Pattaya Daily News

06 July 2006 :: 10:07:25 am 7468

Zidane inspires France to victory

The stage has been set for Zinedine Zidane to end his storybook career in fairytale fashion.
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Zidane scored on a penalty shot in the first half to lift France to a 1-0 victory over Portugal in Munich in the World Cup semifinals on Wednesday.

France takes on Italy in the final on July 9 in Berlin. Portugal plays Germany in the third-place game July 8 in Stuttgart.

“If we win, it will be wonderful for those who have supported us. I‘m not talking about the ones who jumped on the bandwagon, but those who supported us from start to finish,” Zidane said.

The French victory also keeps alive the career of Zidane, who was sensational against Portugal with his magical play in midfield. Considered one of the greatest players of his era, the midfield maestro plans to retire at the end of the World Cup.

“I told myself that if I score and we don‘t allow any goals, we will be in the final,” Zidane said. “I didn‘t think of anything else.”

Zidane continues to turn back the clock in Germany. Against Spain in the second round and Brazil in the quarter-finals, Zidane shook off the effects of age to inspire the French to victory.

The trend continued Wednesday against Portugal. Zidane hardly looked like an aging 34-year-old at the end of his career, and instead played his best game in years, inspiring memories of his two-goal performance against Brazil in the 1998 finals when France won the World Cup for the first time.

With a flick of his left foot here and a pirouette there, Zidane pulled out all of the trademark tricks from his awesome repertoire, reminding everybody why he is a former three-time FIFA World Player of the Year.

Zidane‘s discovery of the fountain of youth has coincided with France‘s renaissance.

Prior to the tournament, most pundits predicted France wouldn‘t even make it to the quarter-finals. The French seemed destined to fufil that prophecy as they struggled in the first round and only secured a spot in the round of 16 after beating Togo.

But since then, Les Bleus have come to life, coming from behind to beat the Spaniards, shutting out the Brazilians and sending the Portuguese packing.

Portuguese hopes dashed

It was a heartbreaking loss for a Portugal team that reached the World Cup semifinals for the first time in 40 years and gave hope to throngs of long-suffering Portuguese fans. Critics slammed the team throughout the tournament for a perceived penchant for diving and dirty tackling, but Portugal can go home with its head held high after defeating teams like the Netherlands and England.

It was Portugal that set the pace early. Deco forced a diving save from French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez in the fourth minute and Maniche‘s powerful long-range shot just whispered over the crossbar.

France threatened through Henry and Franck Ribery, while Zidane expertly pulled the creative strings in midfield with his stylish and cultured play.

The teams fell into a cautious rhythm, but the complexion of the match changed in the 32nd minute when Portugal defender Ricardo Carvalho brought down Thierry Henry inside the penalty area.

“There was contact,” Henry told reporters. “I thought I had gone past him and he caught me. I didn‘t ask for the penalty, but it was given.”

Zidane stepped up to the penalty spot and beat Portuguese goalkeeper Ricardo Pereira just inside the post. The goal was the 30th of Zidane‘s illustrious career.

Henry nearly doubled France‘s lead just after the halftime break, but his low drive squirmed underneath the body of Pereira and out for a corner kick. Pereira stopped Ribery‘s fierce drive on net a minute later with a more assured save.

Portugal pressed for the equalizer but France had little trouble in thwarting the limp Portuguese attack. The French, meanwhile, remained conservative, content to sit back and protect the lead.

Portugal should have knotted the score in the 78th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo‘s lazy free kick was comically bobbled by Barthez, but Luis Figo, all alone in front of the net, couldn‘t convert the rebound and headed his attempt over the crossbar.

France survived a late Portuguese surge in injury time to hold on for the win, much to the delight of the singing French fans packed inside the stadium.

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : Internet   Category : Sports News

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