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By ESPN Staff

Lippi hails his champions

Marcello Lippi admits Italy's World Cup triumph surpasses all his other football victories.

Lippi, boss of the triumphant Italians, hailed the 'heart' of his players and dedicated the win to his family.

The Italians beat 10-man France 5-3 in a penalty shoot-out after Zinedine Zidane had been sent-off for a headbutt in extra-time.

Lippi said: 'I have won the European Cup, I have won the Inter-Continental Cup and I have won five Italian titles but I have never felt as happy as I do now.

'This is the greatest joy of my career and I want to dedicate this victory to my family.

'Thank you to my players for showing such heart and great will.'

Zidane opened the scoring in Berlin's Olympic Stadium with a seventh-minute penalty.

But he was sent-off in extra-time for ramming his head into Marco Materazzi's chest after an exchange of words.

It was the France captain's final game before retirement and he left the pitch in tears.

Former Everton defender Materazzi equalised with a header from a corner and the game was locked at 1-1 after 120 minutes.

Left-back Fabio Grosso fired the winning penalty past Fabien Barthez in the shoot-out.

The Italy coach defended Materazzi who came under fire from France boss Raymond Domenech for his reaction to Zidane's headbutt.

Lippi said: 'You will realise that it was not Materazzi who got the attention of the referee.

'It was the fourth and fifth officials looking at the video at the edge of the pitch.

'We did not do anything. They saw it and they called the attention of the referee.

'When the French fans see television tomorrow they will see what happened and they will think differently.

'Materazzi was not acting. He took a blow and he was hurt.'

Lippi paid tribute to Zidane's career and urged him to rethink his decision to retire.

He added: 'I am sorry because I hold him in great esteem. I told him that before the game. I was sorry for him to go. It is a shame if he goes on this note.

'That is if he does go because I told him before the game that he should not retire.'

Lippi took Francesco Totti off and thought he was struggling for fitness after playing 120 against Germany in the semi-final.

The Italy coach said: 'He paid the price of 120 minutes against Germany. That took it's toll. He had not recovered his optimum form.'

Italy's fans launched into a huge celebration as they became world champions for the first time since 1982.

Lippi said: 'Thanks to our fans because we felt their closeness. It filled us with hope and pride and joy at a time when we really needed it.

'This was a special match. I don't know if it was a penalty to France but there was a wonderful reaction from my team.

'We always hoped we could make it. We were dangerous all over the pitch but we were playing against a good team.

'We did a great job in the penalty shoot-out. We kept our cool and did not miss one.'

Lippi also criticised France boss Domenech for his touchline reaction to Zidane's headbutt.

The Italian said: 'He made a gesture that was not very nice, a gesture as if Materazzi had done something but there was nothing. There was no acting. There was nothing going on.'