Materazzi: Zidane Deserved Golden Ball

The Associated Press
Thursday, July 13, 2006; 7:51 AM

MILAN, Italy -- Italy defender Marco Materazzi insisted that French soccer star Zinedine Zidane deserved to be named best player at the World Cup despite his actions in Sunday's final

Zidane was sent off for butting Materazzi in the chest after the two exchanged words in extra time. The game finished 1-1 and Italy won its fourth title in a penalty shootout.

Journalists still selected Zidane for the Golden Ball award, and Materazzi disagreed with FIFA president Sepp Blatter's suggestion that the 34-year-old French captain could be stripped of the title.

"He won it for what he did on the pitch," Materazzi told the Gazzetta dello Sport. "He was the best."

Materazzi acknowledged he insulted Zidane, who he called his "hero," without giving specifics.

"I didn't say anything to him about racism, religion or politics," Materazzi said. "I didn't talk about his mother, either. I lost my mother when I was 15 and even now I still get emotional talking about her."

Speaking on Canal-Plus television on Wednesday, Zidane didn't reveal what Materazzi said, but indicated the insults related to his mother and sister.

Zidane, who retired after his 108th appearance for France, stressed that he felt no regret about his outburst "because that would mean (Materazzi) was right to say all that."

"My act is not forgivable," Zidane said. "But they must also punish the true guilty party, and the guilty party is the one who provokes."

FIFA is investigating Zidane.

© 2006 The Associated Press