Zinedine Zidane bids soccer goodbye

Real Madrid’s Zinedine Zidane scored on his final appearence at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium but visitors Villarreal soured his goodbye party by holding the Spanish giants to 3-3 draw on Sunday.

It was a bittersweet finale for the French legend and three-time World Player of the Year, who did not have one of the better games of his career despite his crucial goal which brought Real level to 2-2 just after the hour.

However, Real fans will forgive him a below-par outing as many of his 225 games for the club since he joined them in the summer of 2001 have been beyond compare.

“I am too emotional to be able to say anything,” said a choked Zidane after the game, preferring to leave others to sing his praises.

“This was the testimonial that many expected. Our dream was that the fans would enjoy it along with him. The only thing missing was a victory because that’s what everybody deserved tonight,” said Real coach Juan Ramon Lopez Caro.

The Santiago Bernabeu stadium was festooned with banners paying tribute to Zidane who, two weeks ago, announced he was going to hang up his boots after the World Cup, when he will be 34.

The one draped by the federation of Real Madrid’s supporters’ clubs just said “Thank you Zidane,” but that was typical of the hundreds on display.

Real themselves gave fans placards which when held up formed Zidane’s shirt number five and “2001—2006”, a unique tribute for a departing player.

“He has enough class to continue playing until he was 40,” commented Real Madrid president Alfredo Di Stefano, one of the few people whose playing career has been as illustrious as Zidane’s.

“I’m sad he’s hanging up his boots, we are going to miss him.
He’s a star and, as far as I am concerned, one of the greats in the history of football,” added Real’s hero of their five European Cup wins in the 1950s.

“He’s one of the last of his kind.”

The whole of the stadium, packed to the rafters with 78 000 fans, was on its feet and applauded when Zidane, still the world’s most expensive player, was substituted with a minute to go.

Former Real Madrid president Florentino Perez paid Italian side Juventus €72,1-million to sign the native of Marseille in 2001 and according to the fans on Sunday, and his teammates, he has been worth every centimo.

“On occasions, he has been 80% of this team. He’s a genius, he’s the best, and not just as a player but it’s a dream to play with him,” reflected team mate Ronaldo recently.

Sunday’s goal may turn out to be his last of the 48 he has scored for Real Madrid, although there is still one game to play at Sevilla, but the one he will be remembered most for is his winner in the 2002 Champions League final.

His spectacular swerving effort from 25m that helped beat German side Bayer Leverkusen was elected earlier this season as the best goal ever by a Spanish side in European competition by Spain’s biggest daily newspaper Marca.

Footage of the remarkable goal was repeatedly played on the Bernabeu’s giant video screens on Sunday.

Real went ahead after 22 minutes from Julio Baptista but Villarreal fought back with goals from Alvaro Meija, the Real defender deflecting the ball into his own net, and then Diego Forlan before half time.

Zidane found the net after 66 minutes with a looping header from the edge of the six yard box after an inch-perfect cross from David Beckham.

The goal levelled the scores only for Forlan to find the net from the penalty spot four minutes from time after Sergio Ramos had handled the ball in the box.

However, in barely a minute, Julio Baptista headed an equaliser to salvage a point and return Real back to second place in the Spanish league.

Real are now one point and one place ahead of 2004 champions Valencia, their only other challengers for automatic entry into next season’s lucrative Champions League group stages, going into the last game of the season.

Spanish champions Barcelona continued their own celebrations with a 2-0 win in the Nou Camp over local rivals Espanyol on Saturday thanks to an own goal from Daniel Jarque and a second from Ronaldinho. - Sapa-AFP

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