Zidane, a genius who once headbutted

Zinedine Zidane, in 2006, picked up an unwanted record of becoming only the second player to be sent off twice in World Cup games.

Zinedine Zidane (left) gestures after head butting Italian defender Marco Materazzi during the 2006 World Cup final.   -  AFP

Zinedine Zidane's tempestuous exit from football, sent off for head-butting Marco Materazzi in extra time during the 2006 World Cup final, was far from uncharacteristic of the Frenchman. He was sent off 14 times over a career punctuated almost as often by acts of violence as by dainty pirouettes and eye-of-the-needle passes.

Eight years before the Materazzi incident, Zidane marched off the field for a stamp on Saudi Arabia's Fuad Amin in France's second group game of the '98 World Cup. Banned for two matches following the red card, Zidane missed France's final group game and the pre-quarterfinal against Paraguay. Back in his playmaking role, he was solid if unspectacular as France progressed past Italy on penalties after a goalless quarterfinal, and past Croatia with a 2-1 semi-final win. So far, Zidane had been quiet. But the final against Brazil was all his — twice in the first half, his balding head popped up to make decisive, and unexpected contact with corner kicks to put France 2-0 up in front of its adoring fans. Emmanuel Petit's stylish injury-time finish gave the contest a fitting end, and France was world champion for the first time.

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France though was humbled in the 2002 World Cup, exiting after a first round that yielded it no wins and no goals. Zidane missed the first two games with a thigh injury, and even his return couldn't prevent a 2-0 defeat to Denmark in the final group game.

The 2006 World Cup was an entirely different story. Given no chance by anyone to progress too far with a squad of ageing stars, France felled one fancied team after another in the knockout stage. In the middle of it all was Zidane, coaxing out of his teammates every drop of their effort and ability.

 

In the second round, France vanquished Spain 3-1 after going a goal down. Zidane finished the match in style with an injury time goal, peeling off to the left, cutting in and beating a defender before slotting one in home.

Zidane was Man of the Match against Brazil in the 1-0 quarterfinal win, a game where the Brazilians simply couldn't get the ball off him, the 34-year-old playmaker slipping away from midfield opponents with clever flicks and turns each time they closed him down. In the semi-final, Portugal was seen off, Zidane scoring from the spot in another 1-0 win.

Another penalty, a somewhat fortuitous finish bouncing down off the crossbar, put France a goal up seven minutes into the final against Italy, making Zidane the fourth player to score in two World Cup finals. Italy equalised, and it stayed 1-1 through normal and extra time. Zidane still had time to pick up another, unwanted, record, of becoming only the second player to be sent off twice in World Cup games.

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