France are through to the World Cup final after earning a 1-0 win over Portugal in a disappointing encounter in Munich.
Zinedine Zidane scored the only goal of the game from the penalty spot, ensuring that his last game before retirement will be the World Cup final. His presence provides a compelling narrative for Sunday’s clash with Italy, but he and his teammates will need to raise their game if they are to offer a test for Italy.
Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari will have been disappointed by a performance from his team that lacked the invention to unsettle the hugely experienced French defence. The Brazilian’s frustration boiled over at the end of the game, when he was involved in an angry confrontation with the referee. His irritation was understandable given that he had just seen his team lose a World Cup semi-final, although his anger should have been directed at his players who underperformed on the night.
For his counterpart, Raymond Domenech, the win provide particular satisfaction. Derided from the start of the tournament, the French coach has answered his critics in the best way possible. By guiding an ageing team of players to the final he has achieved what no one thought possible four weeks ago and for that Domenech must take credit.
Malouda had the first effort of the match within 40 seconds of the kick-off when he collected along ball on the edge of the Portuguese area, but the Lyon midfielder dragged his shot wide. At the other end Deco brought a finger tip save from Barthez as the game settled into a nice rhythm in the early stages.
Ronaldo, whose every touch was booed by a minority of the crowd, set up Maniche for a long range effort which Barthez was relieved to see fly over.
However, after the flurry of early openings, the game lapsed into soporific mode with both defences successfully ensuring the chances were at a premium. However, all that changed just after the half-hour mark.
Malouda flicked the ball to Henry and as the striker tried to turn he appeared to be clipped by Carvalho, and the referee pointed to the spot. There was contact but whether it merited the theatrical dive from Henry is a moot point. Zidane slotted away the resulting penalty, as for once, Ricardo was beaten from the spot.
The goal provoked a response from Portugal, but other than some forceful runs from Ronaldo, they had little to show for their renewed energy. Pauletta, the lone striker, cut an isolated figure up front, and with Deco anonymous, it was difficult to see where an equaliser would come from.
Henry almost doubled France’s lead immediately after the restart when he picked up a stray pass and burst into the penalty area but his fiercely-struck effort was diverted for a corner by Ricardo. With Portugal unable to clear the resulting corner, the ball fell to Ribery who brought another fine save from Ricardo.
Portugal eventually began to get their passing game together, but other than a smart turn and shot from the otherwise disappointing Pauletta, they had nothing to show for their efforts. Scolari was forced to make a change, and as in the quarter-final match against England, he withdrew his only striker and brought on Simao.
Portugal’s best chance came with 13 minutes remaining. Barthez fumbled a Ronaldo free-kick and as the ball fell to Figo, the midfielder headed over the bar from point blank range. For the most part though, France were dealing comfortably with whatever was throw at them and their principal concern will have been the number of dives perpetrated by the Portuguese attackers. Fortunately for the French, the referee seemed wise to the tactic.
Portugal had one final chance in stoppage time when the ball dropped to Meira, who was playing as a makeshift centre forward, but the defender skied his shot. It was somehow symptomatic of their performance as a whole.
France: Barthez, Sagnol, Thuram, Gallas, Abidal, Vieira, Makelele, Ribery, Zidane, Malouda, Henry.
Subs used: Wiltord 69 (for Malouda), Govou 72 (for Ribery) Saha 85 (for Henry).
Portugal: Ricardo, Miguel, Carvalho, Meira, Valente, Costinha, Maniche, Deco, Figo, Ronaldo, Pauleta.
Subs used: Ferreira 62 (for Miguel), Simao 68 (for Pauletta) Postiga 75 (for Costinha).
Bookings: Carvalho 83
Referee: Jorge Larrionda (Uruguay).
France: Zidane (pen) 33