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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 July 2006, 20:04 GMT 21:04 UK
France baffled by Zidane's folly
Zinedine Zidane headbutts Marco Materazzi to the ground
The fateful moment when Zidane headbutted Materazzi
France has been left reeling by its football team's defeat by Italy in the World Cup final - and struggling to understand the seemingly inexplicable head-butt of star player Zinedine Zidane on opponent Marco Materazzi.

Throughout Monday, the airwaves were buzzing with phone-ins and debate programmes dissecting Zidane's act and his possible motive.

The national news evening bulletin on the main public TV channel was almost entirely dedicated to the aftermath of the French defeat.

But as one poll published on Tuesday showed, a large section of the French public seems to have already forgiven his violent act.

Some 61% of those polled said they forgave Zidane for the act of fury which earned him a red card in the second half of extra time when the match was tied at 1-1.

But 27% said they did not forgive him, in a poll of 802 people published in Le Parisien newspaper.

Asked whether they understood Zidane's reaction to apparent provocation by Materazzi, 52% of those polled said they did, while 32% said they did not.

It was one red card too far - I think that Zidane, even if he got a red card, will stay in our hearts till the end
French supporter

Like the several thousand supporters who gathered to greet the return of the French team in Paris on Monday, many fans continue to support the French star.

"It was one red card too far - I think that Zidane, even if he got a red card, will stay in our hearts till the end," one supporter in Paris told RTL radio after the game.

"It was a big deception, it was really hard getting up this morning," another supporter, Morgane in the eastern town of Nancy, told RTL on Monday.

"One wants to say bravo to Zidane in spite of everything he has done, he had an unfortunate gesture," she added.

A third, newsagent Bernard, also in Nancy, said he was just glad the French team had got as far as it did.

"I am not disappointed because at the beginning [of the finals], I would have never believed that the team would take us as far it did, so I'm proud of them."

Why?

Speculation was rife as to what could have motivated Zidane to act the way he did.

One commentator pointed to the pressure the French captain was under:

"There has been this huge abnormal pressure - social, from the supporters, from the media - which went largely beyond him and turned him into this incredible icon... pressure can galvanise, but it can also be a source of angst."

Former France coach Michel Hidalgo also defended Zidane after he was sent off.

It was your last image as a soccer player, Zidane - how could that happen to a man like you?
L'Equipe sports daily

"When you know him, you know that they must have been very cruel words for him to react like that," Hidalgo said.

French newspapers were less forgiving of the French hero.

Sports daily L'Equipe addressed its Monday editorial directly to Zidane, comparing him to boxer Muhammad Ali.

"But neither Ali, nor Pele, nor [Jesse] Owens, nor any other great hero of their standing - the standing that you were on the verge of joining - ever broke the most elementary rules of sport like you did," the paper wrote.

"It was your last image as a soccer player, Zidane. How could that happen to a man like you?"

But Tuesday saw the paper go on to apologise for its scathing Monday editorial.

"If they [my words] hurt you, I apologise," editorialist Claude Droussent said in a front-page comment.

National daily Le Figaro's leader, headlined "The nightmare", was no less scathing.

"Why did Zinedine Zidane wreck it all for the sake of a stupid and wicked head-butt against Materazzi?

"When he had no more than 10 minutes left on the field before ending his prolific career, the French captain spoilt it all with a gut reaction that is unforgivable, whatever the insults uttered about him by the Italian."

Regional daily Ouest-France called on him to apologise.

"Because he has become the icon of those who practise the most popular sport, because he is looked to, watched, adulated by a whole young generation for whom he is one of the great role models, the national football team captain has a duty to explain himself.

"And to apologise... just so that the children in the stadiums and in the suburbs, in the parks and the school playgrounds, can hear from his lips that this kind of action, while it can be understood and even forgiven, is unacceptable."




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