France’s Zidane envisions farewell hoisting trophy

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PARIS (AP) – Zinedine Zidane has it all worked out: He will hoist the World Cup trophy in Berlin on July 9 and retire from soccer.

“I will be very, very motivated at the World Cup, I assure you,” the French star said. “I can’t be satisfied with what I have achieved these last two years. I want to win another World Cup and I will give everything I have”.

His two header goals helped Les Bleus to a 3-0 win over Brazil in 1998 for France’s only world championship, securing “Zizou’s” place in French sports history.

French fans, starved for success since the 1984 European title, chanted his nickname on the Champs-Elysees. His face, projected by laser onto the Arc de Triomphe, looked over the scene with his trademark fixed stare.

The same fans begged him to come back when he retired from international soccer after defending champion France’s quarterfinal exit against Greece at the 2004 European Championship. He obliged them last August, and France scraped through in World Cup qualifying.

Zidane’s impact over the four final qualifying games was highlighted by a rousing talk at halftime of a game at Ireland. With the score 0-0, his calm demeanor cracked. In graphic language he made his teammates fully aware of what was at stake.

Thierry Henry responded. He curled the ball past goalkeeper Shay Given to give France a 1-0 win.

“Just to see Zizou on the field inspires you,” Henry said.

France coach Raymond Domencech waited two months after Zidane’s international retirement before phoning to ask about a comeback. Now the coach believes Zidane can lead the French again.

“I am convinced that the best page in his sporting history remains for him to write – winning a new World Cup with Les Bleus,” Domenech said.

Zidane was supposed to do that in 2002. But he was injured in a warmup game against South Korea while still exhausted from a superb season with Real Madrid that was capped by a wonderful volley for a goal in the Champions League final.

Zidane questioned whether he should play. But coach Roger Lemerre, formerly coach of France’s military soccer team, picked Zidane for the tuneup just five days before France’s opener against Senegal.

After 38 minutes, Zidane limped off the field, clutching his thigh. He missed the following game (0-0 against Uruguay) and hopped around in vain while heavily taped in a 2-0 defeat to Denmark that sent the French home humiliated.

“I will do anything to avoid injury this time,” Zidane said. “I am aware of what I bring to the team, of everything we can do.”

Zidane says his performances the last two years have been below par, an assessment that reflects more his colossal standards rather than the facts. While his hairline has thinned further, his talents have not diminished.

In January, he scored a stunning hat trick for Madrid against Sevilla, and followed with two against Espanyol in February.

“It’s promising for the future,” Zidane said at the time. “The important matches are coming.”

Those begin in earnest on June 13 against Switzerland, followed by South Korea on June 18 and Togo on June 23 – when he celebrates his 34th birthday.

Before that, Zidane could join Didier Deschamps, Lilian Thuram and Marcel Desailly as the only men to play 100 times for France when Mexico visits on May 27.

While he wants to limit the chance of injury, Zidane is unlikely to resist the lure of playing at Stade de France one last time. Look for a goodbye wave to the fans who will never forget his two goals in the same stadium eight years ago.

AP-ES-05-16-06 1505EDT


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