1998 FIFA World Cup: Glory for Les Bleus
Golden boot winner: Davor Šuker (6 goals)
Golden ball winner: Ronaldo
Between 10th June-12th July, the sixteenth FIFA World Cup tournament was held in France as the competition expanded to 32 teams for the first time. France had beaten Morocco in the bidding process and it would be their first time hosting the finals in 60 years. The amount of teams used in 1998 remains today in modern World Cups, as the tournament saw a huge format change. For the first time there would be eight groups, with the winners and runner-ups qualifying to the round of 16. Also, if games went to extra time and a goal was scored the game would end, as FIFA introduced the ‘Golden Goal’ initiative to help lower the amount of penalty shootouts. Ten venues hosted games around the country, with the 80,000 capacity Stade de France staging the final. England made a swift return after missing out on USA ’94, as they and Scotland (for the final time) were the two home nation’s representatives.
Entertaining hosts, political clash
Brazil and Scotland played out the first game of the tournament, as the Scots came so close to causing an early shock. After going down early on, John Collins’ penalty levelled the game only for a disastrous own goal from Tom Boyd to give the samba boys a 2-1 win. Despite a shock loss to Norway, Brazil went through thanks to a Ronaldo inspired victory over Morocco as the champions and Norway made the last 16. Hosts France lived up to the bill of entertainers in group C as they won their league with a 100% record. An Emmanuel Petit winner in a hard fought win over runners-up Denmark sealed the perfect start for Les Bleus. Thierry Henry was emerging as the host’s secret weapon, the 21 year old Monaco man left the group stages with three goals. Spain were eliminated in group D as surprise packages Paraguay and Nigeria qualified despite the Spaniards obliterating Bulgaria 6-1 in their last game. Like France, Argentina made it with an untarnished record as the two time champions and Croatia made it out of group H. Four goals, including a hat trick against Jamaica was seeing Gabriel Batistuta emerge as one of the most potent strikers at the tournament. Meanwhile, Germany and Yugoslavia qualified from group F, yet the group is remembered for the hugely politically fuelled clash between Iran and the USA. Goals from Hamid Estili and Mehdi Mahdavikia saw Iran win 2-1 in Lyon, in one of the tensest World Cup matches since West vs. East Germany in 1974. England made the round of 16 also, yet had to settle for second spot behind Romania in group G. A famous David Beckham free kick rounded off a 2-0 win over Colombia that ensured the Three Lions’ progression. In the remaining groups: Italy, Chile, the Netherlands and Mexico also made the second round.
Beckham see’s read, Owen see’s glory
In the stand out clash of the last 16, Argentina faced England in the game of the tournament in Saint-Etienne. As expected, it was the South Americans who took the lead as Batistuta thumped his penalty home despite David Seaman getting a huge hand to the ball. However England got a penalty of their own four minutes later, Newcastle’s Alan Shearer took it and dually smashed into the top corner. A stunning goal from Michael Owen saw the Three Lions turn the game round and take a 2-1 lead after 15 minutes. The rapid 18 year old sprinted from 40 yards out, past two defenders before rifling home past the oncoming keeper. Argentina did peg England back though as a clever free kick routine saw the legendary Javier Zanetti take the game to extra time at 2-2. Controversy overshadowed the additional 30 minutes as a Shearer “foul” saw Sol Campbell’s headed goal ruled out, as the game trundled onto penalties. Despite Seaman denying Crespo, Argentinean keeper Carlos Roa saved Paul Ince and David Batty’s kicks. The Three Lions lost 4-3 on penalties.
Ronaldo makes his mark, Baggio’s redemption
In the first round of 16 clash, a lone Christian Vieri goal proved enough to despatch Brazil-beating Norway in a stale match in Marseille. However, Brazil’s game with Chile in a clash of South America proved far more entertaining as the samba boy’s mercurial striker Ronaldo made his mark. The Inter Milan forwad’s unerring pace, strength and calm penalty taking saw him bag a brace as Brazil routed Chile 4-1 in Paris. The World Cup’s first ever golden goal saw hosts France narrowly defeat a Jose Chilavert inspired Paraguay. A goal seven minutes from penalties by centre back Laurent Blanc, saw the game end and Les Bleus win 1-0. The Netherlands edged out Yugoslavia in dramatic style as warrior midfielder Edgar Davids smashed home a last minute winner in a 2-1 victory. Meanwhile, Germany, Denmark and Davor Šuker’s Croatia also made the quarter finals.
Hosts France faced tough opposition in the form of a defensively immaculate Italy team in their quarter final in Paris. Once again it was extra time for the hosts as 90 minutes produced no goals; however there was no golden goal this time as the match went to spot kicks. Desperate to redeem himself after his 1994 World Cup final spot kick miss, Roberto Baggio took Gli Azzurri’s first penalty. Baggio made no mistake and exercised the demons of ’94 with a clinical finish. However it was the host’s day, failed kicks from Albertini and Di Biagio saw Italy knocked out in cruel fashion. Croatia caused a shock in their last 8 tie as they shocked the football world to win 3-0 against Germany. Yet another goal from the prolific Šuker wrapped up a famous win for the jubilant Eastern Europeans. The Netherlands needed a second consecutive last minute goal as they made the semis for the first time in 20 years. A long ball from de Boer saw Dennis Bergkamp majestically control the ball, cut it back before smashing it into the top corner for the winner and one of the goals of the World Cup. Meanwhile, a brace from the young Rivaldo as well as a strike from icon Bebeto saw Brazil beat Denmark 3-2 despite clear defensive frailties.
The unlikeliest of heroes
Hosts France booked their place in the final with a win over plucky Croatia, yet made hard work of it. The Stade de France was plunged into shock as another goal from Davor Šuker saw Croatia race into the lead just after half time. However, Lilian Thuram’s first international goal saw a relieved France team equalise only a minute later. Incredibly, in his career, centre back Thuram only ever scored two goals for France and both came in this game. The unlikely hero sealed a 2-1 win and his brace with a goal in the 69th minute. Meanwhile, world champions Brazil needed penalties to join the hosts in the final against a stubborn Dutch outfit. A wonder strike from the tenacious Ronaldo gave the samba boys the lead, yet a goal from Patrick Kluivert saw spot kicks required at 1-1. As in the 1994 final, Brazil keeper Claudio Taffarel proved the hero as he deflected Ronald de Boer’s penalty wide. Ronaldo, Emerson, Rivaldo and Dunga all scored their penalties as Brazil won 4-2 from 12 yards.
Zidane inspired France defeat champions
On the 12th July, a crowd of 80,000 filled the Stade de France to see hosts France and champions Brazil contest the 1998 FIFA World Cup final. Before kickoff controversy was already taking place as curiously Ronaldo was left off the Brazilian team sheet. After a delay, Ronaldo was added back in and started despite it later being revealed that he suffered a seizure before the game. Despite having a poor tournament up until the final, it was France midfielder Zinedine Zidane who gave the hosts the lead. A bursting run and flying header from the Juventus play maker sent the stadium into ecstasy. On the stroke of half time lighting struck twice as Zidane scored yet another header from a corner to see Les Bleus take a 2-0 lead. Ronaldo was noticeably off form, on a poor day for the samba boys, their star man failed to make an impact. However, a second yellow card for France’s Marcel Desailly did give the South American’s a sniff of a chance. Despite the dismissal, a cool one-on-one finish from Emmanuel Petit saw the ball bobble past Taffarel and into the bottom corner for 3-0. The final whistle confirmed an emphatic win for the hosts, who even with ten men white washed an off-colour Brazil side. Didier Deschamps lived the World Cup trophy as France became world champions for the very first time.
Kobe, YJA Sports Correspondent