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World Cup head-butt victim recalls infamous foul in final

The setting was a softball complex on the east side of town, so softball questions were asked first:

What brought Marco Materazzi to Las Vegas? Had he been here before? What about his prediction for the World Cup?

In halting English, the former star center back for Italy with a mean streak from Bologna to Sicily said he was working with local soccer youth in the 10 Champions Academy founded by Italian footballers.

That he much preferred games of chance played on a manicured pitch to those in a smoky casino.

That he liked Argentina (and possibly Spain) — an astute prediction given this was Dec. 1, when the tournament that ends Sunday when Argentina plays France in Qatar still was in the group stage.

But he knew The Question was coming.

The one about Zinedine Zidane of France head-butting him in the 2006 World Cup final.

When it finally arrived, it was like a soccer ball had come crashing through the Plexiglas. A young man seated on the picnic bench at the indoor soccer complex at Big League Dreams on East Washington flashed a red card.

“Feel free not to answer this,” said the young man who was on hand to translate, if needed.

Materazzi’s Wikipedia biography refers to him as “a controversial and provocative figure in football, known for his physical and aggressive style of play as well as his tight marking and strong, harsh tackling.” It mentions him receiving 60 yellow and seven career red cards. Unlike some Wikipedia bios, there are multiple footnotes lending credence to Materazzi’s.

He’s not exactly a guy you want to provoke before cappuccino is served.

Butting heads in Berlin

But Materazzi, 49 and still fit, knows The Question is coming. It’s inevitable. Like Bill Buckner whiffing on Mookie Wilson’s nubber in the World Series, it will follow him to the grave.

The head-butt.

The only time he didn’t see it coming was in the 100th minute on July 9, 2006, at Olympiastadion in Berlin when Italy and France were deadlocked 1-1 in extra time.

“No problem. We can resolve after game,” he said of the incident and the furor that followed.

He answered as best he could, given his limited command of English.

The head-butt between animated antagonists — both had scored the only goal for their respective sides — was preceded by Gigi Buffon, Italy’s renowned goalie, making a clutch save on Zidane’s powerful header.

Materazzi grabbed at Zidane’s jersey, trying to engage him as the two trotted up the pitch. Zidane sarcastically said that if Materazzi wanted his shirt, he would give it to him afterward. Materazzi insulted Zidane’s sister.

Zidane head-butted Materazzi in the chest and received a red card.

Minutes later, Materazzi converted one of the penalty kicks that lifted Italy to victory.

Four years later, Materazzi and Zidane shook hands during a chance meeting at a Milan hotel.

Satisfaction guaranteed

“The good newspapers explained everything right,” Materazzi said about bringing libel charges against three in Great Britain that didn’t.

People forget that Bill Buckner batted .289 over his career and won the 1980 National League batting title. People also forget that Marco Materazzi scored a goal and converted a penalty kick in the 2006 World Cup final.

“For me, was very important to score two goals in final. Maybe Pele scores two goals in final,” he said about the significance of excelling on the sporting world’s biggest stage.

It should have defined his career, not vilified it.

Mick Jagger agreed. Eleven days later, Materazzi and Italy teammate Alessandro Del Piero were called on stage by the Rolling Stones during their concert in Milan.

“I go for Foo Fighters. I go for Pearl Jam,” Materazzi said of his musical preferences. But he conceded “it was amazing” to receive satisfaction after the Stones sang about not getting away.

Would it have been more amazing had the encore been “Street Fighting Man?”

Materazzi smiled at the analogy to his take-no-prisoners style. Then he began to laugh.

This was a question he felt free to answer.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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