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Defiant Materazzi hits back at press

SoccerNews in European Championships, Serie A 6 Jun 2008

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Much-maligned Italy centre-back Marco Materazzi lashed out at the press on Friday just three days before Italy's first Euro 2008 match against the Netherlands in Zurich.

Materazzi has had an injury-plagued season up until now and even when fit, often found himself benched both by club and country.

But he defended his own form and sent out a defiant message to his detractors, evoking a famous quote from former American president John F. Kennedy.

Asked about the criticisms levelled at him at the end of the season, he replied: “As someone, who I think was Kennedy, once said: forgive what they said but don't forget their names.”

Despite the injury to captain Fabio Cannavaro, Materazzi is far from assured a starting berth on Monday.

He is in competition primarily with Andrea Barzagli of Palermo (soon to be of Vfl Wolfsburg) and Juventus's Giorgio Chiellini for a starting role.

But the veteran insisted he is still at the peak of his powers.

“I'm aware of my own strengths but I have no certainty (that he will play),” said Materazzi, who was the unlikely goal scorer for Italy in the 2006 World Cup final.

“Ever since I was a child I've risen above prejudices, now I'm proving myself again, which serves to demonstrate once again what I'm worth.”

One thing in Materazzi's favour for the first game could be his vast experience as playing up front for their opponents will be none other than the prolific Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Should he be picked, Materazzi – who during an unhappy sojourn in England with Everton once sank to his knees by the advertising hoardings having picked up another red card burst into tears and considered giving up the sport – would be facing the Real Madrid forward for the first time in his career.

“He's a great striker who is tough to mark. I've never been unlucky enough to play against him,” he said.

However, Materazzi revealed that the fires within are still burning brightly.

“I have the same hunger which drove me on to win two titles (actually three though one was awarded to Inter because Juventus was stripped of the title over the matchfixing scandal) and a World Cup,” he said.

If and when Materazzi does take to the field, he will be a marked man, by television cameras as much as anything else.

In particular, many people are looking forward to seeing him take on the French, with memories of his altercation with France legend Zinedine Zidane – when the Frenchman headbutted him in the chest in extra-time of the World Cup final after a mouthful of abuse from the Italian – still a talking point.

He is a figure of hate in France.

Materazzi, though, refused to talk about the upcoming France match, on June 17, claiming there were two prior games to concentrate on.

However, the centre-back is unlikely to be able to stay quiet for long.

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