Zi-zou and friends World Cup: France's improbable triumph puts the sport back in the beautiful game.

July 14, 1998

EVERYONE knew that France did not belong in this World Cup, except as host. France had no chance. In the previous World Cup, 1994, France did not even qualify to come to the United States to play. French newspapers have been full of how Aime Jacquet, the much-reviled coach, is pedestrian, defense-obsessed and unable to find a scorer.

Fortunately for the glory of France and of President Jacques Chirac, who beamed at the awards, accepting full credit, Coach Jacquet and not the racist National Front decided who played.

As a result, the midfielder Zinedine Zidane -- the great "Zi-zou" to the fans -- headed in two corner kicks before 75,000 fans at the great new Estade de France at Saint Denis, on the outskirts of Paris, and 1.7 billion televiewers worldwide (that's right, nearly one-third of the world's population).

Zi-zou is a second-generation Frenchman born to ethnic Kabyle immigrants from Algeria. Lilian Thuram, the defender who scored twice against Croatia, is from Guadeloupe. Marcel Desailly, the heart of the defense that held opponents to two goals in seven games, is from Ghana.

Oh yes, it was Brazil that they beat, 3-0, for the cup on Sunday. Brazil the unbeatable, Brazil the best-paid, Brazil with the world's greatest player, the 21-year-old Ronaldo, a limping disappointment Sunday.

No need to play the tournament, just give the cup to Brazil, they said. They were wrong. They always are. That's the beauty of sport, including soccer, the beautiful game. You have to play it out to see who wins.

Pub Date: 7/14/98

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