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Last Updated: Monday, 10 July 2006, 17:34 GMT 18:34 UK
Zidane fall deflates French mood
By Alasdair Sandford
BBC News, Paris

French footballer Zinedine Zidane
France had been gripped by 'Zidanomania' during the World Cup

The images on the screen brought a roar of horror from the crowded bar.

It was as though someone had faked the footage and dropped it surreptitiously into the match coverage, like some kind of grotesque video nasty.

Slow motion replays of Zinedine Zidane usually focus on the split second while he teases an opponent, weighing up which particular ball trick to pull off before leaving the hapless defender in his wake. But not this. They saw instead, their hero butting an Italian player and getting sent off.

The atmosphere in the Rush Bar in eastern Paris had been upbeat until then.

A tom-tom drum accompanied the continuous chants of "Come On Les Bleus" as the overwhelmingly French crowd played along to the English pub surroundings.

Before the match and again at half-time, the sound system had belted out what has been tipped to be one of the hits of the summer.

As the bar crowd sang "Zidane y va marquer", they meant he was going to score goals.

But 'marquer' can also mean 'make an impression'. From now on, the song may have slightly different connotations.

'Very sad'

Outside the bar afterwards, the sending-off was as bewildering to the French fans as the penalty shoot-out had been disappointing.

He deserved a better way. But he's still the world's greatest player
Thibaud Caquant
French football fan

"It's a very bad image of France for the world," Aude Sarrade-Louchour said.

"The French people have a good sense of fair play. Zinedine Zidane's attitude was very bad. I don't understand what he's done."

"It's very, very sad for him to leave his professional career like that", Thibaud Caquant said.

"He deserved a better way. But he's still the world's greatest player."

Just five minutes before his moment of madness, a goal-bound header from Zidane had briefly conjured up memories of his two goals against Brazil in the 1998 World Cup Final.

The transition from fantasy to nightmare was abrupt and shocking, all the more so because of what one newspaper had previously described as the 'Zidanomania' of the past two weeks.

The adulation saw him not just compared to Platini, Maradona and Pele - but revered as some kind of modern-day sporting equivalent of India's pacifist leader Mahatma Gandhi, or US civil rights leader Martin Luther King.

'France dreamed'

The same newspaper, Liberation, now calls for a return down to earth.

French football fans in Paris
Some fans were bewildered by the send-off

Naming players such as Thuram and Vieira, Barthez and Zidane, it acknowledges that the 1998 World Cup winning generation deserves its pantheon.

"This multicoloured France which flies high the three-coloured flag does not hide the failure of integration," it says, "but proves the virtues of mixing".

But the paper warns that for the French, football has become a way of turning their attention away from reality - and says it is the only thing in which they share a sense of common destiny.

"For a month, France dreamed with Zidane", it added. "This morning, she's waking up with Chirac."

Black mood

On welcoming the team to the Elysee Palace on its return to Paris, the president spoke of the country's "admiration" and "affection" for Zidane, describing him as a "virtuoso... a man with a big heart".

As the response of the tens of thousands who turned out to greet the squad in the Place de la Concorde would suggest, the French are unlikely to turn against the man most see as the country's greatest ever player.

In the high-rise suburbs too, young people showed little sign that their hero's standing had diminished.

In Gennevilliers just outside Paris on Monday afternoon, 19 year-old Youssef spoke for several of his friends when he said "He's the best, he's a legend. I love him a lot, like everyone does here."

Zinedine Zidane has managed to unite the nation in a way that no French politician can dream of doing.

A second World Cup victory could have seen the carnival mood of the past couple of weeks continue throughout the summer.

But unlike 1998, not only has the final ended in defeat, rapidly deflating the nation's morale - it's also come at a time of continued economic uncertainty. When the French come back from their summer holidays, the black mood may return as once again they find their lives dominated by issues such as jobs and law and order.

From start to finish, the team's progress through the tournament has carried the French public along on a rollercoaster ride. It was good while it lasted.


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