Zidane, Zinedine

Zidane, Zinedine
▪ 1999

      Hollywood fiction could hardly have improved on World Cup reality for Zinedine Zidane. Starting the France 98 tournament as the best hope of the host nation in its campaign to win the gold medal, the Marseille-born association football (soccer) star quickly showed his class and outstanding ability, inspiring France to beat South Africa in the opening match in front of adoring fans in his home city. Then came disaster. He was sent off the field in the match against Saudi Arabia for the uncharacteristic act of stamping on an opponent. In addition, he was banned for two matches and disgraced, and there were even rumours that he might be dropped from the French team completely. France, however, needed him, and so he returned and in the final against Brazil became the hero everyone in the country had wanted him to be, scoring two goals and giving France its first major trophy. They were his 10th and 11th international goals. In the World Soccer poll he was voted player of the year.

      Zidane was born on June 23, 1972, the son of Berber immigrants from Algeria. After playing for minor teams Castellane and Septimes-les-Vallons, he joined Cannes and soon developed as a rangy looking, 1.85-m (6-ft, 1-in)-tall midfield player with great upper body strength and a somewhat ungainly gait that masked exceptional vision, a deft sleight of foot, and an ability to outwit the most determined defenders. He made his debut for Cannes on May 20, 1989, at Nantes. Operating behind the two main strikers, "Zizou" (as he was known to all) became the focal point of the attack. In 1992 he was transferred to Bordeaux. Two years later, when voted Best Young Player in France, he played in his first full international competition for France, scoring both goals in a 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic.

      In 1995 he played an incredible 57 matches overall for club and country and helped secure a place in the UEFA Cup final for his Bordeaux club. The exhausting year took a toll on his stamina, however, and worse followed: he narrowly escaped serious injury in a car crash. Despite performing below his usual form, he played in the finals of the 1996 European Championship, in which France reached the semifinals. That summer the Italian club Juventus paid Bordeaux a transfer fee of £3.2 million for Zidane's services, starting in September 1996. In Italy he soon became as much of a favourite as he had been in France, appearing on Juventus's winning team at the World Club Championship and European Super Cup as well as on its 1997 Italian league-winning squad. Juventus also reached the European Champions League final in 1997 and 1998, and Zidane finished third in the European Player of the Year vote in 1997. In January 1998 he scored the only goal when France beat Spain 1-0 in a match to inaugurate the Stade de France, the new stadium that was to be the scene six months later of France's—and Zidane's—World Cup triumph.

JACK ROLLIN

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Universalium. 2010.

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