Zidane’s decisive double, Brazil’s Nike airport ad, Beckham’s boot, Bergkamp’s beauty, and Ricky Martin’s anthem ‘The Cup of Life’ (ok maybe not that last one) but there are many reasons to remember France ’98
‘Allez la France’ a nation screamed as Zinedine Zidane’s head gave Les Bleus their first-ever World Cup triumph on home soil.
And while those two headers give the impression that France 1998 belonged to the pre-follically challenged (more or less) Zidane, French victory was far more indebted to the imperious displays of Marcel Desailly and Lilian Thuram at the back.
Desailly was formidable despite being sent off in the final and Thuram firmly established himself as one of world football’s best defenders, marauding forward from right-back it was the Parma defender’s brace in the semis that earned Aimé Jacquet’s side a place in the Final.
Before a certain Cristiano and before injuries took their toll and pounds were piled on, there was Ronaldo. And in 1998, the 21-year-old Brazilian was the most exciting footballer on the planet.
Scoring four goals and making three assists, Ronaldo lived up to his billing with his fearsome combination of pace, strength, skill, and finishing. If anyone was to prevent France from lifting the trophy on home soil it was the O Fenómeno but it wasn’t to be.
Ronaldo reportedly suffered a fit hours before the final and was ruled out, only to be put back in Brazil’s starting eleven an hour before kick-off. Clearly, not at his best, the French defence kept him quiet and the rest is history.
A rekindled rivalry
England and Argentina hadn’t met since a friendly in 1991 when the two old enemies locked horns in the last-16 and absence certainly hadn’t made the heart grow fonder as La Albiceleste eventually triumphed in a classic encounter.
Gabriel Batistuta and Alan Shearer had both scored early penalties when a teenage Michael Owen scored what some would consider being England’s greatest World Cup goal. Javier Zanetti fired Argentina level before the break from a well-worked free-kick as the game went back and forth.
David Beckham kicking out at Diego Simeone and receiving a red card created the moment of the game but even with ten England almost won it. Penalties were eventually needed and David Batty was this time to be the unfortunate Englishman on this occasion.
A Dutch masterpiece
Up next for Argentina in the quarter-finals were the talented Netherlands side and it was another thriller.
Early goals from Patrick Kluivert and Claudio López kept the two sides level but after Argentina saw Ariel Ortega sent off for a retaliatory headbutt on Edwin van der San, the Dutch nicked it with one of the World Cup’s finest goals.
Heading to extra-time, Frank de Boer hit a long ball into the Argentinian penalty area and Dennis Bergkamp plucked the ball out of the sky, touched it inside Roberto Ayala and fired past Carlos Roa in one, fluid movement. Utterly breathtaking.
Croatia had shown a glimpse of their potential at the European Championships two years earlier and with prolific center-forward Davor Suker, the Croats almost shocked the world with a run to the semis.
With six goals, one in every game barring the 1-0 defeat to Argentina in the group stage, Suker was awarded the Golden Boot.
Suker was the lance at the tip of a wonderfully creative and technically skilled Croatian side and only Thuram’s double in the semi-final denied what could have been one of the tournament’s great upsets.