Zidane had one final attempt at glory in the World Cup in 2006
Zidane left Real Madrid at the end of the 2005-06 season and announced he was to retire at the end of the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He had a slow start to the tournament. He was booked in the first two matches and missed the final group game through suspension.
He returned to the team for the round of 16 tie against a Spain side that was brimming with talent. Spain were able to field excellent players such as Raúl, Xavi, Fernando Torres, David Villa, Xabi Alonso and a young Cesc Fabregas. However they were not enough for a French team, inspired by Zidane who got a goal and an assist as France came from behind to win 3-1.
Zidane v Ronaldinho
Next up was Brazil in the Quarter Final. It was a fascinating game as it pitted the veteran, Zidane against the current World Player of the year, Ronaldinho. On the day, Zidane was by far the better player and he provided the assist for Thierry Henry to score the only goal in a 1-0 win.
As if he had needed to add anymore to his reputation, the fact that he outplayed the new World Player of the Year in such an important game, cemented his legacy as the very best of his generation.
Zidane scored the only goal of France’s Semi Final against Portugal from the penalty spot. It meant that the last game of his career would be the World Cup Final.
World Cup final
The final was against Italy and Zidane helped France get off to a perfect start. He scored his third goal of the tournament with a 7th minute penalty to put France 1-0 ahead. The Italians equalised 12 minutes later through a Marco Materazzi header and a tense final ended level after 90 minutes.
With 10 minutes of extra time to go, the two goal scorers were involved in an off the ball incident and Zidane was sent off. It has been claimed that Materazzi made insulting comments about Zidane’s sister but everybody watching was shocked when they saw the replay of Zidane’s reaction.
Sent off for head butting Materazzi
He turned round and walked towards Materazzi and head butted him in the chest and the defender collapsed to the floor. There could be no arguments about the sending off and Zidane left the field for the last ever time as a professional footballer with ten minutes of the game still to go.
The image of him head butting Materazzi and then walking past the World Cup trophy to the dressing room is burned into the memory of everybody who watched it.
His teammates managed to keep the score level in extra time but lost the penalty shootout and Italy were crowned World Champions. Zidane was suspended for three matches, but as he had retired he agreed to do three days of community service with children as part of FIFA’s humanitarian projects.
Despite the disappointing ending for Zidane he won the FIFA World Cup Golden Ball for being the best player of the tournament.
Zidane will never apologise
Zidane later said he would ‘rather die’ than apologise to Materazzi, but his revenge comes with the rather abstract idea that he will haunt the Italian forever.
His stature in the game is so great that even though Materazzi has won the World Cup, Champions League, five Serie A titles and the FIFA Club World Cup, he is still best known for being the ‘player that was head butted by Zidane’.