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  Euro Stars    Zinedine Zidane


Zidane set to grace the big stage perhaps for last time
Zinedine Zidane
Real Madrid
France went down on their knees at the 2002 World Cup because Zinedine Zidane injured his thigh a few days before the start of the tournament.

French fans might also kneel, this time as a testimony of admiration, if the balding playmaker leaves his mark on the European Championship as he did in the 1998 World Cup final or the 2002 Champions League final.

With the Euro 2004 finals starting next month, the soft-spoken Zidane will have the opportunity to show once again that he is among the world's greatest ever players.

The brilliant playmaker has extended his contract with Real Madrid until 2007 but he was a little more coy when asked if he would go on with Les Bleus after the competition in Portugal.

Euro 2004 would then be the best chance for him to go for a second Golden Ball and reduce the gap with other football greats such as Michel Platini and Johan Cruyff, three-times winners of the European Footballer of the Year award.

His nonchalant close control, delicate turns, his ability to create space for himself where none existed a second earlier and his unmatched vision of the game soon made him a favourite at Real Madrid when he won the FIFA player of the year award for the third time in 2003.

"He dominates the ball, he is a walking spectacle and he plays as if he had silk gloves on each foot," Real Madrid hero Alfredo Di Stefano has said of him.

"He reminds me a bit of myself, although I was a bit quicker. He makes it worthwhile going to the stadium -- he's one of the best I have ever seen."

That talent enabled Zidane to live a life that most from his humble background in the La Castellane district of Marseille can only dream of.

His family are Algerian immigrants and the area he grew up in is a tough one.

Yet he has crossed boundaries all his life, and remarkably has just been voted top in a poll carried out by the Journal du Dimanche newspaper as the most popular Frenchman of all time.

However, something is still missing. Although he has universal respect both within and without football, he falls short of the utter greatness bestowed upon the likes of Pele, Diego Maradona or Platini.

Still he can live with that for he is arguably among the best 20 players of all time -- and the only Frenchman better than "Zizou" as he is known, was Platini.

His genius is set to be on display again in Portugal where France will meet England, Croatia and Switzerland in Group B.

Zidane made his international debut 10 years ago, scoring both France goals in a 2-2 draw against the Czech Republic.

Since then, he has proved himself the key player in the team. He arrived exhausted at the Euro 1996 finals and as a result France were knocked out of the competition against the Czechs in the semi-finals.

He was in impressive form two years later at the World Cup. France won on home soil as they defeated Brazil 3-0 in the final, Zidane heading a double in the first half.

With a top-form Zizou, Les Bleus went on to win the European Championship two years later. Should he repeat his 2003-04 season's best performances and France be crowned again, Zidane could well leave the French national team.

He would also leave a whole country with tears in their eyes.
- Julien Pretot




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