A French reporter wrote, "It's good for us to see our national hero is fallible." When life seemed to be laid out on a plate and devoured by the hero, a debacle befalls him.
The day an entire nation came crashing down due to the petty words of a stricken Italian. The day Zinedine Zidane walked out contrite from the football field. No event had such a bearing on the World Cup as this one.
A shock defeat to Greece and Zidane had decided to end his international career after Euro 2004. He had achieved everything at the grandest stage of them all and had carried the team for a better part of the decade.
Now, as the moment lay upon him, he decided he would play his last match for France, thereby ending one of the greatest careers of all time. No more than a year later, rumours of a return started to surface. He had clearly ended his career a year ago and yet, people chose to overlook that and yearn for his return. While the end of his career signaled a new revolution in the French team, it just wasn’t the same.
France was a good team, but Zidane was the myth behind their success. France just wasn’t the same without him.
A derailed France that had been off-track in the qualifying campaign suddenly seemed to be back. Zidane had announced his return. The French supporters were rejoicing. The man who had won them their only World Cup was returning to reinstate their supremacy in world football. Zidane’s return was the trigger to restoring the balance. It was not only the fans, the players too were ecstatic.
Thierry Henry proudly stated, "In France, everybody realiZed that God exists, and that he is back in the French international team. God is back, there is little left to say".
A revered figure in France, Zidane was the only beacon of hope for every French supporter who dreamt of a second trophy in eight years. Honestly, France’s three previous years had been terrible. They had been eliminated in the first round as defending Champions and the Euro 2004 had just piled on their misery.
Zinedine Zidane had inspired the return of two other instrumental players, Lilian Thuram and Claude Makelele.
The manager, to his demerit had looked clueless in the first phase of the qualifying. While on paper the French were undefeated, they had performed unconvincingly and several stalemates against low-ranked oppositions had clearly staked up the return of the trio.
Just as the world had expected, Zidane’s return brought team out of the hasty predicament and they started churning out positive results. Playing four more matches, they dropped just two points and qualified for the World Cup from the top of their group, heaving a sigh of relief while at the same time, the return of Zidane started to raise expectations for the finals. Just as the people started gearing up for the World Cup, Zidane dropped a bombshell. He came out with a statement that he would retire from club football as the season preceding the World Cup ended.
Zidane was leaving football for good. Come the World Cup, everyone would see Zidane touch a football for the last time. There would no longer be a left-footed volley from nowhere, no longer would Maldini fear any player nor would any defender have to be a victim of the dreaded roulette from Zidane.