Anatomy of a first touch: Zinedine Zidane against Portugal at Euro 2000

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Has there ever been a player in the history of European football who could control the ball as well as Zinedine Zidane?

No. No, there has not.

Zizou was a magician. He was a circus act. He might as well have had superpowers, given how, in his prime, he would draw audible gasps from the crowd simply through what he could do with the ball at his feet.

In his prime, there was no getting near him…as Portugal found out in brutally clear terms at Euro 2000.

It can come as no real surprise that, with a player of Zidane’s ilk in their ranks, France stormed the continent in Belgium and the Netherlands. They became only the second team in history to win a World Cup and the European Championships back-to-back, and it was largely down to Zidane taking the absolute p***.

He drew comparisons to Diego Armando Maradona for the way he was dictating games, dodging tackles and slaloming through opposing defences, and you can make a one-man highlight reel from any of the five French victories on their way to lifting the trophy in Brussels.

In the semi against Portugal, however, he did something that defied belief – even for him.

And we’re not talking about his Golden Goal penalty that won the game for France in extra-time.

The moment of magic came in initially innocuous circumstances in the second half of normal time. France, having equalised through Thierry Henry, were chasing a winner. But their creativity was being stifled by Portugal, who for the moment had cut off the supply into Zidane’s feet.

Having had enough of it, Emmanuel Petit launched a 60-yard raker over the top in his direction. It was a wonderfully executed pass, but the angle, height and pace of the ball meant Zidane was going to do well to do anything with it.

Claudio Villa ArchiveClaudio Villa Archive

Zidane brings the ball down on his chest / Claudio Villa/Getty Images

A mortal might have hopelessly swung at it with the vague intention of catching out Victor Baia in the Portugal goal. But not Zidane.

In a feat of barely explainable skill and technique, Zidane managed to catch the ball flush on his chest, sending it back over his head and shielding it from the retreating Dimas.

In the blink of an eye, he then turned his body 180 degrees, and caught it with the outside of his right boot just as it hits the canvas.

Claudio Villa ArchiveClaudio Villa Archive

Zidane escapes with the ball / Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Where did the ball go? Did it skew off down the touchline? Did it trundle harmlessly into the possession of one of the three covering Portugal defenders who were actively willing him to make a mistake?

Nope, it stops dead, exactly where Zidane wanted it, and he races off into space before whipping in a cross to Thierry Henry.

You can watch the whole thing unfold in the space of about four seconds in the Twitter clip above (1:06). Give it a look and see for yourself.

Had the striker, diving and craning his neck to meet it, not slipped at the crucial moment, this would have gone down as one of the all-time great assists. But as it happened, it’s just one of many moments of sheer genius Zidane produced at the tournament.

He inspired France to go all the way and win a second major trophy in two years. On the evidence of the above, it’s no wonder why.

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