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Scolari dignified after first World Cup defeat

Written by: Staff
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MUNICH, July 6 (Reuters) After 11 wins and a draw, Luiz Felipe Scolari's record unbeaten World Cup run as a coach came to an end at the 13th hurdle when France beat Portugal by the only goal of an open semi-final.

A first-half penalty converted by Zinedine Zidane carried the French through to meet Italy in Sunday's final in Berlin.

For Brazilian Scolari, it was a first World Cup defeat and he took it with magnanimity, praising the referee and a strong France team despite showing his frustration with the officials at the end of the match on the pitch.

But he also told of how difficult it is for a small country like Portugal to overcome the established powers in the final stages of a major tournament.

''I am not talking about the referee,'' he said, when told that Cristiano Ronaldo had complained that the official had not handled the match fairly.

''He is an excellent referee and he knows what he wants to do.'' The Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda gave a controversial decision after 32 minutes when Thierry Henry went down having been caught by Ricardo Carvalho.

''I don't believe that France were better than Portugal,'' said Scolari, who led Brazil to seven straight wins on their way to lifting the World Cup in 2002.

'BALANCED MATCH' ''This was a balanced match and one incident, the penalty, decided it. It is one thing that happened. We are a small country and it is difficult for a country like Portugal to reach a World Cup final.'' Referee Larrionda was also in charge of France's victory over Togo in the early group stages of the tournament.

Scolari said he would shrug off the disappointment of defeat and try to inspire his players to defeat hosts Germany and take third place in the play-off in Stuttgart on Saturday.

''That is a good result if we can achieve it,'' he said. ''It will be difficult but it would be really something.'' After guiding his team through a highly successful group stage in which they scored five goals in three straight wins, Scolari has seen his side struggle to find the net.

They scored once against the Netherlands in a tempestuous second-round clash, drew 0-0 with England after extra time -- progressing after a penalty shootout -- and have now failed to score against France.

But he said he was proud of his players' efforts and praised the French defence.

''They have a very good defensive system, strong, tall players, great experience -- France are a team of great capacity and Italy will have to be very careful against them,'' he said.

REUTERS PDS RAI1023

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