Elizondo on sending off Zidane: "It was all done over the headset"

In the run-up to the release of Issue Eleven on 2 December, we will be offering you a sneak peek at a couple of excerpts of articles from the forthcoming issue. Our first is from Sam Kelly, in conversation with Horacio Elizondo – the man who sent off Zinedine Zidane in the World Cup Final.
Now, back to the 2006 World Cup. It’s late on during the final. You’re putting your hand into your pocket to take out the red card and show it to Zinedine Zidane. What thoughts are going through your head? You must have known already that it was going to be a huge incident…
“You know something? At the time, I really didn’t. With the act of refereeing matches — and the number of matches I’d refereed — well, you just try and take the best decisions possible. Why? Because just as players score goals and celebrate those goals, when a referee makes a big decision, for us that’s like scoring a goal, you see? For ourselves. The ref feels happy enough with the rules to be able to make a good decision. Totally independently of what the decision might be, of which players it involves or of where it’s made. It could be in the domestic league, in an international match, in the local club round the corner from your house, but the important thing is to take those decisions — and make them better decisions every time. That way, you’re always scoring more goals! So at that point, no. Obviously, after the match I realised that it had been an enormous decision, thanks to the big media reaction to it. But right now, as I’m showing him the card, no. Showing him that red card, or showing the red card to Rooney, or showing… oh, there was one to a Czech Republic player [Ujfalusi] during Czech Republic v Ghana… or showing a red card here in my own country. It’s just a player on a team… pfff. It’s the same.”
Obviously, that decision was correct. A headbutt to the chest — no room for doubt there! But discussion has continued about the role of the fourth official in that decision. In 2006, did you get a word in your ear from the fourth official?
“It was all done over the headset. When Materazzi fell to the floor, the ball was up the other end of the pitch and of course I was keeping up with play over there. I whistle for a handball and give a free kick. Then play switches and goes back into the half of the pitch Materazzi was lying in, but on the other wing, and I remember it was at that point that I saw him lying on the floor. I wait to see whether he gets up — he doesn’t get up… doesn’t get up… doesn’t get up — and I stop the match. From where I was to where Materazzi was, was a walk of about 25, 30 metres. So immediately I ask my assistant, Dario Garcia, [touching a finger to his ear to indicate the headset] “Dario, did you see anything? What happened? Why’s he on the floor?” He tells me, “I don’t know, I see him there on the floor but I didn’t see what happened.” Then I ask Rodolfo [Otero, the other assistant referee], who was on the other touchline, in the other half of the pitch — without much hope, because he was a long way away — and he tells me, “No, me neither.” And that’s where I start to think… I had a lot of doubts, clearly something had happened, but if no one saw what it was… and then Luis Medina Cantalejo’s voice [the fourth official] appears in my headset, and he says, “Horacio, Horacio, I saw it,” he says to me. “A really violent headbutt by Zidane on Materazzi, right in the chest.” So obviously, when I get to the spot, I already know Zidane is on his way. I got to the spot, to where Materazzi was, and the Spaniard [Cantalejo] had already told me what I needed to know to make the decision that Zidane was going to leave the pitch. What I then asked [Cantalejo] was, “Why did he headbutt him?” — whether he’d seen whether Materazzi had done anything beforehand — and he replied, “No, honestly I don’t know. I just saw the headbutt.” And when I got there, I realised that the players didn’t know what was going on either, apart from [Gianluigi] Buffon who was protesting to the assistant, pressuring him, and [Gennaro] Gattuso, but the others saw almost nothing, just like me. And the noise in the stadium… the crowd just went silent, as if to say, “What’s going on? Why is that player lying on the floor?” And me in the middle of it, thinking, “Right then… how do I make this decision clear? Zidane’s going, he’s standing there calmly.” It didn’t seem very correct, to me, to just –bang! – take a red card out like that, as if from nowhere, with the crowd and players all having seen that I’d been in the other half and hadn’t seen anything. So, since the headsets were only new, you can see if you watch it on video that I go over to Dario Garcia… I went over to Dario, but I knew Dario didn’t know anything! So, why? Well, because that is understandable. Everyone understands if you go over to the assistant that it’s because the assistant is going to tell you something to help you make a decision. So I get to Dario, and I just say to him, “Focused!” — I say it to him and I say it to myself, to remind us both, “there are still ten minutes to go, stay focused.” — I turn around and go to Zidane and take out the red card.”

Even though he hadn’t been the assistant who told you…
“No, he didn’t tell me anything. How could he, if he didn’t know? When I realised I needed to get the card out I thought, “Right then, let’s see, how can I make this easily understood?” And I say to myself, “If the assistant calls you over, everyone knows that’s because he’s going to tell you something. It was a little bit of a disguise, but it contained some truth as to how the decision was taken.”

Source: The Blizzard