Referee Horacio Elizondo of Argentina (left) shows the red card to Zinedine Zidane during the 2006 World Cup final match between Italy and France at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, Germany, July 09, 2006. (BERND WEISSBROD / DPA)
BERLIN – It was the 110th minute in the 2006 World Cup final, with thousands of people watching in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium and hundreds of millions more watching on television. Zinedine Zidane and Marco Materazzi exchanged a few words when the ball was rolling elsewhere on the pitch.
Suddenly the Frenchman stopped, turned around and headbutted Materazzi on the chest. The Italian fell to the ground.
That gesture was the last thing Zidane did as a professional footballer. One of the best players of all time said goodbye with an unsportsmanlike action in extra time of a World Cup final. Since then, the story of the clash between Zidane and Materazzi has almost become a legend.
Zidane refuses to apologize to Materazzi, and Materazzi does not seem to care. There are several versions – some comical, some serious - of what may have happened between the two players over those 10 seconds, but the incident remains a mystery scores of interviews later.
The referee did not see the incident, but he was alerted to it by his assistants and sent off the captain of “Les Bleus” with a direct red card. That was the end of the career of the hero of France’s 1998 World Cup title.
A combo of TV grabs shows the foul Zinedine Zidane of France made to Italy's Marco Materazzi and the red card shown to Zidane by referee Horacio Elizondo of Argentina, during the 2006 World Cup final match between Italy and France at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, Germany, July 09, 2006. (PHOTO / DPA)
Zidane had said he would retire after the 2006 World Cup, and he never again played professionally after that. The match was 1-1 after extra time, and Italy won it 5-3 in the penalty shootout to claim the trophy.
“I apologise to football, to the fans, to the team. After the game, I went into the dressing room and told them: 'Forgive me. This doesn't change anything. But sorry everyone',” Zidane confessed years later in an interview with the Spanish daily El Pais.
“But to him I cannot. Never, never. It would be to dishonour myself. I'd rather die.”
I apologise to football, to the fans, to the team ... But to him I cannot. Never, never. It would be to dishonour myself. I'd rather die
Zinedine Zidane, former French player
With his sharp profile, his fierce gaze, his merciless smile, Materazzi coexists quite well with his hitman reputation, and he is not a man to demand reparation for his disgraced honour. “No comment,” he wrote on his website regarding a comic photo montage with an ironic "Merci beaucoup monsieur" just above the famous photo of Zidane’s back, as he headed to the changing rooms and walked past a World Cup trophy he would never get to lift.
What exactly did Materazzi tell Zidane for him to react that way? "What’s up, Zinedine? You haven’t lost the match yet and you’ve already lost your hair.” If the Italian had said that, Zidane would probably have laughed. But that is just one of the 249 satirical phrases that the defender gathered in his book What I Really Said to Zidane ("Que cosa ho veramente detto a Zidane").
Materazzi opts to laugh at the incident, and he donated the proceeds of the book to Unicef. However, he knows that in this story, as in so many others, he gets to play the villain. Following an investigation in which he was even questioned, the Italian was suspended for two matches, one less than Zidane, although the latter never actually got to serve the ban since he retired.
Months later, the defender, who retired in 2011 at Inter Milan, gave his own version of events in an interview. Materazzi explained that the clash happened when he tugged Zidane’s shirt. The Frenchman said, “'If you want my shirt so much I'll give it to you afterwards.” And Materazzi retorted that he would “prefer” his sister.
“It's not a particularly nice thing to say,” admitted the retired Materazzi, now aged 44. “But loads of players say worse things. I didn't even know he had a sister before all this happened."
Later, he admitted that he had added a swear word about the playmaker’s sister. Zidane, however, insists that Materazzi insulted his mother.
"It is not an excuse. But my mother was ill. She was in hospital. This, people did not know. But it was a bad time,” the former Juventus and Real Madrid player said. "More than once they insulted my mother and I never responded. But (then) it happened.”
“It” was one of the legends of World Cup clashes.
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