LUCA BRUNO/Associated Press
Zidane’s international career is a magnificent tale of three headers and two World Cup finals. It will always be a disappointment that his playing days ended in controversy, but he was always a player who walked the fine line between his genius and his dark side.
In 1998 most of the world was still in love with the samba beat of the Brazilians, but the final of that World Cup will always be the Zidane Final. His two majestic headers in the first half lifted the Stade de France high into the dark Parisian sky and captured the imagination of the watching world.
Just before the 2006 World Cup final in Berlin, Zidane was awarded the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player. His performances had carried a somewhat average French side all the way through to face Italy in the final. His amazing display against Brazil in the quarter-final turned back the clock; it was the return of the Zidane that everyone had fallen in love with eight years previously.
After scoring the opening goal from the penalty spot, it was Zidane’s last ever header that would end his career on a low note. The player saw red and head-butted Italy’s Marco Materazzi in the chest. He was shown a straight red card and the image of Zidane, head down, walking past the World Cup trophy is a difficult one to forget.
Two World Cup finals, three goals, one penalty and a red card: it’s a record that most international footballers would envy. He was not only a magician with the ball at his feet, but his unpredictability made him a compelling figure throughout his career. It is his position in shaping the history of French football that makes him Les Bleus’ greatest ever player.