France-Portugal's ongoing last four drama
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Mention a France-Portugal semi-final to football lovers from either country, and you will invariably be greeted with a mixture of smiles, tears and heated debate. Indeed, the pair’s three semi-final encounters to date have generated every conceivable emotion for the players and fans involved. relives some of the most memorable moments of joy and despair, depending which side of the fence you sit on.

23 June 1984, UEFA European Championship semi-final, Stade Velodrome, Marseille
France hosted the UEFA European Championships in June 1984, and having never won a major competition, an in-form Les Bleus knew this was a rare opportunity to grasp. After impressing in the group stages, they eventually found themselves up against Portugal in the semi-finals. France were expected to win with ease, and the match appeared to be going to form when Jean-Francois Domergue opened the scoring with free-kick after 25 minutes. However, Mais Jordao's equaliser just a few minutes from time caught Les Bleus by surprise and sent the match into extra time. Jordao soon pounced again to give Portugal the lead, following a fine piece of skill by Fernando Chalana.

The rest, as they say, is history. After Jean Tigana ran to retrieve the ball from the net, Les Bleus pushed hard in search of an equaliser. But despite the electric, stifling atmosphere inside the stadium, Portugal refused to budge. With five minutes remaining, Michel Platini lost the ball in the Portuguese penalty box, only for team-mate Domergue to appear out of nowhere and slot the equaliser past Manuel Bento. 

The goal sent the Stade Velodrome into raptures, but that was not the end of the drama. Michel Hidalgo, France’s head coach at the time, described the scenes that unfolded a few minutes from time. “We won the match 3-2 thanks to a move involving [Jean] Tigana, who took the ball, brought it forward and burst into the area,” Hidalgo explained. “He then passed to Platini, who took his time before applying the finish. It’s an image that sticks in my memory.” Marseille erupted in celebration, and just a few days later, France were crowned European champions for the first time after beating Spain in the final.

25 June 2000, European Championship semi-final, Stade Baudouin, Brussels
France went into the 2000 European Championship as reigning world champions, and with Zinedine Zidane at the height of his powers. In front of them stood a Portuguese side also full of ambition, thanks in no small part to their own midfield maestro, Luis Figo. Les Bleus started the match as favourites, but they soon fell behind in the 19th minute to a Nuno Gomes strike. France found themselves chasing the game, but they eventually equalised on 51 minutes through Thierry Henry’s turn and shot after good build-up play by Patrick Vieira. The score remained unchanged until the final whistle, so the match went into golden goal extra time.

Portugal wasted several opportunities to win the match in extra time, and their fate was ultimately sealed by a cruel piece of misfortune. Vitor Baia came out to deny David Trezeguet in the area, and when Sylvain Wiltord smashed the rebound back towards goal, Abel Xavier blocked the ball with his hand. The defender immediately fell to the ground in tears, painfully aware of the mistake he had just made. Zidane stepped up to take the penalty, and his aim was true.

“When I placed the ball on the penalty spot, I decided, quite simply, that I had to blast it as hard as possible,” said the former French No10, recalling the decisive spot-kick. “It worked well, fortunately for us!” The win sent France through to the final, where they beat Italy in a match that proved to be every bit as frenzied.

5 July 2006, 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, Allianz Arena, Munich
France laboured through the group stages of Germany 2006, before beating Spain and Brazil thanks to two inspired performances from Zidane. Their semi-final opponents, Portugal, featured the monumental talents of Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo, and the pair had combined well for the most part. The sides were well-matched, and it turned out to be a tense affair with goalscoring opportunities few and far between. Thierry Henry and Franck Ribery were behind France’s best chances, while Maniche and Cristiano Ronaldo came closest for Portugal.

Once again, the match was to be decided from the penalty spot. After 30 minutes, Henry was brought down in the box and a penalty was awarded. This time it was Ricardo, not Vitor Baia, who faced the task of keeping out Zidane’s spot-kick. Zizou held his nerve, however, and put the penalty past the Portuguese goalkeeper. The score remained at 1-0, and France held on for the victory.

“We defended like lions,” said Henry. “After we scored the penalty, we were first to every ball.” The resulting final also went down in history, but not for the reasons Les Bleus would have wanted.