The story of the 2006 World Cup
Ahead of the start of the World Cup, we have been looking back at previous tournaments with the help of some of the key characters and the BBC's archive footage. In today's final installment, the focus is really only ever on one man...
Germany, June and July, 2006
Outside of Italy at least, I'm pretty sure there is only one image that springs to mind when people recall the 2006 World Cup in Germany - and it isn't Azzurri captain Fabio Cannavaro lifting the famous trophy.
Sadly for France legend Zinedine Zidane, one of the greatest footballers of his and any generation, the crazed head-butt that sent Marco Materazzi flying - and saw Zidane sent off - near the end of extra-time in the final is what that game, this tournament, and ultimately his career is best remembered for.
Despite the global focus on the incident, what's notable is how long it took to get to the bottom of what sent Zidane over the edge. Several lip-readers gave their version of events, as did numerous email virals that were sent in the aftermath (some of them are quite funny too) but the truth proved difficult to pin down.
Materazzi always claims to have insulted Zidane's sister but, after many months of silence, Zidane revealed earlier this year that it was comments about his mother that caused him to lose the plot, adding he "would rather die" than say sorry to the Inter Milan defender.
"If I ask him forgiveness, I lack respect for myself and for all those I hold dear with all my heart," Zidane stated. "I apologise to football, to the fans, to the team. After the game, I went into our dressing room and told my team-mates 'forgive me' but to him I cannot, never. It would be to dishonour me."
Zidane's meltdown, and Italy's victory in the penalty shoot-out that followed shortly afterwards, ensured a dramatic end to a World Cup that had begun with a bang exactly a month earlier when, six minutes into the opening game, Philipp Lahm found the top corner of the net with a stunning long-range shot that sent the hosts on their way to a 4-2 win over Costa Rica.
Early on, it looked like we were in store for a classic tournament. That Lahm strike was the first of many crackers in an entertaining group stage that saw only five goalless draws in 48 matches as teams, for the most part, went on the attack.
Personal favourites were little Bakari Kone's solo effort for the Ivory Coast against the Netherlands and Esteban Cambiasso's fine finish for Argentina against Serbia and Montenegro (not forgetting, of course, the 24 passes that preceded it) but I actually had time on my hands to savour pretty much every one of the 117 goals that flew in before the knock-out rounds began, not to mention the three yellow cards dished out to Croatia's Josip Simunic by Graham Poll in their match with Australia.
This was a tournament I had a fairly unique perspective on, having suffered a double-broken leg playing football the week before it began (yes, I know I've got to stop banging on about it!). To be honest, while I am not recommending that any of you should deliberately sustain a serious injury before the action in South Africa starts on 11 June, if it is going to happen, then a World Cup month is probably the best time.
One of the advantages of being laid out in hospital and then immobile at home was that, despite often being in excruciating pain thanks to the amount of metal that had been inserted into the aforementioned limb, I got to watch the World Cup without almost any other distractions. In fact, it kept me sane - especially during the early stages when I had three games a day to take my mind off my rehabilitation, followed by Adrian Chiles' friendly face to wrap things up with the highlights at the end of the evening.
Sadly, the goals dried up once we were down to the last 16 teams, with managers adopting increasingly conservative tactics, but there were one or two exceptions. Argentina and Mexico fought out a classic, settled by Maxi Rodriguez's thunderbolt, and hosts Germany, riding a wave of public fervour and led by charismatic coach Jurgen Klinsmann, kept up their dynamic approach on their way as they beat Sweden to reach the last eight.
There was far less verve surrounding England, whose stuttering progress to the quarter-finals had been largely overshadowed by the antics of the team's WAGS, whose shopping and socialising in Baden-Baden dominated the papers back home. It was here that their campaign would be ended by Portugal amid controversy, and in all-too familiar circumstances.
The controversy came when Wayne Rooney was dismissed for a stamp on Ricardo Carvalho, with Cristiano Ronaldo encouraging referee Horacio Elizondo to send off his then Manchester United club-mate. Then, at the end of a tense 0-0 draw, came another defeat in a penalty shoot-out, with Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher all having spot-kicks saved by Ricardo as Portugal clinched a 3-1 win.
While David Beckham was vilified for his dismissal at France '98, this time the ire on these shores was directed not at Rooney, but at Ronaldo - who appeared to wink at the Portuguese bench after Elizondo produced the red card. "I didn't really get any stick," the England striker said recently. "It could have been a lot worse. Ronaldo took a lot of it and I was pleased about that."
Elsewhere, holders Brazil also under-achieved, crashing out to France, while Argentina's defeat to Germany - again on penalties - ensured the semi-finals would be all-European affairs. The first was arguably the match of the tournament, if only for some thrilling action in extra-time as Italy - who had a spot-kick record as woeful as England's - strived to avoid another shoot-out.
Marcello Lippi's side were far more acclaimed for their defensive play - conceding just two goals during the whole tournament - but they showed how much quality they had going forward too with brilliant late goals from Fabio Grosso and Alessandro del Piero that took them into a showdown with France, who edged past Portugal thanks to Zidane's penalty.
The final itself will, of course, always be dominated by Zidane's shocking departure but before then it had been an open and entertaining game that saw goals from both of its most famous protagonists. Afterwards, France held on to force only the second shoot-out in a World Cup final but Italy, who had lost the first one to Brazil in 1994, were not to be denied and all five of their penalties were successful, with Grosso's proving decisive.
As his players celebrated, an emotional Lippi, the former Juventus boss who had been questioned as part of the match-fixing scandal that had rocked his country weeks before the tournament began, said: "The players have showed unlimited heart, character and personality. Winning the World Cup is the greatest satisfaction that any coach or footballer can ever feel, and this is the most satisfying moment of my life. How do I feel? It's special. beyond what words can really address."
Lippi stepped down after that triumph but returned to the post in 2008 and he will be in charge of the Azzurri as they defend their title this summer in South Africa.
Watch the top ten goals from the 2006 World Cup (UK only)
Watch Germany's stylish win in the opening match (UK only)
Watch Graham Poll's yellow card blunder (UK only)
Watch Argentina's six-star display against Serbia and Montenegro (UK only)
Watch France progress past Spain (UK only)
Watch Italy break the hosts' hearts in the semi-final (UK only)
Watch the dramatic final with Zidane's red card and Italy's victory (UK only)
It's been a pleasure for Stevo and I to look back at the past 11 World Cups, and to read about all your memories, but the forthcoming tournament gives us lots to look forward to, too. Whoever ends up lifting the trophy at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium on 11 July, let's hope for plenty more magical moments to enjoy.
The 2010 World Cup begins next Friday when hosts South Africa take on Mexico at 1500 BST.