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Zidane earns France World Cup final spot

Written by: Staff

MUNICH, July 5 (Reuters) The great Zinedine Zidane gave France a 1-0 win over Portugal today with a penalty that handed them a place in the World Cup final.

Eight years after their Zidane-inspired home triumph, Les Bleus will feature in the title match of the showcase tournament for the second time when they face Italy on Sunday in Berlin.

The 34-year-old Zidane, who retires after the finals and will play the last game of a glittering career at the Olympic stadium, got the winner after 33 minutes by converting a penalty after Thierry Henry's ankle was caught by Ricardo Carvalho.

Portugal, playing in their second semi-final after a 1966 appearance with the great Eusebio, have to be content with meeting hosts Germany for third place on Saturday in Stuttgart.

''What matters now is to go all the way,'' said France coach Raymond Domenech. ''We can't be content with that. We have to recuperate and start focusing. We must give all we have in that final to make sure we have no regrets.'' Henry added: ''I think the thing that made the difference is that after the penalty we defended amazingly. We defended like lions. We were not in much in danger.

''You could see that that team has desire and commitment and everything, plus a lot of technique. I'm trying to shine with the team. Today I got my reward.'' It was the first loss in 13 World Cup matches for Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari after 11 wins and the draw against England in the quarter-finals that his team won on penalties.

Portugal, the Euro 2004 runners-up, have a reputation for losing ill-tempered battles against the French, whom they have not beaten since 1975.

Today's clash on a warm, still night at the high-tech Allianz Arena was tense, as expected, but largely free of ugly scenes though Scolari remonstrated with officials at the end.

DIFFICULT MATCH ''There are situations that are difficult,'' he said. ''We did everything we could, we did our best. Congratulations to France.

We have to accept this. We knew it would be a difficult match.

We had a few chances but unfortunately didn't do it and lost.'' France, relying on a bunch of gifted thirty-somethings, started the tournament in sluggish fashion before stepping up a few gears to recapture their winning ways, dumping out champions Brazil in the previous round.

The sides traded early chances in a lively opening in Munich today when Portugal had a great opportunity after nine minutes, Maniche firing just over the bar from the edge of the box after a clever back-heeled Cristiano Ronaldo pass.

Ronaldo, booed by large sections of the crowd every time he touched the ball, was a permanent danger and came close to scoring after a fine move punctuated by a deflected shot shortly before the break.

France, however, looked in control for large spells and deserved their halftime lead, which they nearly doubled early in the second half with attempts by Henry and Franck Ribery.

Portugal kept trying but were repeatedly denied by a watertight French defence at the centre of which Thuram, 34 like Zidane, shone with calm authority.

France did survive a scare in a relatively uneventful second half after 78 minutes when a Luis Figo header flew over the bar after Fabien Barthez scooped a Ronaldo free kick into the air.

Four of the French team which won the World Cup in Paris in 1998, France's only previous final, were playing against Portugal including Lilian Thuram who was Man of the Match.

''Living moments like this is simply extraordinary. I'm 34 and I feel like the 10-year-old boy who watched the World Cup and found it beautiful,'' said the defender.

''The final had been our objective from the start. Being there is a dream. Missing it would have been a nightmare.'' Reuters DH VP0310

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