The semi-finals.jpg

The semi-finals

Triumph of the old guard

France v Portugal: 1-0

Portugal’s last victory over France dates back to 1975, only one of five in 21 encounters since 1921. More recently, a Zinedine Zidane penalty ended Portugal’s Euro 2000 campaign at the semi-final stage, and history was to repeat itself.

As Cristiano Ronaldo’s every touch was booed, the rest of the team never really found its feet. An air of inevitability descended upon proceedings, the gloom deepening as the Uruguayan referee pointed to the penalty spot after only 33 minutes. Thierry Henry had ended a mazy run by going down in the area, under the most whimsical of challenges, and up stepped Zidane. Ricardo flung himself in the right direction, but the firmly struck shot evaded his outstretched fingertips. Thereafter Ronaldo’s runs provided brief glimpses of hope, but ultimately Figo and Co. failed to find a way back into the contest.

Italy v Germany: 0-0

(2-0 after extra time)

Germany had lost 4-1 to the Italians in a pre-World Cup friendly, but felt confident of reversing that result after improved performances in the competition proper. In addition, ‘home advantage’ in Berlin, was expected to compensate for the absence of Torsten Frings, suspended for throwing a punch in the post-Argentina match skirmish, and overcome the fact that Germany had never beaten Italy in a World Cup.

As a match of real quality unfolded, Germany’s relentless brand of attacking football was only blighted by some woeful finishing. Bernd Schneider fired over from 18 yards, Miroslav Klose waited too long when through on goal, and Arne Friedrich should have buried the rebound from a Lukas Podolski shot. At the other end, Jens Lehmann was kept busy by incisive Italian counter-attacks, first blocking Perrotta and then punching away a goal-bound effort from the same player. The pulsating encounter went into extra time and, gradually, Italy gained the upper hand. Gianluca Zambrotta and Alberto Gilardino hit the woodwork, and as yet another penalty shoot-out loomed, Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Del Piero landed knock-out blows in the dying seconds of the match. The hosts were out, but left the tournament with heads held high, having exceeded all expectations.