Fri, Jul 14, 2006 - Page 24 News List

Apologies, but no regrets for Zidane

WORLD CUP A relaxed Zinedine Zidane on Wednesday repeatedly apologized to his fans, especially to children, but said he did not regret head-butting Marco Materazzi


Zinedine Zidane takes part in a television interview in Paris on Wednesday, in which he explained his head butt of Italy defender Marco Materazzi during Sunday's final of the soccer World Cup.


The Zinedine Zidane mystery is not quite solved yet.

In his first, highly awaited comments since the World Cup final, the France captain only partly explained what caused him to head-butt Italy's Marco Materazzi: Repeated harsh insults about his mother and sister.

But Zidane didn't go into specifics about what Materazzi said. Materazzi swears he never insulted Zidane's mother. And FIFA is still investigating.

Relaxed and soft-spoken, Zidane repeatedly apologized to fans -- especially to children -- in several interviews on Wednesday, three days after the abrupt, violent act prompted his sending off in extra time of the final won by Italy.

"Above all, I'm human," he said.

The 34-year-old midfielder said he didn't regret the head-butt which marked the end of his 18-year professional career.

"I tell myself that if things happened this way, it's because somewhere up there it was decided that way," he told TF1 television.

"And I don't regret anything that happened, I accept it," he said.

Zidane sidestepped questions about exactly what Materazzi said.

"I would rather have taken a punch in the jaw than have heard that," he told the Canal Plus channel, stressing that Materazzi's language was "very harsh," and that he repeated the insults several times.

Zidane and Materazzi exchanged words after Italy broke up a French attack. Seconds later, Zidane lowered his head and rammed Materazzi in the chest, knocking him to the ground.

Zidane was sent off, reducing France to 10 men. Italy went on to win in a penalty shootout while Zidane -- an excellent penalty-taker -- was in the locker room.

The act of aggression scarred the end of the World Cup, with many warning it would tarnish Zidane's formidable legacy. He retired after the tournament, and he said his decision was definitive.

Zizou tells it like he sees it

* On the head butt:

"It is an act that is not forgivable, and I apologize to all the children who saw it."

"Do you think that in the final of the World Cup ... I am 10 minutes from the end of my career, and I would do something like that because it makes me feel good?"

"I tell myself that if things happened this way, it's because somewhere up there, it was decided that way. And I don't regret anything that happened, I accept it."

"I cannot say I regret my act because that would mean [Materazzi] was right to say all that."

* On what Marco Materazzi said to him:

"He said words that were very harsh, which he repeated several times. Words that were several times harsher than acts. They were words that touch the innermost parts of me ... Very personal things, my mother, my sister."

"I would rather have taken a punch in the jaw than have heard that."

* On his retirement:

"I won't go back on it, at least I hope so ... [the decision] it's definitive."

"I'm going to rest, and then move on to something else."

Source: AP

The French star stressed 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," he said.

"I was very seriously provoked," Zidane said, adding that Materazzi "said very hard words about my mother and my sister. I tried not to listen to him, but he kept repeating them."

Zidane's mother is reported to have been ill and taken to hospital in the run-up to the match. The Italian player repeated the insults "two or three times" and the third time Zidane reacted, he said.

For days, sports fans around the world have been riveted by the question: What could Materazzi have said to set off Zidane in the last moments of his career? Media from Brazil to Britain hired lip readers to try to figure it out, then came up with different answers.

Materazzi has acknowledged he insulted Zidane, without giving specifics. At nearly the same moment Zidane was on TV, excerpts from an interview that Materazzi gave were posted on an Italian paper's Web site.

"I didn't say anything to him about racism, religion or politics," Materazzi told the Gazzetta dello Sport.

"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," he said.

Zidane "has always been my hero," Materazzi said.

"I admire him a lot," he added.

Despite the head-butt, journalists selected Zidane for the Golden Ball award for best player at the World Cup -- though FIFA president Sepp Blatter has suggested Zidane could be stripped of the honor.

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