But now, thanks to the magic quartet of Zidane, Henry, Vieira and Ribery, France have one eye on Berlin.
Brazil have been criticised throughout the World Cup for not playing well enough, although deep down most analysts would have expected Brazil to take this game by the scruff of the neck and turn on their game like they have so many times before.
I don’t think this is a case where the coach guides his team to a win over the world champions. Domenech’s role in France’s win can be down to one thing only – making sure Zidane got the captaincy just so that the French legend would come back out of retirement and then building the team around him. It was a risky strategy that would surely have been criticised if France had failed today, but for two straight matches Zidane has shown exactly what happens when you allow him even an inch of space on the pitch.
Two down, two to go – Zidane is on course for one of the most remarkable comebacks in history.
Analysts will blame Parreira and Brazil for going into the match without any strategy to combat the French. The Brazilians have been called arrogant and of taking victory for granted, but none of the criticism can take away from the fact that when it came to it, France knew how to beat Brazil. They had their gameplan worked out, they stifled Brazil’s key players and they made sure that no matter what happened, they wouldn’t conceed a goal.
It took a dive (another superstar joins the club) from Ronaldo to get Brazil perhaps their best chance to score, a free-kick from the edge of the penalty area that Ronaldinho blasted just over the bar. It was, in some ways, a perfect microcosm of how Brazil’s World Cup has turned out – full of promises but lacking that vital spark that would have just kicked them into a higher gear and spurred them on to victory.
The first Zidane-Henry assist for their career – a sign of things to come?
Brazil only came alive after Henry’s tap-in, but by then the match was already over. The French expertly kept possession and kept hitting Brazil on the counter-attack.
Of the four semi-finalists, Germany and Portugal were both lesser sides with their opponents losing the way, while Italy were supremely lucky to have Ukraine as opponents.
Only France have produced a quarter-final to remember for all the right reasons – a commanding, controlling performance from start to finish. Brazil never looked like scoring and had only one shot at goal.
This World Cup is almost over, but you suspect that for Germany and France, the party has just begun. Both teams have a lot riding on their semi-final matches, and while many predictions have gone wrong this summer, a Germany-France final may not be too off the mark.