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France wakes up after World Cup party

PARIS, July 6 (Reuters) - Much of France woke up hoarse and groggy on Thursday after a night of partying to celebrate the country's qualification for the World Cup final thanks to a narrow victory over Portugal.

Around half a million people took to the streets of Paris, chanting, dancing and setting off fireworks in a collective expression of joy in a nation which usually reserves large gatherings for political protest.

'Fabulous!' splashed the Le Parisien daily on its front page, across a picture of star striker Thierry Henry embracing defender Lilian Thuram, felt by many to be man-of-the-match.

Revellers poured the most praise on France's captain Zinedine Zidane, whose penalty kick was the only goal of the match. He featured on several newspaper covers and fans chanted his nickname 'Zizou' late into the night.

French police were out in force and the nationwide party was tainted only by a handful of incidents.

Around 20 people were arrested after youths clashed with police in the southern coastal city of Marseille and one man died in Paris after climbing on top of an underground train and falling off, French television reported.

The celebrations were much smaller than when France won the tournament for the first time in 1998 when 2 million people flocked to the capital's famous Champs Elysees boulevard alone.

But they could match those if the French team beat Italy on Sunday.

Some saw the final as a welcome distraction from domestic problems for both countries.

France has been dogged by persistent unemployment and huge protests took place this year over government attempts to liberalise the youth job market, while top Italian soccer clubs have been rocked by a match-fixing scandal.

'It is very interesting that the countries that are in the final are France, which at the moment lacks a bit of drive ... and Italy, you have seen all the scandals in football, as if it were a sort of boost or extra spring to give them strength in the final,' Socialist presidential hopeful Laurent Fabius told iTele television.