Question on everyone's lips: Why did he do it?
In his last game for his country, the French captain and midfield genius was sent off for butting an opponent in the chest, an ignominious end to a glorious career which ensured he missed the penalty shoot-out that decided the game.
Italy held their nerve to run out 5-3 winners.
"The blue angel turned into a devil," the daily newspaper Le Parisien said of France's favourite footballer.
The paper nevertheless ran a "Thank You" headline on its front page in tribute to the achievement of the unfancied national side that reached their second final in eight years despite being largely written off as too old.
Liberation's frontpage saw the result as "Cruel" while the Le Figaro daily lamented the "Broken Dream of Les Bleus".
But the country's top sports paper, L'Equipe, roasted Zidane in an editorial by Claude Droussent, who said Zidane's "stupid" assault on Italy defender Marco Materazzi was hard to forgive.
"Zinedine, you know, the hardest thing this morning is not to try and understand why Les Bleus, your Bleus, lost the World Cup final last night.
"But to explain to tens of millions around the world how you could have let yourself go and head butt Marco Materazzi, 10 minutes from the end of extra-time.
"What should we tell our children and all those for whom you have become an example for ever?" he asked, concluding: "How could that happen to a man like you?"
The newspaper criticised Zidane for failing to take to the pitch after the game to collect his medal for France's second place finish and console the team mates he had let down.
Zidane has yet to explain his action but his team mates, who have refused to divulge what was said to Zidane by Materazzi, praised the contribution of a player lauded as the best of his generation.
"All I want to say to 'Zizou', and I think France should say it and the world of football ... is 'thank you', and 'thank you'. That's it," France striker Thierry Henry said, using the affectionate nickname by which Zidane is known.
"We should thank him because if he hadn't returned (to the national side) we would not have been there tonight," said France defender Willy Sagnol.
President Jacques Chirac, who on Sunday hailed Zidane's contribution to the sport despite his red card, was due to host the players and coaching staff at a lunch later yesterday at his official Elysee Palace residence.
But it remained unclear if the team would celebrate their unofficial title as world vice-champions with a parade down the Champs Elysee after coach Raymond Domenech was cool on the idea.
Sports Minister Jean-Francois Lamour, a former Olympic champion, said in the locker room after the game Zidane was "totally devastated to have ended his very beautiful, very great career in that fashion".
"It's a rather peculiar end for a champion who remains an exceptional champion," he said.
Sunday's illuminated display on the Arc de Triomphe, the celebrated Paris monument to French victories past, summed up the national mood of forgiveness for the flawed football icon: "Zizou, we love you".
Source: China Daily
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