Zidane fires France into fairytale World Cup final

6th July 2006, Comments 0 comments

MUNICH, July 5, 2006 (AFP) - Zinedine Zidane fired France into their second World Cup final appearance in eight years here Wednesday, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 semi-final victory over Portugal.

MUNICH, July 5, 2006 (AFP) - Zinedine Zidane fired France into their second World Cup final appearance in eight years here 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.

French coach Raymond Domenech now urged his team - who were written off at the start of the tournament - to finish the job in Sunday's final in Berlin.

"We have to go all the way," said the 54-year-old. "We cannot just be satisfied with the fact that by getting there is wonderful. We will have to go for it and give it our all without giving it a second thought."

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 against the Italians - just as it had done six years ago.

The Real Madrid star's goal kept him on course to complete a fairytale comeback. Zidane, who retired from international football in 2004 only to return a year later, will hang up his boots for good after Sunday's final.

Domenech rejected suggestions that Zidane's farewell could distract his inspirational captain from the job in hand.

"He won't be approaching it like it's the last game for Zinedine Zidane," Domenech. "He will be approaching it like a World Cup final that he wants to win, and so will the rest of us."

Domenech was full of praise for the former world footballer of the year.

"What can you say about him? He's a world champion, they have pictures of him on the walls in Marseille - he's a true star," Domenech said.

"He allows the French public to dream."

Scolari was philosophical about the defeat, his first in 13 World Cup finals matches. "We did everything possible but if you don't score you don't win," said the Brazilian, who for the first time in three major tournaments failed to take his side to the final.

Regarding some contentious refereeing decisions Scolari was not forthcoming.

"No comment - I'm not going to talk about that."

France striker Thierry Henry paid tribute to his team's superb rearguard effort. "We defended like lions. After we got the penalty, the way we defended was great.

Henry said the team had not listened to the critics who had written it off when they made a slow start to the tournament.

"It is true that we were not playing well, people were saying we were too old. That was pretty harsh, but as soon as you step it up it works.

Zidane's 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 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 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.

Boos and whistles greeted the Manchester United winger's every touch and he enraged France coach Raymond Domenech in the half-hour, the French coach accusing him of attempting to con the referee with a dive.

Copyright AFP  

Subject: French News

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