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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 July 2006, 06:02 GMT 07:02 UK
Old hands still call the tune
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer in Munich

Zinedine Zidane and Patrick Vieira
Zidane and Vieira have regained their spark in the engine room

France's ageing band of stars was cruelly dismissed as being akin to "The Rolling Stones on one last tour" after opening the World Cup in dismal style with a draw against Switzerland.

They were too old, living on past glories, incapable of producing the fire and enthusiasm of their youth - a pale shadow of once glorious talent.

It was a view about Raymond Domenech's team that was merely reinforced by a 1-1 stalemate against South Korea in their second group match.

The ageing legs of Patrick Vieira and Zinedine Zidane, winners in 1998, had outstayed their welcome on the World Cup stage.

Or so it seemed.

And yet a few short weeks after being dismissed as a latter-day Mick and Keith, Vieira and Zidane are once again preparing to play the biggest gig of all, after setting up a World Cup final against Italy with a 1-0 win against Portugal in Munich.

Raymond Domenech
Domenech's methods may be eccentric, but France are in the final

France stirred against Togo, but truly revived their reputation with a win against Spain in the last 16 and a quarter-final victory against Brazil.

Zidane suddenly rolled back the years and Vieira found the miles in his legs that had looked lost for ever at the start of the tournament.

Vindication for them - but even more so for the much-derided coach Domenech.

Domenech is a keen amateur dramatist, and he has shown a flair for pure theatre and drama in pulling France around and setting up their appearance in the final in Berlin.

He has been portrayed as an eccentric, a coach who once delayed naming his goalkeeper for a friendly against Costa Rica after he consulted the stars.

Domenech's left-field approach was underscored when it was revealed he had a distrust of Scorpios, and prefers his defenders not to be Leos because they may have a tendency to show off.

But could it be that it is written in the stars that France will crown the international career of the great Zidane with a second World Cup win, and hand Thierry Henry the ultimate consolation for missing out on the Champions League with Arsenal?

Zinedine Zidane
A revitalised Zidane has shown touches of superb artistry

In beating Portugal in Munich, Domenech and his team showed they were prepared to forsake their romantic ideals and replace them with pragmatism.

A lead earned by Zidane's penalty was fiercely protected in the second half, with natural flair sacrificed in favour of the substance of a place in the final.

Domenech immediately set his sights on the next goal.

He said: "Our aim was to still be here on 9 July. Now the new ambition is to have won the World Cup by late on Sunday evening.

"At the moment, it is difficult to realise what we have done, but maybe we will recognise it properly when we get to Berlin."

And he is convinced the presence of old heads in the team is a blessing rather than a curse.

He said: "It is an edge for us to have these experienced players. It is very important, because if you play with inexperienced players there comes a moment when it becomes more difficult."

For Zidane, Vieira and the rest of the heroes of France 98 and Euro 2000, life at this World Cup has become easier.

So "The Rolling Stones" of the World Cup go to Berlin on Sunday - what chance of another reunion tour for Euro 2008 if they beat Italy?

SEE ALSO
Zidane's lasting legacy
05 Jul 06 |  France
Portugal 0-1 France
05 Jul 06 |  World Cup 2006
'Beautiful' win delights Zidane
01 Jul 06 |  France
Brazil 0-1 France
01 Jul 06 |  World Cup 2006


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