Italy has won the World Cup in dramatic fashion by beating France 5-3 in a penalty shoot-out after the match ended 1-1 after extra time.
Just before the 2nd minute, French striker Thierry Henry was down on the ground after running into Fabio Cannavaro. Minutes later he was back in the game, giving the French side a sigh of relief.
Then, Florent Malouda was awarded a penalty when he goes down in the box with an "enhanced" dive. With confidence, Zinedine Zidane chips in the goal-colored ball that hits the crossbar and bounced just centimetres over the line. GOALLLL!!! What a quick lead for France.
In the 19th minute, Marco Materazzi bullet headed it over home from Andrea Pirlo's corner. GOALLLL!!! Now, both sides were levelled. Until the first half ended, Italy was looking dominant in the field with 58% possession.
In the second, both teams played to a more favorable pace. There was plenty of initiative by the French and their shots/passes were well defended by the Italians. Minute after minute, I became so nervous waiting for someone to be a hero. Indeed, I am seeing two very evenly matched teams battle it out tonight. Some finals are decided early on but this one is coming down to the wire.
Sure enough, the game continued to extra time. I was hoping that the game would not be decided by shoot-outs. That is just a cruel way to end a World Cup. If not because of some brilliant saves by the Italian keeper, France may have clinched the trophy. It was Zidane's 15 minutes of great play. The first extra time comes to an end and this thriller match looks to be ended in penalties.
Abruptly in the second extra time, Zidane was sent off for head-butting Materazzi in the chest. That is it for his career and it is a horrible way for him to go. France is now playing with 10 men in the dying minutes. Will Italy score, like the last minute goals against Germany?
The game is now between Gianluigi Buffon and Fabien Barthez. All of Italy's first four penalty takers scored, while the French missed one. In the end, the last penalty taker for Italy who was Fabio Grosso converted the decisive spot kick. Italy are now Champions of the World!
It was a fabulous finale. It was a story of joy and disgrace. It was schizophrenic. Despite red carded, Zidane was named the best player of this World Cup (Golden Ball Award). It is the third time in a row that a player from the losing side in the championship team won the award. Tonight as the Italians returned home, they will be accorded hero status and massive celebrations organized throughout Italy. The World Cup bids farewell to Germany and awaits South Africa in 2010.