France will play Italy in the World Cup final after beating Portugal
today, courtesy of a debatable penalty.

Thierry Henry won the penalty when he fell
theatrically just inside the penalty box, in the 33rd minute.
There’s no doubt that Ricardo Carvalho tapped Henry’s leg. The
only question is whether it was enough to send the Frenchman crashing to the
ground. Then again, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo spent most of the game diving
headlong whenever a gust of wind passed his feet, so all is fair in love and
soccer.

Somewhere in Germany, Fabio Grosso would
have been applauding because in this sport the ends seems to justify the means
and the fact is that Henry’s penalty allowed Zinedine Zidane to drill
the penalty home, with Portugese keeper Ricardo guessing correctly but not
quite getting a hand to the ball.

From there, the Frenchmen knew their way
home. Zidane, who now must be referred to by all media as “Living Legend
Zinedine Zidane” and announced his impending retirement before the tournament,
gets the dream finish to his career, by playing in a second World Cup final. He
scored two goals to help France win the 1998 final
against Brazil.

The Frenchmen will be confident. Italy hasn’t beaten France since 1975 and has
never beaten its northern neighbour in a major competition.

Portugal attacked doggedly throughout the second half today but didn’t look like
being able to finish the thrusts. Their best chance came from a free kick 30
metres out, when Cristiano Ronaldo’s strike dipped over the heads of the wall
and onto French keeper Fabien Barthez’s chest. Strangely, he seemed to try and
volleyball spike the ball, instead of catching it, and lobbed it gently to two
Portugese players, closing in. But Luis Figo headed the ball over the bar.

(By the way, while the Socceroos bowed
out in the Round of 16, at least a couple of Australians made it to the
semi-finals. According to the official match report
(http://fifaworldcup.yahoo.com/06/en/w/match/62/mr.html), the fourth and fifth
officials in today’s semi were Aussies, Mark Shield and Nathan Gibson.)

Peter Fray

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