Zidane headbutt most memorable moment

The most memorable soccer moment of 2006 came in the sport's biggest game - and nowhere near the ball.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:38 IST
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The most memorable soccer moment of 2006 came in the sport's biggest game - and nowhere near the ball. When Zinedine Zidane head-butted Italy defender Marco Materazzi in the chest, it not only brought down the career of one of the game's greatest players, it sullied the image of the game when it needed a lift and should have been celebrating its biggest occasion. The incident even eclipsed the Frenchman's audacious penalty kick that lobbed gently into the net and gave his team an early lead in the World Cup final in Berlin. Long after Materazzi's header had leveled the game, Zidane flattened the Italian defender in extra time. It was Zidane's final act in soccer and was a sad way to go out. After being red-carded, he walked past the World Cup trophy and, when Italy triumphed in a penalty shootout to capture its fourth world title after a 1-1 draw, he finished his career. It was typical of a World Cup that promised much but delivered little. The most talented players around - from Brazil's Ronaldinho to England's Wayne Rooney - flopped on the biggest stage. Instead, the cheats and the referees made their marks, one official sending off a World Cup-record four players in the Portugal-Netherlands game and another, England's Graham Poll, showing three yellow cards to Croatia's Josip Simunic before realizing he should have sent him off after two. There were high spots - notably Esteban Cambiasso finishing off a 24-pass move with a standout shot for one of Argentina's goals in a 6-0 win over Serbia-Montenegro. Germany did a great job of organising the event, which had less than expected crowd trouble and security problems, and coach Juergen Klinsmann took the team to the semifinals on a wave of euphoria and skillful, attacking soccer. By contrast, Italy won the title without making many friends. Italy scandal Against the backdrop of a match-fixing scandal that led to relegation for Serie A champion Juventus and points deductions for four other clubs, the Italians went to the World Cup determined to prove themselves. They were well-organized without being spectacular. Italy's best performance was a 2-0 victory over host Germany in the semifinals. But when the fireworks went off at Berlin's Olympic Stadium to mark Italy's triumph over France in the final, there was a sense of anticlimax. Fabio Cannavaro was chosen FIFA's player of the year and received the Golden Ball award for the top player in Europe. Cannavaro moved from Juventus to Real Madrid after the Italian club was stripped of both of the two most recent Serie A championship titles and was relegated. AC Milan, initially banned from playing in the Champions League, was eventually allowed to play in the qualifying round and has since made it to the knockout round. It was also docked points in the Serie A and similar punishments were handed out to Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina. Crowd violence continued to mar games in Argentina, while racism became the new threat in Europe both on and off the field. Wisla Krakow defender Nikola Mijailovic was banned for five games for racially abusing Blackburn's black striker Benni McCarthy in a UEFA Cup game, while a fan of Paris Saint-Germain was killed by a policeman after PSG hooligans attacked a Jewish supporter of Israeli club Hapoel Tel Aviv. The best team won The best team in Europe won the Champions League. FC Barcelona came from behind to beat Arsenal at Stade de France after the Gunners had goalkeeper Jens Lehmann sent off in the 18th minute for a professional foul. Although Brazil flopped at the World Cup, two of its clubs made it to the final of the Copa Libertadores, with Internacional beating Sao Paulo 4-3 on aggregate. Egypt's Al Ahly won the African title, South Korean side Chonbuk became Asian champion, and Mexico's America won the CONCACAF championship. Internacional then beat Barcelona in the Club World Cup final in Yokohama, Japan. Like the World Cup, the African Cup of Nations was decided on penalties. Egypt won the title after a 0-0 draw against Ivory Coast in the final in Cairo. At the World Cup, only Ghana made it to the last 16 from Africa, leaving a question mark over whether the continent has the organisational skills to make an impact on world soccer four years before it stages the World Cup in South Africa. The tournament in Germany created major movement among national team coaches. World Cup winner Marcello Lippi and Klinsmann decided not to stay. The United States invited Klinsmann to replace Bruce Arena but he declined. Major transfers In other major player transfers, AC Milan striker Andriy Shevchenko and Bayern Munich midfielder Michael Ballack both moved to already powerful Chelsea, which won its second England Premier League in a row. Neither made an immediate impact in English soccer, however, and got cool receptions from the Blues fans. There was as much action off the field as on it, from the boardroom to the courtroom. The arrival of Randy Lerner at Aston Villa and Eggert Magnusson at West Ham means that foreign owners are in control of six clubs in the English Premier League. Another consortium led by the ruler of Dubai, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, has made a takeover bid for Liverpool. Soccer lost one of its all-time greats when Ferenc Puskas, who led Hungary's ``Golden Team'' of the 1950s and won three European Cup titles with Real Madrid, died in November at age 79.