Sunday, July 09, 2006

To the very end of his career, Zinedine Zidane could dictate the flow of play with rare skill and elegant control of the ball.

Italy and France will play extra time in their soccer World Cup final, which was tied 1-1 after 90 minutes in Berlin. They will have two periods of 15 minutes and, if the score remains locked, face a penalty shootout.

Zinedine Zidane, playing in his final game, scored from a penalty kick in the seventh minute before Marco Materazzi made it 1-1 from a 19th-minute header in the Olympic stadium.

France has won its past four World Cup matches that have gone to extra time and last lost at a major international tournament after 120 minutes in the semifinal of the 1996 European Championship.

It beat Italy in a penalty shootout in the 1998 World Cup quarterfinal and defeated the same opposition in the final of Euro 2000 on a goal by David Trezeguet as the game went to sudden death.

The World Cup final last had extra time 12 years ago, when Italy lost in a penalty shootout to Brazil.

Italy, which allowed one goal before the final, is seeking a European record fourth title, while France is trying for a second success after Zidane led the team to victory in 1998 with two goals in the final. Zidane, 34, is quitting after the match.

Zidane became the fourth player to score in two finals after the referee ruled Florent Malouda was fouled by Materazzi. The midfielder took two paces, chipped his shot onto the underside of the crossbar, and the ball crossed the line before bouncing out.

With France's defense struggling to defend corners, Materazzi rose to head Andrea Pirlo's kick into the net and make it 1-1 after 19 minutes. Italy hit the crossbar with a Luca Toni header from another Pirlo corner. It's the first final since 1986 in which both teams have scored.

The game opened up in the second half, with France making most of the chances as Italy's defense toiled to cope with the pace and skill of Thierry Henry.

The France striker ran through the defense only to shoot weakly at Gianluigi Buffon, he beat three defenders before crossing to get a corner, and then forced Buffon into a left- handed save with a low shot after 63 minutes.

With Zidane linking play between Henry, Malouda and Frank Ribery, the French looked to be getting on top only for Italy to create several scoring chances.

Toni was ruled offside when he headed a Pirlo free kick into the net. Goalkeeper Fabien Barthez then dived to his left to gather the striker's low shot.

France midfielder Patrick Vieira left the field with a hamstring injury, and Italy coach Marcello Lippi replaced Francesco Totti and Simone Perrotta with Vincenzo Iaquinta and Daniele de Rossi. Pirlo curled a 32-yard free kick wide of the post in the 77th minute. Alessandro del Piero came on in the 87th minute to make it three strikers on the Italian team.

The Italians won the sport's biggest prize in 1934, 1938 and 1982. Brazil leads the all-time list with five victories.

Italy scored twice in the last two minutes of extra time against Germany to advance to its sixth World Cup final and first since losing the shootout to Brazil in 1994. France beat Portugal 1-0, also on a Zidane penalty, to reach its second final.

More than 1 billion television viewers are watching the game, with former U.S. President Bill Clinton and French President Jacques Chirac among the 69,000 crowd in the stadium.

Lippi's team has shrugged off a match-fixing scandal back home to maintain Italy's record of reaching the final every 12 years since 1970. Juventus and AC Milan, Italy's most successful soccer clubs, are among four teams accused of corruption in the country's biggest sports scandal in 25 years.

Zidane exits the stage with a walk of shame

To the very end of his career, Zinedine Zidane could dictate the flow of play with rare skill and elegant control of the ball.

In the World Cup final, Zidane lost control of his temper.

The parting image for the France captain will forever be him rearing back in anger, lowering his head and launching his bald crown into the chest of Italy defender Marco Materazzi after the two exchanged words while walking down the field in extra time Sunday.

The game was tied 1-1 when Zidane was given a red card in the 110th minute. Without their sharpshooting captain, the French couldn't unlock Italy's defense and went on to lose in a shootout, 5-3.

"Zidane being sent off changed everything," France coach Raymond Domenech said. "Even in extra time the Italian team was waiting for only one thing, and that was penalties."

Domenech said he did not know what Materazzi said to Zidane.

"It's regrettable," Domenech said. "We regret it, he regrets it."

The strike to the center of Materazzi's chest was clearly intentional, and referee Horacio Elizondo of Argentina briefly consulted with his assistants before showing Zidane the 28th red card of the tournament, a World Cup record. The previous record of 22 red cards, set in 1998, was broken before the quarterfinals round began.

"I have not seen the replays, but if it's voluntary then there's nothing you can say," Domenech said. "But it's a shame. It's sad."

Head bowed, Zidane walked past Domenech but did not look at him. As he exited into the tunnel, his head still bent to the ground, he strode past the golden World Cup trophy and disappeared.

Zidane, whose sparkling play led the French to the 1998 title and carried them much deeper into this tournament than expected, previously said he would quit the game at the end of the World Cup.

Earlier in Sunday's match, he gave France a 1-0 lead with a seventh-minute penalty kick -- his 31st goal for France and third in a World Cup final.

Zidane was treated for what appeared to be a shoulder injury in the 80th minute; trainers took him off but he returned, holding his right arm awkwardly and wincing in pain.

Minutes before Zidane was sent off, France striker Thierry Henry was taken out in favor of Sylvain Wiltord. Early in the game, Henry bumped his head in a collision and crumpled to the ground, then went briefly to the sideline but returned.

A player of uncommon skill and technical poise, Zidane's command of almost any ball, his vision and penchant for big-game goals has earned him comparisons to the greatest creative talents in soccer.

His temper has been another matter.

Playing for Juventus five years ago, Zidane butted Jochen Kientz of Hamburger SV in a Champions League match, also earning a red card.

Eight years ago, Zidane was red-carded for stomping on an opponent while playing Saudi Arabia. At this World Cup he collected two yellow cards and was suspended for France's third group match against Togo.

On Sunday, his penalty kick got France off to a fast start. He chipped the kick into the air and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon dived to his right. The ball sailed over Buffon, hit the underside of the crossbar and dropped over the line.

Zidane raised an arm in the air as coolly as he had taken the kick.

It was Zidane's 31st goal for Les Bleus in 108 appearances, and fifth in the World Cup. He also scored a second straight penalty after notching the winner in the semifinal match against Portugal and had two goals in the 1998 World Cup final when France beat Brazil 3-0.

He almost scored a late goal Sunday in the first half of extra time, but Buffon tipped his powerful header over the bar.

France's success at this year's World Cup had much to do with the now-retired Zidane, including a penalty kick against Portugal in the semifinal. Taking two steps, Zidane sent the ball into the bottom left corner, just out of the reach of Portugal goalkeeper Ricardo Pereira.

Zidane also scored in the second-round win over Spain, a typically skillful goal which saw him cut inside a defender and then beat goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Against Brazil in the quarterfinal, Zidane played as well as he ever has. His precise passes split Brazil's defense, his fakes sent players the wrong way, and he even twice pointed one way as if to indicate the direction of his pass and then turned around sharply in his signature spin move.

So much for those pre-tournament reports that Zidane had lost his edge, which privately are believed to have infuriated him to the point of snubbing the press.

Reports of his hot temper, however, cannot be denied now.

Shakira the star of World Cup closing ceremony

Shakira will be the star of a brief closing ceremony at Sunday's World Cup final between Italy and France in Berlin.

The Colombian pop singer will perform her smash hit 'Hips Don't lie' during the 11-minute long ceremony while veteran group Il Divo will sing the official World Cup anthem 'The Time of Our Lives'.

'We don't want a rigid, serious ceremony but instead want to show that Germany is a country where you can dance and celebrate,' said Dieter Brell, the man who developed the ceremony concept, on Thursday in Berlin.

'I think it's enough time to ignite that flame.'

The show will take place on the terrace at the Marathon Gate end of the Olympic stadium as no activity is permitted on the pitch prior to the match itself.

Around 400 actors will be on hand masquerading as a wild horde of fans to help increase the atmosphere in the stadium. The performance will be choreographed by Doug Jack, the man responsible for the closing ceremony at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin earlier this year.

Apart from Shakira, there will also be a big-name appearance at half-time when Spanish tenor Placido Domingo takes to the stage to perform 'Willkommen bei uns', a song written by his son Placido Domingo jr.

The opera star, an avid football fan, has attended every World Cup final since 1982, when Italy beat Germany 3-1 in Rome.

The stadium, which has a capacity of 72,000, has been sold out months ago. The final will be beamed around the world to a television audience of more than one billion.

However, there is no place in the ceremony for 2010 World Cup host South Africa, although images of the country will be shown on the stadium's big screen.

'From a protocol point of view, we couldn't find a way to hand over the (hosting of the) World Cup,' explained FIFA's media director Markus Siegler.

'It wouldn't be possible after the final.'

South African President, Thabo Mbeki, will be in Berlin Friday to visit a FIFA exhibition dealing with the 2010 event and where the tournament's official emblem will be presented.

African footballing greats Roger Milla and George Weah are also expected.

There will also be a concert at the Brandenburg Gate Friday evening under the name 'Football for a Better World - From Germany to South Africa', featuring among others South African-born Xavier Naidoo and African star Youssou N'Dour. FIFA say that the event will be broadcast to 120 nations around the world.

Alongside Mbeki at the concert, where the symbolic handing over of the 2010 World Cup to South Africa takes place, will be United Nations General Secretary, Kofi Annan, FIFA President, Joseph Blatter, and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

Football's governing body FIFA has engaged Annan to promote the tournament after his term at the UN expires at the end of the year.

Germany tops Portugal for 3rd place at Cup

Portugal and Germany were level 0-0 Saturday in the World Cup's third-place match.

Both teams created chances in the match between the semifinal losers.

Germany goalkeeper Oliver Kahn played his first World Cup game since the 2002 final, when his mistake opened the way for Brazil to win 2-0.

Portugal was playing without captain Luis Figo, who is expected to retire from international soccer after this World Cup. Germany played without captain Michael Ballack, who was sitting out because of a knee injury.

With Ballack absent, Kahn was captain on his 86th appearance. Figo was replaced by Simao Sabrosa on the Portugal wing, while Paulo Ferreira came in for injured Miguel at right-back, and Ricardo Carvalho's suspension meant defender Ricardo Costa got his first World Cup appearance.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

France-Brazil to bring back memories

Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira is demanding more consistency from his exotically-talented team as Brazil faces up to Zinedine Zidane's recharged Les Bleus for a place in the last four against England or Portugal.

Also underscoring Brazil's quest for the 'Hexa' or sixth world title is that no South American team has won the World Cup in Europe, stretching back to young Pele's Brazil in Sweden in 1958.

Parreira, who once vowed never to coach Brazil again after the 1994 title victory over Italy because of the personal abuse he received for the way the team played, wants a more patient build-up rather than throwing away possession.

"We lack consistency with our moves. It's one thing to have speed. It's another thing to be in a hurry. We confused speed with hurry. We have been in a hurry too often and we have made a lot of mistakes," Parreira said ahead of the Frankfurt quarter-final. "What we have to do is work the ball around the pitch more before we make the move."

Brazil faces a recharged France coming off their 3-1 spanking of Spain in the round of 16 in Hanover and memories of their 1998 final humbling in Paris when Zidane scored twice in a 3-0 World Cup boil over.

Gilberto Silva, likely to play in the midfield in place of Emerson who has a knee problem, rates France highly. "France is a spectacular team full of great players and we will have to be at our best to get a result against them," he said. "I really believe that we are not playing to the best of our ability right now," the Arsenal player said. "We can play much, much better than this and we will need to if we want to go to the final."

France played their best football for years to beat Spain, but defender Lilian Thuram believes they will have to improve further if they are to have any chance of derailing Brazil's title defence.

The Juventus defender, who passed Marcel Desailly's record as France's most capped player last week against Togo, said: "It was good to come up against a talented team in Spain in the second round, we had to raise our game. Now we have to raise it again for Brazil, not only in terms of quality of play but also our level of concentration."

Thuram, who will be winning his 119th cap having passed Desailly's benchmark of 116 appearances, knows what lies ahead of his team in Frankfurt. "When you look at Brazil's players it's extraordinary the talent they've got, two Footballers of the Year in Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, Kaka, Adriano, Cafu and a very good keeper. They're favourites but the beauty about football is that favourites don't always win."

Thuram, along with Zidane, are playing in their last major tournament for France after being coaxed out of retirement during last year's qualifiers to help get the team to Germany. Saturday's winner tackles England or Portugal in the Munich semi-final on July 5.

Portugal beats England to Reach World Cup Semifinals

Neither England nor Portugal was able to score a goal in the 90 minutes of regulation or 30 minutes of extra time. And Portugal had a man advantage from the 62nd minute onward after England forward Wayne Rooney was sent off with a red card.

After being knocked about by a couple of Portuguese defenders, Rooney lost his cool and stomped on Ricardo Carvalho, then pushed Cristiano Ronaldo.

England captain David Beckham missed much of the game, as he had to be substituted for the in the 52nd minute with a knee injury.

In the shootout, the teams made good on only one of their first three chances. Helder Postiga then converted for Portugal and the attempt by England's Jamie Carragher was blocked. When Ronaldo's shot went in, Portugal had a 3-1 victory and a berth in the World Cup semifinals.

Portugal's Brazilian coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, through an interpreter, credited England for its effort. "We have to congratulate England because with 10 players they had an incredible match. I think it was electrifying," he said.

But it is Portugal that advances over England on a shootout, just like host Germany did over Argentina (4-2) in its quarterfinal on Friday.