Zidane was dismissed 71 minutes into an ultimately comfortable victory over Saudi Arabia for stamping on the back of Fuad Amin, who had just tackled him, in clear view of the Mexican referee. Arturo Brizio Carter had earlier neglected to penalise a two-footed tackle by Fabien Barthez, and a professional foul by Bixente Lizarazu, but this time, to the horror and astonishment of an 75,000 crowd, he acted decisively.
Aime Jacquet, the French coach, who has also lost Christophe Dugarry to a hamstring injury, said: "It was justified for what he did. I am satisfied with the way it was handled. We have to control ourselves.''
Carter had earlier sent off Saudi Arabia's Mohammed Al-Khlaiwi for a rash tackle on Lizarazu. As this followed three dismissals in the Denmark- South Africa match at Toulouse it is clear the "get-tough'' instructions by the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, have had an effect.
For the hosts, Zidane's dismissal soured a victory which was given a gloss finish with three goals in the last 23 minutes. With the Toulouse match drawn it also enabled them to join Brazil in the second round. A draw, or better, against Denmark in Lyon on Wednesday, will earn them a cherished place in the opposite half of the draw from the holders.
Last night's win, and the prospect of avoiding the Brazil until the final, will further inflame the growing belief that France can achieve a first global triumph. In two matches they have scored seven goals and conceded none.
However, wiser counsels will wait until they meet more competitive opposition. Though Thierry Henry scored twice and both David Trezeguet and Lizarazu once, the old failing, poor finishing, was again evident. Such was the quality of the approach play, four goals represented less than half of what should have been achieved.
Saudi Arabia, expensively prepared but lacking in quality and experience, were never likely to delay France's passage to the second round and after Al-Khlaiwi was sent off the match was effectively a formality. Yet the Saudis, though under almost constant pressure, were still able to expose the French at times and left feeling they were the victims of poor refereeing when goalkeeeper Barthez escaped with a two-footed tackle on Sami Al-Jaber at 0-0. Eight minutes later, Henry put France ahead.
Jacquet, whose name had received a mixed reception from the crowd before kick-off, had dropped Emmanuel Petit and Youri Djorkaeff in favour of Alain Boghossian and Bernard Diomede. With Stephane Guivarc'h injured, Dugarry retained his place but only lasted 29 minutes.
Saudi Arabia, fielding nine of the side which drew 0-0 against England at Wembley last month, were quickly pushed back with Zidane, Didier Deschamps and Dugarry all having chances within the first four minutes. Then Carter made his intentions clear, booking Mohammed Al-Jahni for a sixth-minute tackle on Diomede.
The lesson was not heeded and, after 21 minutes, Lizarazu got round Al- Khlaiwi on the left and, as he sought to cut in, was tripped. That he saw red, rather than yellow, underlined the new mood.
Lizarazu tested Mohammed Al-Daye before Al-Jaber had his confrontation with Barthez then Zidane missed a clear opening from 10 yards and Al-Daye twice denied Trezeguet. A goal had to come and, after 35 minutes, Lizarazu played a one-two with Zidane and squared for Henry, watched by the Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, to tap in.
The second half was one of French pressure and Saudi breakaways. From one, Lizarazu tripped Al-Jaber as he went clear but only received a yellow card. France continued to make and miss chances before, eventually, Trezeguet got one even he could not miss, heading in after Al-Daye spilled Lilian Thuram's cross.
Zidane then saw red, but France barely missed a beat as Henry ran through to score from Barthez's clearance and Lizarazu finished off a sweeping move for the fourth.
FRANCE (4-2-3-1): Barthez (Monaco); Thuram (Parma), Desailly (Chelsea), Blanc (Marseilles), Lizarazu (Bayern Munich); Boghossian (Sampdoria), Deschamps (Juventus); Henry (Monaco), Zidane (Juventus), Diomede (Auxerre); Dugarry (Marseilles). Substitutes: Trezeguet (Monaco) for Dugarry, 29; Djorkaeff (Internazionale) for Diomede, 58; Pires (Metz) for Henry, 78,
SAUDI ARABIA (4-4-2): Al-Daye (Al-Tae); Al-Jahni (Al-Ahli), Al-Khlaiwi (Al-Ittihad), Zebramawi (Al-Ahli), Solaimani (Al-Ahli); Al-Shahrani (Al- Ahli), Amin (Al-Shabab), K Al-Owairan (Al-Hilal), H Saleh (Al-Ahli); S Al-Owairan (Al-Shabab), Al-Jaber (Al-Hilal). Substitutes: Al-Harbi (Al- Nassr) for S Al-Owairan, 32; Al-Muwalid (Al-Ahli) for Al-Harbi, 63; Al- Dossari (Al Halil) for Al-Jahni, 74.
Referee: A P Brizio Carter (Mexico).
Three off at Toulouse, page 30Reuse content