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Zidane's finest hour may still come, says Domenech

Written by: Staff

PARIS, Apr 26 (Reuters) France coach Raymond Domenech believes Zinedine Zidane's finest moment may still come with the classy playmaker inspiring his country to another World Cup triumph before calling it a day.

''I know he's eager to have a great World Cup in Germany and I'm convinced he can still write the finest page of his sporting history by winning another World Cup with Les Bleus,'' Domenech said.

Three-times World Player of the Year Zidane said on Tuesday he would retire after the June 9-July 9 tournament in Germany, during which he will turn 34.

''Like all those who love football, I'm a little bit sad when I think that after the World Cup, we will no longer see Zidane on a football pitch, at the highest level anyway,'' Domenech said in a statement.

Zidane, who inspired France to victory in the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, was clearly moved when he told French television channel Canal+ that he would quit in a few weeks.

''I'm quitting for good,'' the Real Madrid playmaker said, without waiting for a news conference he has called for Wednesday in Madrid.

Zidane became the world's most expensive footballer when Real signed him from Juventus for million in 2001 and he scored a superb winner to earn the Spanish club their ninth European Cup in the 2002 Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen.

But injuries and inconsistency have dogged him over the last two seasons and, although he still has another year left on his contract with Real, he decided it was time to stop.

''He's a monument and he's my friend,'' France goalkeeper Fabien Barthez told Canal+. ''For me he's the player of the century.'' RIGHT MOMENT Aime Jacquet, who was France coach when Zidane was at the helm of the team during their victorious 1998 World Cup campaign on home soil, was about to commentate on the Villarreal versus Arsenal Champions League game for French television when he heard the news.

''A great champion is about to leave us,'' Jacquet said. ''What I'm feeling is a lot of emotions and a bit of sadness.

''I think he's being very honest and perceptive by making that decision at the right moment,'' Jacquet added. ''I think it's right for him to leave after playing one last World Cup with France. What a challenge that is for him.'' The gifted son of Algerian immigrants, Zidane said after France's early exit from Euro 2004 that he was retiring from international football.

In August last year, with France struggling to qualify for the World Cup finals in Germany, he decided after all that he could not let down the side he graced for a decade and made an international comeback.

Voted European footballer of the year in 1998 and world player of the year in 1999, 2000 and 2003, he comes second only to Michel Platini as France's most respected footballer.

Zidane, who made thousands weep for joy after scoring twice in France's 3-0 win over Brazil in the 1998 World Cup final, is a man of few words who is happy to let his football do the talking.

''He's a gentleman of football,'' Arsenal and France forward Thierry Henry told French television.

''We will miss him. Now we must do all we can so he can leave on a high note.'' REUTERS PM KP0906

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