Zinedine Zidane made his debut for the French national team on this day in 1994. He came on as a substitute in a friendly with the Czech Republic, a game France ended up drawing 2-2 after Zidane scored a brace to pull his team back from 2-0 down. Eric Cantona was handed a year-long suspension in September 1995, handing the playmaker role to Zidane. He never gave it back.
🤔 Who's your nation's best free-kick taker?
— UEFA EURO 2020 (@EURO2020) August 17, 2021
Zidane may be a coach first and foremost to younger followers of football who remember him as the man who led Real Madrid to three consecutive Champions League titles between 2016 and 2018, but the Frenchman, of Algerian parentage, was a glorious footballer in his own right. Roy Keane labelled him his toughest opponent. Six foot one tall and elegant as can be, Zidane appeared to be playing a different sport to the rest of his contemporaries. He had immeasurable strength and grace.
Zidane enjoyed great success with France. He was instrumental as they won the 1998 World Cup in their own back garden, beating the much-fancied reigning champions Brazil in the final at the Parc des Princes, a game Zidane scored a brace in. They also went on to win Euro 2000 two years later. The final game of the Frenchman’s career, indeed, was the final of the 2006 World Cup in Germany; Zidane scored a penalty (a panenka) before seeing red and getting himself sent off for head-butting Marco Materazzi.