It was a perfect farewell that wasn’t to be. A World Cup final, a Golden Ball award, a fairytale return to the sport, and the beckoning glory of a dream retirement. But all he could muster on the night of 9 July 2006 in Berlin was a furious walk past the World Cup trophy into the dark tunnel of French dressing room, leaving behind a trail of delectable possibilities and a prostrate Marco Materazzi.
All it took was one moment of miscalculation. It arrived in the 110th minute of the game, locked 1-1, when Zidane, who had dodged Italians’ barbs until then, snapped.
The incident occurred far from the action, and television cameras later caught Materazzi constantly saying something to the then 34-year-old. Zidane engaged in a briefed argument and seemed to be walking off before turning around and banging his head straight into the incoming Italian’s sternum.
The game was paused, and as ‘Zizou’ glanced at the scoreboard, it would not be too preposterous to presume that he would have let a sigh of resignation. He could also have smiled at the brutal irony of it all since the scoreboard would have flashed his and Materazzi’s names as the sole scorers from either side.
A red card followed, and as he casually threw away his captain's armband on the way out, he might as well have discarded France’s chances to repeat the 1998 glory. Italy won the final 5-3 on penalties as curtains came down on the French captain’s remarkable career. What adds to his legend was the fact that he was brought back from retirement by then coach Raymond Domenech as France struggled in World Cup qualifiers.
Not only was Zidane instrumental in France securing a World Cup berth, his superlative displays in the quarter-final against Brazil, where he was adjudged Man of the Match, and in semi-final against Portugal, which was decided by his penalty kick, ensured that his final gig at the sport’s grandest stage was a performance for the ages.
Zidane later said Materazzi insulted his ailing mother and refused to apologise.
"Of course I reproach myself," Zidane told El País. "But, if I say 'sorry', I would also be admitting that what he himself did was normal. And for me it was not normal,” he said.
Materazzi conceded he said some “stupid things”, but added that the reaction from Zidane was unwarranted. The Italian clarified that the comments were directed at the Frenchman’s sister and not his ailing mother. Whatever the trigger, Zidane’s moment of indiscretion did cost him a World Cup winners’ medal he so thoroughly deserved and added a tragic-dramatic chapter in sport’s history.
Updated Date: Jun 06, 2018 19:41 PM