Originally created 07/06/06

French Toast Victory



MUNICH, Germany - One more time, Zinedine Zidane stepped up to the penalty spot, 12 yards from another shot at glory for himself and France.

Dripping with sweat, Zidane converted the kick in the 33rd minute after Ricardo Carvalho was whistled for a foul on Thierry Henry, giving the French a 1-0 victory over Portugal on Wednesday night and a berth in the World Cup final.

France, which was supposed to be soccer's over-the-hill gang, meets Italy at Berlin on Sunday night in a matchup of blue - France's Les Bleus vs. the Italian Azzurri.

The French 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 in 1998. Italy, trying for its fourth title, will be in its sixth final.

"People were giving us a lot of stick, right at the beginning," Henry said. "I think it will be a tight game because the Italian team has the same way of playing as us."

Six players remain from the 1998 team, and this group was counted out by many as past its prime. But in a bit of deja vu, France replicated its run in the 2000 European Championship, when it beat Portugal in the semifinals to set up a final against Italy.

With just a few minutes to go, French fans in one corner of the stadium started singing La Marseillaise, the French anthem, and followed with chants of "Allez Les Bleus!"

France and Italy have a long history of tricolored battles.

The French rallied to defeat Italy 2-1 in the 2000 Euro final when Sylvain Wiltord scored with 30 seconds left in second-half injury time and David Trezeguet got a goal 13 minutes into sudden-death extra time. France also beat the Italians on penalty kicks in the 1998 World Cup quarterfinals.

"It's only when we'll get there and we see the ceremony that we'll realize what we've done," France coach Raymond Domenech said. "But let's not rest now."

Unbeaten in nine consecutive games since a March 1 exhibition loss against Slovakia, France started the World Cup slowly with ties against Switzerland and South Korea before beating Togo to get to the knockout phase. The French then defeated Spain and defending champion Brazil to reach the semifinals.

Portugal, a 20-1 longshot last December, advanced to the World Cup semifinals for just the second time.

Eusebio, the hero of Portugal's 1966 run, was on hand as was former French captain Michel Platini, considered by many his nation's greatest player.

France's win ended Portugal's 19-game unbeaten streak.

Zidane, the balding hero of the 1998 final, converted the penalty kick one minute after Carvalho and Henry collided about a yard into the penalty area, and Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda pointed to the penalty spot.