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Zidane hopes to recapture spirit of 1998

Written by: Staff

STUTTGART, Germany, June 12 (Reuters) Zinedine Zidane, who will retire after the World Cup, said he hoped to recapture the spirit of 1998 when he inspired France to their triumph on home turf.

''I read a lot of criticism which is very unfair,'' the France playmaker told a news conference today, a day before his team start their Group G campaign by facing Switzerland at the Gottlieb Daimler stadium.

''It was the same in 1998, if not worse. Let's hope it will end the same way.'' France rely heavily on Zidane, who will turn 34 during the finals, in their effort to restore pride after their 2002 fiasco, when they were eliminated without a win or a goal from the group stage.

''In 2002 people expected us to do well and we didn't,'' said Zidane. ''Maybe it will be the other way round this time.

The three-times world player of the year, who also helped France win the 2000 European Championship, said he could not wait to start his last major tournament.

''We prepared for this very well and we are impatient to begin the tournament'', he said.

The gifted midfielder, who could only offer below-par performances in warm-up games, insisted he was ready.

''I feel fine,'' he said.

The France captain said he did not want France's campaign to be regarded as the farewell tour of himself and other prominent members of a golden generation.

''This is not the end of Zidane or of (Lilian) Thuram or of anybody else,'' he said. ''I hope this will be remembered as the start of something new, that is going to last.'' Zidane was perfectly aware that France struggled against Switzerland in World Cup qualifying, drawing with their improving neighbours twice.

''They want to beat us as much as we want to beat them,'' he said. ''It will not be easy but it's important to start with a victory. A 1-0 win would suit me.'' REUTERS SY ND2148

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