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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 August, 2004, 12:46 GMT 13:46 UK
Hard act to follow
By Sarah Holt

Zinedine Zidane turns his back on France
Defender Bixente Lizarazu encapsulated the importance of France midfielder Zinedine Zidane in one simple statement:
"When we don't know what to do, we just give the ball to Zizou and he works something out."

Now that the 32-year-old has decided to step down from the international stage, a question mark once again hangs over the future of the France side.

The break-up of the team who swept all before them to claim the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship has already begun.

But with Zidane the latest to go France have lost their kingpin, their figurehead and the man who many fans called the nation's saviour.

BBC Sport examines just why Zidane was so important.

MIDFIELD CATALYST

France had only reached the last four of the World Cup once since the tournament was founded in 1930.

ZIDANE FACTS
Born: 23 June 1972, Marseille
Clubs: Cannes, Bordeaux, Juventus, Real Madrid
France career: Debut 17 August 1994
Won 93 caps and scored 26 goals
Won 1998 World Cup & Euro 2000
Personal honours: World player of the year 1998, 2000 and 2003
European player of the year 1998
Major club honours: Champions League (Real Madrid 2001)
European Super Cup (1996 Juventus, 2002 Real Madrid)
League title (Serie A with Juventus 1996/7, 1997/98, La Liga with Real Madrid 2002/03)
That changed in 1982 thanks to the skills of midfield maestro Michel Platini, who led them to fourth spot before going one better four years later.

Les Bleus were also haunted by poor form at the European Championship but Platini again took control, grabbing nine goals on his way to the 1984 crown.

When Platini retired in 1987, France had to wait seven years for the man who would assume the playmaker's mantle and arguably go on to eclipse him - Zidane.

The Marseille-born player lifted the Jules Rimet trophy in his first World Cup in 1998.

Two years later, Zidane was named player of the tournament as his inspirational performances steered France to the Euro 2000 title.

GOLDEN GOALS

Zidane's ability to open up space, to provide the pinpoint pass and to weave the ball around opponents all make him a near-perfect goal provider.

But the midfielder's keen eye for goal has bagged him 23 of his own - many of them turning the match in France's favour.

As a 22-year-old Bordeaux player, Zidane marked his international debut in 1994 by firing two goals past the Czech Republic just 17 minutes after coming off the bench to level the match.

Before the 1998 World Cup final in Paris, a French commentator heaped pressure on Zidane's shoulders by saying, "If France has any hope tonight this man is it".

He was right of course.

Not only did the Real Madrid player pull the strings in midfield his two first-half headers - often cited as his weakest attribute - cemented France's historic 3-0 victory over Brazil.

PUBLIC IMAGE

Zidane was only handed the France captaincy in March 2003 in the absence of Marcel Desailly but his leadership skills both on and off the pitch do not need to be legitimised by an armband.

Zinedine Zidane enjoys some down time with his family
Zidane has tried to keep his family out of the spotlight
He has undoubtedly raised the profile of the French game - his move to Real Madrid, for a world record fee of 46m, alone makes him a piece of global trivia.

Politically, his achievements as the son of Algerian immigrants have also done much to highlight the positives of integration.

But the father-of-three shys away from the limelight.

And it is his softly-spoken manner, his quiet determination to succeed, his family values - as well as his reputation as the world's best footballer - that have seen him develop into an enduring national role model.




SEE ALSO
Zidane consulted on Vieira
19 Jul 04  |  Arsenal


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