The Italians were watched with interest by Glenn Hoddle who had stayed on to have another look at England's World Cup opponents. He saw them play Gianfranco Zola behind a front two of Alessandro Del Piero and Pierluigi Casiraghi.
France were desperate to win. Le Tournoi had been a big disappointment with Zidane's form one of the most worrying aspects. He occupies the same place in the French media as Gascoigne does in the English, every match features a debate about his role.
Last night he played in an advanced position and, after 10 minutes, it paid off. Lilian Thuram spotted his run behind Alessandro Costacurta into the inside-right channel. The pass was perfect, so was the first touch, Zidane's second touch flashed the ball past Gianluca Pagliuca for a carbon copy of Zola's goal against England at Wembley.
The lively Ibrahim Ba wasted a chance to extend the lead before Italy responded with a Casiraghi header from Paolo Maldini's cross which went just over. This proved to be an isolated break as the French, with Didier Deschamps a central figure, controlled midfield. As usual, however, they created few chances with a header by Florian Maurice, from Ba's cross, the only other attempt of the half.
There is hope for the future, to judge by the brilliant exhibition of close control and shooting by French youngsters at the interval, but none will be ready for next year's World Cup.
Neither side matched the exhibition until Cesare Maldini finally realised, as Ruud Gullit had done, that playing Zola in midfield does not work. Off he came and, five minutes later Italy levelled. Del Piero released Angelo Di Livio on the right and his cross was neatly headed in by Casiraghi.
At last the game came to life with Ba hitting the bar and Christian Panucci having a header cleared off the line. France reacted by bringing on a seventh Italian-based player, Youri Djorkaeff, and with 16 minutes left he thrashed a 20-yard shot past Internazionale team-mate Pagliuca.
In injury time Thuram brought down Del Piero, who scored from the subsequent penalty to leave both teams winless and level bottom of the Tournoi de France table.
FRANCE (4-3-1-2): Charbonnier (Auxerre); Thuram (Parma), Leboeuf (Chelsea), Desailly (Milan), Lizarazu (Athletic Bilbao); Ba (Bordeaux), Deschamps (Juventus), Karembeu (Sampdoria); Zidane (Juventus); Maurice (Olympique Lyonnais), Dugarry (Milan). Substitute: Djorkaeff (Internazionale) for Maurice, 63; Vieira (Arsenal) for Karembeu, 65; N'Gotty (Paris St Germain) for Desailly, 84.
ITALY (3-4-1-2): Pagliuca (Internazionale); Nesta (Lazio), Costacurta (Milan), Cannavaro (Parma); Lombardo (Juventus), Di Matteo (Chelsea), Di Livio (Juventus), Maldini (Milan); Zola (Chelsea); Del Piero (Juventus); Casiraghi (Lazio). Substitutes: Torrisi (Bologna) for Costacurta, h-t; Panucci (Real Madrid) for Milan, 56; Vieiri (Juventus) for Casiraghi, 77.
Referee: J Lopez Nieto (Spain).Reuse content