He started slowly in this tournament, and the red mist descended once again but, as he would do again after, saved his most decisive contributions for the final.
Late on the evening of July 12, 1998, one million people poured onto the Champs-Elysees in Paris. The world’s most famous avenue was a flurry of tricolore flags, the sound of car horns and cheers of fans filling the night sky.
As the throngs partied, an image of Zinedine Zidane was projected onto the Arc de Triomphe along with two words: ‘Merci Zizou’. The masses roared in appreciation and, in that moment, Zidane’s status as the foremost cultural icon of his generation in France was sealed.
A couple of hours earlier, the 26-year-old Juventus playmaker had scored two headers in the 3-0 win over Brazil which meant that France were crowned world champions for the first time. He’d had a mixed tournament, and not even been France’s best player – that was Lilian Thuram – yet those two goals in the final meant he emerged as the post-tournament face of the team.
Use of his image was about a lot more than football. It was about cultural identity, race, ethnicity and immigration – all massive talking points in host nation France before, during and after the finals.
During Euro '96, far-right National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen had sparked outrage when he criticised the multiracial nature of the squad, describing France as a team of foreigners. To anybody with even a passing knowledge of Les Bleus’ history, his comments were ignorant and bizarre.
‘Black, Blanc, Beur’
The best-known members of the France team who reached the 1958 World Cup semi-finals were Raymond Kopa, the son of Polish immigrants, and 13-goal tournament top scorer Just Fontaine, born in Marrakech to a Spanish mother. 1980s legend Michel Platini had an Italian father. Defender Marius Tresor was born in Guadeloupe. Midfield lieutenants Jean Tigana and Luis Fernandez were born in Mali and Spain respectively.