Foul Ball: France Wins Ugly Contest
Thursday, July 6, 2006
MUNICH, July 5 -- The accusations began flying almost from the opening kickoff. Liar. Cheat. Diver. Scoundrel. The French and the Portuguese players traded barbs throughout their World Cup semifinal on Wednesday night, alternately bemoaning and lauding the work of referee Jorge Larrionda, all the while contending that the opposition was embellishing contact and feigning fouls. Players screamed at each other, both coaches rushed to the sideline to accuse the opposition of faking it, and those on the benches erupted at every perceived offense.
It was fitting, then, that some degree of controversy surrounded the outcome of the match -- as it has so many times in this tournament. French star Zinedine Zidane converted a penalty kick after Thierry Henry drew a disputed foul to give France a 1-0 victory in front of 66,000 at Allianz Arena in Munich. France, the 1998 World Cup champion, will meet three-time winner Italy on Sunday in Berlin.
Portugal will play host Germany in the third-place game on Saturday.
This contest lacked flavor, save for the bickering between the sides, and hopes for a duel between Zidane and his former Real Madrid teammate, Luis Figo, went unfulfilled, as neither was at his best. Portugal, looking for its first title, went meekly, failing to score in 210 minutes of play over its past two games. The Portuguese players also engendered criticism from the international media for a perceived tendency to flop and flail, a central theme in its quarterfinal win over England (on penalty kicks) and again Wednesday.
Portugal Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who spends most of the match mere feet from the field, yelling constant instructions to his players as if trying to maneuver them with a joystick, became incensed early on when he believed Henry and Zidane went looking for calls. France Coach Raymond Domenech darted from his seat to get closer to Portugal midfielder Cristiano Ronaldo after he fell, making the universal, hands-forward gesture for diving. Scolari then directed his anger at Domenech as he inched toward the French sideline. After the game, Domenech dodged questions about the Portuguese and Scolari.
"I do not like to comment on the team of another coach," he said through an interpreter. "I don't like other coaches to make comments on my team, so I'm not going to do it."
Scolari, through a interpreter, said, "They made some absurd comments in relation to our country, saying words which can't be repeated here in the press conference."
Zidane and Portugal defender Ricardo Carvalho nearly tussled after it appeared Zidane had fallen to the turf untouched. Cristiano Ronaldo, at the center of several controversial decisions in this tournament and booed lustily whenever he touched the ball Wednesday night, drew the ire of French defender Willy Sagnol late in the half; Sagnol put a hand on the youngster's back while they rose to meet a cross in the penalty area, and Cristiano Ronaldo looked for a call as Sagnol restrained himself from lashing out.
"That was a penalty, too," Scolari said. "That should be a penalty for us."
Portugal maintained Larrionda missed a hand ball in the first half as well -- another surge of players and coaches came off the bench to reinforce the point -- and its greatest indignation came after France was awarded a penalty kick in the 33rd minute. Henry glided inside the penalty area, and Carvalho swung his right leg at the ball and missed, falling awkwardly.
In replays, Carvalho seemed to clip Henry's shin with his left foot, and the forward tumbled down. Larrionda immediately pointed to the penalty spot. Zidane, whom some had said should not start for France as Les Bleus struggled through the group stage, stepped up and coolly deposited the ball in the left corner. Goalkeeper Ricardo dived the right way, but still did not prevent the goal.
After the game, some media members reported that Cristiano Ronaldo was critical of the referee, but Scolari was not. "I don't want to talk about referees," he said. "I believe that he's an excellent referee. He knows what he wants to do."
Even with midfield stalwart Deco back from a suspension, Portugal's attack was largely pushed to the perimeter for the second straight game and wound up testing erratic French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez only from long range. Cristiano Ronaldo was Portugal's most assertive player, but the squad continued to employ a lone striker, Pauleta, and struggled to generate any attack.
Barthez, an expert at turning a mundane shot into a adventure, nearly gifted Portugal a goal in the 78th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo's free kick went straight to the keeper, yet somehow he got under the chest-high shot, "digging" it like a volleyball player. Figo sent the unexpected rebound over the crossbar. Shortly, his World Cup dream would be over; France's lived on.
"We were the dark horses," Scolari said, "the team nobody bet to be one of the four final teams. But I think we have done everything that we could done. I'm very proud of my players."