The 2006 World Cup was an odd one for me. Having followed the tournament intently from the start, I flew to the United States the morning after England’s quarter-final exit (incidentally seeing the passenger next to you produce a newspaper with the headline of End of the World just before take-off does not lead to carefree flying) and subsequently the semi-finals and final itself barely registered with me. I watched the final flat-out on a motel bed in San Antonio, air conditioning on full, as I wilted in the early afternoon Texan heat on this day, four years ago.
France and Italy were not the expected finalists at the 2006 World Cup though after indifferent performances in their respective groups they had bludgeoned a path to Berlin. Italy had topped Group E thanks to victories over Ghana and Czech Republic, but they had looked vulnerable in a 1-1 draw with USA. In the knock-out stages they dispatched of Australia and Ukraine to set-up an epic semi-final with the hosts Germany that was eventually won by the Italians deep in extra-tme.
France had been even more uninspiring in the group stages, beginning with a goalless draw against Switzerland and a 1-1 stalemate with South Korea before eventually beating Togo 2-0 to ensure their passage through to the second round. In the knock-out stages the French would be severely tested though and they managed to peak when it mattered to get through three tough fixtures, defeating Spain 3-1 in round two and then going on to single goal victories over Brazil and Portugal to reach the final with Italy.
Arguably the player of the tournament Zinedine Zidane gave France an early lead, but he would of course self-destruct spectacularly ten minutes before the end of extra-time. Ultimately the final came down to penalties and Italy, twelve years after becoming the first side to lose a World Cup Final in a shoot-out, would go to the spot again to try to erase the hurt of Roberto Baggio et al.