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Monday, July 10, 2006
ZZ Legacy

If England is football's mother country then France must be its midwife with Frenchman Jules Rimet bringing the game conceived in the United Kingdom into the world with the creation of the World Cup and FIFA.

France is proud of its reputation for creating a body that has more member nations than the United Nations - 207 at present - but it was not until 1998 that their national football team really got the respect they deserved - and that was largely because of the exploits of Zinedine Zidane.

In 1998, Zidane, who had had a disappointing tournament until the final with Brazil, succeeded where the likes of Just Fontaine, Raymond Kopa and Michel Platini had failed before him.

With two first-half goals, both from headers, Zidane put France on course for a 3-0 win over favourites Brazil in the final and ensured that a Frenchman, Didier Deschamps, would finally lift a trophy that was the brainchild of Rimet some 68 years earlier.

Zidane, unlike perhaps Sir Geoff Hurst, will be remembered for far more than that one game, however, as he hangs up his boots at the age of 34.

He inspired the French to Euro 2000 glory and rolled back the years in Germany to lead them to a second World Cup final after a poor start to the tournament.

There was to be no great finale, however, with Les Bleus having to settle for second best to Italy and Zidane sent off in disgrace in extra time.

He produced match-winning displays against Spain, Brazil and Portugal and early on in the final it looked like Italy would be added to that list.

However, his cheeky spot-kick was cancelled out by Marco Materazzi - and a headbutt on the same player towards the end may linger longer in the mind than many of the good things he did on the pitch, of which there were plenty.

His absence for the first two games in the 2002 World Cup because of injury clearly contributed to France's elimination in the first round in that tournament and was in stark contrast to what happened in Paris four years previously.

Two near-post headers were a strange way for a man blessed with two gifted feet to grab his own piece of footballing immortality but there are other memories that will stay in the mind while Zidane enjoys his retirement, which he will split between homes in Madrid and the Alps.

The volley that helped Real Madrid beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 to win the Champions League in Glasgow in 2002 was more beautiful - if less important - than his two goals in Paris while his ability to keep his head when it mattered showed time and time again.

His golden-goal penalty which saw France eliminate Portugal in the Euro 2000 semi-finals came after the Portuguese players had manhandled the referee for several minutes, some earning lengthy bans for doing so.

And which England fan will ever forget the way Zidane snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in Lisbon in Euro 2004 with two stoppage-time goals when England had led 1-0 into injury time?

His first goal - a free-kick - was superb, the second - a penalty - was nerveless in a match where David Beckham had seen his spot-kick saved by Fabien Barthez when England led 1-0.

Zidane's £45million transfer tag when he moved from Juventus to Real Madrid in 2001 remains a world record - but unlike the likes of Beckham he seems ill-at-ease with some of the trappings of success.

Not once has Zidane created a wave in the fashion stakes and the thought of him wearing a sarong would be laughable while he protects his private life - he and Spanish wife Veronica have four children.

Zidane admits he does not enjoy giving interviews, once saying: "Speaking is an ordeal for me."

Zidane's career has had many peaks and a few troughs - his softly-spoken style off the pitch has been betrayed by the odd flash of temper on it before and he picked up a two-match ban for a stamping offence in the 1998 World Cup before he gloriously redeemed himself.

Zidane has indicated he would like some low-profile role helping young footballers at Real Madrid, one that would keep him out of the limelight but it could be that one day he will miss the challenge of top-level football and return in a high-profile post.

If he chooses the quiet life, few could blame him.

But having departed the scene on Sunday night there is plenty to talk about for his admirers - even if the man himself would rather keep his own counsel.

posted by bobby @ 11:24 AM  
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