Paul Scholes showed why Zidane called him his toughest opponent at Euro 2004

  • Rob Swan
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"My toughest opponent? Scholes of Manchester. He is the complete midfielder. Scholes is undoubtedly the greatest midfielder of his generation.”

These lofty words of praise came from none other than Zinedine Zidane, one of the best footballers of all time.

Zidane played against Scholes on a handful of occasions and the Manchester United and England star clearly left a huge impression on him.

They went head-to-head for the final time at Euro 2004. The Estadio da Luz in Lisbon was the venue for the eagerly-anticipated group-stage fixture between France and England.

The match will always be remembered for Zidane’s brilliance at the end of the match. The world-class attacking midfielder broke English hearts by cancelling out Frank Lampard’s opener with a superb 91st-minute free-kick.

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The Real Madrid star then held his nerve two minutes later, dispatching a perfect penalty past David James to snatch all three points for Les Bleus.

Scholes started on the left for England vs France

It was cruel on England, who performed well over the course of the 90 minutes. Wayne Rooney, aged just 18 at the time, was excellent. As was Scholes, deployed on the left-wing by Sven-Goran Eriksson.

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Sven instead opted for Lampard and Steven Gerrard in the middle of the park, despite concerns that the pair didn’t complement each other as a central midfield pairing.

He may have been sacrificed but Scholes’ highlights from the game show that he still dictated the tempo of the game before he went off injured with 15 minutes remaining after twisting his ankle.

Video: Scholes' highlights for England vs France

Watch Scholes’ highlights here…

It was often said that Scholes couldn’t tackle but, as the footage shows, he produced several decent challenges against France that evening.

Would England have conceded those two late Zidane goals with Scholes still on the pitch? We’ll never know for sure, of course, but there’s every chance it may have been a different story.

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England went on to reach the quarter-finals of Euro 2004, where they were knocked out by Portugal on penalties.

Scholes retired from international football after Euro 2004

Scholes, who was just 29 at the time, announced his retirement from international football several weeks after the tournament had ended.

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"I have been considering retiring from international football for a while,” Scholes admitted.

"It's straightforward - he wants to spend more time with his family,” United boss Sir Alex Ferguson told reporters.

"I spoke to Paul nearly a year ago about it when he came to see me and wanted to think about it.

"At the end of the season before he left he said he'd speak to Sven about it and he did that and he's come to his decision.

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"Paul has made a great contribution to England and I don't think he feels he's missing anything now.

"I think 66 caps is beyond an average international career, he is going out at the top and we respect his decision."

Looking back at it now, the fact Scholes - one of the most naturally talented players that English football has ever produced - didn’t earn more than 66 caps during his career is a huge, huge shame.

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