Zidane has Brazil's number Midfielder solidifies reputation with Cup

July 13, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SAINT-DENIS, France -- His second header of the evening had just touched the back of the Brazilian net, and Zinedine Zidane grabbed the front of his French jersey and kissed his number.

Zidane's number, 10, is the most evocative in soccer. It implies creativity; it implies leadership, and on the most important evening in the history of French sport, Zidane lived up to his number and his reputation.

When these World Cup finals began, the 26-year-old Zidane was a player with hundreds of moves, millions of admirers and no major title. When this World Cup ended with a 3-0 victory over Brazil, the gap between his ability and his resume had been bridged. Zidane, without a goal in this tournament until yesterday, became the first person in 20 years to score twice in a final and was a consistently convincing force in midfield throughout the match.

Watching it all from a place of honor was France's most accomplished No. 10: Michel Platini, now the president of the French World Cup organizing committee. Since bursting to prominence with Bordeaux in the 1995-96 season, Zidane has often drawn comparisons with Platini. Like his precursor, he crossed the French border to become the playmaker for Juventus of Turin. Like his predecessor, he can make a ball do his bidding.

What the soft-spoken Zidane lacks is Platini's confidence off the field, but for all his brilliance and leadership, Platini never helped France win its first World Cup. That honor belongs to Zidane and his now merry band of heterogenous teammates.

Between them, they cover a remarkably wide cross-section of contemporary French society. They hail from the French Antilles in the Caribbean; from New Caledonia in the South Pacific; from French Guiana in South America; and from Ghana in Africa. Zidane was born in Marseille, but his parents are Kabyles from southern Algeria who moved to France in the 1950s.

That makes him a symbol in a nation with a large North African population. But unlike many of French youths with ethnic origins in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, Zidane has said that he never suffered from racism.

"I've always made the necessary efforts to adapt to the environment in which I found myself," he once said. "I've never made an attempt to make a big deal about the fact that I was different."

Though Zidane prefers discretion, it has been impossible to ignore him in recent months. He was the best player on the home team, and France's largest television station affixed a mammoth picture of him, ball on his foot, to the glittering tower that serves as its headquarters along the right bank of the Seine river.

Zidane grew up in the midst of very different sorts of towers in a rough- and-tumble northern quarter of Marseille. His community was called "La Castellane" and its concrete towers did not glitter. Americans would call this "public housing" or more familiarly, "the projects." In France, this is known as "la cite" and Zidane lived there with his parents and four siblings until he was 13. His older brother Farid still lives there with his wife and children, and Zidane remains the honorary president of La Castellane's soccer club.

"It's tough as a foreigner to succeed in France," Farid Zidane said earlier during this World Cup. "My brother had to do a lot, and it did not come quickly. I think if there's a person who was of European origin who had the same level as he did, I think he would have had more chances."

Zidane left la Castellane and his family because scouts for the French team AS Cannes believed they had spotted an vTC exceptional talent while watching him play left wing in the first half of a youth match and sweeper in the second. "I was amazed by his ability to handle the ball," said Jean Varraud, one of Cannes' scouts. "I saw that he had feet of gold."

Twelve years later, few in Europe would argue with that assessment.

Road to title

France

Group C

France 3, South Africa 0

France 4, Saudi Arabia 0

France 2, Denmark 1

Second round

France 1, Paraguay 0, OT

Quarterfinal

France 0, Italy 0

(France won 4-3 on penalty kicks)

Semifinal

France 2, Croatia 1

Final

France 3, Brazil 0

Pub Date: 7/13/98

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