KUNG-FU HUSTLE: Konstantin Vassiljev, one of FC Levadia's most talented players, scored the winning goal for the Estonian team during their 1-0 victory over FC Flora on July 9. Vassiljev scored in the last minute of the first half. Levadia is currently first place in Estonia's premier league.
RIGA - Italy won the World Cup for the first time since 1982 after defeating France 5-3 on penalties July 9. The game was something of a disappointment following four weeks of truly glorious soccer, but then World Cup finals tend to be cagey affairs. France enjoyed far more possession and looked the likelier team to score until captain and playmaker Zinedine Zidane was red-carded in the 19th minute of extra time for butting Marco Materazzi in the chest. The incident was a bizarre end to the career of one of soccer's true greats.
Zidane had announced his retirement following the World Cup and having almost single-handedly helped France reach the final with several majestic displays, the final was supposed to be his glorious swansong. Instead, he had Italian lip-readers scrambling to try and see what Materazzi had said to provoke him so strongly.
Reduced to 10 men, and with key-players Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry taken off through injury and exhaustion, it somehow seemed inevitable that Italy would win the penalty shootout.
Italy has a poor record in penalties in major competitions, but coach Marcello Lippi has instilled an incredible sense of discipline and confidence in his team. After five perfectly taken penalties the Italians claimed the ultimate prize in soccer, confounding critics and overshadowing the enormous match-fixing scandal back home.
To begin with, it really seemed like it was going to be France's night. Zidane scored a delightfully audacious penalty in the seventh minute after Florent Malouda was bought down by Materazzi.
Materazzi atoned in the 19th minute when he scored with a powerful header from an Andrea Pirlo corner, and Italy came close again shortly after when Luca Toni headed against the crossbar.
But with the score at 1-1, France was by far the more impressive side. Marcello Lippi's men had conspicuously few shots on goal, while the more aged French team somehow conjured up the energy to release wave after wave of attack.
Henry came tantalisingly close a couple of times after some superb runs while Zidane forced a fine save from Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon when he hooked on to Willy Sagnol's cross with a well-taken header.
For all their efforts, however, the French simply couldn't find a way through an extremely well-organized and efficient Italian defense. Toward the end of the game, it certainly seemed as if Italy were intentionally holding on penalties, for even when France was reduced to 10 men with Zidane's sending off, the Italians seemed content to sit back and occasionally counter attack.
While Italy will no doubt revel in this victory for many years to come, France will rue the passing of one its finest generations of players in many years, which no one epitomized more wonderfully than Zidane.