Last of the galacticos – Zidane and Figo

BERLIN, July 4, 2006 (AFP) – Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo go into battle on Wednesday not only to try and propel France or Portugal respectively into the World Cup final but also to have the honour of being the last of the galacticos left standing.

It is appropriate it is these two and not David Beckham – who Figo and Portugal put out on penalties on Saturday – or Ronaldo – his Brazilians beaten 1-0 by a Zidane inspired France – who go head to head as they were the ones that repaid Real Madrid’s millions invested in them with trophies.

Both brought home the most treasured trophy in European club football, the Champions League in 2002 while Ronaldo and Beckham have never been to the final with ‘les meringues’.

Similarly both are former galacticos as Figo moved to Inter Milan once it became clear that Beckham was favoured for the right flank spot over him and now Zidane has all but retired from football – once France have gone from this tournament he will hang up his boots.

After his virtuoso performance, however, against Brazil there were many querying why he was going to give the game up if he could roll back the years in such a manner.

"I would like to know why he wants to stop when he is as good now as he was four years ago," said Franz Beckenbauer.

"If he plays this well, he should carry on," added the 60-year-old German great.

Zidane is too savvy to do so as the lure of his family, wife Veronique and three sons is far too strong.

Figo is a vastly different player to Zidane, but it is the 33-year-old’s very presence that appears nowadays to strike fear into his opponents.

"I think Luis is one of the best players in the world and has been for a while. He’s played for many big clubs and performed, and well, at the highest level for years," said Beckham prior to the quarter-final.

"So he could cause problems for any team and any defences and he’s one player that we always have to watch."

Like Zidane, Figo also returned to the flag having retired soon after the Euro 2004 championships where Greece had first put paid to France’s hopes of retaining the title and finally Portugal’s dreams of winning their first major senior trophy in the final.

Both had a galvanising impact on their squads with the French regaining a lot of the self respect they lost in crashing out in the first round of the 2002 edition and the Portuguese also putting behind them their exit at the same stage by equalling their best ever showing at the finals.

"It is not necessarily the football they play nowadays that carves fear or respect into their opponents," commented one observer.

"It is their aura that has opponents wondering how to cope with them."

Provoking them might be one way of solving the problem as while both Zidane and Figo appear placid figures, high octane matches such as these have in the past seen the worst of them.

Figo’s near headbutt of Mark van Bommel in the card frenzied second round match with the Dutch showed his dark side, while Zidane has on several occasions suddenly revealed a petulant side to his otherwise beautiful game.

His stamping of a Saudi Arabian in the ’98 finals and a headbutt in a Champions League match – earning a five match suspension – have been just two of several indiscretions.