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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Jul, 2, 2006

Zidane celebrates rolling back the years

FRANKFURT, July 1 (Reuters) - Zinedine Zidane, who feared he might have to leave the stage by the back door, pulled out all his old tricks on Saturday to keep his World Cup adventure alive.

'We needed a great match and we delivered,' the 34-year-old midfielder said after rolling back the years to inspire France to a 1-0 win over champions Brazil and secure a place in the World Cup semi-finals.

The victory means the playmaker, who will retire after the finals, will play at least one more match in Germany -- against Portugal on Wednesday in Munich.

'Now we'll try to win a place in the final,' he said. 'We don't want to stop now. This is so beautiful, we want it to carry on.'

If the next match goes France's way, the gifted son of Algerian immigrants will end his career by playing in another World Cup final.

After looking his age in a sluggish start to the tournament, Zidane stepped up a gear in a convincing 3-1 win over Spain in the second round.

Against Brazil, a rematch of the 1998 final France won 3-0 in which he scored two headed goals, he was magnificent.

He not only set up Thierry Henry for the winner with a free kick. The vision, effortless close control, delicate turns and ability to create space that made him one of soccer's greatest players were all on display in the Waldstadion.

'Unfortunately for us he had a great match,' said Brazil midfielder Kaka. 'He's a truly great player. The fact that he's retiring is a great loss for the world of football.'

The driving force behind a team that went from also-rans to world champions in 1998 and European champions in 2000, 'Zizou' had depressed an entire nation by announcing two years ago that he was retiring from international football.

With the team he blessed for over a decade struggling to qualify for the finals in Germany, the balding wizard came back for Les Bleus last year but looked only the shadow of his brilliant self until his scintillating show against Brazil.

'He didn't want to leave the World Cup stage on a failure,' French Federation Football president Jean-Pierre Escalettes said on Saturday, referring to the 2002 fiasco, when France were eliminated from the finals without a win or a goal from the group stage.

'He was fantastic. He was the most Brazilian of all tonight. He did things he hadn't been doing for a long time. He's such a great player.

'Whatever happens next, a wonderful player will leave football in a wonderful way.'

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