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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 July 2006, 22:07 GMT 23:07 UK
Zidane's lasting legacy
By Jonathan Stevenson

Zinedine Zidane
Zidane has been at his imperious best during the World Cup

Zinedine Zidane is in the process of finalising his legacy.

The French captain will retire from professional football after playing in the World Cup final on Sunday.

Rolling back the years, the winner of the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 has produced some sublime displays to lead Les Bleus into a meeting with Italy, the country in which he spent five glorious years from 1996-2001.

So just how has the 34-year-old found his sparkling best form to turn France from outsiders into contenders for the greatest prize of all?

USING HIS EXPERIENCE

Before the tournament, France and Zidane were written off as too old, a team that had seen better days and would be broken up as soon as they got knocked out.

ZIDANE FACTFILE
Born: 23 June 1972, Marseille
Clubs: Cannes, Bordeaux, Juventus, Real Madrid
France career: Debut 17 August 1994
106 caps & 28 goals
1998 World Cup & Euro 2000
Personal honours: World player of year 1998, 2000 & 2003
European player of year 1998
Major club honours: Champions League (Real Madrid 2001)
European Super Cup (1996 Juventus, 2002 Real Madrid)
League title (Serie A with Juventus 1996/7, 1997/98, La Liga with Real Madrid 2002/03)

Zidane had endured three frustrating, trophy-less years at Real Madrid and announced his decision to quit the game upon France's exit.

But Raymond Domenech's ageing squad has called on all of their experience to out-think and outmanouvre their more youthful opponents to move seamlessly into the last four.

Zidane has made a mockery of the critics by dictating the games against Spain and Brazil and playing at a tempo with which he and his team-mates are comfortable.

After 107 caps and more than 10 years at the very top of his game, no-one knows better than Zidane how to exert his authority on a game - and at the key moments, too.

Domenech, for one, is taking Zidane's dominance against the world's best teams in his stride.

"He's Zidane, but he seems to be surprising you," Domenech told a recent news conference. "He doesn't surprise us."

MOULDING THE TEAM AROUND ZIDANE

Seems like such a simple thing for Domenech to do, doesn't it? Take your best player - Zidane - and shape the rest of the team around him.

Criticised initially for poor tactics, the coach refused to lose faith in his captain - even though some called for Zidane to be dropped for the Spain game after France had beaten Togo 2-0 with Zidane suspended.

Zidane with France coach Raymond Domenech
Domenech's faith in his captain has been handsomely rewarded

Domenech was accused of not giving enough support to Thierry Henry, the player many felt had taken on the mantle of France's talisman.

They wanted Henry to be given a striking partner instead of the five-man midfield which gives Zidane carte blanche to affect play as and when he sees fit.

But it suits Zidane perfectly. With Claude Makelele and Patrick Vieira holding the fort and Franck Ribery and Florent Malouda scampering down the wings, the playmaker can do what he does best - create.

He instinctively knows how to find space and when he gets possession he knows exactly what is going on around him.

Most importantly, his colleagues have faith in Zidane that he will make the best decision for the benefit of the team.

WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT ZIDANE

Zidane's mastery of his art has drawn plaudits from all corners of the globe - especially after his age-defying display against Brazil in Frankfurt on Saturday.

Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira was the first to pay tribute to the great Zidane, labelling him "a monster" for his performance.

French legend Michel Platini believes Zidane is one of the most skilful players the game has ever known.

"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 or receiving the ball," said Platini.

German icon Franz Beckenbauer added: "Zidane is one of the greatest players in history, a truly magnificent player."

Pele, a World Cup winner three times with Brazil, hailed the Frenchman after seeing his country go out: "Zidane was the magician in the game."

Last word goes to Italy manager Marcello Lippi, who will have to stop one of his favourite sons - he coached Zidane at Juve - if his country is to win the final on Sunday.

"I think Zidane is the greatest talent we've known in football these last 20 years, yet he never played the prima donna," said Lippi. "I am honoured to have been his manager."

ZIDANE'S LEGACY

When Zinedine Zidane leaves the pitch for the last time in Berlin, he will leave an indelible mark on the game he has graced for so long.

A player like Zidane will be remembered for special moments - those frozen in time that have gone down in football folklore.

Zidane (10) nods home in the 1998 World Cup final
Zidane writes his name into football history in the 1998 final

Like Maradona's iconic second goal against England in 1986, like Johan Cruyff's turn in 1974 that so bemused Swedish right-back Gunnar Olsson.

Zidane has had so many of them already - the two headers in the 1998 World Cup final, the coolly-taken last-minute penalty to knock out Portugal in the Euro 2000 semi-final, the stunning volley to win the 2002 Champions League.

Now he has more. The ease with which he scored France's third goal against Spain was majestic, as was the way he flicked the ball over Ronaldinho's head on Saturday as if to torment the double World Footballer of the Year.

On such moments are the careers of the very greatest players defined.

Ronaldinho, by curling a last-minute free-kick a yard over the crossbar, missed the chance to cement his place in the pantheon of greats.

Zidane is already there, but he may yet have one final, beautiful moment to leave us with.



SEE ALSO
Portugal 0-1 France
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Brazil v France Virtual Replay
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'Beautiful' win delights Zidane
01 Jul 06 |  France
Brazil 0-1 France
01 Jul 06 |  World Cup 2006
Zidane swansong
12 Jun 06 |  France
France team guide
22 May 06 |  France
Pick your France XI
16 May 06 |  Squad selectors
World Cup schedule
25 May 06 |  Schedule
Have your say on the World Cup
28 Apr 06 |  Football
BBC World Cup coverage
27 Apr 06 |  BBC coverage


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