World Cup Special: 18 Tournaments, 18 Moments – France 1938

Italy wear black strip

“A sporting system is the by-product of society and its political system, and it is just boyhood dreaming to suppose you can ever take politics out of sport” – Peter Hain

The question of whether sport and politics should be allowed to mix is one that is largely redundant. The lines between the two are blurred so frequently that at times they can be considered a single entity.

Down the years, sport and politics have collided in such a fashion that it has stirred great controversy.

The England cricket team was roundly cirticised for touring apartheid South Africa in 1982 and the British football team received similar treatment, albeit years later, for giving fascist salutes to Adolf Hitler in 1938.

In that same year, with the international climate primed for the outbreak of the Second World War, Italian football disgraced itself with a similar outpouring of fascist sentiment.

The Italians, the eventual winners of the tournament, were drawn to play France in the quarter final after battling past Norway in extra time.

With both teams playing in blue, Italy had to use a change strip after losing a coin toss, however rather then donning their traditional white kits they decided to opt for black on the behest of dictator Benito Mussolini.

Blackshirts, or camicie nere in Italian, were synonymous with fascist military groups in Italy in the run-up to the war and become symbolic of right-wing activism.

The decision riled the French, who had already staged a 10,000 strong protest at the Stade Velodrome ahead of the Italian’s opening game.

A much stronger side than France, and helped by inept goalkeeping Italy won the sporting battle but will be seen to have lost politically in the eyes of history.

It was the last time that the Italians would wear the strip but was the very beginning of a marriage between sport and political controversy.

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World Cup Special: 18 Tournaments, 18 Moments – Germany 2006

Zidane’s headbutt

“I’d prefer your whore of a sister.” Marco Materazzi

Zinedine Zidane and Marco Materrazzi are jogging out of Italy’s penalty when the Italian puts his arms around the Frenchman and tugs on his shirt.

“If you want my shirt that badly I’ll give it to you at the end of the match,” Zidane says and starts to run past him.

As he is still within earshot Materazzi retorts: “I’d prefer your whore of a sister.”

Zidane slows down, turns on his heels, and just as Materazzi cathches up with him he recived a headbutt square to the chest.

That is the sequence of events, with the words provided by Materazzi, which bought the curtain down on a glittering carer.

Before the game had kicked off, Zidane, fresh out of retirement to lead the French, had been named player of the 2006 World Cup.

It was Zidane’s second appearance in a World Cup final and his superb dinked penalty earned him a place among a select group of players who had scored in two separate finals.

France went on to lose the game on penalties, David Trezeguet missing the final spot-kick, which may have been Zidane’s if he had managed to stay on the pitch.

The headbutt incident transcended football and was even lampooned on US animated comedy Family Guy.

Some time after the game, Italy manager Marcelo Lippi said: “Too much importance has been put on this incident. It’s almost as if there is more talk about that head butt than Italy’s World Cup victory.”

The incident was the last act committed by Zidane in his career. The Frenchman announced his intention to retire from both his club side Real Madrid and France before the match.

And many commentators, outside France, have claimed that the incident has left an permanent stain on an other wise glittering care.

But Zidane himself – despite his critics – remains unrepentant.

When asked by ESPN if we hould apolgize for the incident in March, Zidane said: “Never, never. It would be to dishonour me. I’d rather die. There are evil people, and I don’t even want to hear those guys speak.”

World Cup Special: 18 Tournaments, 18 Moments – France 1998

The Ronaldo Final

For mere mortals who can only dream of kicking the leather for a living, the life of a professional footballer seems like a cushy one.

Being paid hundreds of thousands of pounds for international acclaim and all the celebrity trimmings are world’s apart from the drudgery of daily life.

But the pressure of the World Cup is like nothing else ever experienced. Case in pont – Ronaldo in 1998.

The Brazilian front man scored an astonishing 47 goals in 49 appearances for Barcelona before sealing a move to Inter Milan in 1997.

He was undoubtedly the best striker in the world the season before France ’98, leading the Nerazzuri to the Uefa Cup, hitting the net 34 times in all competitions.

In the run up to the final the all conquering Brazil squad entertained the world with impressive wins over Denmark and Chile, with Ronaldo, the eventual Golden Ball winner for player of the tournament, scoring four goals.

At times it seemed like the hosts France were destined to win the their first crown but a double from Zinedine Zidane and a third from Emmanuel Petit in a 3-0 victory over the reigning champions didn’t tell the whole story.

The night before the match, fraught with nerves, Ronaldo suffered a severe convulsive fit and almost swallowed his tongue.

Paul Chevalier the director of the Chateau de la Grande Romanie – the team hotel – told France Info radio station after the game that a number of the Brazil squad thought that the forward was dead.

Chevalier said: “For a time we heard people saying ‘he’s dead, dead, dead. It created a terrible atmosphere around the team which was clearly demonstrated later on the pitch.”

He added: “I suppose Ronaldo’s nerves broke. He has been under dreadful pressure and he is young,”

Initially Brazil coach Mario Zagallo left him out of the starting line-up, only reinstating the clearly unfit striker – then just 21 – to the side just an hour before the match.

In all the nationalist fervour it is easy to forget that footballers are not Gods but are still expected to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.

And for one brief moment we were all reminded that Bill Shankly was wrong. Football is not more important than life and death.