The Welsh Gull

Torquay United, the Football League and other stuff

Classic World Cup – France 1998

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Over the next few weeks and months, in the run up to the 2010 World Cup, I will be posting reviews of classic World Cups from days of yore, beginning with my first World Cup (having been too young to remember 1994)

The usual suspects had all qualified for the tournament. In the 9 European groups, there were few surprises. One notable absentee would be the Czech Republic, with the Euro 96 finalists failing to even make the play-offs in a group of death that had also included Spain and Yugoslavia. Portugal also came up short, finishing a point off a play-off spot behind Ukraine in a group won by the European champions Germany. Ukraine would not make it through too, losing to Croatia who would make their first appearance in the World Cup. Italy also had to come through after finishing 2nd in their group to England. The only other Home Nation to qualify was Scotland, who made it as the best runner-up out of all the groups, but the Republic of Ireland’s run of World Cups ended in the play-offs

The other new teams included South Africa, banned for many years by FIFA but now free to enter again. Japan beat Iran in a play-off Malaysia to make up for the disappointment of narrowly missing out on qualifying in 1994, although the Iranians would go on to beat Australia on away goals to qualify for the first time in 20 years. The Reggae Boyz of Jamaica were the 4th new team, relying on many players from the English lower leagues to make it. This sudden influx of new and unfamiliar teams was in part down to the expansion of the tournament from 24 to 32 teams

The reigning champions Brazil, who had qualified automatically, would once again be the favourites. Although they would be without Romario, who led the way with his goal scoring in 1994, they now had Ronaldo, twice FIFA World Footballer of the Year. He would be joined in attack by Barcelona’s Rivaldo, as well as the familiar figure of Bebeto. Dunga would once again be leading the team from the heart of midfield. Alongside them, Germany would also be contenders. It had been a very successful decade for German football, starting with a World Cup win in 1990 before later winning Euro 96. The problem was the team was largely made up of the same core players, such as Klinsmann, Hassler, Matthaus and Kopke, who weren’t getting any younger

The French were playing in a World Cup for the first time since 1986, having somehow failed to qualify for 1990 and 1994 even with a list of quality players such as Papin, Cantona and Ginola. The fans weren’t exactly confident going into their home World Cup either, deriding coach Aime Jacquet for defensive tactics and having finished up with a record of 2 draws and 1 defeat from the Tournoi de France in 1997, the prelude to the World Cup. That tournament had been won by England, their first win in an international tournament since 1966. Confidence was as high as ever, with the national team in good form – as well as the Tournoi win, they had got to the semi-finals of Euro 96, only to lose to the eventual winners on penalties, and then topped their WC qualifying group that included the Italians. But doubts were emerging about coach Glenn Hoddle, who refused to take Paul Gascoigne to the tournament and looked likely to not play rising stars David Beckham and Michael Owen

The Italians of course can never be ruled out, but their run to the Final in 1994 was a distant memory. More recently, they’d failed to progress past the first stage in Euro 96. Spain couldn’t be discounted either, despite their record of underachievement and, like England, a stubborn coach, and neither could the talented Dutch, despite their implosion in Euro 96. Denmark had the Laudrup brothers and Schmeichel, whilst Bulgaria and Romania could not be ruled out either, as 1994 showed. Outside Europe, Argentina had topped the South American qualifying group and were keen to erase memories of 1994, whilst Colombia’s ageing side and the talented Chile side would be threats. The African attack would be led by the Olympic champions Nigeria, North America would be headed by the Mexicans, whilst there seemed to be no standout side from Asia

Group Stage

The tournament opened in the new Stade de France with Scotland taking on Brazil. An 80,000 capacity crowd watched the Scots nearly pull off an upset, as they held Brazil for some 35 minutes after John Collins’ penalty levelled Cesar Sampaio’s early header. But with just 12 minutes to go, Cafu’s shot was parried by keeper Leighton onto Tom Boyd and in for an unfortunate own goal. The champions’ shaky start was soon forgotten as they comfortably beat a talented Moroccan side 3-0, but the wobbles returned in the final group game when Kjetil Rekdal’s late penalty gave Norway a shock 2-1 win. This was enough to just take the Norwegians through – they had drawn with Morocco and Scotland, meaning a win would guarantee them a place in the second round, and despite a great effort by the North Africans to beat Scotland 3-0, Norway snuck in by a point

Group B included the Italians, who had potentially awkward opposition in Chile, Austria and Cameroon. Indeed, it took a late Roberto Baggio penalty, with the Divine Ponytail banishing memories of his shootout miss in the Final in 1994, for them to secure a draw against the South Americans, after Mauricio Salas had scored twice to give Chile an unlikely 2-1 lead. A late goal from Toni Polster secured Austria a late draw against Cameroon, and then in the second game, Ivica Vastic repeated the feat to secure a draw against Chile, whilst Italy beat Cameroon 3-0, meaning that all 4 sides had a chance of progressing going into the last games. In the end, Italy scraped past Austria 2-1, whilst a 1-1 draw in the other game meant Chile went through despite not winning a game

The hosts found themselves drawn into a group with the potentially tricky Danes, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, and progressed with ease. Fortunately for them, the 2 easiest games came first, with a 3-0 win over South Africa and a 4-0 thumping of the Saudis. Qualification was thus secure. Denmark had a slight hiccup, though. A 1-0 win over the Saudis was followed by a 1-1 draw with South Africa, meaning the Bafana Bafana could still qualify if Denmark lost to France and they beat the Saudis, goal difference pending. However, they could only snatch a late 2-2 draw, meaning despite Denmark’s 2-1 defeat, the Danes would progress

Spain were expected to lead Group D, but with tough defensive side Paraguay, Olympic gold medallists Nigeria and 1994 semi-finalists Bulgaria in there, nothing was certain, as they soon found out. In the first game, veteran keeper Andoni Zubizarreta fumbled Lawal’s low shot into the net to bring the Nigerians level at 2-2 with 18 minutes to play, and with Spanish heads dropped, this was soon followed by a 3rd from Sunday Oliseh, giving the Green Eagles an unlikely win. 6 days later, they won again, beating Bulgaria 1-0. The Bulgarians had earlier drawn 0-0 with Paraguay, and the South Americans ground out an identical result against Spain. Again, it would come down to the last game. Spain thumped Bulgaria 6-1, ending their golden generation there and then, but Paraguay beat Nigeria 3-1, and so the Spaniards became the first big casualty of the tournament

The Dutch were again drawn against the neighbours Belgium, having already faced them in the qualifiers. Mexico were in there too, along with minnows South Korea. The latter pair played first, with Mexico unconvincing but winning 3-1, and with the Netherlands and Belgium drawing 0-0, they took an early lead in the group. Their second match was a bit tougher, though, having to fight back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with the Belgians, whilst the Dutch put South Korea out with a 5-0 hammering that cost coach Cha Bum-Kun his job before the tournament was out. The 3 other teams could still qualify, with Belgium having the advantage of playing the minnows. However, they bottled it, with a Yoo Sang-Chul goal rescuing a 1-1 draw for the Koreans. The other game finished 2-2 with a late late equaliser from Mexico’s Luis Hernandez, but it didn’t really matter, as both sides went through regardless

Germany’s toughest opponents in Group F would by Yugoslavia, with Iran and the USA expected to make up the numbers. But the Germans had a shaky start, looking unconvincing against the Americans despite winning 2-0. They then had to face Yugoslavia, who had beaten Iran 1-0 – the result was a 2-2 draw, which belies the fact that Yugoslavia held a 2-0 lead until 17 minutes to go. But the fascinating encounter of the group was the match-up of the USA and Iran. On a day where football took precedence over politics, Iran took their first World Cup win by beating the Great Satan 2-1, keeping the pressure up on the 2 European sides. They then had to face Germany, valiantly holding out for 50 minutes, but 2 quick German goals put them through. With Yugoslavia only winning 1-0 over the USA, Germany were top of the group but looked a shadow of the side that won Euro 96

Group G was another group of death, with England, Romania and Colombia all considered strong sides. England had the benefit of playing the group outsiders Tunisia first and dispatched them 2-0 in a game marred by violence outside the stadium, whilst Romania did enough to beat the Colombians 1-0. This put the attention on England vs Romania in the next round of matches. The Romanians took the lead just after half time, but Owen, who had been brought on as a substitute after significant public pressure, equalised with 11 minutes to go. Alas, it would not last, as Chelsea’s Dan Petrescu nipped in to score a Romanian winner in the last minute – something that would be repeated in Euro 2000. With Colombia scraping past Tunisia, England would have to win their final group game to guarantee progression. Darren Anderton and, courtesy of a classic freekick, David Beckham secured a 2-0 win. Colombia, underachieving once again, have not qualified for a World Cup since

The final group seemed like an easy path for Argentina, as they were drawn against 3 World Cup rookies. And although they only scored once in their first game against Japan, the 5-0 thumping they gave to Jamaica proved it, sealing the deal with the trickiest match to spare. They weren’t the only ones to be already through, though. Despite a Robbie Earle equaliser, Croatia had beaten Jamaica 3-1, and then also edged past Japan 1-0. Thus the group was essentially finished after 2 games all. In the game to decide who finished top, Argentina won 1-0 to secure a mouthwatering tie with England in round 2. In the game to recover lost pride, it was the Reggae Boyz who took a popular 2-1 win. The Japanese had missed the presence of their lead striker Kazuyoshi Miura, but they would be back as co-hosts in 2002

Round 2
After their sensational win aganist Brazil, Norway now had to face Italy, the only team to have beaten them in a World Cup. But this trend continued – Christian Vieri scored the only goal of the game to give Italy a 1-0 win. Brazil themselves were up against South American rivals Chile, and simply overpowered them, winning 4-1 with 2 from Cesar Sampaio and 2 from Mr Bottle-Opener, who was now getting into his stride. The hosts were up next, facing a tough Paraguayan side in Lens. The 90 minutes saw no goals, and so the game went to extra time, where Laurent Blanc rose to head home the first golden goal in World Cup history. After 113 minutes, it was harsh on Paraguay. This was followed by Nigeria vs Denmark, a game which the Green Eagles were expected to win. Instead, the Danes finally got going, stuffing them 4-1 to set up an encounter with Brazil

The Germans proved why they can never be ruled out against Mexico. Hernandez put them 1-0 down at the start of the second half and it looked like the European champions were heading out. But Klinsmann and Bierhoff, the saviours of the team in the first round, came to the rescue again, with Bierhoff giving the team the lead with 4 minutes to go. The 2 other teams from their groups, the Netherlands and Yugoslavia, then faced off in Toulouse, where Edgar Davids scored in the second minute of stoppage time to put the Dutch through 2-1. Davor Suker’s penalty put Croatia into the quarter-finals as they put Romania out, leaving just the match between the old enemies in St Etienne

A penalty each levelled the score at 1-1 after just 10 minutes, before the players Hoddle didn’t want to play combined. Beckham sent a long ball over the top to Owen, who sprinted through the Argentinean defence and tucked the ball over Roa into the net. But the joy from one of the great World Cup goals wouldn’t last, with Javier Zanetti equalising on half time. Then, just after half time, Beckham was sent off for kicking Argentine captain Simeone. More controversy soon followed – with 9 minutes to play, Campbell rose to head home what seemed to be an England winner, only for it to be disallowed. After goalless extra time, it went to penalties. Ince and Crespo both missed, meaning it was 3-3 into the last round of penalties. Ayala scored, but David Batty, an extra time substitute who later confessed he had never taken a penalty before, had his kick saved by Roa. England were out, while Argentina set up a rematch of the 1978 Final with the Dutch

The quarter-finals began with France vs Italy. In the Tournoi, it had finished 2-2. This time, it finished 0-0. Extra time could not separate them, so it went to penalties again – not something the Italians were looking forward too due to their poor record. And unsurprisingly, the doubts were proven right, as Luigi Di Biagio hit the bar with Italy’s 5th penalty. They’d have to wait 8 years for their revenge in a shootout. But for now, France plodded on, getting lucky once again to prove tournament football isn’t just about playing the best. Brazil too were making heavy work of their progress. They fell behind against Denmark after just 2 minutes, and the Danes later scored an equaliser on 50 minutes when Brian Laudrup took advantage of a failed bicycle kick clearance from Roberto Carlos to level the score at 2-2. It took a brilliant long range blast from Rivaldo past Schmeichel, then widely accepted as one of the best keepers in the world, to save the day

Then came Holland vs Argentina. It was a feisty affair – after goals from Kluivert and Lopez, Numan was sent off for a second yellow card, and Ortega, hailed before the tournament began as “the new Maradona”, followed him for an early bath for sort of headbutting van der Sar on 87 minutes. 2 minutes later, with the game looking like it was heading for extra time, Frank de Boer sent a long ball from the Dutch half over to Bergkamp just outside the box. The Arsenal striker brilliantly controlled it with his right foot, and then used it to smash the ball above Roa. With Argentina defeated, Roa’s World Cup career ended here – he decided to take a religious retreat a year later due to his belief that the world would end at the turn of the millennium

The Germans had made it this far without looking too impressive but their run ended in the quarters when they came up against the talented Croatians. A 3-0 defeat, including a 4th goal in the tournament for the potent Suker, spelled the end for Klinsmann, who retired from football after the tournament. The remains of the winning 1990 squad disappeared, beginning a barren period for German football that lasted another 4 years

It seemed likely that the eventual winner would come from the first semi between Brazil and Holland. This pair had met in an ugly encounter at the same stage in 1974, which the Dutch had won. This time, 120 minutes could not separate them. Ronaldo had put Brazil ahead, but Kluivert rescued the game with 4 minutes to spare. It went to penalties. Taffarel, as in 1994, was the hero, saving penalties from Cocu and Ronald de Boer. Brazil were in the World Cup Final once again

In the second semi, Croatia came close to making the Final at the first attempt, but unfortunately for them, the hosts pulled through. Suker gave Croatia the lead after half time – against a side that had struggled to score goals since the first round, it was looking good. But the French source of goals proved to be an unlikely one. Just a minute after Suker scored, France hit back in the shape of Lilian Thuram, who pinched the ball from Croatia captain Bobin, played a one-two with Djourkaeff, and scoring. 12 minutes later, the defender blasted in what would prove to be the winner, and France were in the Final for the first time, albeit without Blanc who was dismissed when he slapped Slaven Bilic in the face and the Croatian defender fell to the ground as if he’d been shot. For Thuram, these would be his only goals in his 142 match international career, much the same as his Euro 84 counterpart Jean-Francois Domergue, who helped France into the Final with 2 goals. France went on to win in that Final, their only major silverware up to 1998. Would history repeat itself?

A day before the Final, Croatia secured an unlikely 3rd place by beating the Dutch 2-1 in the Parc des Princes, with Davor Suker clinching the Golden Boot with his 6th goal of the tournament. But surely this would not be repeated on the other side of the city. Surely Ronaldo would Brazil to a 5th title…

Sometimes football isn’t that straight-forward. Confusion surrounded the Brazilian line-up – Ronaldo was in and out like the hokey cokey, later revealed to be the result of an epileptic fit on the morning of the Final. It was to be the beginning of Brazil’s downfall. A team that had been less than convincing through the tournament so far fell apart with its lynchpin not firing on all cylinders. With the attack limited, the typically poor Brazilian defence was exposed. Zidane headed France ahead from a Petit corner on 27 minutes, and then produced a carbon copy just before half time to double the lead. Even with Desailly sent off, France were in control – Petit wrapped up the biggest Final win since Brazil’s win over Italy in 1970 with a 3rd at the end, and the party began for Les Bleus. It hadn’t been pretty, but they had won the World Cup, the first French championship victory for 14 years. It would soon be followed with victory in Euro 2000. The French went from being ranked as low as 25 in the world in April to top of the world in July. A golden era of French football had just begun


Written by James Bennett

January 7, 2010 at 18:56

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