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The great Zidane's farewell tour rolls on

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June 28, 2006 12:00 IST
Zinedine Zidane's curtain call will have to wait.

The greatest player of the last decade demonstrated on Tuesday that he remains exceptional, inspiring France to a 3-1 win over Spain for a place in the World Cup quarter-finals.

The balding midfield artist, who will retire after the finals and would have played his last match had Les Bleus failed to qualify for the knockout stage, proved his doubters wrong by setting up a goal and scoring another.

"Retirement? I'm sorry to tell them (the Spaniards) that it won't be after this match," Zidane said. "The adventure continues."

What's next for Zidane is a mouth-watering clash with Brazil, a rematch of the 1998 final which France won 3-0 after two headed goals from their gifted son of Algerian immigrants.

"France versus Brazil, that's a nice memory," he said in his trademark, soft tone.

It was from a Zidane free kick that Patrick Vieira made it 2-1 for France with a header 83 minutes into the game against the Spanish in Hanover.

Zidane was then booked for dissent entering added time but his finest moment was still to come.

Two minutes later, he was set free, rounded defender Carles Puyol with an exquisite display of balance and control before guiding the ball past goalkeeper Iker Casillas, his Real Madrid team mate, into the net to kill the tie.

"We all know what his influence on the team is," said France coach Raymond Domenech. "We were ever so happy to see that he still had the energy to score so late in the game.

It had been a strange World Cup so far for Zidane, who had looked sluggish and uncertain at first.

After picking up a yellow card in each of France's first two games, he was suspended when they beat Togo 2-0 in their Group G decider on Friday, his 34th birthday.

Had France not survived the group stage, his glittering career would have ended with the bitter taste of anti-climax.

Now he is guaranteed a decent farewell at least, either in the quarter-finals against the world champions or perhaps even beyond that.

With France on Tuesday giving reminders of the team that once ruled the world, it might even be a triumphant one.

Patrick Vignal
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