1998: Joy at last for France
Until 1998 the story of France’s participation in the FIFA World Cup final had been a collection of what-ifs and what-might-have-beens. Quarter-finalists in 1938, they reached the semi-finals 20 years later when not even Juste Fontaine could get past Brazil. Then, after an eternity in the wilderness, they were twice denied by the Federal Republic of Germany - first in the 1982 semi-finals, when Harald Schumacher was the villain, then again at the same stage four years later. Now, though, had their time come?
The 16th World Cup was the biggest yet, expanded to 32 teams, which meant the group stage became more competitive with only the top two in each group going through. The ‘golden goal’ rule, under which the first to score in extra time wins, was also introduced to encourage attacking football.
Group of debutants
Croatia, Jamaica and Japan were in their first World Cup and were drawn in the same group, all three losing to Argentina. Meanwhile, a fourth debutant, South Africa, opened with a 3-0 defeat by France, who cruised through their group undefeated, adding victories over Saudi Arabia (4-0) and Denmark (2-1).
The holders, Brazil, also made it through, although only after losing their first group match since 1966 when two late goals gave Norway a surprise 2-1 victory. Not so lucky were Spain, who failed to advance despite a 6-1 thrashing of Bulgaria. Elsewhere, Colombia self-destructed (as usual) and Scotland (likewise) managed to mix the plucky (a 2-1 defeat by Brazil) with the embarrassing (a 3-0 loss to Morocco).
The second round featured narrow victories for Italy (1-0 against Norway), Germany (2-1 against Mexico), the Netherlands (2-1 against Yugoslavia), Croatia (1-0 against Romania) and France, whose 1-0 win against Paraguay saw the World Cup's first, and so far only, 'golden goal' - scored by Laurent Blanc. Easier victories were achieved by Denmark, who eased past Nigeria 4-1, and Brazil, who beat Chile by the same score with Ronaldo and Cesar Sampaio both scoring twice.
However, the match of the round was the latest confrontation between England and Argentina. In one of the most exciting matches in World Cup history it was 1-1 after just ten minutes, with Gabriel Batistuta's penalty being equalised by Alan Shearer's. Then, six minutes later, Michael Owen scored a brilliant solo goal to put England ahead.
The match turned on two incidents either side of half-time. First, Javier Zanetti equalised for Argentina then David Beckham was controversially sent off. However, the ten-men of England performed heroically - Sol Campbell having a goal disallowed - taking the game into extra time and to penalties. However, for their second World Cup appearance in a row, England failed in the shoot-out with David Batty missing the crucial kick.
Italy, however, went one better - or worse - in their quarter-final, going out on penalties for the third World Cup in succession after a goalless draw with France, who - for their part - appeared in desperate need of firepower up front.
The Dutch had no such problems and won their quarter-final against Argentina 2-1 in the last minute when Dennis Bergkamp scored the goal of the tournament - instantly controlling a long ball, flicking it past a defender and bending the ball home.
In the semi-finals the Dutch came up against Brazil - who had sneaked past Denmark 3-2 in their quarter-final with goals from Rivaldo, who scored twice, and Bebeto. However, their star against the Netherlands was - unusually - the goalkeeper, Claudio Taffarel.
De Boer miss
Although the Netherlands were the better side for long periods Brazil scored first, through Ronaldo, just after half-time. The Dutch had to wait until the 87th minute for Patrick Kluivert to grab an equaliser and take the game into extra time. Cue penalties and it was Ronald de Boer whose agonising miss allowed Brazil to reach their sixth World Cup final.
Hosts against holders
There they would meet France - the first time that hosts and holders had contested a World Cup final. The French, though, were still struggling to find a match-winning striker, although they had, fortunately, found a match-winning defender.
In the semi-final against a Croatian side that had seen off Germany 3-0 in the quarter-finals, Lilian Thuram scored twice, his first coming a minute after his mistake had allowed Davor Šuker to put Croatia ahead in the 46th minute and his second - the winner - arriving midway through the second half.
Brazil in disarray
The final, at the Stade de France in Paris on 12 July, started in confusion with Ronaldo first omitted from the Brazil team, then included again. The Brazilians, in disarray, never got into the match until it was too late. France dominated the first half and went ahead in the 27th minute when Zinedine Zidane headed in a corner.
France ease to glory
A similar goal just before half-time put France in command. Brazil provided more of a fight in the second half and dominated the last ten minutes after France's Marcel Desailly was sent off. However, in the last minute, Emmanuel Petit made it 3-0 to send his country into ecstasy.
France were worthy winners - especially after the disappointments of 1982 and 1986 - but the final is also remembered for the mystery surrounding Ronaldo. What was the truth about the fit he suffered before the game?
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