Zinedine Zidane has decided to stop playing for France, French sports daily l'Equipe said on Thursday, provoking a bout of hand-wringing from distraught fans for whom "Zizou" is a national hero.
"The idea of never seeing Zidane wearing the blue shirt again is unbearable," l'Equipe said in an editorial, reflecting widespread sorrow at the prospective international retirement of one of the players who helped France to their 1998 World Cup win.
Zidane is expected to announce his decision officially on pay-television channel Canal Plus at 1745 GMT on Thursday. But for the French media, his departure was a foregone conclusion.
"Zinedine Zidane and the French team are now ancient history," said the tabloid daily Le Parisien.
The 32-year-old, whose club contract with Real Madrid runs until 2007, had hinted that he might end his international career after France suffered a shock elimination by Greece in the quarter-finals of Euro 2004.
Fans polled by radio station RTL pleaded with Zidane to reconsider. "He's not allowed (to retire)," said one.
Almost two thirds of French people want Zidane to keep playing for his country until the 2006 World Cup, according to a poll published by Le Parisien in late July.