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French World Cup heroes return home
Everyone wants to know what made him react in this way. Was it pure madness or was there more than met the eye? Will we ever find out?
The loss of such a key player may have cost the country victory and has left France searching for answers.
France lost the shoot-out 5-3 after David Trezeguet hit the woodwork and Italy converted all their spot-kicks
As France wakes up, still bitterly disappointed, the biggest question is what exactly went wrong for Zidane.
This was his last match as captain and the last game of his professional career, after a World Cup in which he had inspired the team and taken them to the very brink of victory with an early goal in the final.
Yet well into extra time, the man from a poor immigrant family who had become an icon for France suddenly lost his cool, head-butting Materazzi after the Italian player appeared to provoke him.
Zidane was sent off with disastrous results for France's penalty shoot-out, leaving the nation frustrated and upset.
As Jon Boyle wrote, President Jacques Chirac paid handsome tribute to the disgraced French football captain, despite the shock red card, and several thousand French fans gathered in central Paris to welcome home the weary World Cup finalists.
The France squad arrived back on Monday and went straight to a lunch reception hosted by President Jacques Chirac.
Zidane was also in attendance and was cheered by fans who gathered to welcome the team home.
A sheepish-looking Zidane bowed before the flag-waving crowds as one-by-one the French players stepped forward on the balcony of the Crillon, one of Paris most luxurious hotels to greet their die-hard supporters.
"Zizou for president," fans chanted, referring to Zidane's nickname, calling him back for a second curtain call that suggested they had forgiven his red mist.
Neither man has spoken in public about the verbal exchange that preceded the ignominious end to the career of a football icon whose bewitching ball skills made him best of his generation.
Despite the controversy, Chirac had only praise for an "exceptional captain", the team and much-criticised coach Raymond Domenech as he greeted the team at his Elysee Palace. Offering his support, Chirac said: "Dear Zinedine, in such a hard and intense moment for you, I would like to express the whole nation's affection and admiration for you.
"Dear Zinedine Zidane, what I want to express to you at this perhaps most intense and difficult time in your career, is the admiration and the affection of the whole nation -- it's respect too," Chirac said.
"You are a virtuoso, a genius of world football. You are also a man of the heart, of commitment, of conviction, and that's why France admires and loves you."
"It was really a matter of chance," he added on the result. "So it's not for me to console them. I have simply to express my admiration and respect."
Zidane fired France to victory in the 1998 World Cup and had hoped to lead his team to further glory in Germany in what he had said would be his final game. Instead he was sent off for the 14th time in his career.
More than one million people flooded the streets of Paris to fete the triumphant 1998 team and city authorities had promised a repeat celebration parade on Monday regardless of the result.
But in the event, the players opted for a brief appearance on a balcony overlooking the Place de la Concorde.
As the response of the tens of thousands who turned out to greet the squad in the Place de la Concorde would suggest, the French are unlikely to turn against the man most see as the country's greatest ever player.
Commentators scrutinised video footage of the head butting searching for clues to the loss of self-control that many fans felt cost France the game.
Zidane's team mates refused to publicly criticise the player or divulge his locker room explanation of the head butt.
"Obviously he was very disappointed to end (his career) with a defeat, above all, and to have left his team mates. But he remains a great man," said France defender Jean-Alain Boumsong.
France striker Thierry Henry said: "All I want to say to 'Zizou', and I think France should say it and the world of football ... is 'thank you', and 'thank you'. That's it."
Despite all that, Zidane will remain for all I am sure, a hero and The Golden Goal Award that he has received since only does him credit.
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