Zinedine Zidane fired a golden goal penalty a minute before the end of extra-time on Wednesday to send France into Sunday's Euro 2000 final with a 2-1 victory over Portugal.
Zidane converted the spotkick after Austrian referee Gunter Benko penalized Portugal's Abel Xavier for handling Sylvain Wiltord's shot after consulting Belgian assistant referee Roland van Nylen at the King Baudouin stadium.
The award of the penalty sparked furious scenes and it took several minutes for order to be restored so Zidane could take the kick.
After Zidane converted for the world champions Portuguese striker Nuno Gomes was sent off while the jubilant French players celebrated.
Thierry Henry's 51st minute equalizer for the world champions had earlier forced the match into extra-time after a spectacular Nuno Gomes volley had given outsiders Portugal a 19th-minute lead.
France now play the winner of Thursday's Amsterdam semi-final between Italy and Holland in Sunday's final at Rotterdam's De Kuip Stadium.
Portugal coach Humberto Coelho announced his resignation after the match and rued the penalty decision that proved decisive.
Coelho, whose wife is French, said, "It was a good game between two big-hearted teams. It's a pity it had to end like that. I don't know if the ball hit the hand but to give a penalty at such a stage in the match is very hard."
His French counterpart Roger Lemerre said, "it was a very difficult victory but when you choose a game-plan you have to stick to it and winning is all important.
"As for whom we are going to play in the final they are both good teams. Holland lost in the World Cup semifinals to Brazil. As for the Italians they are always at their best when they are in a big tournament.
"If we play Holland in Rotterdam it will be a great occasion."
Zidane, a national hero in France since scoring two goals in France's 3-0 World Cup Final win over Brazil in 1998, reflected on his match-winning moment.
"For the penalty I just put down the ball and I said to myself I must hit it as hard as possible," said Zidane. "It went in OK so much the better for us.
"Our objective has always been victory in the final. It will be even harder on Sunday."
The vital moment of an enthralling encounter came after 115 minutes - although with the subsequent pandemonium it took another four minutes for Zidane to take the penalty.
With five minutes of extra time left, substitute David Trezeguet ran into the box and was challenged by Portugal keeper Vitor Baia. The ball spun to Wiltord who fired from an acute angle on the right and Xavier deflected the ball behind the goal with his hand.
It continued a recent tradition of important golden goals.
Laurent Blanc also scored a golden goal winner for France against Paraguay in the World Cup second round and Oliver Bierhoff hit one for Germany to win Euro 96.
France had made two changes with Nicolas Anelka came in for Christophe Dugarry up front and Emmanuel Petit replaced Youri Djorkaeff in the only changes from their quarterfinals victory over Spain.
Coelho brought in Vidigal into midfield instead of Paulo Bento and Abel Xavier in at right back in changes from their last game. Joao Pinto did not feature in the starting line-up leaving Nuno Gomes as a lone striker.
But Gomes opened the scoring with an unstoppable left foot shot from the edge of the area after 19 minutes.
Xavier fed Sergio Conceicao on the right who cut inside with both Petit and Didier Deschamps, winning his 100th cap and 51st as skipper, failing to get in a telling challenge.
The ball then fell to Gomes who, with his back to goal, turned and shot in one movement a curling ball into the top left hand corner for his fourth goal of the tournament with French keeper Fabien Barthez rooted to the spot.
Until then France's ball-winning midfielders Petit, Deschamps and Patrick Vieira had spiked the guns of Portugal's playmakers.
Apart from the goal there were no really great chances for either side in the first half.
During the first period Vieira, who fouled Figo on the left wing, and Marcel Desailly earned yellow cards for France. Portugal's Vidigal also earned a caution in the 44th minute.
France came out with a new attacking approach after the break, which had the Portuguese players rattled. It was not a surprise when the more aggressive tactics paid off after 51 minutes.
Lilian Thuram on the right flank hit a right foot pass into the right hand side of the box. Anelka, lurking near the by-line, cut the ball back into the center of the box and Henry swiveled and hit a diagonal shot into Baia's right-hand corner.
Portugal, clearly feeling the pressure, earned yellow cards in quick succession for Figo, Jorge Costa and Dimas.
Coelho brought on Bento on for Vidigal in midfield moments before Zidane fed Henry who raced into the area but his left foot shot was blocked at point blank range by Fernando Couto.
Sylvain Wiltord came on for Anelka and Joao Pinto was introduced in place of Rui Costa as both coaches looked for the right formula in attack.
In injury time, Barthez made a vital save from Xavier's header after a Luis Figo freekick.
At the start of extra time Rui Jorge was brought on in place of Dimas moments before Zidane headed over a Wiltord cross from the left.
Zidane, fouled by Xavier on the left of Portugal's box, hit a freekick into the area but it was headed away.
Lemerre brought on Trezeguet for Henry to yet again change the attacking duo and Wiltord might have won the match with a good shot, deflected off Xavier, but well caught low down by Baia on the goalline.
Then came the penalty incident, which propelled the world champions into the final to keep them on course to add the European title to their global crown.
For Portugal it was the third time they have bowed out at the semi-final stage of a major senior tournament after the 1966 World Cup and 1984 European Championships. They have never reached a final – (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)