A Thierry Henry volley midway through the second half was enough to give France a 1-0 win over holders Brazil in an enthralling quarter-final encounter.
It was Brazil’s first defeat at the World Cup since France beat them in the 1998 final, and as on the night in Paris, the Brazilians were unfortunate to face Zinedine Zidane on top of his game.
The midfielder, who will retire at the end of the tournament, was at the heart of all France‘s better moments, and it was his free-kick that set up Henry for the only goal of the game. Zidane completely overshadowed Ronaldinho, the man regarded by many as the best player in the world.
It wasn’t a one-man show though, with the French defence outstanding throughout, while Vieira and Makelele were inspired in preventing the likes of Ronaldinho and Kaka from dictating the game.
Brazil sprung a surprise by naming Juninho Pernambucano at the expense of Adriano, leaving Ronaldo on his own up front. There was no Emerson who was injured, so Gilberto Silva came into bolster the midfield. France were unchanged the same side that beat Spain 3-1.
There was bright opening to the game with Brazil in the ascendancy in the early stages. The first clear chance fell to Ronaldo but the striker headed over from Ronaldinho’s free-kick.
The South American side were not having it all their own way though, and France had arguably the best chance of the first ten minutes when Henry did well to control a lofted cross, but the striker dragged his shot across the face of the goal.
The effort seemed to inspire France, and with Vieira and Makelele bossing the midfield, they began to dominate possession and started to take the game to their exalted opponents.
Zinedine Zidane, aware that every game could be his last, was beginning to run the show and after a wonderful dribble he set up Vieira whose lung bursting run was curtailed illegally by Juan. At the other end, Ronaldo cut an isolated figure as Brazil struggled to link up with their lone striker and as half-time approached, Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira will have been the more concerned of the two managers.
Immediately after the restart Vieira came close to giving France the lead when he rose above his marker but headed just wide of the post.
Eventually France’s pressure told when Zidane delivered a free-kick to the far post where the unmarked Henry volleyed in from close range. France were a goal up and at this stage, the holders looked like they had no answer to the questions posed by Zidane and co.
Indeed France almost extended their lead when Ribery skipped past Lucio and squared across goal to Zinedine Zidane but it took a touch off Juan and, with Dida stranded, the ball rolled just past the far post. Moments later Henry put Ribery through with only Dida to beat but the keeper did well to block the shot.
With ten minutes remaining, Brazil had a rare chance to level the scores when France failed to clear a cross from Cicinho, but the substitute Robinho snatched at his shot and it drifted wide of the post. However, the French defence was dealing comfortably with what was being thrown at them and with time running out, Brazil appeared bereft of ideas.
Ronaldo had a couple of fierce shots that Barthez managed to deny, but overall, the attacking quartet of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka and Adriano simply had not functioned and on the night the French, and in particular the imperious Zidane, fully deserved their win.
The favourites are out, but they can have few complaints about their exit. They had struggled to justify their status as favourites from the moment they began the tournament and the lingering suspicion that the team were not as good as their individual reputations, looks fully justified.
For France, the dream continues, and on this form, they must fancy their chances of emulating their 1998 success. Such a thought seemed unlikely two weeks ago, but one can only marvel at their current renaissance.
Brazil: Dida, Cafu, Lucio, Juan, Carlos, Juninho, Silva, Ze Roberto, Kaka, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo.
Subs used: Adriano 63 (for Juninho), Cicinho 76 (for Cafu), Robinho 79 (for Kaka).
Bookings: Cafu 25, Juan 45, Ronaldo, 45+1Lucio 75
France: Barthez, Sagnol, Thuram, Gallas, Abidal, Ribery, Makelele, Vieira, Zidane, Malouda, Henry.
Subs used: Govou 76 (for Ribery), Wiltord 81 (for Malouda) Saha 86 (for Henry).
Bookings: Sagnol 73, Saha 87, Thuram 88.
Referee: Luis Medina Cantalejo (Spain).