Real Madrid supporters might have
had divided loyalties as perennial title hopefuls England met
the real deal in holders France in their European Championship
Group B opener - but in the event it was their French superstar
who outshone his English pretender.
Zinedine Zidane and David
Beckham led out their respective nations at Lisbon's Stadium of
Light and after the English skipper's cross found the head of
Frank Lampard seven minutes before the break it seemed as if the
sultry Lisbon sky would fall in on the mercurial Frenchman.
But Beckham's second telling
contribution was to place a second half penalty too close to
former Manchester United colleague Fabien Barthez and thereafter
Zidane emerged from his slumbers.
A typically self effacing Zidane
praised Barthez for keeping them alive.
"We can thank Fabien Barthez for
making the difference by saving the penalty as he allowed it to
remain 1-0 and keep us believing we coudl still save the match,"
Whereas Beckham failed to find
his deadball range in contrast Zidane was accuracy personified,
showing deadeye skills to sweep a freekick past David James
seconds into stoppage time after Emile Heskey fouled Patrick
And with James then upending
Thierry Henry in the final seconds Zidane, who else, stepped
forward to bury the penalty for his 28th goal in French colours
to leave Beckham and company feeling as blue as the Gallic
"We had not had a good match and
then came a little bit of a surprise goal at the end," said
"That meant that a match that
had not at all been in our favour suddenly produced a positive
"It is matches like this that
forge the spirit of a team, especially ones that end like that,"
added Zidane, whose two goals in the 1998 World Cup final
inspired the French to their 3-0 triumph over Brazil.
Zidane's acrobatic brilliance
brought Real their ninth European Cup two years ago but when he
suffered injury going into the World Cup barely three weeks
later a whole nation became gripped by worry and doubt, their
talisman forced to suffer in silence in the stands.
Back in the groove with the
national side despite an indifferent season at Real with Beckham
in harness alongside him, Zidane was back to his old brilliance
with France caught in the eye of the storm, behind to Lampard's
effort with the official clock having ticked down to zero.
The man who cut his teeth in the
French domestic game with Bordeaux before achieving fame with
Juventus and then Real gave the impression of having ice in his
veins as he promptly despatched a brace which showed England
once again that there is a world of difference between coming
close - and not close enough.
Beckham cut a distraught figure
at the end just two years after he became even more of a
national hero after his penalty defeated bitter rivals Argentina
1-0 in the 2002 World Cup finals first round clash.
"I don't think we deserved that.
"We deserved to win it as we
performed really well.
"Maybe if I had put it away we
could have held on and I put my hands up to that.
"I couldn't have struck it any
better but Fabien read me well and fair play to him."