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FOOTBALL

Zidane penalty puts France through

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Zidane fires home the only goal of the game to put France into the final.

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MUNICH, Germany -- Zinedine Zidane's first-half penalty gave France a 1-0 win over Portugal to book 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, who will play his last ever match at the Olympic stadium, converted from the spot on 33 minutes after Thierry Henry's ankle was caught by Ricardo Carvalho.

Portugal, playing their second semifinal after reaching the last four in 1966 with Eusebio in their ranks, have to be content with challenging 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 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.

Wednesday's clash on a warm, still night at the high-tech Allianz Arena was tense, as expected, but largely free of ugly scenes.

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 on Wednesday 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 lead, which they nearly doubled 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 center 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.

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