Skip to content

The Zidane Headbutt Italy Wishes Never Happened at the 2006 World Cup

Zidane Headbutt at the 2006 World Cup

The famous ‘Zidane Headbutt’ now sits proudly as a statue in the Qatari promenade for the World Cup in 2022 – I want to like it, but I can’t!

This ‘Zidane Headbutt’ really was one of those ‘where were you moments’.

Perhaps the most recognisable in the history of our game.

In this edition of our Ultra UTD Stories archive, we are going to look at not only what led up to this famous headbutt, but also the impact this had after the tournament. Particularly for the winners Italy, who probably wish that it never happened…

The Background of the 2006 World Cup

Don’t worry, we’ll be getting into the ‘Zidane Headbutt’ in a few words’ time, but for now, it’s key to understanding the setting against which it happened, and why it’s so sad that it had to stand out.

This is a weird one, as it almost never happened the way that it did.

Since the Second World War, Germany had struggled to keep ahold of their football reputation given the economic impact either of those wars had on the spot, particularly the Nazi propaganda forced through a procession of tournaments during Hitler’s reich.

Since then, it’s been a journey of self-discovery for the German people, who probably would have felt that their 2006 World Cup host bid was premature.

As did a number of the voters who downgraded their manifesto.

As we know from a number of reports coming from this latest World Cup bidding process for Qatar, there are a multitude of ways that FIFA have come under scrutiny for allowing money to drive home a host’s intentions over a genuine interest in being picked.

In all fairness to Germany, they didn’t fall into this category, and already possessed the infrastructure needed to be good hosts i.e. stadia, accommodation and transport links.

So, just because a number of fortuitous events brought it into their grasp, does not make them ‘unworthy’ of hosting the tournament.

Which they were happy to put to bed by the time the opening ceremony came around.

In hindsight, it’s a good thing they were there – as we deserved to see these teams flourish at their best without being hampered by any issues with the country they were in.

Who were the favourites to win the World Cup in Germany?

This tournament was the zenith of power for a number of key countries within Europe, while for some it would be the start of a new era for South America – for better or worse.

In order of how the odds were stacked, here were the favourites:

For more information on all the maths that went into it – click here to find out more.

  1. Brazil: Who else? Having won the 2002 World Cup in Japan/Korea with ease, it was suggested that the likes of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka and a promising Adriano would continue their momentum to win their 6th World Cup title.
  2. Argentina: Arriving as Olympic champions from ‘04, a young Lionel Messi guided under the tutelage of Veron, Recoba, Ayala and Riquelme promised much for the Argentineans in Germany, though balance would prove to be a key stopper here.
  3. England: Ah, the famous ‘Golden Generation’. It wouldn’t be a World Cup without the Englishmen being favoured through an international tournament, would it?
  4. Germany: I think this was slightly presumptuous to offer for the hosts, but Podolski, Basti, Lahm, Ballack – all very good players on their day. And with a history of playing with each other almost as often as the English team. So, why not?
  5. Holland: The home of ‘total football’, and boasting some incredible players across the European territories, they’d lost a bit of their aesthetic in the years gone by, but with Ruud van Nistelrooy up top – anything is possible, right?

You’re probably wondering where the likes of France and Italy are in this list, and the strange fact is that they fell so far down the pecking order, that they were relegated to the ‘dark horses’ of the 2006 World Cup, than any serious front runner by commentators.

That didn’t stop them proving all the doubters wrong to get to the Final at the Olympiastadion in Berlin. And they were both very good value for that honour.

The Final: France v Italy

Leading up to the final, a lot of the talk surrounded Zinedine Zidane.

And this was long before the words: ‘Zidane headbutt’ would write any headline.

Having already signalled his intent to retire from the game in April 2006, the cameras followed the balding genius’ every move through the procession of the tournament; knowing that a misstep from him or any of his colleagues could be his last ever on the international stage. 

Or even any stage at all, now that I come to think of it!

Like a man possessed, Zidane worked through that 2006 World Cup in Germany knowing that “it’s the only thing I want to focus on” and he wanted to win more than anything.

That match he played against Brazil was a masterclass that typified how good he was.

The ball stayed glued to his foot and the mastery of his movement was almost impossible to ignore as the Brazilians fell under his spell.

It was a beautiful performance, as Zinedine popped up wherever and whenever called to jink and shift his movement ever slightly to provide space for runners like Henry, Ribery and Malouda to break enemy lines and get into the advanced areas.

He was the main reason France advanced as far as they did, and would really need to be on his a-game if they were going to fall a dogged Italy side in the World Cup Final.

‘The Headbutt heard from around the World’

It really shouldn’t have been this way.

For either side. The ‘Zidane Headbutt’ really didn’t help anyone. And here’s why:

Italy were relegated underdogs coming into this tournament, and yet their application of the famous catenaccio way was proving impossible to unlock in 2006.

In Germany, their midfield of Gattuso and Pirlo, with a defence forming around Cannavaro and Nesta formed the ideal foundation for Vieri, Gilardino and Del Piero to force the pendulum the other way in search of one or two goals to bring the game into control.

Against France, this promised a tantalising yin to their creative yang.

Lest we forget, Zinedine Zidane might have played his best football in Italy as the prime creator in a Juventus side which was the scorn of the land for 3 or 4 seasons with him.

How Cannavaro and Nesta would deal with him, and the formation Marcello Lippi would form around them to stifle his creativity was a very intriguing discussion, and one that increased in volume with Zidane scoring a stereotypically grandiose ‘panenka’ penalty in the first half to tip the scales in France’s favour.

If you want to watch the rest of the game – FIFA actually has you covered! As they’ve uploaded the full match (without ads) on YouTube and is free to watch – here it is!

Then, with the game winding down and at equal pegging, it happened.

A rare moment of incredulity from one of football’s most suave figures.

“I’m not at all proud of what I did but it’s part of my past.”

In the post-2006 World Cup aftermath after the Zidane Headbutt

As the years have drifted by, Zidane finds some contrition to regret physically headbutting Marco Materazzi, but realistically, it was probably the act of doing so and getting sent off which leads to the source of his remorse. Acting out and getting his revenge for what Marco has said isn’t a reason for why Zidane feels bad – that much is clear.

But annoyingly for Italy (the would-be champions after the penalty shootout the Zidane headbutt had led to), the ‘Zidane heabutt’ had dominated the world press.

Newspapers. Interviews. Even Documentarymakers.

The Zidane headbutt went anywhere and everywhere. To anybody that would listen.

It took over the tournament, which was a pretty tough thing to do given all of the other controversies that took place e.g. The Cristiano Wink, the ‘Battle of Nuremberg’, the famous Cambiasso goal. Everything was a little too much for the persists among us.

This was a particularly irritating factor for Italy, who really could have used the World Cup as a distraction from what was going on back home.

Calciopoli: The Misery of Italian Football

Football has never been too far away from controversy.

Unfortunately, Italy in particular has proliferated this connection.

From Totonero, to a number of issues with referees and corruption (including with previous World Cup bids), the Calciopoli affair ranks as the most detrimental issue to attack Italy ever since the inception of the game in the 20th century.

In the ‘90s, they were arguably the most influential league in the world, and employed some of the game’s greatest players of all time in their prime.

But the external challenges modernity presented pushed Italy further into the background, and a few key figures at boardroom level felt the desire to try and get ahead.

Namely, Luciano Moggi, who was deemed central to an affair with a number of referees in Serie A to adjudge his Juventus team more favourably than others, and continue their dominance in the early 2000’s.

As the Netflix documentary ‘Bad Sport’ has done brilliantly to show, the entire enterprise came crashing down and Italy has barely recovered to this day. Juventus dropped to Serie B, AC Milan and a number of other big teams were docked points and Italy have been shrouded with this ‘cheater’s title’ ever since. Now, it would be hard to argue that Italian football is even in the top 3 or 4 leagues in Europe. How the mighty have fallen …

So, coming into this World Cup – with a number of their players at guilty clubs (but not involved), winning would be a source of national pride for a country that needed it most.

But no, all anybody could talk about was that stupid Zidane headbutt.

Living in the Aftermath

Italy barely had time to celebrate before the league season started.

Nor was there much impetus behind whatever parade took place.

The tribunal and court proceedings would continue until the statute of limitations freed Moggi of any meaningful time behind bars, and such was the nature of the scandal, that it also continued to take over much of the press attention from the beginning of the year.

Juventus playing in Serie B served a consistent reminder to what happened, too.

Italy then fell foul of the ‘World Cup Curse’ having failed to advance very far into the tournament four years later. So, the last, longstanding positive memory the football world has at the World Cup is a 2006 journey in Germany which they won, but nobody remembers.

Had the Zidane headbutt not happened. I think it would be very different indeed.

What do you remember most about this World Cup in Germany, and extra points to Gryffandor if you can hop into the comments below and not mention that Zidane headbutt. Seriously – I’m on the edge as things are!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *