WORLD CUP : French oldies roll on to face Brazil

Hanover, June 28 :

Zinedine Zidane’s farewell tour with France keeps on rolling. Spain’s World Cup agony never ends. Zidane sent in a late free kick that Patrick Vieira headed off a defender and

into the net to break a 1-1 deadlock on Tuesday. The retiring France captain then finished off a brilliant night with a goal of his own to cement his team’s place in the quarter-finals with a 3-1 victory.

France moves on to face Brazil on Saturday, a rematch of the World Cup final in 1998, when the French won 3-0 with Zidane scoring two goals.

Spain, meanwhile, is still looking to end 76 years of World Cup futility. With the score even in the 83rd minute, Zidane’s free kick curled into the goalmouth and found an onrushing Vieira, who headed it off the body of Spain’s Sergio Ramos and into the net.

Minutes later, Zidane finished off the night with a solo run into the penalty area, his shoes flashing as he cut inside one defender before wrongfooting goalkeeper Iker Casillas for the score.

France’s recovery from a listless World Cup start seemed impossible as little as a week ago, when Zidane was serving a suspension for too many yellow cards and the French struggled to score. Zidane said France “really wanted to show that while the first round wasn’t easy, we were capable of a few things. And this evening we have demonstrated that we have a good group that wants to go further.”

Spain first got its hopes up in the 28th minute, when Lilian Thuram stepped on the foot of Pablo Ibanez inside the box, prompting referee Christiano Copelli to award a penalty kick. David Villa slotted it perfectly, low in the left corner and just out of the reach of Fabien Barthez. France answered in the 41st minute. Vieira sent Frank Ribery into open space with a pass, and the Marseille winger swept the ball past goalkeeper Iker Casillas with his right foot and sent it home with his left, just ahead of two onrushing defenders.

Spain became a favourite after another brilliant opening round, but fell flat within the last 10 minutes of Tuesday’s game. Compared to Zidane’s sparkling play, Spain veteran Raul Gonzalez was ineffective and was substituted early. Zidane, who is retiring after this World Cup, made the difference in midfield with several slick moves. The former Real Madrid midfielder still weaved some old magic, with his unique mix of apparent nonchalance and lethal passing.

France coach Raymond Domenech said he had been surprised at suggestions that Vieira and Zidane should have been left off of the team. “For me, it was dramatic that this question was even being asked, but that’s the way it is, and now we are moving ahead with our little team of old men,” Domenech said.

In the final minute, Zidane, who turned 34 on Friday, came back to head out crosses and rushed back with the abandon of a teenager to stop a Spanish rush. At the end of the game, the “old men” — Zidane, Vieira and Barthez — were all embracing and saluting the ecstatic, tricolour fans among the sellout crowd of 43,000.

“We are still far from winning the cup but that’s our target,” Vieira said.

“We know that we can achieve a lot and we’ll keep working hard. Many people didn’t expect us to win today but we proved them wrong.”

Domenech said the team was already looking forward to Brazil. “We have an exceptional game ahead of us,” Domenech said. “As the players were saying in the locker room, it is for games like this that we live in the soccer world, for this kind of excitement.” But French plans now go further. “Our only aim is to be there on July 9,” the day of the final, Domenech said.