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 May 14, 2002 | 1537 IST

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Journalists back Zidane to become World Cup star

Joanne Russell

France playmaker Zinedine Zidane, the world's most expensive footballer, is favourite to be the outstanding player in this year's World Cup finals, according to a Reuters poll.

Out of 33 sports editors and journalists polled by Reuters, 12 said Zidane would give the most sparkling performance in this summer's finals, to be held in Japan and South Korea, while seven named him among others as a possible star.

"My heart very much hopes it'll be David Beckham... and he'll be fit and playing, but my head has to go for Zidane. He is by far and away the world's best player," said Nick Duxbury at The Independent in London.

The 32-team tournament kicks off on May 31 with the final on June 30.

Sports journalists around the world were asked to select one potential star of the World Cup although some suggested several players who could shine at the tournament.

They mentioned some of the world's top players such as Brazilian Rivaldo, Portuguese midfielder Luis Figo, French players Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira and England captain Beckham.

Beckham broke the second metatarsal bone in his foot at the beginning of April and was told he would need six to eight weeks to make a full recovery, but he is now expected to be fit to play in the finals.

The Reuters poll was taken April 25 to May 3.


Zidane, who joined Real Madrid from Juventus for a world record fee of 66 million dollars, has twice been named FIFA's World Player of the Year.

He was the hero of the World Cup four years ago when he scored twice in the 3-0 final against Brazil.

"He is still on top form and will be for years," said Guus van Holland at NRC Handelsblad in the Netherlands.

For some, other key players in the French squad, such as midfielder Patrick Vieira who plays for Arsenal, will feature.

"(Vieira)... has matured into one of the finest all-round players in the world, a great leader and strategist," said Jeremy Walker at Asahi Shimbun News Service in Tokyo.

Others backed Vieira's Arsenal team mate Thierry Henry. "He's quick... he's at the right age also and he's still hungry for success," said Jan Majlard at Svenska Dagbladet in Sweden. "It should be his tournament."


Roger Crutchley at the Bangkok Post said Barcelona forward Rivaldo would be the one to watch. "A truly gifted player who can turn a game," he said.

"He has yet to reproduce his club form on the international stage, but what better time to show his undoubted skills than this year's World Cup?"

Joseph Romanos at The Listener in New Zealand voted for England's Michael Owen who he said "has brilliance and consistency (and) can be a match-winner."

The Liverpool striker, who first hit the headlines at the 1998 World Cup with a superb solo goal against Argentina, is a key member of the England team set to face Sweden, Nigeria and Argentina in the first round.

But some sports journalists said key players in the Argentine squad, such as Juan Sebastian Veron and Hernan Crespo, would provide the outstanding performances of the tournament.

Juhani Heikkila at the Finnish News Agency (STT) backed Argentina to win the finals and said Javier Saviola would stand out. "This youngster is going to score goals," he said.

Also read: Zidane to quit after four years with Real Madrid

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