Zidane aiming to make it unlucky

Munich, July 3 :

The masterful Zinedine Zidane and a resurgent France aim to make it unlucky number 13 for Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari in the World Cup semi-final here on Wednesday. Zidane, the 34-year-old sorcerer supreme, has rediscovered his best, imperious form to help steer France into the last four with victories over Brazil and Spain in the knockout rounds.

Now the Real Madrid maestro aims to account for Portugal just as he did in the semi-final of Euro 2000, when Zidane’s dramatic extra-time golden goal penalty took the French through to a final they evenually won. Another French victory at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday will end Scolari’s record run of consecutive World Cup victories, which moved to 12 after Saturday’s pulsating quarter-final win over England.

But while France have an impressive record over Portugal, who they also beat in the 1984 European Championship semi-final, coach Raymond Domenech has urged his team to forget the past. “We’ve already beaten Portugal but I’m not into statistics, that’s history, this is 2006, the reality is on Wednesday night,” Domenech said.

France’s magical quarter-final win over Brazil has sent belief that a second World Cup crown in eight years is suddenly within touching distance after looking a distant dream during a shaky first round.

Domenech’s priority before Wednesday is to get his side off of cloud nine and focused on the job of beating Portugal. “The danger for us now is to think we’ve done it by beating Brazil, we’ve got to get the players back to where they were before that win,” Domenech said.

“We’ve achieved something super... but our work is not finished, we can’t let up. For me success only comes if we win the cup.” If Zidane’s demeanour after victory over the Brazilians is anything to go by, Domenech can rely on his captain to reinforce the message. While many of his team-mates celebrated, Zidane permitted himself a smile of satisfaction and handshakes all round before leaving the pitch swiftly, as if already preparing himself mentally for the tasks ahead. With his retirement looming after the finals, Zidane is determined to reach the scale the peak that he achieved in 1998, when he scored twice as Brazil were beaten 3-0 in a memorable final in Paris.

With Portugal having shown themselves to be adept at bringing the worst out of their opponents over the last two rounds, where both England and Holland had players sent off against them, that will be a concern for Domenech. “They are a quality side who have proved capable of imposing their style of play on their rivals,” he said.

“I don’t know Scolari but I think he’s world champion isn’t he?” Scolari, who coached Brazil to the 2002 World Cup, will be buoyed by the return from suspension of midfield playmaker Deco and his minder Costinha. The master motivator, Scolari has urged his team to create history by becoming the first Portuguese side to reach the World Cup final in only their fourth tournament.