Zidane set to go out on a high

Zinedine Zidane has ensured he will leave football on a high after some superb performances in his last competition before retiring.

Zinedine Zidane has ensured he will leave football on a high after some superb performances in his last competition before retiring.

Even if France lose tomorrow’s semi-final with Portugal, Zidane will have gone a long way to restoring the reputation of Les Bleus whose previous exploits were tarnished by poor campaigns in 2002 and Euro 2004.

His match-clinching goal against Spain in the last 16 and his man-of-the-match display against Brazil in the quarter-final will live long in the memory but there is no indication Zidane will be satisfied with second, third or even fourth best.

His team-mate and fellow France ‘98 veteran Lilian Thuram admits if Zidane is past it then so are many others.

“I think if he (Zidane) is retiring then so should a lot of other players,” said Thuram in Hamlyn. “Either that or maybe he should play on.”

However, coach Raymond Domenech believes it is the fact the end is near for Zidane that is helping him turn the clock back in Germany.

“He’s Zidane. He seems to be surprising you,” Domenech told journalists after the Brazil match. “He doesn’t surprise us.

“We know what he is capable of and it’s precisely because he knows he will be quitting soon that he wants to play to the very limits – he is not holding back in any way.”

Zidane’s footballing obituary had already been written before the World Cup with most pundits agreeing the summer of 1998 would define his career.

His two headed goals in the final put France on course for a 3-0 win over Brazil for their first world title and turned Zidane from a respected footballer into a worldwide superstar.

He was no one-tournament wonder – witness his performances in Euro 2000 as France lifted the trophy or his volleyed goal that won Real Madrid the 2002 Champions League against Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden Park.

However, the 1998 achievement of bringing two million people on to the Champs Elysees was set to be Zizou’s zenith – until perhaps now.

Most had written France off as an ageing team on their last legs but Zidane - and fellow 1998 stalwarts like Thuram and Fabien Barthez – are ramming that criticism down their throats.

Zidane does not normally like speaking to the press but made a point after the Spain game of telling Marca journalists from Spain he had just proved them wrong - following a difficult final season with Real Madrid the Spanish press were convinced Zidane no longer had the legs or the heart.

Now France are many people’s favourites to lift a second title in eight years with only Portugal and the victors of the Germany-Italy semi-final now able to stop them.

Anyone who needs to know how much the three-times FIFA world player of the year is respected by his team-mates should listen to Franck Ribery, at 23 the youngest member of the France squad who, like millions of his compatriots, joined the 1998 street celebrations when he was just a schoolboy.

“It’s great to be at the World Cup playing alongside him and it will be great when later on in my career or even when it’s over when I can say ’I played with Zizou’,” said Ribery.

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