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Image: EMPICS Sports Photo Agency

'A lucky star is shining on us - let's hope it will continue'

France and Portugal will meet in Sunday’s Euro 2016 decider with plenty of history to draw upon.
Jul 9th 2016, 12:30 PM 7,677 5

IT ENDED WITH Luis Figo ripping off his shirt, throwing it on the ground and storming off the pitch.

Nuno Gomes was shown a red card for his wild protests while Abel Xavier’s behaviour resulted in an initial nine-month ban.

At one stage, Eusebio, bizarrely appeared and valiantly but unsuccessfully attempted to calm everyone down.

Zinedine Zidane had just tucked away a 117th-minute golden goal – nervelessly sending Vitor Baia the wrong way to break Portuguese hearts and send France to the Euro 2000 decider.

It was a bitter and acrimonious finale.

Soccer - Euro 2000 - Semi Final - France v Portugal Source: EMPICS Sports Photo Agency

For Portugal, it had long-lasting effects. At their next major tournament, they failed to emerge from a weak World Cup group and were embarrassed by both the USA and South Korea on their way to a tame first-round exit.

In 2004, they qualified automatically for the European Championships as hosts but lost their opener against Greece – an ominous sign of what was to come.

At Lisbon’s Stadium of Light a few weeks later, they crumbled under the pressure and collapsed against the Greeks once more.

In many ways, Portugal have never quite got over the scarring experience of 16 years ago, flinching whenever the finish line has come into view.

Soccer - Euro 2000 - Semi Final - France v Portugal Source: EMPICS Sports Photo Agency

That evening, momentum was with the Portuguese. They had claimed maximum points from a ‘Group of Death’ featuring England and Germany.

They put three goals past both and made light work of Turkey in the quarter-finals.

The side played fluid, exciting football and Figo was reveling in the influence he was wielding. Alongside Rui Costa and Nuno Gomes, everything seemed to be coming together.

Against the French, Gomes gave them a superb lead, whipping a delightful left-footer inside Fabien Barthez’s near post.

France were better after the break and levelled shortly after the restart through Thierry Henry but the Portuguese thought they’d won it when Xavier sent a bullet header towards goal in the 90th minute. But Barthez instinctively flung himself in the air and made a superb reaction save to force extra-time.

Both sides exchanged blows but a shootout seemed an inevitability.

Until Sylvain Wiltord swept through a pass for David Trezeguet to race onto. Xavier lost the run and desperately followed but he was caught out and needed his goalkeeper, Baia, to help.

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He raced off his line and got his hand to the ball. It squirmed from his grasp and into the path of Wiltord who lashed the strike goalwards from an unforgiving angle.

The referee, Gunter Benko, initially signalled for a corner but his assistant flagged for a penalty.

“It’s unbelievable that he gave a penalty and it decided the game in a bad way because we didn’t deserve to lose”, Xavier said afterwards.

“France don’t need that kind of help.”

But there seemed to be a deeper sense within the Portuguese camp that the traumatic experience would linger for a while.

Humberto Coelho, the team manager, resigned in the immediate aftermath.

“We had started to change the image of Portugal”, added Xavier.

This generation has played together for so long to win something.”

For France, it was yet another significant victory on their way to more silverware.

They’d need to dig even deeper in the final against Italy with Wiltord grabbing a last-gasp equaliser to force extra-time before Trezeguet’s dramatic, iconic winner.

In the sober moments that followed the win over Portugal, Zidane was wistful.

“A lucky star is shining on us”, he said.

“Let’s hope it will continue.”

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Eoin O'Callaghan


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