This feature is part of RETEUROSPECTIVE
RThe French team of oger Lemerre was striving to appear even more impressive than the conquering harvest of Aimé Jacquet two years earlier, when the French had won the 1998 World Cup in style on their own badge. Their ranks are bursting with sublime technical talent – gentlemen Zidane, Vieira, Petit, Pires, Henry, Anelka to name a few – it cannot be denied that it would take an all-powerful effort on the part of any what an enemy to refuse France successive international triumphs.
The Blues however, succumbed to defeat in its last group stage match against the Netherlands, before defeating Spain; their defeat by the co-hosts proving that Lemerre’s men were not entirely infallible.
Portugal, meanwhile, set out to claim their favorite tournament status, recovering a 2-0 deficit in their opening arc against England and turning it on the head for a superb 3-2 victory, which in turn made many sit and notice the Iberians.
The hard-fought victory over Romania, the resounding victory over Germany that followed, and the ensuing triumph over Turkey, maintained their perfect record and made them real contenders for the crown. The evening’s match was sumptuous.
The 48,000 spectators crammed into the Roi Baudouin stadium in Brussels roared with joy and surprise when Nuno Gomes broke the deadlock, 19 minutes after an increasingly absorbing duel. Pirating to meet a loose bouncing ball in the air, the annoying Portuguese poacher struck him for the first time, slamming him in front of a still Fabien Barthez who exceeded his position a few meters from his goalkeeper.
The improbable leaders made France wait for their equalizer, and they worked for that too, but ultimately it happened in the 51st minute, against the will and the will of the Portuguese coach Humberto Coelho. Nicolas Anelka chased a chip Lilian thuram pass, hitting the ball with his first contact to stop him suddenly and allow José Luís Vidigal to continue a step or two beyond him.
Inside the area, taking advantage of the freedom of space that her first touch had intelligently crafted, Anelka had time to look up and find Thierry Henry, who received the ball, pivoted on it and did the rest, shooting in front of Vítor Baía’s low dive.
France may have rightly restored parity and firmly maintained the initiative of the game, but there would be no other breakthrough in normal times; Portugal stands firm against a French attack. the Seleção might even have stolen the spot in the centerpiece finale, as it took an exceptional reflex stop from Barthez to prevent Abel Xavier from seeing his compatriots until the last stage with a thunderous head.
But at extra time, the match continued and, as it seemed more and more that it would be the duty of the shots on goal to separate the two semi-finalists, France struck.
With just over three minutes remaining, France jumped. Sylvain Wiltord found David Trezeguet continuing to stumble, although he found only the outstretched arms of Vítor Baía, plunging at his feet to deny him an effort on goal. The ball wriggled freely and sat down gently so that Wiltord could strike, albeit from an unlikely angle, but his shot only hit the side net.
Wiltord and Trezeguet’s immediate reactions, however, were not disappointment or frustration – they were betrayal and protest. Arms raised high, voices raised higher, the duo begged for a penalty, believing that Xavier had blocked Wiltord’s efforts with his hand. The arbitrator consulted his line judge. The officials agreed.
And so, he fell Zinedine Zidane; The versatile architect from France gave the opportunity to send his nation to the Euro 2000 final with a golden goal 12 yards away. For his extraordinary exploits in France two years ago, the crowd temporarily “black, white, butter” had joyfully chanted the name of Zidane from the top of his lungs, pushed his name to the presidency of the country, and even projected his resemblance on the Triumphal arch.
And, during this sweet night against Portugal, when the hopes of his nation fell on his broad shoulders, he again refused to let his worshipers go home disappointed, hitting the ball high in the upper left corner of the goal to grant . France has another deserved date with destiny.
By Will Sharp @shillwarp