When Brazil and France faced off in the quarter-finals of the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ at Frankfurt’s Commerzbank Arena, there was a semi-final place at stake, with Germany, Italy and Portugal waiting for them in the last four. The match was a repeat of the Final of France 1998 and once again the men in blue emerged triumphant, thanks a sublime Zinedine Zidane performance and Thierry Henry’s solitary strike.
Brazil 0-1 France
1 July 2006
Frankfurt/Main, Commerzbank Arena
Thierry Henry (FRA, 57′)
Brazil: Dida, Cafu (c) (Cicinho, 76′), Lucio, Juan, Roberto Carlos, Gilberto Silva, Ze Roberto, Kaka (Robinho, 79′), Juninho (Adriano, 63′), Ronaldinho, Ronaldo
France: Fabien Barthez, Willy Sagnol, Lilian Thuram, William Gallas, Eric Abidal, Patrick Vieria, Claude Makelele, Franck Ribery (Sidney Govou, 77′), Zinedine Zidane (c), Florent Malouda (Sylvain Wiltord, 81′), Thierry Henry (Louis Saha, 86′)
It was the fourth World Cup encounter between the two teams. While Brazil had won the Trophy five times to France’s one, Les Bleus had the edge in the head-to-head, having lost to the South Americans in the semi-finals at Sweden 1958 but beaten them in the last eight at Mexico 1986 and again in that 1998 Final.
Brazil still went into the game as favourites. The reigning world champions had won their first four matches of the tournament with ease, scoring ten goals and conceding just one, to Japan in the group phase.
Les Bleus‘ progress was far less smooth, having only finished second in their group behind Switzerland. A 3-1 defeat of Spain in the round of 16 boosted their morale, however.
The mental battle: “It was like Euro Disney in the tunnel,” said France keeper Fabien Barthez after the game. “Everyone was laughing. Everyone was happy.” Zidane shared a moment or two with his Real Madrid team-mates Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo, while Thierry Henry and Gilberto Silva were colleagues at Arsenal, where the Brazilian had also played alongside Vieira. Partners at Lyon, Florent Malouda, Eric Abidal and Juninho had won a string of French league titles together, and Willy Sagnol found time for a joke with his Bayern Munich team-mates Lucio and Ze Roberto.
The relaxed atmosphere seemed to have a different effect on the two teams, however, as Claude Makelele explained: “When we were in the tunnel, I felt like we already had the edge over them. We were relaxed and having a laugh and I think seeing us like that threw them off balance a bit.” It showed as soon as the match got under way, with Les Bleus heaping pressure on the Brazilians and maintaining it for the whole 90 minutes.
Domenech wins the tactical duel: Criticised for France’s sluggish start to the competition, Bleus coach Raymond Domenech showed his tactical nous here. Opting for a 4-2-3-1 formation in a bid to thwart the fabled Brazilian front line, he asked his players to work especially hard in defence. Makelele, Vieira, Malouda, Franck Ribery and Zidane got the message, combining to blunt the Seleção’s attacking threat, while the speed of France’s wingers did the rest.
Roberto Carlos’ bootlaces: There were 56 minutes on the clock when Cafu was penalised for impeding Malouda on the left flank. With Zidane poised to take the resulting free-kick, Roberto Carlos chose to bend down and tie his laces up, leaving Henry completely unmarked at the far post. Zidane duly whipped the ball into the path of the striker, who gleefully volleyed it into the roof of the net for the only goal of the game.
Before arriving in Germany, Zidane had announced that he would be retiring after the tournament, which meant that every game he played after the group phase was potentially his last. Defying that pressure, he turned in a performance against Brazil that many regard as his finest ever. Everything he tried seemed to come off, as he spun away from his markers, flicked the ball over their heads and nutmegged them at will, the ball seemingly tied to his feet with a piece of string. Not content with running the Brazilians ragged, he sent in the free-kick from which Henry volleyed in the winner. “Zidane was the magician of the match,” said Pele afterwards.
What they said
“He did some things out there that must have pleased a lot of people. It was amazing. He was an inspiration for me before I even turned professional and he’s still inspiring me today.”
France defender Eric Abidal
“It was Zinedine Zidane’s first ever assist for Thierry Henry. Oh yeah! It stopped people from going on about it. I was a bit fed up of not having set Thierry up as we’d played quite a few matches together. There was just one time it came against Brazil. Perfect!”
France midfielder and captain Zidane
“We lost because we weren’t able to play our game. It’s hard to explain why. If we knew, we’d have sorted it out during the game.”
Brazil midfielder Kaka
What happened next?
After squeezing past Portugal in the semi-finals, Les Bleus came up against Italy in the Final. Their hopes of lifting the Trophy for a second time were boosted when Zidane converted a penalty with only seven minutes gone. The Italians pulled level through Marco Materazzi only 12 minutes later, however, and when the match went into extra time, Zizou, one of the stars of the tournament, was sent off for headbutting the Italy defender. With the Bleus talisman off the field, La Squadra Azzurra went on to win their fourth World Cup in the resulting penalty shootout.