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In the second installment of my international legends series,

I am going to address one of the greatest ever – Zinedine Zidane.

International Legends, Zinedine Zidane – FranceA World Cup winner in 1998, and that incident against Italy, Zidane has been on one heck of a journey with the Les Bleus.

The Beginning

Zinedine Zidane made his France debut in 1994, on the 17th August as a substitute in a friendly vs Czech Republic.

The then 21-year-old made an instant impact, scoring two goals and snatching a draw from the jaws of defeat. Though it could have been different for the talismanic Frenchman, as he is of Algerian descent, he could have turned out for their national side.

Rumours were he was rejected by Abdelhamid Kermali for “not being fast enough”, though in 2005 Zidane quelled these rumours by stating the reason was he had already played for France.

Soon after his debut, Zidane became an integral part of the French set up, as with Eric Cantona suspended for his famous ‘Kung Fu kick’ for Manchester United against Crystal Palace, Zizou filled in the play maker role instantly and effectively.

Euro 1996

Zidane’s first international tournament took place on English soil. Where it was fairly muted when compared to others he played in, Zizou played every game for his country, and scored in the two penalty shoot outs he was involved in, though France did lose the second against the Czech Republic in the semi-finals

World Cup 1998

Two years on from their disappointment in England and Euro ’96, France and Zidane went into their home tournament in good spirits, and out for revenge. And oh did they achieve it.

Drawn in Group C along with Denmark, South Africa and Saudi Arabia, the hosts walked the group with three wins from three. Zidane however, only featured in the first two games, as in the second game, he was sent off for a stamp on Saudi Arabia’s Fuad Anwar, earning him the mantle of the first French player to be sent off in a World Cup tournament.

Though he was absent, Les Bleus defeated Paraguay in the second round, 1-0.

Zidane’s return was to be a successful one. A 4-3 penalties defeat of Italy in the quarter-finals in Saint-Denis after the game finished goal less. Then came Croatia in the semi-finals. Zidane was to play a pivotal role in a 2-1 victory as the home nation reached a World Cup final for the first time in their history.

Saint-Denis, 12th July. The biggest day in French footballing history. Against many peoples favourites to win the tournament – Brazil. Aime Jacquet’s men were always up against it. Enter Zidane.

Without a goal yet in the tournament, the final was set to be his stage. Two first half headers sent the hosts 2-0 up at the break, and Emmanuel Petit added a third in second half stoppage time to give Les Blues a 3-0 win, and their first World Cup triumph in their first World Cup Final. Zidane soon became a national hero, his image projected onto the Champs-Elysees as he and his teammates paraded the famous trophy.

Euro 2000 – Euro 2004

Of the next three tournaments, only one is well remembered for the French and Zidane – Euro 2000 in Holland. The World Champions soon became the World and Euro Champions.

Buoyed by their success two years ago, Roger Lemerre had the task of overcoming the best in Europe, and overcome they did.

Once more spurred on by their talismanic number 10, France achieved what seemed improbable and went on to win it. Though Zidane again only scored 2 all tournament, he was vital to his sides success and went on to win individual honours in the form of the Player of the Tournament.

Zidane in action for France in the Euro 2000 final vs Italy

Zidane in action for France in the Euro 2000 final vs Italy

For all the ecstasy and joy at the last four years, things were about to take a dramatic turn for the worst for the French, and they quickly come crashing back to earth.

Injury to Zidane kept him out of the first two group games of the 2002 World Cup, and his absence was felt. Two defeats without scoring left the defending World Champions in a perilous position. Facing elimination forced Roger Lemerres’ hand and Zidane played the third and final group game.

It was a gamble that didn’t pay off, and the French were eliminated without winning a game, and without scoring a goal. It was the worst performance from a defending champion in history, and cost Lemerre his job.

Euro 2004 was a similar, though less sinister story. Zidane scored 2 goals as his side progressed through the group stages into the quarter-finals where they were vanquished 1-0 by Greece.

After more International disappointment, Zidane felt it time to announce his retirement from the International stage, and after five tournaments and World and European winners medals in his collection, time was called.

Phoenix from the flames

Struggling in qualifying, Raymond Domenech had only one choice, beg and plead for ‘The Golden Generation’ to save them. And that they did. Lilian Thuram, Claude Makelele, and Zinedine Zidane agreed to help the cause.

Along the way to qualification, Zizou achieved his 100th cap – a friendly against Mexico on the 27th May ’06, and was the star man in his country’s eventual qualification.

After successfully negotiating (finishing second) a Group G containing Switzerland (1st), South Korea (3rd) and Togo (4th) with one win and two draws, France were drawn against Spain in the second round.

Zidane provided an assist and a goal as they eased into the quarter-finals. Brazil were next in a repeat of the ’98 Final, and like that day in Saint-Denis, France were the victors.

Zidane assisting Thierry Henry for the deciding goal, earning himself a Man of the Match in the process. Portugal were next in Munich and the semi-finals, and like six years ago in Holland it was a Zidane goal that won it, this time from the penalty spot.

July 9th – Berlin. France vs Italy in the World Cup final.

Before the game, Zidane was awarded the Golden Ball yet again, and seven minutes in, He dispatched a penalty, equalling two records in one fell swoop. He was now the fourth player to score in two finals (joining Pele, Paul Breitner and Vava) and the fourth player to score two goals in a World Cup final (joining Geoff Hurst, Vava and Pele).

Italy went on to equalise and take the game to extra time and it remained as such, and then in the 110th minute, something truly shocking was to occur.

Zinedine Zidane headbutts Marco Materazzi during the 2006 World Cup final

Zinedine Zidane headbutts Marco Materazzi during the 2006 World Cup final

Zidane and Marco Matterazzi were involved in a war of words, and as Zizou trotted off he turned suddenly and ran towards Matterazzi, and planted his forehead into the chest of the Italian defender.

No one quite understood what had happened. Zidane was sent off and Italy went on to win on penalties, 5-3. The world was shocked. What had it just seen? What bought Zidane to the point of feeling a head butt was necessary? No one quite understood.

After 108 caps and 31 goals, winning a World Cup and European Championship triumph, this was how the mercurial Frenchman was to bow out of the game.

It came to light that Matterazzi was talking about Zidane’s sister, calling her a ‘prostitute’, to which he took obvious offence. In 2010, Zidane claimed he would ‘rather die than apologise’ to Matterazzi.

After 17 years, 11 of which playing for France, this was how the career of one of the greatest footballers ever was to finish. And there won’t be many more dramatic than this.

Read More: International Legends, David Beckham – England

Originally published at voomfootball.wordpress.com

Post written by Matthew Henderson, Twitter: @matt_hendo12
for Voom Football, Blog: Voom Football, Twitter: @Voomfootball

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