How Zinedine Zidane's 16-Year Curse Still Haunts Italy at the FIFA World Cup

© AP Photo / Bernat ArmangueReal Madrid's head coach Zinedine Zidane waits for the start of the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Real Sociedad at Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Monday, March 1, 2021
Real Madrid's head coach Zinedine Zidane waits for the start of the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Real Sociedad at Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Monday, March 1, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 25.03.2022
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Italy ended England's dream of winning their first international trophy since 1966 with their Euro 2020 triumph last year. The Azzurri captain Giorgio Chiellini later revealed that he had cursed the home team's Bukayo Saka who missed the decisive penalty in the final. Like the Three Lions, another curse seems to have come back to haunt them now.
Italy's 1-0 defeat by North Macedonia in a FIFA World Cup play-off on Thursday is one of the greatest upsets in football.
After all, the four-time World Champions had everything going for them in 2021, they had won the European Championship in July and in October, they had set a new world record for the longest winning streak of 37 games in football.
The Italians, though, came up short against the Macedonians, surprisingly losing in the 92nd minute when Aleksandar Trajkovski delivered a stoppage-time winner for the visitors.
But now an old curse is being blamed for Italy missing out on a World Cup spot for the second time running.
Since 2006, the year the southern European country won the sport's biggest prize for the fourth time in Germany, Italy has had a bizarre run in four consecutive World Cups, including the qualifiers.
So what actually happened in 2006 to have caused Italy such insurperable difficulties? Those who follow football minutely will remember that that was the year when the Italians shocked France in the final.
But the title clash is best remembered for Zinedine Zidane headbutting Marco Materazzi, resulting in a red card for the French superstar. The referee's decision went on to change the entire constitution of the match as Italy were crowned world champions.
Materazzi later revealed that it was because he had insulted Zidane's sister that the Frenchman responded so wildly. Even after a decade-and-a-half, the animosity between the two sides has persisted.
Moreover, their performance at the quadrennial competition are in complete contrast. Whereas France lifted their second World Cup in 2018, Italy have struggled and, strangely, have not made the knock-out stage of the tournament for 16 years. In 2010, when Italy were defending the title, their campaign ended in embarrassment, as they ended at the bottom of Group F.
Four years later when the tournament was held in Brazil, luck deserted them well before the start as they were drawn alongside England, Costa Rica and Uruguay in what was labelled the "Group of Death". Even though the Azzurri started on a strong note by defeating England in the opener, they fell like a pack of cards in subsequent games.
Yet worse was to come: at Russia 2018, Italy failed to qualify, going out to the Swedes in a play-off. The last time the former World Champions had missed football's greatest spectacle was back in 1958.
This year, Mancini's side marked 16 years of misfortune which many believe has its roots in a curse delivered by a legend who goes by the name of Zidane.
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