'I Decided To Put On A Little Show': Zidane v Materazzi Still Iconic 17 Years On

The chest-butt was historic not just in World Cup terms but for technology too
08:00, 09 Jul 2023

Florent Malouda shapes to send in a cross from the right. Around 13 yards from goal, Marco Materazzi feels the need to get touch tight to Zinedine Zidane in order to deal with France’s biggest threat, who is playing in his final game before retirement.

The Italy defender deliberately gets a bit too close for Zidane’s comfort, momentarily snatching the slightest thread of the number 10’s white jersey. The former world and European champion takes a surprising amount of umbrage given the lightness of contact, telling Materazzi that if he wants the French shirt so badly they can arrange a swap after the match.

That’s when Materazzi uttered the words which changed the course of World Cup history, and led to a glittering, glorious career ending with a sad walk past the golden trophy that was supposed to be Zidane’s destiny.

“I’d rather have you s**tty sister,” came the course response to the Real Madrid star’s offer, and the rage it built within Zidane coaxed the most infamous chest-butt ever to happen in a sporting arena.


The merits and justifications of the two players’ actions in that World Cup final in Berlin continue to be debated 17 years on. But what is not debatable is the legacy left by that flashpoint on July 9, 2006.

So many neutrals had wanted Zidane to go out on a high, but this was the opposite. It wasn’t a crowning moment but a reminder that he had always been prone to moments of madness. This was the 14th red card of his career, and while some were more innocent, from perceived dives to misjudged lunges for the ball, Zizou’s spell in senior football was littered with acts of retribution.

Incidents ranged from a head-butt on Marcel Desailly for his first sending-off, through a right-handed haymaker on Enrico Chiesa to a stamp against Saudi Arabia at World Cup 98. Another head-butt in the Champions League, an eye gouge in his latter days with Real Madrid. It’s fair to say his particular mode of exit from the grand stage shouldn’t have come as the biggest surprise.

But it was a landmark moment in terms of the way the decision was made too.

Referee Horacio Elizondo hadn’t seen it, neither had his assistants. It was actually after input from the fourth official, Spain’s Luis Medina Cantalejo, that the Argentine agreed that Zidane had to see red.

Quite whether Cantalejo had seen the incident in real time or afterwards through video footage remains a bone of contention. In the pre-Var days, the Spaniard should only really have acted on what he’d spotted with his own two eyes but once he’d had any hunch confirmed over the video he was duty-bound to act.

Elizondo claimed later on that he already knew he was going to send off Zidane before he made a symbolic jog over to the assistant referee Dario Garcia, since he didn’t want to be seen reacting himself to an altercation he clearly hadn’t seen in the first instance.

“I was asking myself questions: ‘Well, this player’s going to be sent off but how is that going to play? Are people going to understand it or not?” the referee told Fifa in 2016. “That was the doubt I had. So what I decided to do was to put on a little show, if you will.

“Everyone knows that when the assistant speaks to you, it’s because they’re telling you about something that’s happened on the pitch… That’s why I went over to Dario Garcia. I make as if I’m asking him what happened, and when I go back to where the incident happened I show the red card.”

It’s hard to believe 17 years have passed. Some will never quite get their heads around what happened that night, but it will forever be iconic. Many will forget who scored the goals, which player netted Italy’s winning penalty, or even struggle to tell you who actually won the game.

But the image of Zidane thrusting his head towards Materazzi’s chest is as much a pillar of football history as any of the brilliant moments we’ve witnessed over the years.


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