Zinedine Zidane's return for France was everything fans of Les Bleus could have hoped for. The Real Madrid CF midfielder scored the second goal and ran the show as Raymond Domenech's side defeated the Ivory Coast 3-0 in Montpellier last night.
But Domenech was quick to quell the congratulations, warning that with crucial FIFA World Cup qualifiers on the horizon, the hard work was still to come. "There was not a three-goal difference between the teams," Domenech said. "We have to be careful not to feel euphoric after such a game."
The excitement caused by the return of veterans Zidane, Claude Makelele and Lilian Thuram was soon transformed into rapturous celebrations. It was the first time France had won a match by three goals since 28 May 2004 when they beat Andorra 4-0 at the same Stade Mosson in southern France.
Inspired by Zidane, Les Bleus struck their first two goals in the 28th and 62nd minutes from corners delivered by Sylvain Wiltord. William Gallas converted the first before Zidane, a past master at scoring crucial goals, added the second. Thierry Henry's 66th-minute effort on the break sealed an impressive success.
"The light is back," ran L'Equipe's headline this morning. "France have rediscovered their backbone," the paper added. "Zidane has made a triumphant return."
The 33-year-old himself was more restrained. "The main point was to win," Zidane said. "It's the reason we're all satisfied with this game. Everyone played well, as they did in the previous matches. We were just missing the impetus to lift us above opponents and help us score. But we must not be swayed from our target. Our main games are ahead."
France next play at home to the Faroe Islands on 3 September before travelling to the Republic of Ireland for a key World Cup qualifier four days later. Les Bleus are fourth in Group 4, three points behind the Republic but have a match in hand on the leaders.
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