Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

Euro-2008 lacks Zinedine Zidane's uniqueness

France's players are missing Zinedine Zidane's influence at the European Championship.

Still reeling from a 4-1 loss to the Netherlands, the French team heads into Tuesday's match against Italy in Zurich needing a win to stand any chance of reaching the quarterfinals.

This time around, the player fans loved to call "Zizou" is not around to save them because he retired two years ago.

"We miss Zizou," winger Franck Ribery said. "It's in these really tough situations that we like to talk about former players. He had to stop, yes, but he is sorely missed by the French team. We have to learn how to play differently."

Zidane's last match was the 2006 World Cup final against Italy, which saw the silky playmaker sent off in extra time for head-butting Marco Materazzi. France then lost on penalty kicks with Zidane in the dressing room and his career over.

At Euro 2008, France drew its opening match against Romania 0-0, and then squandered several chances against the clinical Dutch.

Zidane, who scored three goals in two World Cup finals, and a Golden Goal penalty kick in the Euro 2000 semifinals against Portugal, had a penchant for scoring when it really mattered.

Asked what Zidane would have done against Romania or the Netherlands, Ribery's answer underlined just how much Zidane is still revered, and also reflected how much France now lacks efficiency in front of goal these days.

"He would have got the ball and scored three goals," said Ribery, who has taken over from Zidane as the team penalty taker. "By his presence, he would do everyone some good ... but that's the way it is."

Goalkeeper Gregory Coupet also thinks Zidane's mercurial touch is sorely lacking.

"We lost a great captain like Zidane," Coupet said. "It's not easy to replace the best player in the world."

Coupet is certain that Zidane's departure left a huge void that coach Raymond Domenech has since struggled to fill.

"There is new generation (of players) and we are also trying to build a group," Coupet said. "Perhaps that is the explanation."

Other French players, however, seem to be growing tired of hearing about Zidane.

"We've been playing for two years without Zidane now," 36-year-old defender Lilian Thuram said. "And there is never one boss in a team, but 11 individual talents who are at the team's service."

Claude Makelele, Zidane's midfield partner at Euro 2004 and at the 2006 World Cup, echoes Thuram's words.

"It is the way the team played that allowed Zidane to show his talent," Makelele said. "Besides, Zidane is unique."