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Home >> Sports
UPDATED: 08:27, July 06, 2006
France nip Portugal 1-0 to reach World Cup final
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Thanks to a half-hour penalty, France edged semifinal rivals Portugal 1-0 here on Wednesday to keep an overwhelming record over the old foes and to make a final berth against Italy at the German World Cup.

Les Bleus was awarded the penalty after Thierry Henry was tackled by Ricardo Carvalho on the edge of the area in 32 minutes while turning inside the box.

Zinedine Zidane took a two-step walk-up on the next minute, while Portugal keeper Ricardo dived the correct way to his right, got a hand to it, but failed to keep it out.

France will face Italy in a final encounter for this year's World Cup trophy Sunday in Berlin, while Portugal will play hosts Germany, who lost 2-0 to Italy in extra time on Tuesday, in the third-place playoff match on Saturday in Stuttgart.

"Now that we are here, after all the effort we have made, we will try and bring it home," Zidane said. "It won't be easy, it will be hard, but we have the weapons to do it and we have the will to do it."

"It will be good to lift the Cup again one more time," added the 34-year-old. "We really want to succeed."

Wednesday's victory compensated a first-stage exit of France at the previous tournament four years ago, when the 1998 champions failed to win a game or score a goal.

France's Les Bleus will be making just their second ever appearance in a World Cup final. The other was their famous 3-0 victory at home over Brazil eight years ago in Paris.

Coach Raymond Domenech, however, thought that to reach the final just meant his team accomplished half of their missions.

"What matters now is to go all the way," he said. "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, a member of the title-winning squad of France in 1998, contributed the win to their defense centered by Lilian Thuram, Man of the Match by FIFA's Technical Study Group for Wednesday's game.

"We defended like lions. The way we defended, everyone, you could see that the team had desire and commitment and everything, plus a lot of technique," he said.

It snapped a 19-match unbeaten run of Portugal, led by Luis Felipe Scolari who had expected his 13th World Cup victory with Wednesday's semifinal clash but committed a sorry finish.

"It was deserved victory, definitely, for France," said Scolari. "There are situations that are difficult. 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 and had a few chances but, unfortunately, didn't do it and lost," he added.

The Portuguese advanced to the World Cup semifinals for just the second time, with the last time in 1966 when Eusebio and former French captain Michel Platini were lined up.

Portugal came to their best chance of Wednesday's match on the 78th minute, when Cristiano Ronaldo drove a free-kick from 25 meters before Fabien Barthez made a right mess but saw it bouncing up off his chest. Luis Figo headed the rebound over the bar, while Helder Postiga got in the way of his captain in the race for the ball.

Goalkeeper Ricardo rushed into the French half after three minute into the stoppage time, but helped little in Portuguese attack.

During the period showing no signs of fierceness of a semifinal game at the World Cup, it has been France who had the more possessions in the opening minutes, but it's Luis Felipe Scolari's side who were more dangerous in front of the goalmouth.

Deco was set up by Cristiano Ronaldo on the edge of the area in just 4 minutes, and his shot forced a full stretch dive from French goalie Fabien Barthez to save.

Maniche also showed unprecedented prowess in shooting, letting fly with a dipping drive which went narrowly over the bar after nine minutes.

The Portuguese defence, however, suffered a slow and nervous start. Nuno Valente paniced at the back and conceded an unnecessary corner in 7 minutes. Zinedine Zidane launched the corner and saw it hooking clear by Maniche.

Portugal's captain and midfield inspirition Figo, 34, had to be carried off the pitch after colliding with Patrick Vieira while trying a left-foot shot from distance in 16 minutes. He returned within one minute.

The Real Madrid star was doubtful before Wednesday's match as he had trained separately from the rest of the Portugal squad on Tuesday although coach Luiz Felipe Scolari gave no details of his injuries.

Source: Xinhua

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