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World Cup Day 27 - France do just enough

France made it through this evening by a margin of 1-0 against Portugal in a game which never matched the previous nights quality.

Portugal again failed to score - making it some four hours since they hit the net in this tournament, and never really threatened the French goal with any purpose. Pauleta, in the lone striker role, lacks the presence to carry that role and their only threat throughout the game was through Cristiano Ronaldo. Heckled throughout by the crowd (one suspects a contingent of English fans made it this game in the hope England would feature), he reigned in some of the unsavoury side of his game to give a display where he attacked with purpose but was let down by the supporting cast.

The twin talents of Deco and Figo flattered to deceive in areas where Portugal needed them to provide the quality they have shown in the past. Maniche was again effective in the central midfield role but Portugal showed a lack of intent and ambition that makes England's ineffective display in the quarter-finals even more frustrating from their viewpoint.

France, after gaining momentum in their previous two games, fell back a little tonight. Alan Shearer made a comment that they looked tired and there is an element of truth in that. Their best performers were in defence, with Thuram outstanding and Sagnol faring better than I thought, although both Abidal and Malouda struggled on the left hand side. Vieira and Zidane were quieter than against Brazil, although Zidane showed nice touch and generally linked well between the midfield and Henry - who was involved in the decision to award the match winning penalty.

For me, there is no doubt it WAS a penalty. Carvalho clearly hooked Henry's leg with his own trailing (left) leg. The slow motion replays probably exaggerated Henry's fall but I cannot see any justification that he dived to 'win' the spot kick. It was a decision which infuriated Scolari, and I feel he lost his discipline and composure throughout the game which translated onto his sqaud.

At the end of the game he even made his way onto the pitch to berate the officials, although I thought they got the vast majority of decisions spot on and if anything were a little lenient at times. In both semi finals, the referees have been keen to let the game flow a lot more than in the early stages of the knock-out round. This must be a directive that can only have been laid down by the powers that be at FIFA and is a turnaround from the card happy refereeing seen in earlier games.

Overall, a fair result I think. Not many tears will be shed for Portugal's exit and if Ronaldo shed any tears at the final whistle, the tabloids will take great delight in splashing the stills all over the back pages. France did enough to go through, but didn't progress in the manner I expected them to. They look they are carrying too many 'average' players at this level for me and I would make Italy slight favourites at this stage to lift the World Cup on Sunday.