Soccer legend Zidane shows off at T.O. charity game
TORONTO - Zinedine Zidane showed he still has many of his skills left from his playing days during a charity game in Toronto, and fans at BMO Field showed their appreciation by cheering the French soccer legend during the pre-game ceremonies and whenever he put a deft move on the ball.
Zidane had a few good chances and was a factor in two goals as his charity team, Zidane and Friends, drew 3-3 with the Canadian All-Stars on Thursday before an announced crowd of 10,152 at BMO Field.
"I was taken by surprise when they would call out my name," Zidane said in French at a post-match media conference.
It was the first of three Canadian exhibition matches for Zidane's team, which will follow with stops in Montreal and Vancouver.
Martin Palermo scored twice for Zidane and Friends, while Yannick Lewis added the tying goal in added time in the second half.
Julian Uccello, Calvin Rosario and Matthew Macri scored for the Canadian All-Stars.
"I would have liked to have scored a goal," Zidane said. "But tonight my role was as a passer."
He did start the play that resulted in the tying goal. He also hit a post and was foiled on another chance when he was in clear but he said that he could not chip the ball the way he wanted to because the artificial turf wouldn't allow him to.
Zidane said that he understood why artificial turf is necessary in some climates.
"I prefer grass, of course," he said. "But I understand in a country like Canada with lots of snow and cold that artificial turf allows the children to have more playing time."
Except for the full south-end stands, which the supporters groups jam for Toronto FC's Major League Soccer matches, there were large stretches of empty seats in the stadium that normally draws capacity of crowds of about 20,000 for TFC home fixtures.
Zidane's team opened the scoring in the seventh minute when Palermo, a big scorer for Boca Juniors in Argentina, headed home a cross from former Toronto FC midfielder Rohan Ricketts, who worked the ball from the left side.
The Canadian All-Stars tied the game in the 15th minute on Uccello's left-footed shot from outside the penalty area.
The goal brought an enthusiastic reception from the filled south stands, and Uccello ran over to the southeast corner to celebrate with the fans.
Palermo scored again in the 39th minute with an assist from Zidane. The French star's shot from just outside the penalty area was stopped by John D`Amato, but he allowed a rebound and Palermo was there to knock it home.
The Canadian All-Stars tied the game 2-2 in the 55th minute on Rosario's goal.
With about 20 minutes left, Canadian All-Stars goalkeeper Matthew Grant stopped Zidane when he was put in the clear.
Zidane later hit the post, then had a strong shot stopped by Grant in the 90th minute.
Macri scored for the Canadian All-Stars in the 81st minute, putting in a rebound after goalkeeper Brian Bowel made a foot save.
Zidane had a part in the tying goal during added time. He passed to his right to Dave Simpson, who found Lewis in front of the goal for the tap in.
Zidane's team will play its next exhibition on Sunday in Montreal at Molson Stadium and will finish on July 4 at Vancouver's B.C. Place.
Organizer Ahcene Adlani hopes the games will also raise between $100,000 and $150,000 for charities, including UNICEF.
Some of the players who were mentioned earlier as possible participants did not play, and Adlani blamed that on a lack of co-operation in Canada from soccer authorities.
"I got some resistance, no one believed me that I could bring these players here," Adlani said. "I cannot do all this myself. I did not have the support of any soccer federation in this country. "
He said the resulting delay meant that some of the players already had other plans.
Zidane's team was made up mostly of players who had played in Europe and the Canadian All-Stars had some players who play in the Ontario Soccer League and Canadian Soccer League.
Zidane, 37, whose parents are Algerian, cost Real Madrid a then world-record 46 million pounds (C$87.3 million) when the Spanish power acquired him from the Italian team Juventus in 2001. He helped France win the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.
The smooth-passing Zidane's reputation suffered in the final of the 2006 World Cup when he was sent off for head-butting Italian defender Marco Materazzi. He later said Materazzi had insulted him.
The star midfielder still won the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player.
Zidane has played in charity events since retiring after the World Cup.