Zinédine Zidane rolled back the years at the weekend as his first hat-trick and some sumptuous skills illuminated Real Madrid CF's 4-2 win against Sevilla FC.
Madrid's performances have been improving since Juan Ramón López Caro's appointment as coach following a troubled start to the season under Vanderlei Luxemburgo, but Zidane's performance in a vital victory against Sevilla on Sunday has given the club real hope for the future.
The game marked the end of the first half of the Primera División season, and proved to be an incredible day for 34-year-old Zidane, who had been struggling for form earlier in the season and even considered retiring from football but has now regained much of his former sparkle. The lure of playing in one more FIFA World Cup finals proved too great for the Frenchman, who ended his international retirement last year, to resist.
Against Sevilla, the playmaker opened his account for the night with a 58th-minute penalty, before grabbing a second from Guti's back-heel three minutes later. He put the seal on his first hat-trick in competitive football - with Guti once more the provider - in the final minute of the game.
'Not too bad at all'
"This is the first time in all my life that I've scored three goals," 'Zizou' said. "To be still able to do that at 33 is not too bad at all. I had never thought that I would score a hat-trick. But scoring goals is secondary for me; the important thing is the team's victory."
The win against Sevilla, and last week's 4-0 mauling of Athletic Club Bilbao in the Copa del Rey, were the first real signs that López Caro's extra training sessions and home truths were restoring Madrid's confidence, and now Zidane is hoping that the side, who have climbed up to fourth place in the Spanish top flight by virtue of Sunday's success, can relaunch their quest for silverware.
"We all want Madrid to be what we were," he said. "
Now comes the hard part, especially in the UEFA Champions League, but with the team we have we should do well. What happened to us as a team was not normal but with more confidence we can improve. But we have to keep working. One win does not make everything fine."
Madrid's opponents in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, Arsenal FC, also hit daunting form this weekend with a 7-0 win against Middlesbrough FC in which Thierry Henry scored a hat-trick. The first showdown between the two sides on 21 February promises to be an explosive occasion.
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