Ribery, Grosso make big World Cup breakthroughs
Updated: 2006-07-10 13:39

BERLIN, July 10 - In a tournament short on star quality, a Frenchman who could dribble, an Argentine who hit the shot of his life and an Italian defender with a knack for the spectacular were among the handful of revelations.

The 2006 World Cup featured an official award for best young player but it must have been hard to come up with a shortlist.

The award went to Lukas Podolski, the 21-year-old German striker who scored three goals but missed too many clear chances, especially when it really mattered in the semi-final defeat against Italy, to be considered a real success.

Other players tipped as contenders, including Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi, had little impact but there were a few older newcomers, as it were, who did shine at these finals.

The 23-year-old Franck Ribery had not started a game for France before the World Cup and ended up playing a major part to their run to the final.

The winger, despite finishing on the losing side, did not let his side down in the final against Italy, almost scoring in extra time before he was substituted.

"The most important thing is to have lots of fun," he had said with refreshing calm before the semi-final win over Portugal.

"I'm young, I've got a great job and I'm enjoying myself. I don't see why I should put myself under any kind of pressure."

Ribery scored a fine goal in France's 3-1 win over Spain in the second round and impressed everyone with his skill on the ball.


While Messi and his fellow young Argentine striker Carlos Tevez were limited to bit parts, the stand-out for the South Americans was Maxi Rodriguez, the 25-year-old who scored three goals.

The highlight was a breathtaking volley that gave Argentina their winner in extra-time against Mexico in the second round.

It was all the more remarkable for coming from his weaker left foot - "the one I use for getting on the bus," he said.

Maxim Kalinichenko, a 26-year-old battling back after injury, looked outstanding on the wing for Ukraine in their quarter-final defeat by Italy, whipping over a series of crosses from the right that had the Italy defence in real trouble.

Philipp Lahm, the 22-year-old German full-back, scored the first goal of the tournament and was excellent in defence and dangerous in attack throughout.

The man who made the most spectacular breakthrough was arguably Italy's left-back Fabio Grosso, a 28-year-old late developer who was playing fourth division football five years ago.

Grosso played an impeccable role in the Italian defence that conceded just one goal on their way to the final.

He also won the late penalty that gave Italy their victory over Australia, and curled in the goal that put the Azzurri ahead late in extra time in the semi-final against Germany. Grosso sealed his hero status by sealing Italy's World Cup win by netting the decisive spot-kick in the shootout.

In a World Cup that was so low on goals, it seemed fitting that it was a defender who made the biggest impact of any previously unknown player.