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Monday, 26 June, 2000, 06:27 GMT 07:27 UK
Simply the best
Zidane leaves Guardiola in his wake
Zidane leaves Guardiola in his wake
BBC Sport Online's Pete Lansley has his breath taken away by Zinedine Zidane.

This piece started life as a head-to-head between Josep Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane.

But as the French play-maker left all in the Jan Breydel Stadium drooling after his fifth-gear showing against Spain, it soon fell into danger of becoming a simple eulogy.

Zidane reckons he is a better player than two years ago when his two goals in the World Cup final saw off Brazil as France conquered the world.

But, playing in the 'hole' off Thierry Henry, he came up against one of the best defensive midfielders in the world in the Barcelona schemer.

Christophe Dugarry
Zidane made a rare error from Dugarry's pass
They came head to head from the off. Guardiola was keeping close tabs on the Juve man, and Zidane made sure they both had a busy night.

But just as Zidane could prove himself merely mortal when offering no more than an air shot to Christophe Dugarry's brilliant pass, so he could three minutes later show what a world-class star he is by chipping his free-kick into the top corner to give France the lead.

There was nothing Guardiola could do to guard against that kind of skill.

As the second half progressed Zidane, who has been playing further forward than in the World Cup, dropped deeper.

But he still worked hard for the team, blocking defenders off from an easy life to show the right example and to prevent Spain taking control.

Pierluigi Collina
Zidane and Collina know each other from Serie A
Whereas in the first two group games, Zidane gave performances where his efficiency bordered on minimalism, so against Spain, when France needed to call upon all their resources, he proved he can move up onto another plane.

He purred away from Guardiola on a couple of occasions, knowing how to capitalise on his opponent's weakness.

He is an Olympian God playing in blue and white.

Even when he committed a foul, Zidane enjoyed an intimate moment with the Italian referee Pierluigi Collina, as if neither could believe the balding Frenchman had sinned.

Five minutes from time, when Fabien Barthez needed treatment that ate into Spain's time, Guardiola, hands up in Latin angst, found Zidane calmly talking through why the linesman had not flagged.

The two stars exchanged shirts at match's end, in a moment of mutual respect.

The French team is stronger than it was two years ago

Zinedine Zidane
But both knew that while the Spaniard is a quality international player, Zidane is from another planet.

"The French team is stronger than it was two years ago," he suggested. "There's more experience. For myself, I'm now 28 and playing at the top of my game at the highest level.

"I've matured and I'm also playing better than two years ago."

And that was when they earned the right to be called the best team in the world. What does that make them now?

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See also:

25 Jun 00 | The BBC Team
Zidane personifies France's quality
25 Jun 00 | Euro2000
Raul miss sends France through
25 Jun 00 | Euro2000
Six of the best for Holland
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