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  • Did Italy Really Win the World Cup?
    Even when the Italians win, they somehow end up losing. Here's one fan's opinion of the decision to punish Italy's Marco Materazzi after France's Zinedine Zidane head butted him in the chest during the world's most viewed sporting event.
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    JULY 23, 2006 - I'm about to write something sacrilege. The spiritual should close this page and move on. Sinners, you can keep reading: Italy winning the World Cup might have been overrated. I always thought watching my favorite players hold up the world's most prestigious sporting title would induce a euphoria that lasted a lifetime - or at least four years. But just two weeks after the victory, which I experienced in Italy no less, the thrill is far gone. The mistakes of FIFA, soccer's governing body, have sucked the air out of my balloon way too prematurely.

    Just when I thought soccer couldn't get any more ridiculous, it did. FIFA up and gave Italy's Marco Materazzi a $6,400 fine and two-game suspension for getting head butted by France's one and only Zinedine Zidane in front of the entire world. Call me crazy, but I can't believe that the victim has to pay, too. (Zidane was fined $9,500 and given a three-game suspension, which he can't fulfill because he's retired, so he'll do community service instead.)

    Yes, Materazzi has a history of being "the animal" in Italy, and he's done some pretty stupid things in his day. I won't even mention the time he walked into an opposing team's locker room and punched a player in the mouth for no known reason. But he has already done his time for that stupidity, and he didn't hit anyone during the World Cup. He actually played better than he ever has. He's clean this time. It's a miracle - and we still punished him.

    I'm quite sure he did say something about Zidane's mom and/or sister during the World Cup final. But Zidane played in Italy for many years, and he knows saying something about your mom and sister is a common way to curse someone in the Italian culture. It's pretty meaningless. Besides, I'm all for fair play, but you have to be pretty naïve to think that trash talk isn't part of every game - from soccer to basketball and beyond. Zidane knows that and who knows what he said to the Italians? His own team was trying to use psychological tactics to win from the beginning of the game when France's Thierry Henri dove to the ground near Italy's "Berlin Wall" Fabio Cannavaro.

    The fact is that the "head butt heard round the world" could have killed Materazzi literally, according to heart specialists. If he had hit him at the right time, he could have caused his heart to stop. The fact is that Zidane wanted off the field earlier in the game. He motioned to his coach and asked to be taken out - and his coach refused. Then, he nearly scored, but Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon made a breathtaking save that will go down in history as one of the most beautiful actions of the 2006 World Cup.

    Materazzi's only "mistake" was scoring the goal to tie France and playing remarkably well as a substitute for Alessandro Nesta, who was injured early on in the World Cup games. In the words of my sister Rosaria, a poet in her own right, who spoke to me just after the final, "Sure, Materazzi may have been an a#@$%^* in the past, but that a#@%^* just won us the World Cup, baby!"

    Usually a hothead, Materazzi kept his cool with Zidane and seemed as shocked as everyone else when he got the air knocked out of him by soccer's legend, who was playing his last game ever. This time, "the animal" was Zidane. Case closed.

    Honestly, I'd be saying that even if I wasn't an Italian American. No one ever asked why Italian player Francesco Totti spit at a player from Denmark during a Euro 2004 clash. Totti took his punishment like a man, and we all had to accept it. Now, Zidane has to do some community service and pay what is a pittance to these overpaid players while Materazzi, who is at the height of his game, has to sit out the first two European Cup qualifiers. How is that at all fair?

    In the aftermath, Zidane's mother said she wanted Materazzi's "balls on a platter" if he said whatever it is she thinks he said. Is FIFA going to fine her, too? The next time, people say the Italians are ridiculous for feeling there is a conspiracy against them, I'm going to bring up this incident. There is definitely some bad blood between FIFA and Italy. FIFA President Sepp Blatter refused to hand the Italians their World Cup medals, which was proof - as far as I'm concerned - that no one in FIFA wanted to see Italy win it all. Well, too bad, buddy!

    I know Italy has made some major mistakes this year. The Italian league is falling apart, thanks to this match fixing scandal. But we're all paying for that, too -- farewell Cannavaro and Gianluca Zambrotta, who are heading to Spain's league next year. Frankly, however, the league scandal has nothing to do with the national team that shone so brightly this summer. If anything, the national team was out to prove its innocence by winning the cup - and it succeeded.

    While this punishment for Materazzi left a bad taste in my mouth. It still feels pretty good to walk into a sporting goods store and see the gear of Brazil, Argentina, U.S.A. and, yes, France in the discount bin. Then, when I ask where all the Italian stuff is, the salesperson responds, "We're all sold out since the World Cup win." Such beautiful words!

    Heading into the France and Italy match, I told my cousin Fausto that I wanted Italy to face Zidane's French side. That would be the sweetest win. It was - at least for the first two weeks. But FIFA couldn't stand it. The organization had to find a way to make Zidane win. You know what? That curse about Zidane's mom would come in handy right now, but I don't have thousands of dollars to spare, so I'll refrain.

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