Goodbye and thanks for the memories

Zinedine Zidane was not the only star to depart the stage at the end of the World Cup.

A clutch of household names also called it a day, although few in such a dramatic fashion as the France captain who was sent off for headbutting Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the chest in Sunday's final.

Zidane had said before the tournament that he would not play another match after leaving Germany, but others announced they were simply ending their international careers after lighting up the world stage.

Portugal said goodbye to one of its heroes when winger Luis Figo bowed out of international football after the 3-1 defeat to Germany in the third-place play-off.

The 33-year-old Figo won his 127th cap when he came on in the 75th minute for a cameo role, providing the curling cross for Nuno Gomes to score Portugal's consolation goal.

At the final whistle in Stuttgart, Figo was in tears after 15 years of international service came to an end.

Figo, the leading light of Portugal's 'golden generation' of players, helped his nation to the final of Euro 2004 on home soil, and in Germany took his country to only their second ever semi-finals in the tournaments history.

Portugal will also have to find a new centre-forward after Pauleta said he had played his last match for his country.

Less illustrious than Figo, Pauleta nevertheless netted 47 times in 88 appearances, making him the nation's all-time leading scorer, bettering Eusebios' record of 41 goals in 64 matches.

Pauleta also remains the last player to score a hat-trick at a World Cup, which he achieved against Poland at the 2002 finals.

Oliver Kahn signalled the end of an era in German goalkeeping when the Bayern Munich stopper announced that his appearance in the third-place match was his last for his nation.

Discarded by Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann in favour of Jens Lehmann for the tournament, the 37-year-old Kahn said it was time to go after being granted one final farewell.

"It was a great time, but you have to know when it is time to stop," said the man who was voted the best player of the 2002 tournament when he helped Germany to the final only to gift Ronaldo one of Brazil's goals in their 2-0 win.

Brazil full-back Roberto Carlos announced that at the age of 33 he would not pull on the famous yellow shirt again, although he went out on a low note when the 1-0 defeat against France brought the reigning champions' challenge to a premature end in the quarter-final.

Hidetoshi Nakata, Japan's best-known player in two World Cups, surprised his fans by ending his playing career at the relatively young age of 29.

The midfielder, who was powerless to stop Japan crashing out in the first round, said he was considering studying business instead.

David Beckham resigned the captaincy with an emotional speech after England went out at the quarter-final stage, but said he wanted to continue playing for his country. New England coach Steve McClaren might have different ideas.

And Germany captain Michael Ballack hinted it was probably his last World Cup after leading his team to the semi-finals on a wave of home support, although at 29, that seems a premature prediction.

Source: China Daily



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