Zidane brings Les Bleus back to life

18th August 2005, Comments 0 comments

MONTPELLIER, France, Aug 17 (AFP) - Zinedane Zidane made a triumphant return to the international stage here Wednesday, the talismanic midfielder lifting France to a 3-0 win over Côte d'Ivoire.

MONTPELLIER, France, Aug 17 (AFP) - Zinedane Zidane made a triumphant return to the international stage here Wednesday, the talismanic midfielder lifting France to a 3-0 win over Côte d'Ivoire.

Zidane, lured out of retirement to help France's ailing World Cup campaign, added style and substance to Raymond Domenech's side in this warm up to next month's crucial qualifier against the Republic of Ireland.

With the 33-year-old's every step cheered by a sell-out 30,000 crowd the Real Madrid star, wearing the captain's armband, crowned his comeback with a second half goal which was sandwiched by efforts from William Gallas and Thierry Henry.

On the homecoming of French football's favourite son, Domenech reflected: "He scored, he's got talent. I'm happy for him, as I am for the whole team. But we didn't expect anything less. Zidane, he's someone who inspires other players."

The great man himself said it had been vital for France to win after a string of drawn games.

"When you draw a lot of games your confidence goes, but the quality of the players is still there.

"Tonight, we refound that confidence. It did us good to score. I scored in my first international, it felt good to repeat that!" enthused Zidane.

"But what's important is what lies ahead on September 3 (Faroe Islands) and September 7 (Republic of Ireland). We know full well they are two games we can't muck up," he added.

Zidane's return to the international fray was down to some fast-talking by the wily Domenech -- and a mysterious apparition at his bedside.

And he quickly made his mark 11 years to the day that he first donned a French shirt when in the 19th minute he came up with an angled shot that narrowly edged over the crossbar.

Another veteran Lillian Thuram was also returning but the Juventus defender's comeback lasted barely half an hour when he had to limp off injured to be replaced by Sébastien Squillaci.

France went in front when Gallas marked his 28th birthday in the best possible way when he scored in the 28th minute in what was his first ever goal for his country.

The Chelsea defender's powerful header off a sweetly struck corner from Sylvain Wiltord flew over Côte d'Ivoire keeper Jean-Jacques Tizie giving the Blues due reward for some entertaining play.

Just before the break Zidane produced a neat cross for Willy Sagnol over on the right who knocked it back to 'Zizou' only for his header to be scooped up safely by Tizie.

Then on 61 minutes the stadium erupted when Wiltord sent a corner flying across the goalmouth for Zidane who flicked the ball left-footed into the corner of the Côte d'Ivoire net.

His beaming smile told its own story as he savoured his 27th goal in the national shirt.

Five minutes later Thierry Henry, like Gallas also celebrating his 28th birthday, got in on the act with a fine solo effort when he saw off a lone Côte d'Ivoire defender and Tizie to produce an acute left-angled shot which trickled into an empty goal.

Côte d'Ivoire, with Didier Drogba in their midst, proved tough opponents as befits a nation heading their World Cup qualifier group.

And they almost got what would have been a deserved goal in the last minute of time only for Arthur Boka's shot to skim the wrong side of Gregory Coupet's right post.

Despite the result Domenech refused to get carried away.

"We shouldn't make the mistake of drowning in euphoria, that doesn't count for much if next time we find ourselves at 1-1 at the start of the second half. What this shows is that each time they play this team is taking shape and getting better. I repeat: we're a team in development," said Domenech.

Wednesday's friendly was preceded by a minute's silence for the 152 French citizens and eight crew who perished in Tuesday's aircrash in Venezuela.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, football, World Cup, Zinedane Zidane, Les Bleus, Côte d'Ivoire

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