Thursday, July 6, 2006

MUNICH — William Shakespeare would have been proud of the dramatics before 66,000 at the World Cup last night. The evening featured an abundance of dives, play-acting and, at times, feisty, exciting soccer as France downed Portugal 1-0 to gain Sunday’s final against Italy.

Both the French and Portuguese tried to win fouls from the Uruguayan referee with dramatic moves and feigned tackles. France came out on top in that department, too, when forward Thierry Henry won a penalty kick in the 32nd minute.

Henry ran into the box and seemed to have gotten around Ricardo Carvalho. But the defender left his leg out, and Henry conveniently tripped over it, making a big deal out of the dive and selling the ref on it.

Zinedine Zidane, who will retire from soccer after Sunday’s final, took the penalty, firing it low to Carvalho’s right. The Portuguese keeper guessed the right direction, but the ball was just out of his reach. It marked Zidane’s second goal in the finals, and the French captain, who destroyed Brazil in the 1998 championship game, had done enough to take his team to another championship match.

This was not the first time Henry had played Othello in these finals. The Arsenal star had come under strong criticism after the second-round game with Spain, when he won a free kick by holding his face in agony. That led to a goal and ultimately Spain’s downfall.

Portugal also showed it could do well at amateur theatrics. Cristiano Ronaldo — who looked dangerous all night with his direct runs at the French goal and deserved the best young player award — tried to win a penalty in the 37th minute, when he seemed to be pushed hard in the back. The referee made no call, which sent Portugal’s bench into a frenzy. But the video replay clearly showed the 21-year-old star took a dive — which he did again in the 80th minute. And Portugal’s Helder Postiga was on the field for a minute before he took his first swoon.

The French camp had accused Portugal of being a team that took dives, and Ronaldo was jeered every time he touched the ball. The French media had played up the story of Ronaldo’s involvement in getting Wayne Rooney sent off in the England match in the pregame buildup.

Leading this performance from the sidelines was Portugal’s wild coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari — a dead ringer for Gene Hackman. Meanwhile, the French were directed by the professorial Raymond Domenech — a Ben Stein lookalike from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” The two frequently fired angry words at each other.

When the game ended, Henry went over and consoled the tearful Ronaldo, who was standing alone.

“What matters now is to go all the way,” Domenech said. “We can’t be content with that [win].”

And now only one more is needed.

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