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Real Madrid legend Zinedine Zidane leaves fans and players star struck at NAS Tournament

Zinedine Zidane is one of the most popular footballers in history, and on Friday night in Dubai, a group of lucky spectatorrs got to see why, writes Ali Khaled.
Zinedine Zidane in action during the NAS Tournament. Photo courtesy: Nad Al Sheba Media Office
Zinedine Zidane in action during the NAS Tournament. Photo courtesy: Nad Al Sheba Media Office

Discussions on the world’s best footballer provoke division into two camps — the fans of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but it was not always the case

At his peak Zinedine Zidane was the undisputed holder of the title and on Friday night, a lucky group of spectators got a chance to see his talent in the flesh.

Even with the French World Cup winning legend now at age 43, it was pretty spectacular.

He led a “Friends of Zidane” team against a “Friends of NAS” side made up of current and former UAE internationals.

The crowd of 700 roared as the guest of honour was introduced in front of the watching Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, patron of the 2015 NAS ­Tournament.

It was not only the fans who were star struck.

GALLERY: Zinedine Zidane, Edgar Davids and Omar Abdulrahman put on a show at 2015 NAS Tournament

“The atmosphere was amazing,” Omar Abdulrahman said. “Playing in this exhibition match allowed us to meet players with massive histories in international football, players we used to watch on television.

“NAS Tournament has given us the opportunity to play against the likes of my favourite player of all time Zidane, as well as his two sons and (Michel) ­Salgado.”

Spanish defender Salgado and Juventus legend Edgar Davids may have also been present, but all eyes were on Zidane. Or, as it turned out, on the Zidanes.

Luca and Enzo, both part of Real Madrid’s youth system where their father is reserve team coach, could go far if this evidence is anything to go by.

Luca, 17 years old and a goalkeeper, took to the middle of the arena like a seasoned outfield professional.

He scored the opening goal of the match after four minutes from a pass from his father. Minutes later he returned the compliment but the man who had scored 31 goals for France in a peerless career, hit the side netting.

“Zizou” did get his name on the score sheet just before half time with a typical run and finish, to the delight of the crowd — they can say we have seen Zidane score live.

On the other side, Abdulrahman stood out with some sublime tricks in the presence of his hero, though the likes of Habib Al Fardan and Ali Mabkhout had less spectacular outings.

If the first half was about Zinedine and Lucas, the second was about Enzo. All close control, Zidane pirouettes and effortless flicks, it was like going back in time to watch what his father was like at that age.

At one point the 20-year-old midfielder plucked a high ball out of the air with one sensational touch and the crowd lapped it up.

One UAE player clearly enjoying the event was former national team captain Ismail Matar, grateful to be renewing acquaintance with the evening star turn.

“We thank Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed for giving us the chance to play against these stars,” he said. “It’s not the first time that I’ve played against Zidane, I did once before in a friendly in 2007 after he ­retired.”

With minutes left of the match, UAE international Khamis Ismail brought one of the biggest cheers of the night when he took a selfie with ­Zidane as he was being ­substituted.

“The truth is everybody wanted to get a picture with Zidane because he’s so many Emirati players’ favourite star,” Matar said. “In the end it was a wonderful occasion and we are happy to hold such events in the UAE.”

The match finished 2-0 as the crowd chanted “Zizou, Zizou”. Everyone eventually got their photos taken with Zidane, but only one, Abdulrahman, got the prized No 5 shirt.

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Updated: July 11, 2015 04:00 AM

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