All Blacks 18 France 20
New Zealand suffered its worst World Cup performance when being eliminated in the quarter-finals by a stoic French team - at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on Sunday (NZT).
The French produced yet another stunning performance in the vital stages of the tournament to save their own World Cup and to send New Zealand on another four year search for the Holy Grail.
It was a double blow for the Southern Hemisphere after Australia's earlier elimination by England.
New Zealand mounted a strong counter attack after the French took the lead in the 68th minute but there was no way through and the mistakes caused by the French pressure saw the strangling of the style which had dominated world rugby over the last four years.
Uncharacteristic mistakes in the heady atmosphere of Cardiff resulted in the All Blacks suffering badly and the usual assurance was lacking in the performance.
New Zealand led 13-3 at halftime but France made the stronger start in the second half.
Yet after France drew level at 13-13, it was a 62nd minute try to Rodney So'oialo that regained the lead and seemed to set New Zealand up for a comfortable run home.
However, as was the case in the so-often talked about game of 1999, the Richie McCaw-side suffered the earliest knock out of the World Cup by an All Blacks team.
Two bad mistakes on attack cost New Zealand dearly after So'oialo's try.
Firstly replacement first five-eighths Nick Evans made a superb break and passed when he didn't need to in the tackle and then wing Joe Rokocoko made a forward pass at the back of the All Blacks from a French kick.
It was from that scrum that French replacement Frederic Michalak took the ball from fullback Damien Traille to race 40m to send second five-eighths Yannick Jauzion in for a try with halfback Jean-Baptiste Elissalde's conversion gave France a 20-18 lead.
Then Evans was forced to leave the field of play injured with McAlister moving to first five-eighths, Mils Muliaina to second five-eighths and Isaia Toeava came on at centre.
France stuck to its kicking game throughout the first half, but it lacked the accuracy, precision and chasing game to seriously embarrass the New Zealanders, who either kicked the ball back downfield, or ran it back to put plenty of pressure on the French defences.
It was tedious at times, but during the first half at least did not look to provide any discomfort for the All Blacks who further troubled the French by stealing several of their lineout throws, largely through lock Ali Williams.
Two McAlister breaks set up the first try to the All Blacks, scored by McAlister after 16 minutes.
On the first he passed to his right after scything through into the French 22m area, but he didn't see flanker Richie McCaw unmarked on his right. The ball was moved from the ruck when Kelleher went to ground but lock Ali Williams was out in the corner when diving the try.
From the lineout, the French kicked to touch and wing Sitiveni Sivivatu threw a quick throw-in which fullback Leon MacDonald and brought up for the ruck. First five-eighths Dan Carter then ran and fed McAlister into another gap as he ran the perfect line.
This time he found flanker Jerry Collins in support and then stayed with him to take his pass and drive over for the try which Carter converted to give New Zealand a 10-0 lead.
The French had earlier lost blindside flanker Serge Betsen when he seemed to take a blow to the head after trying to tackle Rokocoko in the fourth minute.
McAlister was sin-binned for obstruction five minutes into the second half when the French kicked through to the All Blacks line. Beauxis landed the penalty goal.
The All Blacks went back onto attack from the restart and launched a driving assault on the French line but the play broke down when a penalty was conceded.
New Zealand regained the ball and after Carter attempted a long range dropped goal attempt the French performed the quick 22m restart the All Blacks had been hinting at throughout the first half.
The French wave grew in intensity and finally after fullback Damien Traille looked to have blown a chance with a three-on-one situation, the French came back and it was flanker Thierry Dusautoir who scored after 53 minutes with Beauxis adding the conversion.
Another costly mistake moments later, after Carter, hooker Anton Oliver and Byron Kelleher were subbed off, saw MacDonald knock the ball on in a tackle. However, the All Blacks scrum power turned the French scrum and secured the feed.
All Blacks 18 (Luke McAlister, Rodney So'oialo tries; Dan Carter con, 2 pen) France 20(Thierry Dusautoir, Yannick Jauzion try; Lionel Beauxis con, 2 pen; Jean-Baptiste Elissalde con).
HT: 13-3By Lynn McConnell