Fifa launches inquiry into Zidane head-butt

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Football's world governing body, Fifa, is to launch a disciplinary investigation into the circumstances surrounding Zinedine Zidane's head-butt on Italy's Marco Materazzi during the World Cup final.

The Frenchman was shown a red card after head-butting the Italy defender in extra time of Sunday's game in Berlin. Theories have abounded as to what Materazzi might have said and the former Everton defender, 32, concedes he did make an offensive remark. "I held his shirt for a few seconds only, then he turned to me and talked to me, jeering," he said yesterday. "He looked at me with a huge arrogance and said, 'If you really want my shirt I'll give it to you afterwards'. I replied with an insult, that's true." Materazzi did not elaborate on what he said but has denied some of the more vile insults suggested in the media.

Zidane, who received the Golden Ball award for the best player in the tournament,has yet to speak on the incident but his agent claimed that the reaction had been due to a "very serious" comment.

Materazzi denies racially insulting Zidane's female relatives or calling him a terrorist. "It was one of those insults you're told dozens of times and that you often let fall on a pitch," Materazzi said. "I did not call him a terrorist. I don't even know what an Islamist terrorist is. For me the mother is sacred, you know that."

Any comments made will be a key element in Fifa's investigation. Zinedine was only dismissed after the intervention of the fourth official, as the referee, Horacio Elizondo, did not see the incident.

Several reports had suggested that officials used video evidence before making the decision, which is against regulations, but Fifa has denied this. A statement read: "The incident was directly observed by fourth official Luis Medina Cantalejo from his position at the pitchside, who informed the referee and his assistants via the communications system."

Cantalejo told a Spanish radio station Cadena Ser yesterday: "I saw it happen live, I didn't invent anything. The ball was elsewhere and that was where the referee was looking, while the linesman was getting back into position."

The red card brought an undistinguished end to Zidane's glittering career but he has received much support in France.

The President of Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, said yesterday he had sent a letter of support to Zidane, who is of Algerian descent. "I sent a personal letter on my behalf and on behalf of all the Algerian people to express my solidarity and my friendship to Zidane, and to give him some comfort," the president said after talks with Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair. "He was a demi-god of the World Cup, but five minutes later he became something that sportsmen should shy away from. He has not lost his own human dimension."

Cantelejo rejected suggestions from the France coach, Raymond Domenech, that the dismissal had been provoked by replays. "I respect his opinion, but that is not what happened," the Spaniard said. "I don't know what Materazzi said beforehand, but there were protests about the action and [Gianluigi] Buffon went to talk to the linesman. When everything calmed down I told Elizondo what happened."

* Raymond Domenech will stay on as coach after leading France to the World Cup final. Domenech, who took over from Jacques Santini after Euro 2004, accepted an extension to his two-year contract.