WOITALLA: Italy shrugs off the jeers

By Mike Woitalla
in Berlin

The fans who watched the World Cup final in Berlin's Olympic Stadium probably enjoyed the final more than the estimated 1 billion who watched on TV.

The festive atmosphere began an hour before kickoff. Fans belted out competing chants. They danced and sang along to the piped-in tunes, from "I Will Survive" to the "Triumph March" from Aida.

Shortly after French President Jacques Chirac, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, UN General Secretary Kofi Annon and Bill Clinton took their seats, Shakira performed her hit, "Hips Don't Lie."

The tiny Colombian pop star could barely been seen on the stage, but the stadium's jumbo screens provided a close view of her gyrations alongside American rapper Wyclef Jean.

These jumbo screens also provided replays of the game's two goals, near-misses, and the penalty kicks that gave Italy the World Cup title. They did not show replays of controversial incidents, a common practice designed to prevent inciting the crowd or embarrassing the referee.

And that's why the fans in the stadium were ignorant of the game's most dramatic turn.

The television viewers around the world saw what Zinedine Zidane did to earn his red card. So did the media in the press section, because they have TV monitors on their desks that show a different feed than the jumbo screen.

The fans in the stadium did not see is how Zidane, like a crazed bull, head-butted Marco Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the chest. It made Luis Figo's heat-butt of Dutchman Mark van Bommel in the round of 16 look like a love tap.

Figo's hit went unseen by the officials, just as England's Peter Crouch escaped the referee's notice when he committed perhaps the tournament's most egregious act of cheating -- yanking Brent Sancho down by his hair to score against Trinidad & Tobago.

Linesman Dario Garcia caught Zidane's assault and referee Horacio Elizondo ejected the French superstar, who had been playing particularly well and scored France's only goal.

"An ugly act," said German TV's commentator.

The replays showing action between the two players before Zidane's vigorous hit on Materazzi reveal the Italian tugs a bit at Zidane's jersey. The players exchange words. Nothing that could have justified Zidane's attack.

Zidane had positioned himself to launch into Materazzi at maximum force.

French TV's commentator screamed, "And why? And why? And why?"

But the French supporters and the neutral fans had not seen the incident. They assumed Materazzi was play-acting.

They reacted by loudly jeering the Italians.

Their whistles were ear-piercing for the final 10 minutes of the game, especially when Materazzi got the ball. They whistled when each Italian took his penalty kick, but none lost his nerve.

They whistled while the Italians celebrated. Jeers rained down upon the referee and linesmen when they were awarded medals.

Cheers erupted as the French runners-up picked up their awards on the center field stage until the Italians accepted their honors, when their own fans were drown out by more jeers.

But the Italian players danced like happy children. The jeers didn't matter. They are world champions.

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