France begins its fond farewell to 'Zizou'
Zinedine Zidane's newly announced retirement plans will leave a huge void in French and international soccer.india Updated: Apr 26, 2006 20:48 IST
Thanks for the memories, Zizou.
Few have matched the career highlights of Zinedine Zidane, the star Real Madrid and France midfielder whose newly announced retirement plans will leave a huge void in French and international soccer.
"Everyone is going to miss him," said France and Arsenal striker Thierry Henry.
Zidane will forever be remembered for the two headers he scored against Brazil on July 12, 1998, to win France's first World Cup.
Delirious fans chanting "Zizou for president" flooded the Champs-Elysees and Zidane's portrait and name were projected onto the Arc de Triomphe.
"I was so hungry to score a World Cup goal that I made it two," Zidane said at the time.
The son of an Algerian night watchman, born in the immigrant melting pot of Marseille, Zidane came to symbolise hopes for a new France proud of their mix of cultures and races.
The success of the multiracial France team of "blacks, blancs, beurs" — blacks, whites and Arabs — drowned out complaints from extreme-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen that there were too many shades of dark on the squad.
Zidane sealed his superhero status at Euro 2000, where he clinched France's place in the final with is 117th-minute "golden goal" penalty against Portugal in the semis.
Fans would say the sensational left-footed volley Zidane cored in 2002 against Bayer Leverkusen alone amply repaid the investment.
The goal clinched Madrid's ninth hapions Cup title. Zidane was voted player of the game.
Zidane said that announcing his retirement plans now will allow him to focus on "my last objective" — trying to win back the World Cup this summer in Germany — and will leave Madrid time to replace him.
The French dream is that Zidane will again carry Les Bleus to the final on July 9 in Berlin and that his last match will finish with him holding the trophy above his head once more.
But the risk is that Zidane's deparure will overshadow or even distract from the French campaign.
"My only concern is that we forget that he is going to play the World Cup," France coach Raymon Domenech said today. What's important, he added, "is not the announcement that Zidane is stopping, it is the France team's participation in the World Cup."
If France melts down, as it did at the 2002 World Cup, Zidane's last match could fall on his 34h birthday, on June 23.