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France beat Portugal, set date with Italy in finals

india Updated: Jul 08, 2006 18:53 IST
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Zinedine Zidane fired France into their second World Cup final appearance in eight years here on Wednesday, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 semi-final victory over Portugal.

The French captain shattered Portugal's dreams of a first ever appearance in the final after coolly converting a hotly disputed penalty midway through the first half at the 62,000-seat Allianz Arena.

Zidane's goal was a repeat of his spot-kick winner against the Portuguese in the semi-finals of Euro 2000 and sent France into a final on Sunday against Italy - just as it had done six years ago. But the decider was shrouded in controversy, with Portugal protesting Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda's decision to point to the spot after Chelsea defender Ricardo Carvalho brought down Thierry Henry just inside the area.

A clever touch by Henry wrong-footed Carvalho who fell but stuck his leg out, and although the Arsenal star reacted theatrically to clear contact, Larrionda had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.

Portuguese goalkeeper Ricardo had saved three penalties in his side's shoot-out victory over England in the quarter-finals on Saturday but though he dived the right way Zidane's 33rd-minute spot kick gave him no chance, buried majestically into the corner. France, the 1998 champions, spent much of the remainder of the game on the back foot as Portugal searched desperately for an equaliser.

But despite dominating territory and possession much of the second half, Portugal were unable to find a way through a French defence superbly marshalled by Lilian Thuram and William Gallas. Luis Figo missed a glorious chance to equalise when he headed over on 78 minutes after a Cristiano Ronaldo free-kick that French keeper Fabien Barthez spilled comically.

A furious late rally saw Portugal camped in French territory but Les Bleus held firm to keep their dream of a second title alive. The match had threatened to boil over towards the end of the first half when Portugal had a penalty appeal of their own waved away.

Ronaldo - booed whenever he touched the ball in the first half - leapt for a cross and fell over French defender Willy Sagnol. Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari and the entire Portugal bench were out of the dug-out in protest but referee Larrionda was having none of it, and replays showed there was no contact whatsoever.

An entertaining opening 45 minutes saw both sides go close early on, dispelling fears the match would be a tense affair with five players from each team starting on a yellow card. Portugal, who had welcomed the return from suspension of midfield enforcer Costinha and Barcelona playmaker Deco, were quickly into their stride with Ronaldo looking menacing down the left.

Both Deco and Figo forced Barthez into scrambled saves in the opening 15 minutes, while midfielder Maniche saw a shot fly millimetres over the bar. Yet though Portugal had the clearer chances, France did not appear to be unduly troubled, their back four restricting their opponents to long-range efforts only.

Ronaldo, who has been demonised in England this week for his part in the dismissal of Wayne Rooney last weekend, was singled out as the pantomime villain by French and neutral fans immediately. oos and whistles greeted the Manchester United winger's every touch and he enraged France coach Raymond Domenech on the half-hour, the French coach accusing him of attempting to con the referee with a dive.

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