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Vintage France beat holders Brazil

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Henry celebrates the goal that secures France a place in the semifinals.

SPECIAL REPORT

FRANKFURT, Germany -- France rolled back the years by producing a vintage performance to reach the semifinals of the World Cup with a 1-0 victory over holders Brazil.

Arsenal striker Thierry Henry was left unmarked in the area to volley home a free kick from Zinedine Zidane for the winning goal after 57 minutes.

Les Bleus, who stunned Brazil 3-0 in the 1998 final, will now play Portugal on Wednesday in Munich -- with the 2006 World Cup winners now guaranteed to come from Europe.

Five-times champions Brazil, who were hoping to reach the World Cup final for the fourth time in succession, looked nervous throughout a game of high quality.

France's win means the great Zidane, who was back to his brilliant best, has not played his last match yet.

"We needed a great match and we delivered. We knew we would have to be fit physically and we were," said Zidane.

"We fought closely together for a well-deserved victory. Now we'll try to win a place in the final. We don't want to stop now. This is so beautiful, we want it to carry on," added Zidane.

The 34-year-old maestro, who will retire after the finals, lived up to the occasion, as did the entire French team.

The finest bunch of players to wear French colours when they were world champions began the finals sluggishly but proved at Brazil's expense that they are still a formidable outfit.

Brazil showed more initiative in a tight, tactical start dominated by an intense battle for possession and threatened after 11 minutes as Ronaldo headed a Ronaldinho free-kick over.

France, gradually winning more balls in midfield and gaining confidence, dominated their prestigious opponents for most of a frustrating first period with few highlights.

Les Bleus hardly created a chance in those first 45 minutes but neither did their hosts, whose feared forwards failed to breach a watertight French defence.

The closest France came was in added time before the break when Patrick Vieira, beautifully set up by some Zidane wizardry, charged towards goal.

It took a late, dangerous tackle from Brazil defender Juan, who collected a yellow card for the offence, to stop the France midfielder.

France started the second half in determined fashion, Vieira heading a Zidane free-kick wide before Henry headed into the net only to be flagged offside.

Shortly after France opened the scoring, Juan almost doubled their advantage with an own goal as he sliced a clearance aiming at a cross by the ever-dangerous Franck Ribery.

Clearly in control from then on, France thrilled the crowd with fluent moves and despite Ronaldinho's efforts, including a free kick over the bar, they savored a deserved victory.

Coach Raymond Domenech praised his team. "It was extraordinary. Sometimes there aren't any words to describe what you're experiencing. I tackled with them, I shot with them. The old men are still around."

Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said France had deserved their victory.

"We tried everything we could, we had a few opportunities but we didn't score. France played very well, they were more patient and their victory was a deserved one."

Summing up Brazil's performances at the tournament, Parreira said: "We had talented players, we worked hard but there was something missing. Maybe the players did not train together long enough."

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