By RAF CASERT
AP Sports Writer
HANOVER, Germany (AP) —; Zinedine Zidane’s farewell tour with France keeps on rolling. Spain’s World Cup agony never ends.
Zidane sent in a late free kick that Patrick Vieira headed off a defender to break a 1-1 tie today, then the retiring French captain finished off a brilliant night with a goal of his own to cement France’s place in the quarterfinals with a 3-1 victory.
France faces Brazil on Saturday, a rematch of the World Cup final in 1998, when the French won 3-0 on two Zidane goals. Brazil beat Ghana earlier today, 3-0.
Spain, meanwhile, is still looking to end 76 years of World Cup futility.
With the score even in the 83rd minute, Zidane’s free kick curled into the goalmouth and found an onrushing Vieira, who headed it off the body of Spain’s Sergio Ramos and into the net. Minutes later, Zidane made a solo run into the penalty area, his golden shoes flashing as he cut inside one defender before wrongfooting goalie Iker Casillas for the score.
France’s recovery from a listless World Cup start seemed impossible as little as a week ago, when Zidane was serving a suspension for too many yellow cards and the French struggled to score.
Zidane said the French “really wanted to show that while the first round wasn’t easy, we were capable of a few things. And this evening we have demonstrated that we have a good group that wants to go further.”
Spain first got its hopes up in the 28th minute, when Lilian Thuram stepped on the foot of Pablo Ibanez inside the box, prompting referee Christiano Copelli to award a penalty kick. David Villa slotted it perfectly, low in the left corner and just out of the reach of Fabien Barthez.
France answered in the 41st minute. Vieira sent a lightning-quick Frank Ribery into open space with a pass, and the Marseille winger swept the ball past goalkeeper Iker Casillas with his right foot and sent it home with his left, just ahead of two onrushing defenders.
Spain became a World Cup favorite after another brilliant opening round, but fell flat within the last 10 minutes of Tuesday’s game. Compared to Zidane’s sparkling play, Spain veteran Raul Gonzalez was ineffective and was substituted early.
Zidane, who is retiring after this World Cup, made the difference in midfield with several slick moves, still as good as a decade back. The former Real Madrid star still weaved his old magic, with his unique mix of apparent nonchalance and lethal passing.
France coach Raymond Domenech said he had been surprised at suggestions that Vieira and Zidane should have been left off of the team.
“For me, it was dramatic that this question was even being asked, but that’s the way it is, and now we are moving ahead with our little team of old men.”
In the final minute, Zidane, who turned 34 on Friday, himself came back to head out crosses and rushed back with the abandon of a teenager to stop a Spanish rush. At the end of the game, the “old men” —; Zidane, Vieira and Barthez —; were all embracing and saluting the ecstatic, tricolor fans among the sellout crowd of 43,000.
“We are still far from winning the cup but that’s our target,” said Vieira. “We know that we can achieve a lot and we’ll keep working hard. Many people didn’t expect us to win today but we proved them wrong.”
Domenech said the team was already looking forward to Brazil.
“We have an exceptional game ahead of us,” Domenech said. “As the players were saying in the locker room, it is for games like this that we live in the soccer world, for this kind of excitement.”
But French plans now go further.
“Our only aim is to be there on July 9,” the day of the final, said Domenech.
See tomorrow’s Times Free Press for more coverage.