| France’s Zinedine Zidane celebrates his goal during the semi-final against Portugal. (AP)
Munich, July 5: France will meet Italy in the World Cup final because Zinedine Zidane converted a penalty and Luis Figo missed a sitter.
France’s 1-0 victory over Portugal also means that Zidane will end his international career in the World Cup final, unlike Figo who is not expected to return four years later.
France’s advancement to Sunday’s title match against Italy in Berlin had a lot to do with Zidane, who came out of international retirement to help his country qualify for this year’s tournament and scored from the penalty spot in the 33rd minute tonight.
After Thierry Henry was clipped by Ricardo Carvalho, Zidane sent the spot kick into the bottom left corner, just out of the reach of Portugal goalkeeper Ricardo Pereira.
It was Zizou’s 30th goal for Les Bleus on his 107th appearance, and second at this World Cup. That put him in a tie for fourth place with Just Fontaine and Jean-Pierre Papin on France’s all-time scorers’ list.
Six years ago, also against Portugal, Zidane’s golden goal penalty sent France into the European Championship final, where Les Bleus played Italy. That match went into extra time and David Trezeguet scored a golden goal to win it.
Zidane’s performance against Portugal was solid. He kept the midfield ticking along with neat passes, slowing or accelerating when needed.
But it was not better than his quarter-final showing against Brazil ' one of his best ever performances and perhaps better than in the 1998 final.
His precise passes split open Brazil’s defence, his dragbacks sent players the wrong way, and he even twice pointed one way as if to indicate the direction of his pass and then turned around sharply in his signature spin move.
Wednesday’s clash on a warm, still night at the high-tech Allianz Arena was tense, as expected, but not as spectacular.
France did survive a scare in a relatively uneventful second half after 78 minutes when a Figo header flew over the bar after Fabien Barthez scooped a Ronaldo free kick into the air.
The sides traded early chances in a lively opening in Munich 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 half-time lead, which they nearly doubled early in the second half with attempts by Henry and Franck Ribery.
Portugal kept trying but was repeatedly denied by a watertight French defence at the centre of which Thuram, 34 like Zidane, shone with calm authority.