On July 11, 2006 the Olympic Stadium in Berlin was not only witness to another Italian world cup triumph but also one of the most memorable incidents from world cup history. Following another goal in a world cup final eight years on from his two memorable strikes in 1998, Zinedine Zidane suffered a moment of madness which cost his team dear. With the score poised at 1-1 Zidane was seen to head-butt Italian defender Marco Materazzi and was promptly given his marching orders. It was the last involvement in any professional match for a player many regarded as the best of his generation and was a sad end to a glittering career. Zidane’s efforts on the pitch earned him the FIFA Golden Ball as he inspired France to some fantastic performances beating Spain, Brazil and Portugal on route to the final. It was a tournament that was indicative of the Frenchman’s glittering career – supreme talent often tarnished by indiscipline.
The Italians certainly didn’t go into the tournament as favourites and at times were extremely lucky in their progression, requiring a last minute Francesco Totti penalty to dispatch of a plucky Australian side in the round of sixteen. However, Marcello Lippi’s side embodied everything that is good about Italian football in just doing enough to ensure they progressed through the early stages of the tournament, then turning on the style when it was required in the latter stages culminating in a fantastic semi-final triumph over hosts Germany. Much of the Azzurri’s success emanated from two veterans of the Italian game in goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and Captain Fabio Cannavaro. These two players inspired Italy to one of the best defensive performances in world cup history with the Italian’s only conceding two goals during the entire tournament. Further forward the partnership of Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso provided the ideal blend of brains and brawn and were often the undoing of many sides. In winning the final on penalties Italy were able to put behind them a dismal record from the spot and for many to lay the ghosts of Roberto Baggio’s famous miss in the final of USA 94.
The positive, exultant atmosphere created at the German World Cup was aided by the success of the host nation with Jurgen Klinsmann’s side reaching the semi-final. It was an uncharacteristic German performance as it centered solely on attacking football and the scoring of goals. They were to finish the tournament as top goalscorers scoring a total of 14 goals in the process with the Polish speaking strike partnership of Mirolsav Klose and Lukas Podolski catching the eye. Klose won the Golden Boot with five goals and Podolski chipped in with three. The performances of the then Cologne based player also earned him the young player accolade ahead of such star performers as Antonio Valencia and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo is a name that has been associated with the world cup since 1994 and this tournament was to prove no different. The original reason for the famous name from the Brazil side was to score his 15th goal in a world cup making him the all time top scorer in world cup history with his strike against Ghana. The Brazilian stepped over the ball and rounded the keeper in typical fashion proving despite his many injury problems what a top player he has been throughout his career – it was however the main highlight for a Brazil side who going into the tournament as holders flattered to deceive going out at the quarter final stage. The young pretender to the crown Cristiano Ronaldo had a mixed tournament producing some mesmeric displays, but also showing a moment of bad sportsmanship in his wink to the bench following the dismissal of England forward Wayne Rooney in the quarter final clash. Ronaldo recovered well from the controversy to perform astutely in the semi-final loss to France amid a chorus of boos – something which would plague his career for the next few seasons in England.
A tournament which at times was poor, was able to produce some fantastic matches such as the quarter-final in Berlin between Germany and Argentina, which will always be remembered for Jens Lehman’s note reading penalty antics and the confrontation at the final whistle involving Gabriel Heinze and German general manager Oliver Bierhoff. Argentina was also involved in a fantastic encounter with Mexico which saw arguably the goal of the tournament by Maxi Rodriguez – his volley flying into the top corner. Another memorable encounter was in the group stages between Croatia and Australia as two sides who knew each other well were pitted against each other in the same group meeting in the decisive fixture to gain a place in the round of sixteen. The match was to finish 2-2 with both sides going all out for the win. Unfortunately English referee Graham Poll was to finish as the most memorable individual from the match booking Croatian Josip Simunic three times. A mention must also surely go to the round of sixteen clash between the Netherlands and Portugal in which there was a world cup record of 16 bookings with both sides finishing with nine men – also a world cup record.
Despite this indiscipline, there were some real moments of magic throughout the tournament seen culminating in another moment for the Argentineans, with their 24-man passing move ending up with Esteban Cambiasso firing past a humbled Serbia and Montenegro side. Alessandro Del Piero rolled back the years with his final sealing goal against Germany and Philip Lahm opened the tournament with a stunning strike followed quickly by another when Torsten Frings let fly. Other notable achievements throughout the tournament were experienced by Savo Milosevic, Philip Cocu, Lee Woon-Jae and Fabio Cannavaro who all won their 100th cap for their respective countries during the tournament with Cannavaro reaching this achievement while lifting the trophy in the final. An honorable mention must also go to Switzerland who became the first ever team to finish a world cup tournament without conceding a goal.
Going into the tournament the sides from Africa were expected to provide their customary upsets. The Ivory Coast nearly achieved this against both Argentina and the Netherlands despite losing to both, and Ghana were unlucky not to progress further than the round of sixteen, where they met Brazil in their first ever world cup appearance. The presence and achievements of these sides certainly added to the party atmosphere experienced throughout the tournament, and is something that they will hope to recreate come this summer’s tournament on their home continent.