Only eight games now remain to be played in Germany. In any World Cup tournament, the pace of the matches speeds up significantly after the first stage, so that it is sometimes difficult to sustain one’s concentration for long, particularly on days when there are no matches to be played, despite the usual training and practise sessions.
Anyway, we now prepare to take on France, who eliminated Spain in what I thought was a display of complete football. Already, there is a buzz about our match because who can forget that France took the Cup from us in 1998? However, we do not bear any thoughts of revenge because in football, resentment usually leads a team to play badly. Let’s put it this way, we do not want to win against the French merely because they snatched the World Cup from Brazil, but because our objective is to be champions, without making too much of a fuss about the teams that we have to eliminate in order to reach that objective.
Before you ask me why, and on a personal level, I will tell you that what happened in France eight years ago holds absolutely no interest for me. Inevitably, however, some bright minds have already drawn parallels between my visits to the hospital in 1998 and this year, which makes no sense to me at all. As far as I am concerned, I played the final match like the rest of my mates, and France was far better than Brazil and deservingly won the title. There is nothing more to say.
Actually, this match will be special to me for an entirely different reason -- the opportunity to play against Zinédine Zidane. We have been very good friends for several years and have much in common. A few months ago, we travelled together to Berlin to shoot for a commercial for one of the sponsors of Real Madrid. As we waited in a hotel room for the shoot to begin, we had a heart-to-heart talk about soccer. From the window, we could see the Brandenburg Gate, and both of us observed that it would be nice to return to Berlin to play the final match.
During that shoot, somebody told us that the hotel had already been reserved by one of the World Cup teams in case it reached the final and we found ourselves thinking that perhaps the team would be ours. Both of us have very similar ideas on the development of football, and feel that it must be made more professional across the board, so that players have more of a say in the organization of competitions and the annual calendar, because we are certainly at the bottom of the pile when it comes to the management of this sport.
I believe that players should be consulted from time to time on the growth of football and that our opinion should count.
Every year, for the last three years, Zidane and I have organised a Match against Poverty, in which two sides comprising our friends play each other to raise funds for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), of which we are ambassadors. Once these funds are collected, we are consulted on the different projects that they can be spent on in several countries, and an amount is allocated for each project. I have always tried to help others and UNDP has helped us make a difference in the lives of many. Zidane is also very involved in this campaign and after his retirement, I think he will become still more dedicated.
I can't believe I have just written that Zidane is leaving football. It still seems to me incredible. He is one of those people who we wish would never grow old because those of us who love this game are going to miss him enormously. On behalf of the world, I want to pay a tribute to this player who has given so much to football. Perhaps tomorrow he will have played his last match, but what is clear is that the winner of the eliminatory match will be our beautiful game. Naturally, we will carry our friendship on to the field, and though we will fight to reach the semi-final, we know we will face each other as friends, just as in the next Match against Poverty.