Zidane in the line of FIFA fire

His reputation already dented, Zinedine Zidane faces possible sanctions today for head-butting Marco Materazzi in the World Cup final.

Geneva, July 20: His reputation already dented, Zinedine Zidane faces possible sanctions today for head-butting Marco Materazzi in the World Cup final.

Zidane, who retired after the July 9 final, will appear before a FIFA disciplinary panel in Zurich.

While FIFA hasn't said what the punishments might be, the former France captain could receive a fine and a symbolic ban and also be stripped of his "Golden Ball" award as the best player in the tournament.

Such a penalty would sully the legacy of a man widely considered one of the greatest players of the generation, and the symbol of a tolerant, multiracial France.

Zidane, who had a stellar, 18-year career, said he attacked Materazzi because the Italian defender insulted his mother and sister.

Materazzi, who denies insulting Zidane's mother, appeared last week before the FIFA committee. The Inter Milan player also faces a possible fine and match ban.

FIFA spokesman Andreas Herren said Zidane had already submitted a written testimony. He will attend the hearing with French Soccer Federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes and legal adviser Jean Lapeyre, the French Association said.

FIFA will announce its verdicts following the close-door hearing today. The decision will be closely watched by the soccer world.

The head-butt came during a match watched by hundreds of millions of people around the world, challenging FIFA to respond.

Zidane apologised to children who watched the match, but said he didn't regret what he did because he was provoked by repeated harsh insults about his family.

"Above all, I'm human," he said on French television last week.

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

Playing in extra-time in his farewell game, Zidane and Materazzi exchanged words as the two walked upfield. Zidane appeared to be distancing himself from the Italian, but then turned, lowered his bald head and drove it into Materazzi's chest -- knocking him to the ground.

Zidane was sent off on a red card, and Italy went on to win its fourth World Cup, beating France 5-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw through 120 minutes.

France teammate Lilian Thuram said Zidane was wrong to react the way he did.

"Materazzi insulted his family. I understad that Zidane reacted. But not on the field, not on the field," Thuram said in an interview published Tuesday in the French weekly Les Inrockuptibles.

He was also harsh on Materazzi.

"This type of player is a sickness ... Materazzi gives a negative image to soccer," he said.

Materazzi responded that the focus should be on Zidane's gesture and not on any provocation.

"Since it's not the first time that Zidane makes such mistakes, Thuram would have done better to highlight this instead of accusing me with the usual stereotyps," Materazzi told the Italian Dily Corriere Della Sera.

Claudio Vigorelli, Materazzi's agent, said FIFA should consider only Zidane's reaction -- not his image.

"His reaction was absolutely out of order, especially in a big game like the final, because it was his last game as a football player," Vigoelli told the British Broadcasting Corp.

Vigorelli said punishing Materazzi could violate precedent.

"If they want to attack a player for what he keeps saying on the pitch, they will be very busy in the future because it's quite normal that players shout to each other in a game -- especially when it's such a stressful game," he said.

Corriere reported that Materazzi is on vacation and that, if necessary, would take part in the FIFA hearing by telephone.

Bureau Report

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