Well, that was a strange one. I cannot say it was a boring defensive struggle--or perhaps I should say that the first 19 minutes were not. When in the 7th minute Zidane scored the first goal from a penalty kick--an impressive PK, I might add, with how it bounced off the post barely inside the line--and then Materazzi knocked in a beautiful header in the 19th minute, it seemed like it was going to be an exciting back and forth.
But although Italy kept possession of the ball for a good bit of the first half, the score remained tied at 1-1 at the FIFA Hyundai Halftime pee break.
Then Italy seemed to fall apart, or more accurately, fall asleep. France kept nearly constant possession during the second half. Ditto in the OT.
But Zidane's headbutt in the second OT period was a real shock. I suppose he was playing in a lot of pain after the injury to his shoulder, and that probably made whatever Materazzi said to him that much harder to just swallow, but come on. He had been such a classy player to that point (or at least in what I've seen), and he had brought such good energy to Les Bleus, and then to end not just the 2006 World Cup but also his international career that way? I do not understand it. What did Materazzi say that could have made such a great player throw away his sense and his legacy?
And it was not as though it had been a dirty game to that point. Instead, I'd say both teams seemed to be treating each other with tremendous respect. When Thierry Henry went down early in the game, and seemed really REALLY hurt, everyone looked concerned, anxious. Nobody shunned an opponent who offered a hand after a rough tackle. The ref called a good game, not falling for each dive, but also taking seriously, for instance, trips from behind. Players seemed to respect and admire each other.
I do not need to tell anyone who follows the Italian national team how nervous I was going into PKs. (And again with the sportsmanship: Buffon and Barthez smacked chests and hugged each other before the PKs began, and their expressions showed that this was not some fake demonstration of mutual respect.) I kept hoping Buffon would put his enormous hands where they needed to be, but he did not need to. Although neither he nor Barthez touched the ball during PKs, Italy pulled it out.
I am happy that Italy won, but I come away from this game a little sad. I wanted to see Zidane be the champion he is, and he was for most of the game: from the 7th-minute goal, to playing through the shoulder pain that seemed at first that it might pull him from the game, he was poised to end his international career on a high note, whether France won or lost. I come away from this game less believing that Italy won, than that Zidane lost, and the game lost, and that just makes me sad, and a little sick.