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History and Zidane on France's side

Written by: Staff

MUNICH, July 4: History and a revitalised Zinedine Zidane suggest France will have the upper hand in tomorrow's World Cup semi-final against Portugal.

The 1998 world champions have fond memories of semi-final clashes with the Portuguese, having met them twice at that stage in European Championships -- in 1984 and 2000.

Les Bleus won both matches after close battles and, each time, went on to win the title.

Michel Platini, who scored a fantastic extra time winner in a 3-2 victory at Euro'84, is no longer at the helm but France can still rely on Zidane, whose controversial golden-goal penalty gave them a dramatic 2-1 win in 2000.

The 34-year-old Zidane, who will retire after the finals, seems to have recaptured his brilliant best and was magnificent in France's 1-0 win over holders Brazil in the quarter-finals.

''There's nobody who treats the ball like he does,'' Portugal defender Miguel said of the France captain. ''I hope he keeps a low profile.'' The Euro 2000 semi-final ended in chaos and defender Abel Xavier was banned for nine months, reduced to six, as Portugal's players went crazy after the penalty was given for handball.

''The rivalry is enormous,'' Portugal striker Helder Postiga said before the next meeting between the two rivals in Munich.

''The 2000 game has stuck in our throats a bit. The way we lost was frustrating. We started well and thought we would win.

I hope the story is different this time.'' France, who have hit top form after a sluggish start to the tournament, have not got carried away after defeating Brazil.

''I think it will be tougher against Portugal,'' said midfielder Franck Ribery. ''They have talented individuals like Brazil and they are better organised as a team.'' ''We can see the summit but we're not up there yet,'' added coach Raymond Domenech.

Portugal, who have not beaten France since 1975, reached the last four by knocking out England on penalties on Saturday following a goalless draw.

The beaten finalists in the 2004 European Championship which they hosted feature in the semi-finals of a World Cup for the first time since 1966, their best previous performance.

Miguel said the return of midfielder Deco, who was suspended for the England game, was a great boost.

''Deco's our magician,'' he said. ''He's the player who can see a pass that others don't see.''

Probable teams:

Portugal (4-5-1): 1-Ricardo; 13-Miguel, 16-Ricardo Carvalho, 5-Fernando Meira, 14-Nuno Valente; 6-Costinha, 18-Maniche, 20-Deco, 7-Luis Figo, 17-Cristiano Ronaldo; 9-Pauleta, Coach: Luiz Felipe Scolari

France (4-2-3-1): 16-Fabien Barthez; 19-Willy Sagnol, 15-Lilian Thuram, 5-William Gallas, 3-Eric Abidal; 4-Patrick Vieira, 6-Claude Makelele; 22-Franck Ribery, 10-Zinedine Zidane, 7-Florent Malouda; 12-Thierry Henry, Coach: Raymond Domenech

Referee: Jorge Larrionda (Uruguay) Linesmen: Walter Rial (Uruguay), Pablo Fandino (Uruguay)


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