden Cup into the air and then being hoisted up above the heads of his teammates so glorious.

Despite being outplayed by France, it was Italy who persevered. Amidst a betting scandal from the Serie A and a lackluster first- and second-round performance, it was the Azzurri that managed to hang on and capitalize on the mistakes of its opponents.

One could argue that France handed the game to the Italians on two separate occasions.

First, of course, was Zidane ejecting himself by succumbing to the taunting of Marco Materazzi.

While Zidane may not have scored single handedly within the regular play of overtime, he was France’s star, and could have done anything at any time.

Surely he would have taken a penalty.

This leads us to the second French gift to the Italians: Trezeguet’s penalty blast off of Fabian Barthez’s crossbar for the only miss of the shootout.

In a shootout, if a goalkeeper blocks a shot, his save is often just as powerful as a goal for victory.

Just as such, missing a penalty is often like scoring in your own goal ” as was proven in Berlin.

While the match as a whole was a bizarre one, it was not without excitement.

For most of the 120 minutes of play, the ball found its way up and down the field, moved deftly through the French side, from Patrick Vieira to Zidane, to Frank Ribery and then to Thierry Henry.

Then it was back by the Italians, from skipper Cannavaro, through Luca Toni and Andrea Pirlo and up to Mauro Camoranesi.

It was nonstop and worthy of a World Cup final.

Stellar performances came from Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who was a top keeper throughout the Cup, and proved it in the final with stops off of Zidane’s head and Ribery’s boot, to name a couple.

But it was Italian captain Cannavaro in the back who held Italy in the game. His tireless tackles and distribution, as well as his leadership on a team of 11 strong, solid players ” but perhaps void of superstars ” was worthy of the cup he hoisted after the game.

On the French side, it was Henry who stood above all others. Henry pulled out his uncanny ability to cut through defenses single handedly. Coming back from a nasty elbow early in the game, Henry sliced through the Azzurri back line time and time again.

Youngster Frank Ribery was also a standout, not only in the final but in the Cup as a whole.

Twenty-one-year-old Ribery’s tireless runs and danger while on the ball was second almost to none.

That almost was Ribery’s mentor and teammate, Zinedine Zidane.

Thirty-four-year-old Zidane proved he is still one of the best in this World Cup. Unfortunately for him, he also showed his weakness in his last Cup.

In the end, Italy was deserving of its title. Despite being largely outplayed, the Italian side was strong and spirited. The French may have shown their superior talent, but sometimes that is not enough.

If a team has four great players leading the way but none of them can make it through 120 minutes of top-caliber play, then it will be the team with 11 strong work horses still on the field that will be left to kiss the cup that earns them the title of World Champions.

Alex Close is a sportswriter with the Sierra Sun. He can be reached at

The game started with an almost immediate goal ” a rarity in a World Cup final. It was a well-sold “foul” against Florent Malouda by Marco Materazzi in the area that led to a penalty in the eighth minute. Zinedine Zidane stepped to the spot and showed his mastery by confidently chipping the ball high off the crossbar, which it bounced off of and into Gianluigi Buffon’s goal, back up to the crossbar and out, all while Zizou jogged away, unconcerned and confident that his cheeky little ball had put Les Bleus up early.

It was Materazzi who made up for his dangerous but ultimately legal tackle in the box by leaping high above his defender to pound with his head an always dangerous Andrea Pirlo freekick past the diving hands of Fabian Barthez in the 19th minute.

A third goal came on another deadly Pirlo freekick that found the diving head of Luca Toni who blasted it past Barthez only to have it called back on an offside by the linesman.

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