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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Zidane earns France final spot with Italy in the FIFA World Cup

By Stuart Watt in Munich

A controversial penalty won by Thierry Henry and converted by Zinedine Zidane has given France a 1-0 victory over Portugal in Munich and a place in the World Cup final against Italy in Berlin on Monday morning.

The victory sets up a fairytale finish for the career of Zidane, one of the elite players of his generation, with the final to be his last match.

France were awarded the spot kick in the 32nd minute after Portuguese defender Ricardo Carvalho made the slightest of contact with Henry inside the Portuguese penalty area.

Henry made the most of the challenge and Zidane squeezed the ball past Portugal goalkeeper Ricardo's right hand to score.

Portugal captain Luis Figo missed a terrific chance to level the scores when he powered a header over the crossbar with 12 minutes left.

The chance came after Cristiano Ronaldo dipped a 35 metre free-kick over the French wall.

French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez scooped the ball up and Figo should have done better.

Defender Fernando Meira also had a chance with just minutes to play but blazed over.

The match finished with a series of Portugal corners which their goalkeeper Ricardo came forward to contest, but to no avail.

Both sides went into the match with a host of players on yellow cards, but the only hiccup for France was the booking of Louis Saha shortly after he came on.

Although he had played only 26 minutes before today, he will now be ineligible for the final.

Much of the attacking spark in the game came from Ronaldo operating down both Portugal's flanks.

But the youngster was booed throughout by the French crowd after his involvement in the sending off of Englishman Wayne Rooney in the quarter-final between those two sides.

After an even first half, Portugal had the better of play in the second as they searched for an equaliser.

But the French defence was equal to the task and Ronaldo's free-kick was the only real test for Barthez.

Zidane himself, so stirring in his displays against Brazil and Spain in the past two rounds, had a quieter game here.

Apart from an occasional step-over, a flick here and a nice touch there, his influence was limited.
France defended exceptionally well especially in the centre where Lilian Thuram and William Gallas were near flawless.

French attacking opportunities were few and far between in the second half as they were content to sit back and soak up pressure, only hitting on the break.

Henry had their best chance when the half was just three minutes old, beating defenders down the left before cutting in and shooting, only to see Ricardo somehow keep the ball out with his elbow.



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