In Spain, Zinedine Zidane is a legend like Di Stefano, as he won four Champions League with Real Madrid (three consecutively as coach). Highly regarded as one of the greatest, he will always stay in memory not only for his skills and his charisma but also for his spectacular dissection of the Spanish national team at the 2006 World Cup. Let’s take a look back on this spectacular performance.

There has always been a rivallry between France and Spain based on their proximity to each other, with the first contest between the two on the football pitch coming in 1922. Historically, the Blues are the pet peeve of Spain. The record books are flattering for la Roja. In thirty-one games, France had 14 losses for their 11 wins. However, in battles in official competitions, the French had never tasted the tears of defeat against its southern neighbour. 1984, 2000, 2006 – all these dates remain in the Spanish memory. The 2-0 win in the quarter-finals of the last Euros came to break an eternal curse.

Zinedine Zidane had announced prior to the tournament that he would retire following its conclusion. We all know how it finished for the great playmaker, but performances like the one he put on against Spain are what he should always be remembered for.

The 34-year-old hadn’t actually been in particularly good form for Real Madrid in the previous two seasons and there were even calls for him to be left out of France’s starting XI after the group stage. The French national team was not the favourite for this second round clash. Even if Raymond Domenech had some of the 1998 World Cup champions (Fabian Barthez, Lilian Thuram, Patrick Vieira, David Trezeguet, Thierry Henry), a few experienced players (Willy Sagnol, Claude Makelélé) and some exciting new players. (Gregory Coupet, Franck Ribery, Florent Malouda, Louis Saha, Eric Abidal,). They struggled in the group stage, with draws against the Swiss (0-0),and the South Koreans (1-1). In these matches Zizou would see two yellow cards. He missed Les Bleus’ only win – coming against Togo in the last match due to suspension. Finally his teammates won 2-0 and qualified for the next round.

Spain were led by an offensive armada the likes of Raul, David Villa, Fernando Torres, supported by the Barcelona jewels (Xavi and Iniesta) and a defence composed by Carles Puyol, Carlos Marchena and Sergio Ramos (who was a right-back teenager at this time) finished at the head of its group with three wins: 4-0 vs Ukraine, 3-1 vs Tunisia, 1-0 vs Saudi Arabia. With Luis Aragones as head coach, the Spaniards practiced possession orientated football. It was the first tournament with the core of the triumphant Spanish team of the Euros to be held two years later in Austria and Switzerland.

Spain arrived in Hannover with confidence. The Iberian press pointed out the age of the French’s famous number 10 with Marca even publishing a headline about Zidane’s age.

The Starting XIs

Spain (4-3-3): Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Carles Puyol, Pablo, Pernia, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, David Villa, Raul Gonzales

France (4-2-3-1): Fabien Barthez, Lilian Thuram, Eric Abidal, William Gallas, Willy SAgnol, Claude Makelele, Patrick Vieira, Zinedine Zidane, Franck Ribery, Florent Malouda, Thierry Henry

The young Spanish team started the game with high intensity and scored in the 28th minute thanks to David Villa’s penalty. It took the French a while to get into the game as the Spaniards dominated the early proceedings.

The hope

Just before half time, hope was coming from a young midfielder, Franck Ribery. Then aged 22 years old,  he equalised for his side after a one-two with Patrick Vieira. The OM player shot past Iker Casillas and scored his first international goal. At the half time, the French and Spaniards were level but the best was yet to come.

The Happiness

In the closing ten minutes, though, ‘Zizou’ showed all his match-winning pedigree. With seven minutes, Les Bleus obtained a dangerous free-kick 35 metres from Casillas’ goal. Zidane executed the sanction, which deviated finished on Patrick Vieira’s head. On the moment, impossible to say if the goal was in but when we see the giant midfielder run to his supporters at this time we didn’t have doubts. French lead 2-1 and their qualification was near.

As a symbol, it was Zidane who increased the lead. As the game ticked into stoppage time, Zizou was released by Sylvain Wiltord and he beat Carles Puyol and killed Iker Casillas with his right foot and then delivered the knockout punch with a typically clinical finish. 3-1.

When the referee whistled, the world admitted that Zidane was not done yet and the Spaniards were out. He declared after the game:

“I have to say to the Spaniards because they teased me about my age, it’s not for this time. The adventure continues”

The reactions

The day after the match, one could read in the columns of Marca about Zidane the following words:

“He gave the coup de grace, and we can almost say that it is a beautiful death.”

According to a survey conducted by France Football in 2016, the Spain – France match of 2006 was number five in their list of matches that had been the most exciting during the last 30 years.

Eleven Mondial said of this match in 2014:

“This success has since been remembered. It symbolizes the rebirth of a team, a cohesion found within a denigrated workforce.”

After the quarter-final against Brazil who sees Zidane make one of the most successful matches in the blue jersey, goalkeeper Mickaël Landreau said:

“Zidane was exceptional. The match against Spain was probably an important trigger. “

Conclusion

During the World Cup, France boss Raymond Domenech said:

“I think he’s playing like this precisely because he is retiring. He can play with freedom and expression because he knows every game could be his last”.

Fortunately, it wasn’t his last and we were the witnesses of his magnificence in the next games. Neither Brazil and their armada of world-class players (Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka’), nor Portugal – with Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Deco, Pauleta – nor Italy with their iconic goalkeeper Buffon were able to stop him in the knockout stages.

Only a red card was able to rush his retirement.