Headbutt ends Zidane's career

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/thumbnail/ver1/a/ap-zidane.jpg' class='caption'> France captain Zinedine Zidane was red-carded in the 110th minute of Sunday's World Cup final.

Updated: February 25, 2007 11:35 IST
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France captain Zinedine Zidane was red-carded in the 110th minute of Sunday's World Cup final. France lost to Italy 5-3 on penalty kicks after playing to a 1-1 draw through 120 minutes. Zidane, who was playing the last soccer match of his career, headbutted Italy defender Marco Materazzi in the chest after the two exchanged words while walking down the field. After receiving his red card, Zidane walked past coach Raymond Domenech without looking at him, and down the tunnel with his head bowed. "Zidane being sent off changed everything because even in extra time, the Italian team was waiting for only one thing and that was penalties," Domenech said. Zidane previously said he would quit soccer after this tournament ended. Earlier in Sunday's match, he gave France the lead with a seventh-minute penalty - his 31st goal for France. It was also his third goal in the championship game of a World Cup. In 1998, his two goals helped France beat Brazil 3-0. Eight years ago, Zidane was also red-carded in a match against Saudi Arabia. At this World Cup, he collected two yellow cards and was suspended for France's third group match against Togo. Five years ago, Zidane was red-carded for headbutting Hamburger SV's Jochen Kientz in a Champions League match while with Juventus. But a year later, his volley gave Real Madrid its ninth European title. Zidane's penalty early in Sunday's match got France off to a perfect start. He chipped the kick into the air and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon dived to his right. The ball sailed over Buffon's legs, hit the underside of the crossbar and dropped over the line. Zidane raised an arm in the air as coolly as he had taken the kick. It was Zidane's 31st goal for Les Bleus in 108 appearances, and fifth in the World Cup. He also scored a second straight penalty after notching the winner in the semifinal match against Portugal and had two goals in the 1998 World Cup final when France beat Brazil 3-0. He almost scored a late goal on Sunday in the first half of extra time, but Buffon tipped his powerful header over the bar. Zidane made his France debut 12 years ago against the Czech Republic. He came off the bench with France trailing 2-0, and scored two goals in six minutes - one from his head, one from a dazzling slalom and shot - to salvage a 2-2 draw. Defender Lilian Thuram made his France debut the same night. Perhaps fittingly, he ended it alongside Zidane. In six major tournaments, they shared the highs and lows, including the 1998 title and 2002's early exit. France's success at this year's World Cup had much to do with the soon-to-retire Zidane, including the penalty against Portugal. Taking two steps, Zidane sent the spot kick into the bottom left corner, just out of the reach of Portugal goalkeeper Ricardo Pereira. "There is always pressure when you take a penalty," Zidane said then. "But it is a positive pressure." Zidane also scored in the second-round win over Spain, a typically skillful goal which saw him cut inside a defender and then beat goalkeeper Iker Casillas. His quarterfinal showing against Brazil was one of his best performances and perhaps better than the final eight years ago. His precise passes split open Brazil's defence, his fakes sent players the wrong way, and he even twice pointed one way as if to indicate the direction of his pass and then turned around sharply in his signature spin move. It was a far cry from his May 27 performance against Mexico - a landmark appearance for two reasons. It was Zidane's 100th appearance for Les Bleus, and possibly his worst. He looked weary, fell over twice, and gave the ball away seven times. Sports daily L'Equipe marked him 3.5 out of 10 and suggested France could play better without him. Zidane's response since has been near total silence. Aside from rare television interviews after matches, he has snubbed the press. Privately, he is believed to be furious at some pre-tournament reports that he had lost his edge. "If we win, it will be wonderful for those who have supported us," Zidane said recently. "I'm not talking about the ones who jumped on the bandwagon, but those who supported us from start to finish." Six years ago, Zidane starred as France won the 2000 European Championship, and his golden goal penalty downed Portugal in the semifinals. Zidane, who has played his last club season for Real Madrid, was named FIFA World Player of the Year three times. He won the prestigious Golden Ball in 1998, awarded to the best player in Europe, while with Juventus. A player of uncommon skill and rare technical poise, Zidane's ability to control almost any ball, his elegance, vision of the game and penchant for big-game goals has seen him compared with some of the greatest creative talents in the game, like Michel Platini and Johan Cruyff. "Technically, I think he is the king of what's fundamental in the game - control and passing," Platini has said. "I don't think anyone can match him when it comes to controlling or receiving the ball." In his final match, however, Zidane could not control his temper. (AP)

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