Zizou yet again

The legend's cool kick past Ricardo, the great penalty stopper, in the first half after Thierry Henry won a penalty ensured that France were worthy winners against Portugal in footballing and moral terms, writes Martyn Ziegler.

So farewell Luiz Felipe Scolari and farewell Portugal from this World Cup — and, it has to be said, good riddance. Scolari may be a character, he may have his supporters, and his 12 consecutive World Cup victories before the semi-final against France shows he has many undoubted qualities, but he and Portugal have won few friends this tournament.

France may be slightly bewildered to find themselves in the final after such a poor start to this competition but they were worthy winners against Portugal in footballing and moral terms. There are many no doubt who feel England missed out on a winner in Scolari, but the Brazilian coach is also the architect of a team who have been unrivalled in terms of cynicism and gamesmanship. Cristiano Ronaldo may have become a convenient scapegoat to cover England's limitations but the constant theatrics have become seriously unpleasant, especially in a tournament where most teams have cleaned up their act.

Equally distasteful was the reaction of the Portuguese bench to each free-kick. Time after time, the substitutes, led by Hugo Viana, leapt off the bench brandishing imaginary cards or howling their outrage as another penalty-area dive went unrewarded.

Ronaldo was loudly booed whenever he was in possession but he was not the only culprit: Helder Postiga was, if anything, even worse when it came to swallow dives.

As a result there was something slightly comical about Portugal's protests when France were awarded the decisive penalty in the 33rd minute. Chelsea defender Ricardo Carvalho's flailing leg made contact with Thierry Henry inside the box and the Arsenal striker did not need a second invitation to go down and convince Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda to point to the spot. This was yet another incident of Henry's extra pace causing anxieties and confusion in the ranks of central defenders. Zinedine Zidane — who toyed with the Portuguese players in the first half but had a quiet second half by his glorious standards in this tournament as his team defended — tucked it expertly into the corner even though Ricardo, the great penalty stopper, got a touch.

From then on, France assumed control without ever really taking the game by the scruff, and there was a degree of fortune as they survived an intense barrage in the closing stages.

Portugal suffered for the lack of an effective frontman and Pauleta gave Lilian Thuram an easy ride on his 120th appearance for `Les Bleus'.

At the end of 90 minutes, a team who were riven by internal squabbles, with the players apparently nursing serious doubts about the aptitude of their slightly eccentric coach Raymond Domenech, found themselves one step away from repeating their triumph in 1998. Their victorious coach then, Aime Jacquet, was in the Allianz Arena and he must have felt some pride that so many of the key players for France that night were those he nurtured a decade ago.

Portugal and France have a controversial recent history — their Euro 2000 semi-final led to three Portuguese players being suspended, and it did not take long for feelings to run high again.

Within minutes Scolari and Domenech were swapping angry remarks from their respective technical areas — looking so like Gene Hackman and Peter Sellers in an improbable combination of Inspector Clouseau and The French Connection that it was uncanny.

France showed their intent with only 38 seconds gone when Florent Malouda latched onto a long ball but dragged a shot across goal. Zidane was impressive, but once more he failed to connect with Henry, and the Arsenal striker came closest when he seized onto a loose pass, went past Fernando Meira and nearly beat Ricardo but his touch was enough to see the ball squirm past the post.

Ronaldo, for all his play-acting, was the pick of the Portuguese and his dribble and back-heel left the space for Maniche to strike a rising drive, which only just cleared the crossbar. But the abiding memories of Portugal will be bad ones.

In the 37th minute their claims for a penalty for a push on Ronaldo caused a furious reaction on the bench — although television replays showed it was a horrendous dive by England's current public enemy number one, doing little to endear himself to the mixed Franco-German crowd either. Scolari himself must have broken the record — or at least set a good mark in Munich's new stadium — for the number of times he turned away, arms outstretched, aghast at the referee's decision.

Ronaldo nearly had the last laugh with a free-kick which Fabien Barthez made a predictable hash of, with Luis Figo heading on to the roof of the net for a glaring miss.

Portugal, however, were out — and most of the world breathed a sigh of relief. The tinge of melancholy felt by fans all over the world in probably having seen their captain, and former World Footballer of the Year, play his last international match was well and truly drowned in the plethora of negative emotions caused by the theatricals of his coach and most of his team-mates.

Meanwhile, the man who swapped shirts with Figo after the match, the peerless Zidane, will definitely be happy if he follows a different exit route from all forms of competitive football after the final against the Italians in Berlin.

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