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World Cup Heroes: Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane, the world football icon from the rough Marseille suburb of La Castellane needs no introduction to anyone with even the slightest knowledge of football. Sarah Fitzpatrick takes a look at the footballing life of the man known to multitudes of fans and admirers as Zizou.

Zidane found his love for football while playing on the streets of La Castellane and began to play for youth teams at the tender age of ten. At only 14 years of age, AS Cannes snapped up Zidane where he spent four years developing his football style and technique. Zidane also had to tackle his temper problem and his first coach Jean Varraud encouraged the feisty midfielder to channel his rage and energy into the game rather than taking it out on the crowd and opposition. Zidane moved to Bordeaux in 1992 and became a dominant force in the Bordeaux midfield which led to much interest from other clubs around the world. In 1995, Blackburn Rovers showed interest in the midfielder but their owner Jack Walker infamously stated,

“Why would we want Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?”

Newcastle also decided against signing the midfielder for £1.2million as they felt he would not be quick enough for the Premier League. But none of that madness mattered much to Zidane. In 1996 he moved to Juventus where he won two Serie A titles and even won the Ballon d’Or in 1998 which was an official recognition of his status as a world class player.

In 2001, Zidane made a record €75 million move to Real Madrid and joined a team of Galacticos. It was in the famous white Madrid shirt that he scored an iconic volley that secured a Champions League title for Real Madrid. Zidane also went on to win a La Liga title in 2002-03. Zidane’s impressive club career brought him to a total of 506 games and 95 goals.

Zidane carried his outstanding standard of football into his international career and there is no bigger stage for a player to showcase his ability than the World Cup. Zidane’s World Cup highlight came in the 1998 competition which was held in his homeland France.

The 16th World Cup Competition had returned to France after sixty years and France got off to an amazing start by topping their group through a 3-0 win against South Africa, a 4-0 win against Saudi Arabia and a 2-1 win against Denmark. However, the group stages turned out to be disappointing for Zidane personally as he received a red card against Saudi Arabia which meant he was suspended for three games.

Zidane returned to the side in the quarter-finals when France were drawn against a tough Italian side which led to a close game that ended 0-0 even after extra time. Zidane stepped up to lead his side to victory in penalties by scoring the first French penalty and they won 4-3 in the shoot-out.

The French marched on to the semi-finals where Croatia also proved to be a tough side to beat, but two Lillian Thuram goals sent France through in a 2-1 victory.

This led to a France vs Brazil final and one of the greatest performances in Zinedine Zidane’s career as in the 27th minute Zidane got his head to the end of a French corner and put France in the lead. In the 45th minute, Zidane rose again during a French corner and headed the ball through the legs of Roberto Carlos to put France 2-0 up. From there on, it seemed as though the World Cup title was only going one way and that was confirmed when Emmanuel Petit slotted home in the 90th minute.

Zidane’s performance in the game confirmed his status as one of the greatest players in the world as he dominated the French attack and his ability with the ball was too much for the Brazilians to handle.

Michel Platini claimed that Zidane’s ability with the ball was the best in the world, stating:

“Technically, I think he is the king of what’s fundamental in the game – control and passing. I don’t think anyone can match him when it comes to controlling and receiving the ball.”

France entered the World Cup in 2002 as one of the favourites due to their massive success in 1998 but it was not meant to be for Zidane and France, as it turned out to be a miserable tournament for the holders. Zidane was ruled out of the group games with an injury but it seemed as though the French couldn’t cope without the midfielder as they lost their opening game to Senegal 1-0. The misery continued for the French as they had a scoreless draw against Uruguay and then lost 2-0 to Denmark which confirmed France would be knocked out of the competition.

In 2006, Zidane missed the beginning of the competition again but this time through suspension. The French began the competition in a disappointing fashion through draws against South Korea and Switzerland and only managed to qualify out of their group through a 2-0 win against Togo.

Zidane returned in the knock-out stages where the French met Spain and managed a classy comeback after David Villa gave the Spaniards the lead. Ribery responded with the equaliser, Vieira put France ahead and in the 90th minute France won possession at the half way line and Zidane made a run towards the box where he skilfully beat Puyol and slotted home to guarantee a French win.

Zidane’s side went on to beat Brazil in the Quarter-Finals through a Thierry Henry goal, and were drawn against Portugal in the semi-finals where Henry was brought down in the box which led to Zidane slotting home from the penalty spot and putting France into another World Cup final.

The World Cup Final in 2006 proved to one of the most memorable World Cup finals for reasons both good and bad. This was mainly because it showed the two sides of Zinedine Zidane as he showed his leadership and talent when putting France ahead by scoring an early penalty. A Materazzi equaliser led to extra time which is where the world witnessed the volatile side of Zidane as he headbutted Materazzi in the chest after a war of words with the Italian and was sent off for the offence and this also turned out to be the end of Zidane’s international career.

Unfortunately for Zidane and France, Italy managed to win 5-3 on penalties after David Trezeguet failed to put his penalty away.

Zinedine Zidane amazed football fans around the world throughout his career and especially in the World Cup competitions of 1998 and 2006. One of the biggest compliments to Zidane is that he even amazed great rivals and opposition as the former Italian manager Marcello Lippi claims,

“The greatest player of the past twenty years? It has to be Zidane. He had everything. You never needed to tell him anything as he did it all by himself and knew what was expected.”

Sarah Fitzpatrick, Pundit Arena

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