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Swiss fans get glimpse of the Real deal

Zinedine Zidane tries to escape from Lausanne's Massimo Lombardo

(Keystone)

The world's most expensive footballer, Zinedine Zidane, has played his first match for his new club, Real Madrid, in a friendly with Lausanne. The Spanish side won the game 2-1.

The game in Lausanne's newly renovated Vidy stadium was played in honour of the former president of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, and came at the end of Real's week-long pre-season training camp in the canton of Vaud.

Although its outcome was of no great importance, the football world got its first chance to see how the inspirational leader of France's World Cup and European Championship-winning side, fitted into Real's already star-studded line-up.

Zidane offered brief glimpses of his mercurial talent, pulling off a spectacular overhead kick early in the first half. But, otherwise, it was a low-key performance from the Frenchman.

The prolific Raul opened the scoring in only the third minute, dribbling the ball past Pascal Zetzmann in the Lausanne goal. However the expected avalanche of goals failed to materialise.

Real made eight substitutions at half-time, including the man they had all come to see: Zidane. Marcin Kuzba equalised for the home side shortly after the break with a superb header from a pinpoint cross by Isaias. But European football's glitterati had the last word when Guti scored with a header from a quickly taken free kick in the 84th minute.

Real Madrid attracts hundreds of fans

Every day this week, hundreds of excited fans descended on Nyon's tiny Colovry stadium to get a glimpse of Zidane, Luis Figo, Raúl or Roberto Carlos, and perhaps even get an autograph of one of their heroes. Virtually everyone, young or not so young, was clasping a football shirt, a poster or a scrap of paper to be signed.

The level of interest was not surprising considering the large Spanish and Portuguese communities living in the Lake Geneva region. Many enthusiasts also came from German-speaking Switzerland or France.

The man that most of them came to see was Zidane, recently sold by Juventus to Real for SFr120 million. Whether it turns out to be folly or a wise investment, the fans were in no doubt about his worth.

"Zizou, Zizou," they chanted, trying to attract his attention.

"I'm a real soccer fan and when I heard Zidane was here, I had to come along," said one American tourist. "He has such an aura and presence on the field - even when he's training."

"It's so exciting! Normally you'd only get to see these players on television. I never realised Roberto Carlos's legs were so huge!" said Patrick, who had come up the motorway from Geneva.

Real's pre-season training camp

This was the eighth time Real had come to Nyon for their pre-season training camp, and never had the response from the public been so overwhelming.

"It's bigger than in previous years. I think the presence of Zidane played a big part in that - but it isn't all down to Zidane," said Real's head of communications, Joaquin Morata.

"The people realise that no other club boasts so many great players," he told swissinfo.

For a club the size of Real, the summer training camps play a crucial role, not only in team-building, but also escaping the unremitting media scrutiny. Even so, 28 Spanish journalists made the trip with the squad.

"It's important to get away. We need the ideal preparation, and that isn't possible in Madrid," said Real's England international midfielder, Steve McManaman. As well as offering a relatively peaceful environment, the Lake Geneva area also has climactic benefits.

"It may be warm here," said Morata, "but in Madrid it's about 20 degrees hotter."

"Nyon has always made us feel very welcome. It has some of the finest facilities in Europe, and we should know, we've tried many others," he added.

Other big clubs seem to be learning the lesson. After 14 years of training camps in Holland, Real's arch-rivals, Barcelona, have decided to relocate to Prangins, just outside Geneva. As if seeing Zidane and Figo was not enough of a treat for Swiss soccer fans, they will also get the chance to watch Rivaldo and Patrick Kluivert in action.

The Catalan giants arrived on Friday and will stay until August 4. During that time they will play four friendly matches, including one against the Swiss champions, Grasshoppers, on July 31, and another against Sporting Lisbon on August 3.

But it is the madrileños who have the longer association with the region. The club believes that the huge number of actual and potential Real fans in western Switzerland provides it with a perfect public relations opportunity.

"Real Madrid is a universal club. We've got 80 million followers worldwide - and we have to be aware of that responsibility. At the end of the day, what makes Real great is the people who hold it dear - in every corner of the world," Morata told swissinfo.

by Roy Probert


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