English fans caught in mid-chorusZinedine Zidane leaves an early imprint on Euro 2004, and on the partisan crowd
By KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun
The boisterous English fans were into full gloat. They were already singing God Save The Queen.
And why not? All that was left for England to put the boots to France in their crucial Euro 2004 opener were a couple of minutes of injury time.
Then, somewhere around "Send her victorious, Happy and Glorious," a tire blew.
And in a heartbeat, one of the most remarkable games in the history of major tournament football was over and the English were walking around stunned, mumbling to themselves.
"What the @#$% just happened?"
Well, Zinedine Zidane happened, is what. Just after the start of injury time, the French star midfielder scored once on a free kick, just outside the box and then again in the dying seconds on a penalty assessed against English 'keeper David James.
Typically, Zidane wanted to give the credit for the France win to goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, who had made a brilliant save on a David Beckham penalty late in the second half, to keep England from going two goals ahead. He makes a good point.
"He kept it at 1-0 and kept us believing we could still win the game," Zidane said.
Frank Lampard scored in the 38th minute for England, heading in a Beckham free kick, ending France's streak of 11 games without allowing a goal.
Throughout the second half, the French came at the English in waves but England's defence was superb. Few of the French scoring thrusts produced anything dangerous.
But when Emile Heskey fouled Makelele in the 91st minute, Zidane threaded a bullet of a shot through the wall and found the back of the net on the left side.
As time wound down, English defender Steve Gerrard seemed anxious to be fitted for goat's horns when he passed softly back toward his keeper, only to have Thierry Henry intercept it. James had little choice but to foul the French striker and, once again, Zidane buried his shot on the left side.
In a matter of seconds, England went from being in complete control of its own fate to a state of utter disarray. It's a legitimate assumption that they won't be able to rally from this crushing defeat.
"We have to win two games against Switzerland and Croatia and I think we can do that," said coach Sven-Goran Eriksson.
"We played extremely well against the world's best football team. Now it's up with the heads."
That's easier said than done. It is one thing to lose but quite another to have it ripped from your grasp in injury time. It would be bad enough in a friendly, let alone one of the biggest games of any player's career.
England has just three days to re-focus. That's when they face Switzerland, a team they wouldn't normally have a lot of difficulty with but, after yesterday, who knows?
And what of Zidane? Is he destined for the kind of crowning glory earned by only the biggest names in his sport?
Just a few days ago, Zidane mused that, despite all the accolades he has earned over his career, he would like to be able to look back on one major tournament and have people say that it belonged to him.
"When I stop playing," he said, "I would love for people to remember me for my impact on an entire competition. I don't just want to have one good game, or score one important goal; I want to be influential from start to finish."
We don't yet know about the finish. But the start wasn't bad.
"We all refer to the Pele World Cup of 1970, the (Franz) Beckenbauer one of 1974, or the Maradona one of 1986," said Zidane. "I have not yet deserved that special honour."
Some might disagree, given that Zidane scored the most important goal in the history of France football, at the World Cup in 1998. But during that tournament, he felt he embarrassed himself by being sent off in a previous game.
Zidane needs not be so hard on himself, because he has an entire nation to do that for him ... and to him.
"Nobody in France can imagine what is demanded of (Zidane)," said teammate Bixente Lizarazu. "It's not pressure. It's oppression. And it is the same thing every single day.'
Judging by his icy resolve yesterday, ZZ doesn't seem to mind.