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Thursday, 29 June, 2000, 09:25 GMT 10:25 UK
Lemerre salutes 'great' referee
French players
Zinedine Zidane and Nicholas Anelka celebrate
French coach Roger Lemerre has saluted the referee who controversially paved his side's way to the Euro 2000 final.

Austrian official Gunter Benko awarded a penalty in the 117th minute for blocking a Sylvain Wiltord shot with his hand which Zinedine Zidane duly converted to take France into the final.

"This was a great moment of refereeing," Lemerre declared.

"He was just applying the rules. The referee has intervened and the rules must be respected," he said.



"This was a great moment of refereeing. He was just applying the rules."

French coach
Roger Lemerre

"Football can be very cruel but if we had committed the fault, we would have been desperate too and would have had the same attitude.

"If there's a hand, there's a hand. If there's no hand, there's no hand. This was the reason for the penalty.

Zidane meanwhile said he was not distracted by the protests which surrounded the controversial late spot-kick.

Responsibility

"A penalty in extra time with the golden goal rule is a great responsibility but everything went well," said Zidane.

"When the ball was on the spot I didn't ask myself any questions. I had to shoot.

"I was just concentrating on hitting it hard enough. but it's not always easy to get rid of everthing happening around you."

"It lasted for several minutes and it was very difficult for me to concentrate," added France's number 10.

"We had played for two hours or so and my legs were a bit sore, but I knew I had to hit it hard."


Roger Lemerre
Lemerre praised referee Benko
Zidane also felt referee Benko was right to point to the spot, giving him the chance to seal France's passage.

He said: "Apparently, TV replays show it was the correct decision. I could not see.

"It was a very difficult match. You can't say that the Portuguese did not deserve to be in the final as much as we did."

He admitted the world champions had needed a stroke of good luck.

"A lucky star is shining on us," said the great playmaker. "Let's hope it will continue."

But central defender Marcel Desailly had a different opinion.

"We were not lucky. We did enough to show that we were the better team. We made the right substitutes at the right time," he said.


Thierry Henry
Thierry Henry celebrates his equaliser
France also survived a scare in the quarter-final, with Spain missing a late penalty and a great chance in stoppage time before bowing out 2-1.

"I expect our next match to be just as tough as the last two," said Arsenal star Patrick Vieira, looking forward to Sunday's final.

"I don't care who we play."

French newspapers also heaved a collective sigh of relief after Thursday's last-ditch victory.

'A Golden Penalty!' screamed L'Equipe while recounting 'an incredible end to a semi-final full of suspense' and paying tribute to goalkeeper Fabien Barthez as 'the impregnable fortress.'

History is also on France's side.

They knocked Portugal out at the same stage before winning the 1984 European Championship on home soil, and they remain on course for becoming the first reigning world champions to win the European title.

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See also:

28 Jun 00 | Euro2000
Zidane sends France through
29 Jun 00 | Portugal
Xavier angry at penalty decision
28 Jun 00 | Euro2000
France v Portugal clockwatch
28 Jun 00 | Photo Gallery
France v Portugal in pictures
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