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Luck runs out for goal-shy Portugal

Written by: Staff

MUNICH, July 6 (Reuters) Portugal's chances of a first World Cup final appearance ended after their luck and shooting ability both deserted them in the semi-final against France.

Luiz Felipe Scolari's team completed 287 minutes play without scoring a goal as they bowed out of the competition in their best performance since 1966.

They will now hope that the Brazilian coach, who also took them to the European Championship final two years ago, will agree to renew his contract which runs until the end of this month.

Maniche's superbly taken effort in the 23rd minute of their second round tie against Netherlands was the last time they hit the target, far too little for a team with aspirations of reaching the World Cup final.

After that, they fought their way through a drab 120 minutes with England in the quarter-finals before winning on penalties.

Luck also turned against a team who enjoyed a fair slice of it in their previous matches, especially against the Dutch who twice struck the crossbar.

OWN MEDICINE Often criticised for their gamesmanship and theatricals, Portugal got a taste of their own medicine when Thierry Henry won a controversial penalty to provide France with their 33rd minute winner.

Henry went flying over after receiving nothing more than a tap on the ankle from Ricardo Carvalho, but Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda pointed straight to the spot.

After that, Portugal's shortcomings in the last third of the field meant they rarely looked like turning the game around and they seemed resigned to their fate.

There were several ludicrous attempts to win penalties, particularly from Cristiano Ronaldo, as they ran out of attacking ideas despite their neat approach work.

Lone striker Pauleta finished with a modest one goal to his credit scored in the fourth minute of their opening game against Angola.

After the game, the word ''proud'' was repeated on numerous occasions as they reflected on their performance in the competition.

''It was destiny,'' captain Luis Figo told reporters.

''We're disappointed but at the same time proud to belong to the group. We weren't inferior to France but we couldn't score.'' Portugal have clearly surpassed expectations by getting so far but they have won few friends in the process.

Scolari pinned his hopes on not conceding a goal -- Portugal's defence conceded only two in six outings -- and then nabbing one at the other end.

In between, he was prepared to use any tactics to unsettle the opposition.

Every time a decision went against them on Wednesday, the entire Portugal bench would rush to the edge of the technical area and remonstrate angrily with the referee.

It appeared to be a deliberate tactic, often used by Scolari during his days in Brazilian football, to unsettle and pressure referee Larrionda.

Larrionda, however, has long experience in South American football where such tricks are old hat and Portugal in the end bowed out with barely a whimper.

Reuters PM GC1448

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