France World Cup squad counting on Zizou factor

26th May 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 25, 2006 (AFP) - Zinedine Zidane was afforded a send-off befitting a hero on his last appearance at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium for Real Madrid.

PARIS, May 25, 2006 (AFP) - Zinedine Zidane was afforded a send-off befitting a hero on his last appearance at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium for Real Madrid.

But that emotional farewell will seem like a children's tea-party if the midfield legend can sign off his remarkable career by conjuring up one last dose of magic for France at the World Cup.

That the world's most expensive player is gracing the finals in Germany having retired from international duty after Euro 2004 is in large part down to a mysterious nocturnal visitor at his bedside last August.

"One night about three o'clock in the morning I woke up suddenly and began speaking with someone. Afterwards I didn't tell anyone about it, not even my wife.

"It was like a revelation, and suddenly I realised I had to go back on my decision to retire."

His unscripted u-turn with three qualifiers to go sparked euphoria among France fans and an immediate upturn in the national team's fortunes.

With Zidane back as number ten France safely secured their place in the 2006 finals as group winners.

There's a feeling backed up by hard fact that when the talismanic playmaker is on song, France sings.

Witness the Marseille native's two goals in the 1998 final against Brazil, and the crippling effect his injury-enforced absence had on the defending champion's 2002 World Cup campaign, though he was thrown in at the death as a desperate last roll of the dice by coach Roger Lemerre in the defeat by Denmark.

Michel Platini describes Zidane in regal terms.

"Technically, I think he was the king of what's fundamental in the game: control and passing, because I don't think anyone can match him when it comes to controlling or receiving the ball."

France coach Raymond Domenech had more reason than most to celebrate his return from international exile.

"Through his immense talent and multiple exploits, Zizou has made his mark forever on the history of French and international football.

"I know that he really wants to succeed in Germany and I'm convinced that he still has the most beautiful page of his sporting history to write: winning a second World Cup with the Blues."

The man himself, whose EUR 75 million move from Juventus to Real is still the world's highest transfer, would dearly love to go out with the sound of champagne corks popping in his ears.

"It would be good if I could finish my international career in the French team with a big and beautiful success. I want to become World champion again - that's my goal."

A three-time FIFA World Player of the Year in 1998, 2000 and 2003 Zidane, who turns 34 in June, goes into his grand finale with 99 caps for France, including 17 as captain.

He made his France debut 12 years ago against the Czech Republic when he scored the first two of his 28 international goals.

Considered one of the true footballing greats Zidane has won every title worth winning but it's his two bullet headers past Brazil goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel at the Stade de France seven years ago that ensured his place in French hearts.

"I think his two goals left an indelible mark on a whole generation," said Platini.

His club career took off under Luis Fernandez' Cannes before his 17th birthday. Two years later he was on the international stage.

After a spell at Bordeaux, Zidane moved to Juventus who splashed out four million dollars to secure his artistry.

In Italy, Zidane's stock rose sharply as he won the European Super Cup, two Intercontinental Cups and two Italian championships.

After helping France win Euro 2000 he moved to Real and two years later he scored a superb left-footed volley in Real's win over Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League final.

Despite scaling the heights of his chosen metier the father-of-four, who hails from Algerian stock, has remained true to his roots.

Although he's never played at the Stade Velodrome he's revered in his native city.

Drive south on the Corniche, past the old port, and you'll come to a bend in the road dominated by a giant near-religious depiction of the city's most famous son painted onto the side of a building.

With the inscription 'Made In Marseille' above his head Zidane looks out to sea, to a future post-2006 in which he wants to pass on his silky skills to a whole new generation of footballers at Real's youth academy.

But before that there's a minor matter to attend to in Germany.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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