Italy are World Champions for the fourth time after a thrilling win over France. The Azzurri could not have claimed soccers World Cup in more dramatic fashion, winning 5-3 with their last kick in a penalty shoot-out in Berlin.

It sparked scenes of wild celebration across Rome and the rest of Italy, as a nation erupted in joy.

This team of 2006 now takes its place alongside the legends of 1982, 1938 and 1934; to the legends of recent history Paolo Rossi, Dino Zoff and Bruno Conti can be added the names of Luca Toni, Gigi Buffon and Fabio Grosso.

After an agonising penalty defeat to Brazil in the 1994 final, and a last-gasp defeat to France in the 2000 European championship final, no one can begrudge Italy this triumph.

It is a truly incredible story: Italian football, embroiled in arguably the biggest sporting scandal ever, has emerged with the biggest sporting prize there is.

Thirteen of the players in the victorious squad have no idea where they will be playing next season. They play for Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina or Lazio, four clubs facing demotion over allegations of match-rigging.

Just as in 1982, when the country was recovering from a similar scandal, Italy has triumphed in the face of adversity.

A crowd of around 200,000 had flocked to the ancient Circus Maximus arena in Rome earlier in the evening to watch the game on giant screens, bedecked in flags and face-paint, and blaring out a chorus of deafening sirens.

A well-organised event meant mobile toilets and bottled water were as plentiful as the national colours and rousing chants.

This was of course the scene of those historic chariot races among the Romans, and fans soon saw the wheels come off as Italy fell behind to an early France penalty.

Normal order was soon restored however, as the Azzurri equalised through a towering header from Marco Materazzi.

The teams could not be separated at full time, and so headed into an agonising 30 minutes extra time.

If Italys extra motivation to win the trophy was to put some honour back into Italian football, Frances was to ensure a heroic send-off for legendary captain Zinedine Zidane.

Yet Zidane wrote his own piece of World Cup history, dressed in disgrace. Inexplicably, and seemingly totally out of character, he headbutted Materazzi in the chest after an exchange of words.

It cast a long shadow over Zidanes legend, and may have cost his nation its second World Cup.

So to the agonising penalty shoot-out, all players converting except the unfortunate David Trezeguet, who ironically plays for Juventus.

It was left to Fabio Grosso to slot home the winning kick, watched by a worldwide audience of billions, and send a nation into rapture.

The Circus Maximus was awash with water and beer hurtling through the air. The face-paint was running free as fans wept openly. Mobile phones were at the ready to capture it all on camera. Texting or calling loved ones became difficult however, as service providers struggled to deal with the high volume of calls.

No sooner had captain Fabio Cannavaro lifted the magnificent trophy, than the delirious crowds were headed down via di S. Gregorio and via Fori Imperiali, waving their flags more manically than ever, hanging out of car windows and splashing in fountains.

They converged at Piazza Venezia, joining thousands of others who had watched the drama in bars and pubs, or at home.

Police sealed off the town centre as celebrations got under way, with buses forced to divert around the city.

Tourists watched in bemusement as the crowds danced, kissed and sang into the small hours. Pity those visitors hoping for an early night to catch the next days dawn flight home.

For it promised to be a long and noisy night in the capital, as historic Rome once again celebrated being conquerors of the world.