MUNICH, July 5 (Reuters) - Zinedine Zidane made sure the last match of his glittering career would be a World Cup final when he presented France with a 1-0 win over Portugal in a tense semi-final on Wednesday.
Eight years after their Zidane-inspired home triumph, the ageing French will feature in the title match of the showcase tournament for the second time when they face Italy on Sunday in Berlin.
The 34-year-old Zidane, who retires after the finals, got the winner after 33 minutes by calmly converting a penalty after Thierry Henry's ankle was caught by Ricardo Carvalho.
'What matters now is to go all the way,' said France coach Raymond Domenech, who had kept naming the final as his objective even when his team did little to suggest they could get there.
'We must give all we have in that final to make sure we have no regrets,' he added.
Portugal, playing in their second semi-final after reaching the same stage in 1966 with Eusebio, have to be content to meet hosts Germany for third place on Saturday in Stuttgart.
The Euro 2004 runners-up kept trying but were repeatedly denied by a watertight defence at the centre of which Thuram shone with calm authority before being named Man of the Match.
'We defended like lions,' said Henry. 'The way we defended, everyone, you could see that the team had desire and commitment and everything, plus a lot of technique.'
It was the first loss in 13 World Cup finals matches for Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who won the title with Brazil in 2002, after 11 wins and the draw against England in the quarter-finals that his team won on penalties.
Portugal have a reputation for losing ill-tempered battles against the French, whom they have not beaten since 1975.
Wednesday's clash on a warm, still night at the high-tech Allianz Arena was fiercely contested, as expected, but largely free of ugly scenes although a clearly frustrated Scolari did remonstrate with the match officials at the end.
'There are situations that are difficult,' he said. 'We did everything we could, we did our best. Congratulations to France. We have to accept this. We knew it would be a difficult match. We had a few chances but unfortunately didn't do it and lost.'
France, relying on a bunch of gifted thirty-somethings, started the tournament in sluggish fashion before stepping up a few gears to recapture their winning ways, dumping out champions Brazil in the previous round.
Their semi-final kicked off at a high tempo and Portugal had the first clear opportunity after nine minutes, Maniche firing just over the bar from the edge of the box after a clever back-heeled Cristiano Ronaldo pass.
Ronaldo, booed by large sections of the crowd every time he touched the ball, was a permanent danger and came close to scoring after a fine move punctuated by a deflected shot shortly before the break.
France, however, looked in control for large spells and deserved their halftime lead, which they nearly doubled early in the second half with attempts by Henry and Franck Ribery.
The French did survive a scare in a relatively uneventful second half after 78 minutes when a Luis Figo header flew over the bar after Fabien Barthez scooped a Ronaldo free kick into the air.
Fernando Meira then wasted another excellent chance for Portugal deep in added time, firing wildly over the bar from a good position.
Nothing, however, stopped France's golden generation from booking the ultimate farewell party.
'I'm 34 and I feel like the 10-year-old boy who watched the World Cup and found it beautiful', said Thuram, one of several French players expected to retire from the international game after the final.