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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Jul 5, 2006

Zidane steps up once more for France

MUNICH, Germany (AP) -- One more time, Zinedine Zidane stepped up to the penalty spot, 12 yards from another shot at glory for himself and France.

Dripping with sweat, Zidane converted the kick in the 33rd minute after Ricardo Carvalho was whistled for a foul on Thierry Henry, giving the French a 1-0 victory over Portugal on Wednesday night and a berth in the World Cup final.

France, which was supposed to be soccer's over-the-hill gang, meets Italy at Berlin on Sunday night in a matchup of blue -- France's Les Bleus vs. the Italian Azzurri.

The French will be making just their second ever appearance in a World Cup final -- the other was their famous 3-0 victory at home over Brazil in 1998. Italy, trying for its fourth title, will be in its sixth final.

"People were giving us a lot of stick, right at the beginning," Henry said. "I think it will be a tight game because the Italian team has the same way of playing as us."

Six players remain from the 1998 team, and this group was counted out by many as past its prime. But in a bit of deja vu, France replicated its run in the 2000 European Championship, when it beat Portugal in the semifinals to set up a final against Italy.

With just a few minutes to go, French fans in one corner of the stadium started singing "La Marseillaise," the French anthem, and followed with chants of "Allez Les Bleus!"

France and Italy have a long history of tricolored battles.

The French rallied to defeat Italy 2-1 in the 2000 Euro final when Sylvain Wiltord scored with 30 seconds left in second-half injury time and David Trezeguet got a goal 13 minutes into sudden-death extra time. France also beat the Italians on penalty kicks in the 1998 World Cup quarterfinals.

"It's only when we'll get there and we see the ceremony that we'll realize what we've done," France coach Raymond Domenech said. "But let's not rest now."

Unbeaten in nine straight games since a March 1 exhibition loss against Slovakia, France started the World Cup slowly with ties against Switzerland and South Korea before beating Togo to get to the knockout phase. The French then defeated Spain and defending champion Brazil to reach the semifinals.

Portugal, a 20-1 shot last December, advanced to the World Cup semifinals for just the second time. Eusebio, the hero of Portugal's 1966 run, was on hand as was former French captain Michel Platini, considered by many his nation's greatest player.

France's win ended Portugal's 19-game unbeaten streak since a February 2005 exhibition loss at Ireland. It also stopped coach Luiz Felipe Scolari's 12-game undefeated string in World Cup matches.

"The two teams were very evenly matched for long periods," Scolari said. "There was nothing to choose between them. But when you are losing you have to produce something special.

"Today we didn't so that."

Portugal repeatedly was angry with calls -- and non-calls. Just after Zidane's goal, Portugal wanted a penalty kick when Cristiano Ronaldo went down in the penalty area trying to reach a cross and claimed he was pushed by Willy Sagnol. When there wasn't a call, a water bottle was kicked on the field in front of Portugal's bench.

After the final whistle, Portugal captain Luis Figo walked over to the referee, spoke with him, then gave him mock applause. Scolari, who spent much of the match in front of his bench and throwing his arms up in frustration, wagged a finger at the officials as they walked off, and was blocked from getting close to them by a FIFA official.

Zidane, the balding hero of the 1998 final, converted the penalty kick one minute after Carvalho and Henry collided about a yard into the penalty area, and Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda pointed to the penalty spot. Henry was making a cut and their legs hooked, and Scolari and his bench players popped up en masse, furious with the call.

Zidane sent the ball just inside the post, with goalkeeper Ricardo Pereira diving to his right but just unable to get a hand on it. France's three-time world player of the year, who is retiring from soccer after this tournament, turned, yelled and clapped his hands.

"He's worked hard solidly for the past month to be ready to play a match like this," said Domenech, who looked like a professor reviewing his students as he stood in front of his bench. "He played all out to reach the final without holding back."

It was the first goal Portugal had allowed since the 29th minute of its first-round finale against Mexico.

"Our players have been marvelous," Scolari said. "We did out best to get to the final but we failed. I have to thank my players for their effort."

Six years ago in the European Championship semifinals, Zidane's penalty kick with three minutes left in extra time gave France a 2-1 victory over the Portuguese after Abel Xavier used a hand to block Sylvain Wiltord's shot. Portuguese players charged Austrian referee Guenter Benko, resulting in a six-month suspension for Xavier -- who was watching this one from the stands -- and lengthy bans for two teammates.

Ronaldo and Zidane were whistled at by each other's fans in the crowd of 66,000 at Allianz Arena. The first 10 minutes were fast-paced, with Deco taking a hard shot from about 20 yards in the fourth minute, and Sagnol blocking Pauleta from getting to the rebound.

Maniche just missed over the bar in the ninth minute with a 30-yard drive off a pretty back flick from Ronaldo.

But then the pace slowed, and neutral fans started chanting "Deutschland! Deutschland!"

Henry nearly added to the lead three minutes into the second half, with a shot that went off Ricardo's left wrist and spun just wide of the post. Franck Ribery had a shot from the arc about a minute later that Ricardo pushed over the bar.

Ronaldo nearly created a tying goal in the 78th, when French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez -- another of the 1998 heroes -- let his 30-yard free kick bounce off his arms and up in front of the goal. Figo, another former world player of the year, had an open header.

But he sent Portugal's best last chance over the top of the bar, and France was celebrating soon after.

"We let ourselves go in the dressing room," midfielder Florent Malouda said. "Then we thought we must be serious and prepare for Italy."