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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 November 2006, 12:49 GMT
Bangladesh hails 'messiah' Zidane
Zinedine Zidane is hero-worshipped in Bangladesh

Former football star Zinedine Zidane has received a hero's welcome in Bangladesh as the guest of Nobel peace prize winner Muhammad Yunus.

The ex-France, Juventus and Real Madrid star took part in an exhibition match televised to some 25m Bangladeshis.

In an impromptu performance in a village before the big game, Zidane attracted huge crowds as he displayed some of his mesmerising ball trickery.

Many fans climbed trees to catch a glimpse of their hero.

Flower shower

"He is my hero. I never thought I would see him in my own village. I still cannot believe this is happening," 16-year-old schoolboy Zakir Hossain told the AFP news agency from his tree-top vantage point.

Zinedine Zidane
I never thought that people living thousands of miles away in small villages here in Bangladesh would know who I am
Zinedine Zidane

Zidane, who is on a two-day visit to the impoverished country, was showered with flowers by villagers. "I am completely taken aback," he told a television channel.

Zidane has long been venerated in Bangladesh for his rags-to-riches success, especially among the young.

Correspondents say his notorious head butting of an Italian player during the 2006 World Cup has done no damage to his reputation.

"Bangladesh fans were shocked when he was sent off during the World Cup Final but he is still just as popular. We think of him as a football messiah," the General Secretary of the Bangladesh Football Federation, Anwarul Haque Helal, told the AFP news agency.

"His popularity here borders on idolatry and we feel very fortunate to have him come here and inspire our young generation of players."

Welcome distraction

Zidane arrived at Dhaka's Zia International airport on Monday night amid tight security.

Zinedine Zidane watching dancers in a Bangladeshi village
Zidane has been delighted by his reception in Bangladesh

His visit comes less than a month after his host Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize for the work of his Grameen Bank in giving small loans to the poor.

During his village visit, Zidane chatted to former beggars and women who had received small loans from Grameen Bank - known as micro-credit - to lift them out of poverty.

The BBC's Waliur Rahman in Dhaka says that his visit has provided a welcome distraction for young people bored by ceaseless political bickering in Bangladesh in the run-up to next year's general elections.

Zidane played the exhibition match between under-16 teams at a football stadium in the capital, Dhaka.

Zinedine Zidane
Zidane's reputation has not been darkened in Bangladesh

As well as the 25m television viewers, the game was also beamed live to a crowd of 40,000 people in Dhaka's Bangabandhu Stadium, the largest sports arena in the city.

Zidane delighted the fans by wearing the strips of both of the country's two leading teams.

But he steadfastly refused to answer questions about his infamous sending-off in this year's World Cup finals.

On Wednesday, he is due to officially open a yoghurt factory project run by French food giant Danone and Grameen Bank at a ceremony in Dhaka.

Each has a half stake in the $1m plant in the northern town of Bogra - set up to produce nutritious food products targeted at people on low-incomes.

Bangladesh, which has a population of 144 million, is one of the world's poorest countries.


SEE ALSO
The frustration of Zizou
26 Sep 06 |  Football
Zidane's red mist
09 Jul 06 |  World Cup 2006
Zidane off as Italy win World Cup
09 Jul 06 |  World Cup 2006

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