French President Jacques Chirac paid a vibrant tribute on Sunday to retiring France captain Zinedine Zidane, who ended his career in shame after being sent off in the World Cup final.
Chirac, who is due to host the players for lunch at his official residence on Monday, said he was proud of France, who lost the final on penalties to Italy.
"I have a special thought for Zinedine Zidane who, if I'm correct, wore the French jersey for the last time," Chirac, who attended the final in Berlin, said on national television.
"I don't know what happened, why he was punished. But I would like to express all the respect that I have for a man who represents at the same time all the most beautiful values of sport, the greatest human qualities one can imagine, and who has honoured French sport and, simply, France."
Zidane, in his final match, was sent off in the 111th minute after he butted Italy defender Marco Materazzi in the chest in an off-the-ball incident not seen by Argentine referee Horacio Elizondo. The French playmaker was expelled after Elizondo consulted his linesman.
Chirac said he would tell the defeated French team at their Elysee Palace lunch that they had nothing to be ashamed of in defeat, and had simply lost out in the lottery of a penalty shootout.
"It was really a matter of chance. So it's not for me to console them. I have simply to express my admiration and respect," Chirac said.
"I imagine they will be sad. They have no reason to be sad. They have done something extraordinary, which has gripped the whole of France, which is admirable in all respects.
"They all have reasons to be proud of what they have done and proud of themselves, irrespective of a problem of chance."