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France stuns champ Brazil

Posted on Sun, Jul. 02, 2006
MercuryNews.com | 07/02/2006 | France stuns champ Brazil

ZIDANE SPURS OUSTER OF WORLD CUP FAVORITE
By Camille Powell
Washington Post

FRANKFURT, Germany – The French players were supposed to be too old, the Brazilians too good for Saturday’s World Cup quarterfinal to have ended this way, with France in the semifinals and Brazil heading home.

But it was the French, with a starting lineup that featured five players 30 years or older, who darted around the field with style and purpose and energy. It was the Brazilians, with two of the world’s greatest offensive players, who were lethargic in attack and sloppy on defense. And it was Les Bleus, spurred by a masterful performance from 34-year-old midfielder Zinedine Zidane, who claimed a 1-0 victory over the defending champions and earned the final spot in the semifinals.

Zidane, set to retire once the World Cup ends, set up the goal in the 57th minute with a free kick volleyed in by Thierry Henry. France will play Portugal on Wednesday; there will be only European teams in the final four for the first time since 1982.

This was a rematch of the 1998 Cup final, won 3-0 by France. Brazil hadn’t lost a game in the World Cup since then — a record 11 consecutive victories — and it entered Saturday’s game as a decided favorite.

“It’s a hard moment for us,” Brazil Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said. “It’s very hard when a Brazil squad is beaten in the quarterfinals. I wasn’t prepared — no one was prepared to leave. No one thought we’d leave before the finals.”

But Les Bleus have now won three consecutive World Cup meetings between the teams. In 1986, France bettered Brazil on penalty kicks in a memorable quarterfinal in Mexico. Twelve years later, France won its first — and thus far only — championship with an inspired performance, including two goals from Zidane, in front of a home crowd.

But much had changed for Les Bleus since they raised the trophy in 1998; they crashed out of the 2002 tournament without a victory or a goal, and were held scoreless in their first match in Germany.

But Coach Raymond Domenech’s “little team of old men” proved in a 3-1 victory over Spain in the round of 16 that it is capable of special performances. And as one banner in the stadium proclaimed, “Old France is Magic.” Particularly Zidane.

In the very first minute against Brazil, Zidane danced away from trouble, his feet flashing in what appeared to be gold shoes. Midway through the half, he juggled the ball around Kaka, a player 10 years his junior; Zidane bounced the ball off his right foot, his thigh, and then volleyed it with his left. In the second half, he beat Ronaldo by flicking the ball in the air and then heading it past the forward, who seemed rooted to the ground.

“It’s Zidane,” Domenech said. “You seem to be surprised. I’m not surprised at all; we know exactly what he is capable of doing.”

Brazil chose not to mark Zidane with a specific player — “Brazil does not mark individuals,” Parreira said — and the midfielder helped France control much of the game.

In the 57th minute, Zidane, on the left side, floated a free kick from about 30 yards out, and somehow Henry — who has scored more goals than any current French player — was left completely alone at the far post. An easy right-footed volley gave France the winner.

“We needed a great match and we delivered,” Zidane said. “We fought closely together for a well-deserved victory. . . . We don’t want to stop now. This is so beautiful, we want it to carry on.”

Parreira had decided to reduce Brazil’s “magic quartet” of attackers: Ronaldo, Ronaldinho — the reigning two-time world player of the year — and Kaka started the game, but forward Adriano was left on the bench. Ronaldinho was listed as a midfielder, but he played up top alongside Ronaldo, the World Cup’s all-time leading scorer.

But Brazil was wasteful offensively, taking only one shot on goal. Brazil attacked furiously in the final five minutes but came up empty: A Ronaldinho free kick went just over the crossbar, and a Ronaldo blast was blocked by defender William Gallas.

At the end, the Brazilians seemed stunned, while the French players celebrated wildly. Zidane seemed somewhat subdued; he will get to play another game.

“I think it’s precisely because he’s going to retire that he’s fully invested in this game,” Domenech said of Zidane. “He doesn’t have to calculate anything, and every moment could be the last one.”
Mercury News wire services contributed to this report.

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