All the spectacular goals, all the cards and controversy even over who lifted the trophy – all anyone really remembers is one particularly angry Frenchman’s head-butt. This was Germany 2006…
Italian football’s reputation is one built on defensive mastery and the ‘dark arts’ and in the summer of 2006, Marcelo Lippi’s side marshaled by the impenetrable duo of Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta put on a masterclass as the Azzurri lifted a fourth World Cup.
Cristian Zaccardo’s own goal the only one to find a way past Gianluigi Buffon in the group stages, Italy’s only concern at that point was Daniele De Rossi’s four-match ban for an elbow on US striker Brian McBride.
Buffon wouldn’t concede again until the final as Australia, Ukraine and Germany (after extra-time) were all broken down by the tremendously efficient, if not exciting, Italians.
In Italy’s way for a fourth World title was France, who had responded to their embarrassment four years earlier to impressively eliminate Spain, Brazil and Portugal. Zinedine Zidane had once more been the talisman, ably supported by Thierry Henry, but Zizou’s tournament was to be remembered for a moment of sheer lunacy.
The Real Madrid midfielder’s early penalty had been cancelled out by Marco Materazzi and with the final in extra-time the goal-scorers clashed off the ball. Words about Zidane’s sister sparked a furious response and as the experienced international drove his head into Materazzi’s chest, referee Horacio Elizondo had no option but to brandish red.
Italy were perfect from the spot and after David Trezeguet had hit the crossbar, Fabio Grosso stepped up to slot in the winner.
Zidane’s ill-discipline was far from the only moment of anger as 2006 saw a record number of yellow and red cards. None more so than in the last 16 clash between Portugal and the Netherlands, dubbed the Battle of Nuremberg. Russian referee Valentin Ivanov produced 16 yellow cards and four reds as Portugal snuck past the Dutch.
The stats weren’t helped when blundering ref Graham Poll showed Croatia’s Josip Simunic three yellow cards during a match against Australia.
England’s ever optimistic outlook that this was their year came to a familiar end with a red card and a penalty defeat. However, unlike in ’98 where David Beckham became public enemy number one, Wayne Rooney was spared that fate by Cristiano Ronaldo.
A stamp on Ricardo Carvalho saw Rooney given his marching orders and as Ronaldo led the protests a cheeky wink to the Portuguese bench after his Manchester United teammate walked off infuriated the British public.
But it wasn’t all red cards and hefty challenges, there were some beautiful goals too. Philipp Lahm’s strike against Costa Rica, Ronaldo (the original one) showing he still had it with goals against Japan and of course the volleys of Joe Cole and Maxi Rodriguez but none can compare to Argentina’s masterpiece against Serbia and Montenegro.
25 passes, almost every player involved, a quick change in tempo, Riquelme pulls the strings, Hernan Crespo back heels and Esteban Cambiasso finishes off one of the finest goals in World Cup history.
That Argentina side were supposed to go all the way but fell short on penalties to Germany and while the semi-finals had a familiar look to them, Ukraine’s run to the quarters on their World Cup debut was ended by Italy.
And that came after the Azzurri ended the hopes of Australia too. The Socceroos had followed Brazil out of Group F and almost shocked ten-man Italy only to be undone by a dodgy late penalty.