France gets past Portugal to reach berth in World Cup final |

France gets past Portugal to reach berth in World Cup final

Thirty-four-year-old Zinedine Zidane proved that he is not quite done ” not just yet.

While the second semifinal of the 2006 World Cup was not nearly as exciting as the first, France managed to clinch a chance at Italy in Berlin for the final.

After perhaps one of the worst refereeing performances of the Cup, with three ejections between the USA-Italy first-round match, Jorge Larrionda of Uruguay showed that he is capable of officiating a proper game.

Despite the only goal of the game coming on a well-delivered penalty shot from Zidane, the call itself was justified.

With a typical deft touch by Thierry Henry, forcing Ricardo Carvalho to bring Henry down just inside the box, Zidane was given the chance he needed to push France into the final, and end his career on the biggest stage possible.

Zizou, perhaps one of the best players ever to step on a pitch, has already announced that this will be his last World Cup, and now has the chance to earn his second title on Sunday against Italy.

While the French team has shown strength and ability in the last few games, as well as experience in players such as Zidane, Henry and Patrick Vieira and fiery youth from the likes of Frank Ribery, Italy may prove too much for Les Bleus.

The Italian side proved against Germany that it has the ability to play and to capitalize under pressure.

Italy also battled a tougher opponent in its semifinal with Germany than France was forced to face yesterday.

While Cristiano Ronaldo was a constant threat to France, and veteran Luis Figo continued to whip balls into the box, the Portuguese side simply did not throw down any serious threats against France.

There were not enough players coming forward and, despite constant quality service from the flanks, there were hardly any dangerous runs into Fabien Barthez’s box.

Sure, a few rocket blasts from outside bobbled in and out of Barthez’s hands, but there was nothing serious from the Portuguese side.

France should not look forward to the same treatment from the Italians.

If the referee for the final plays things like Larrionda did ” giving out only two yellow cards ” the world can look forward to Italy playing the fast-paced, gorgeous game it used to bring the powerful host Germans to their knees.

If this final round ends the way it started, fans can look forward to a hard-fought match.

Both sides have shown potential ” France against Brazil and Italy against Germany.

Both sides have also shown their weaknesses, mostly in the early rounds against inferior teams.

Will Zidane and Henry be able to connect yet again to bring down the mighty Italians?

Will Barthez’s unorthodox style allow something to slip in?

Will Francesco Totti be able to orchestrate some more Italian magic?

All are valid questions, but before a World Cup final, especially one as seemingly unpredictable as this, there are no answers. Anything can happen. The most unlikely of stars can emerge.

At the end of the day a champion will be crowned and for four years a country will hold the title of the best team in the world.

Alex Close is a sportswriter with the Sierra Sun. He can be reached at

Italy has competed in 15 World Cups and won the championship three times ” in 1934 on their home soil, 1938 in France and 1982 in Spain.

France has competed in 11 World Cups. Les Bleus have only won one time, in 1998 on their home soil, where they defeated Brazil 3-0 in the final.

Championship game: Italy vs. France

When: Sunday, 11 a.m., ABC

Where: Berlin

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