Zidane: Five defining moments of greatness

Zinedine Zidane, left, in action for France. (Daniel Maurer/AP)

Zinedine Zidane began a new chapter of his professional career this week when he was named manager of Real Madrid.

A three-time FIFA world player of the year and former Real Madrid star, Zidane is best remembered for his infamous head butt on Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final.

That’s a shame because the Frenchman was also one of the game’s all-time best players. Here are five moments that defined his greatness on the pitch.

40-yard strike sinks Betis
Long before scoring the winning goal in the UEFA Champions League final (more on that later), Zidane scored another famous long-range effort. He was a key player for Bordeaux when the French club reached the final of the 1995-96 UEFA Cup, a campaign that saw him announce his presence to the soccer world.

Zizou’s 40-yard strike against Real Betis in the third round of the UEFA Cup was a thing of beauty, and gave us a glimpse of what to expect from the Frenchman in the future as he became a global icon when playing for Juventus and Real Madrid, as well as for his country.

World Champion
Even though it was playing at home, France faced a daunting task in the 1998 FIFA World Cup final: Brazil. All the pre-game hype centred on Ronaldo, but it was Zidane who ended up stamping his presence on the match, scoring a pair of headers in the first half en route to a convincing 3-0 win. It was Les Bleus’ first World Cup title, and the beginning of a two-year run that would see France dominate in international competition.

Golden goal
France entered Euro 2000 as the pre-tournament favourite (it was the reigning World champion, after all) but the French appeared to meet their match in an epic semifinal against a Portugal side boasting Rui Costa and Luis Figo. Tied 1-1 in extra time, Portuguese defender Abel Xavier was judged to have handled the ball inside his penalty area in the 117th minute.

Zidane stepped up to the penalty spot and roofed his shot past Vitor Baia in the Portuguese net. Zidane’s golden goal sent France through to the final, where they beat Italy via another golden goal.

Stunning volley sinks Leverkusen
If ever there was a goal that was worthy of winning the UEFA Champions League final, Zidane’s stunning volley against Bayer Leverkusen in 2002 was it. The teams appeared to be headed toward the halftime break tied at 1-1 before Zizou conjured a moment of genius out of nothing.

Teammate Roberto Carlos arched a hopeful cross from the flank towards the top of the penalty box where Zidane hit a venomous left-footed volley that nestled majestically into the top corner.

Zizou to rescue vs. England
Down 1-0 to England, France was on the cusp of losing its opening group stage match at Euro 2004. But Zidane rescued France with a pair of goals in injury time—one off a brilliant free kick from distance, the winner from the penalty spot—to stun the English. Mon dieu!

Soccer Central podcast: SPORTSNET.CA's Soccer Central podcast, hosted by John Molinaro and James Sharman, takes an in-depth look at the beautiful game and offers timely and thoughtful analysis on the sport's biggest issues. To listen and subscribe to the podcast, CLICK HERE.