Zinedine Zidane gets Algeria's top award | india | Hindustan Times
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Zinedine Zidane gets Algeria's top award

Zidane, on his first visit home since he was 15, was awarded the Al-Athir medal, the country's highest.

india Updated: Dec 13, 2006 23:11 IST

French football star Zinedine Zidane was honoured with Algeria's highest distinction on Wednesday as the country's native son continued a visit fit for a head of state.

Zidane, on his first visit home since he was 15, was awarded the Al-Athir medal, the country's highest, by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

In a dark blue suit and lighter tie, the former captain of Les Bleus, flanked by his mother Malika and father Smail, were given a private audience by the head of state and Zidane seated in the chair usually reserved for visiting VIPs.

"It was a symbolic audience, for me as well as for my parents, and I'm specially happy to have come to Algeria because I'm Bouteflika's guest," he said.

Zidane, 34, arrived on Monday at the invitation of Bouteflika, who has laid on a programme of events, including an appearance at an Algiers stadium on Thursday when he will kick-off a local match before a 60,000-strong crowd.

His arrival at the city's airport triggered a scrum as photographers jostled to capture the moment Zidane walked onto the tarmac accompanied by his parents, who come from the country's Kabylie region.

Some of the visiting dignitaries were nearly squashed in the stampede, and Labour and Solidarity Minister Djamal Ould Abbas was heard shouting out "Let him through, let him through."

Security services finally managed to hustle Zidane through the melee and into the lounge, not giving him time to make any comment, while the official welcoming ceremony was cancelled.

Zidane, who last visited Algeria when he was 15, inaugurated several charitable projects, notably in the Boumerdes region, which was hit by a huge earthquake in May 2003.

On Friday he will visit Bejaia, east of the capital, the birthplace of his parents, which is to host a lunch in his honour.

Zidane retired from football at the end of last season, which was tarnished when he gave Italian defender Marco Materazzi a headbutt in the chest in the dying moments of the World Cup final in July.