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FIFA to open disciplinary investigation into Zidane's head-butt

Associated Press

Zurich — France has forgiven Zinedine Zidane for his savage head-butt in the World Cup final. Exactly what prompted his violent outburst remains unclear.

Much of the French public and media have already pardoned the now-retired team captain for ramming his head into Italian defender Marco Materazzi's chest, an act which got him sent off in extra time of Sunday's final in Berlin. Italy went on to win in a penalty shootout.

World soccer's governing body, FIFA, said Tuesday that it will open an investigation "to clarify the circumstances surrounding the incident as exactly as possible."

FIFA declined to say whether Materazzi's conduct was also being investigated.

Materazzi acknowledged insulting Zidane, but denied calling him a terrorist.

"I'm not cultured and I don't even know what an Islamic terrorist is," Materazzi was quoted as saying in Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport. He didn't specify what he said to Zidane.

A poll published Tuesday in Le Parisien newspaper showed 61 per cent of the 802 people questioned forgave Zidane. No margin of error was provided, although it would be plus or minus three percentage points in a poll of that size.

In the poll, 78 per cent of respondents said Zidane was the tournament's best player — in line with his selection as the Golden Ball winner by World Cup journalists.

Zidane hasn't spoken publicly about the Materazzi incident but is expected to explain what happened in the coming days, his agent has said.

Meanwhile, media from Brazil to Britain have been scrambling to piece together what was said on the pitch between the two players. Zidane, who played for several years at Italian club Juventus, speaks and understands Italian.

British and Brazilian media hired lip readers to try to figure out what Materazzi said, but their responses varied widely.

The BBC reported that Materazzi allegedly called Zidane a "liar" then followed up with an expletive-laden insult, while Brazil's Globo claimed he called Zidane's sister a prostitute.

The Sun, Britain's biggest selling tabloid, reported that Materazzi called Zidane the "son of a terrorist whore."

The rector of the Paris Mosque, Dalil Boubakeur, issued a statement supporting Zidane — whose parents immigrated to France from Algeria. His "long and brilliant career" will remain an "indelible example of integration and success," said Boubakeur, a leader of French Muslims.

If it is shown that Materazzi uttered "humiliating or racist remarks, all French Muslims will feel ... concerned by this very serious attack on the most basic sporting spirit," Boubakeur said.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said the head-butt was unacceptable, but insisted that the incident must not tarnish Zidane's record.

Zidane "will remain this very great player, this example, through his commitment to sport and his concern for sharing his passion," he said.

Several French newspapers also rallied behind Zidane.

Nice Matin daily, referring to Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake, ran a front page headline asking: "Should Zidane be Burned?"

"We feel for you, Zizou," the paper said, using the player's nickname.

Sports daily L'Equipe, which berated Zidane on Monday for "breaking the most elementary rules of sport," apologized Tuesday for parts of its scathing editorial.

"If they (my words) hurt you, I apologize," editorialist Claude Droussent said in a front-page comment.

Comments about Zidane's children and his role as a father "had no place" in Monday's editorial, Droussent said.

A call-in show on LCI television asked viewers whether Zidane was guilty or a victim. In psychology-loving France, panellist Gerard Ernault, editor of France Football magazine, suggested Zidane may have acted unconsciously as a reaction to his impending retirement.

"We could ask ourselves if he refused this consecration, this crown atop his head, by making suicidal gestures as a way also to reject his exit, his retirement," he said.

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