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06 to Infinity: How Zidane’s World Cup Moment Created an Incredible Lifelong Bond

A painted wall depicting France’s captain Zinedine Zidane head-butting Italy’s Marco Materazzi during the 2006 World Cup final is seen near Samara on June 30, 2018, during the Russia 2018 World Cup football tournament. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP) (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)

We’ve seen a fair share of heartwarming tributes during this summer’s EURO 2020, and this Zidane World Cup tribute is no different.

The former galáctico recently left the Real Madrid helm at the end of last season, decades after leaving his mark in FIFA World Cup folklore throughout various tournaments. In 1998–less than a year after I was born–Zidane outclassed Brazil in the final to secure France’s first-ever World Cup trophy. Four years later, his lack of fitness played a factor in Les Blues‘ embarrassing group-stage exit.

In 2006, Zidane announced he would retire from football at the end of the tournament, and boy did he (literally) leave with a BANG. Zidane’s final action in French colors continues to take center stage in his footballing legacy, but the way he willed his nation to the final cannot be underestimated.

By the time the 2006 FIFA World Cup came around, I was an eight-year-old football fanatic living in Asmara, Eritrea. My brothers and I ended up missing live games due to continuous power outages in our neighborhood, but I do recall Phillip Lahm and Torsten Frings’ scorchers against Costa Rica in the opener, David Beckham’s spell-binding free-kick against Ecuador, and Kaka’s worldie against Croatia.

The power outages kept getting worse as the tournament progressed, so we couldn’t watch most of the remaining knockout matches. We had to settle with hearing the results through word-of-mouth the very next day since the tournament was the talk of the town.

Zidane World Cup Moment

As the 2006 FIFA World Cup progressed, France’s #10 produced multiple iconic World Cup moments. His dominant display against Spain–where he faced off against club teammates Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas–helped France advance to the quarterfinals against the much-fancied Brazil. Zizou managed to level up his game a step further against o Seleção, taking the spotlight away from the likes of Kaka, Ronaldinho, and Ronaldo and onto his shiny golden boots. Zidane glided past Brazil’s magnificent midfield maestros with ease. The Frenchman was simply on fire.

Zizou’s free-kick (and Roberto Carlos’ untied shoelaces) paved the way for Thierry Henry’s second-half winner, and the Frenchman led France past Portugal in the semifinals before Panenka-ing Gianluigi Buffon inside the first ten minutes of the World Cup Final.

Zidane’s cheeky chip over Buffon was his last positive moment of the tournament. During extra-time, the France legend got sent off for a headbutt on Marco Materazzi and Italy went on to win on penalties. Zidane’s final footballing act impacted the football world so much that people created statues and murals to ensure the act lived in infamy. Talk about a lasting legacy.

Fifteen Years in the Making

At this point, you might be thinking, how in the world was that Zidane World Cup moment heartwarming? Well, this is where the story takes a positive turn. My uncle Muller is a huge football fan who has experience in sports writing, just like me. He and I recently bonded over our shared experiences covering football and Uncle Muller shared his admiration for Zinedine Zidane. Midway through our conversation, my uncle casually mentioned how he would love to own Zidane’s 2006 World Cup away jersey one day. As soon as he said that, a lightbulb went off in my head.

The planting of a seed

Five days later, uncle Muller sent me a short piece detailing every major nation’s tournament run during the 2006 World Cup. He used multiple analogies to eloquently describe his analysis of each nation, before predicting Germany’s triumph over Italy in the semifinals. Italy eventually went on to lift the World Cup, but if your nickname is Muller, you simply have to root for the Germans.

Uncle Muller experienced more misery the day before, as Manchester United (his favourite club side) had lost the UEFA Europa League final to Villareal on penalties. The man commonly referred to as Ogba (his shortened last name; one P short of Pogba) needed a pick-me-up. Soon enough, a spontaneous arrival came to his rescue.

I decided to surprise my uncle by sending him a vintage Zidane 2006 World Cup away jersey that I had found online. I needed the help of my aunt to get his address, but once I did, it was time to head to USPS and send over the shirt.

The trip in itself turned out to be a learning lesson, as I did a poor job of specifying the intended destination. As a result, the shirt was shipped back to my house two days later instead of making its way to Canada. I thought the original seller made a mistake by sending two jerseys to my house instead of the one. After realizing my mistake, I went back to USPS a week later to fix my error. Eventually, this turned out to be the best part of the surprise.

Uncle Muller’s Zidane jersey finally arrived at his doorstep on the 10th of June. Without ruining the surprise, I called him to confirm the jersey’s arrival, and thankfully, it did. Five days later–on the day he finally opened his gift–France put on an attacking clinic against a decent German side and won their EURO 2020 opener 1-0. Fittingly, the likes of Pogba, Kante, and Mbappe had themselves a game to remember, and Uncle Muller had a story to tell.

Uncle Muller wearing his favorite Zidane jersey following France’s 1-0 win over Germany on Tuesday 15th June.

Fifteen summers after Zidane bid his farewell to the beautiful game, Uncle Muller ended up receiving the gift of a lifetime. The Frenchman’s final footballing act will continue to live in infamy, for worse and for better.