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Sports | The head butt seen round the world shakes up France

Issue: "Unto the breach," July 22, 2006

One question lingered in France after the French team's collapse in the World Cup finale. What provoked Zinédine Zidane to deliver a vicious head butt to the chest of an Italian player at such a crucial moment?

When Zidane, arguably the greatest footballer in the past two decades, lost his head and earned a red card, he forced his French team to play a man down-a situation that prevented France from mounting an overtime attack.

The head butt attack came after Zidane and an Italian player, Marco Materazzi, exchanged words. Zidane was walking away when Materazzi said something more; Zidane then spun around and delivered a blow that knocked down the Italian.

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The Times of London, wondering what Materazzi's words were, hired a lip reader, who then worked with an Italian translator to deliver this verdict: Materazzi called the French legend "the son of a terrorist whore" before dismissing him with another crude, but more common vulgarity. The insult probably meant a lot to Zidane, a son of Algerian immigrants who remains proud of his North African roots.

Materazzi responded to the charges with all the hyperbole of a soccer player felled by a slide tackle: "It is absolutely not true. I did not call him a terrorist. I'm ignorant. I don't even know what the word means."

The pages of French newspapers reviled their star the day after the World Cup collapse. The headline in the French daily, L'Equipe: "Regrets Éternels." But French President Jacques Chirac wasn't so quick to bash the footballer after the loss. Chirac singled Zidane out for praise when he met with the nation's soccer club after they traveled back to Paris.

Zidane can take solace in this: Despite his team losing, he took home the Golden Ball, an award given to the tournament's top player. World Cup officials collected the ballots before the head butt.

Around the Horn

BASEBALL: Count fans of American League teams as those who enjoy the winner-gets-homefield-advantage format of the major league All-Star game. Since the victorious league in the All-Star game began gaining homefield advantage in the World Series, the AL hasn't lost yet. In the past 10 meetings, the Americans have won nine and tied once: Last week they rallied with two outs in the ninth to win, 3-2.

The evening before, Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard won the homerun-hitting contest, hitting 23 in all; last year, Phillies outfielder Bobby Abreu won with 41. Phillies fans can now hope that Howard's homers don't dwindle like Abreu's did during the second half of the 2005 season when he managed just six after the break.

HORSE RACING: Seven weeks after a gruesome injury at the Preakness Stakes, Barbaro still isn't out of the woods. For a while, it seemed like the injured horse had made it through the toughest stretch of his recovery. Now, an infection means the horse once again is fighting for his life. Dr. Dean Richardson, the horse's veterinarian, said, "We're going to have some tough days ahead."

STEROIDS: How far will Barry Bonds's personal trainer Greg Anderson go to protect his star client? Apparently, to jail. A federal judge threw Anderson in the lock-up after the trainer refused to testify to a federal grand jury. Prior to his current imprisonment for contempt of court, Anderson served three months for his role in the BALCO steroid scandal. This time, Anderson holds the keys in determining the length of his sentence.

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