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Football World Cup - 1998: France

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The World Cup: An Introduction | 1930: Uruguay | 1934: Italy | 1938: France | 1950: Brazil
1954: Switzerland | 1958: Sweden | 1962: Chile | 1966: England | 1970: Mexico
1974: West Germany | 1978: Argentina | 1982: Spain | 1986: Mexico | 1990: Italy | 1994: USA
1998: France | 2002: Japan and South Korea

In 1998, the World Cup finals featured more teams and therefore more games than ever before. The tournament was expanded to feature 32 teams instead of 24, which allowed for more places in the finals to be allocated to teams from Africa and Asia. The teams were placed into eight groups of four, and the top two teams from each group progressed to the second round.

The other innovation for 1998 was the golden goal rule. This meant that when a game in the knock-out phase of the tournament went to extra time, the first goal in extra time would win the match. In the event, only one match was actually settled in this way.

There were World Cup finals debuts for Japan, South Africa, Croatia and Jamaica. The 'Reggae Boyz' from Jamaica had a large following in Britain, due in part to the fact that several members of their squad played their club football in England. Those who failed to make it through the qualifying tournament included Uruguay, Portugal, Poland, Sweden, Hungary and the Republic of Ireland. The most spectacular exit was made by Hungary, who lost a two-legged play-off against Yugoslavia by an aggregate score of 12-1. They were beaten 7-1 at home and 5-0 away.

The Tournament

The biggest surprise of the first round came in Group D, where Spain were eliminated after losing a thrilling match 3-2 to Nigeria, who fought back from 2-1 down to win the game. Nigeria went on to beat Bulgaria 1-0, while Spain's problems worsened as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Paraguay. The Spanish side made a desperate attempt to salvage the situation, thrashing Bulgaria 6-1 in their last match - but it was all to no avail, as Paraguay beat Nigeria 3-1 to claim the runner-up spot in the group and a place in the second round.

Group F involved perhaps the most intriguing fixture of the round: the USA vs Iran, a meeting between two nations that had not exactly been on the friendliest of terms in recent years. To the credit of all concerned, the game was played in a fine sporting spirit - but Iran's players and supporters still relished their 2-1 win. In tournament terms, though, it didn't matter. Germany and Yugoslavia were the teams that progressed to the next stage from Group F.

Argentina won all their games in Group H without conceding a goal, and Gabriel Batistuta scored a hat-trick as they thrashed Jamaica 5-0. Croatia claimed a second round spot by beating Jamaica and Japan, and Japan marked their World Cup debut by losing all three of their games by single-goal margins. That included a 2-1 loss to Jamaica, with Theodore Whitmore scoring both goals for the 'Reggae Boyz.'

Romania clinched Group G by beating Colombia and England, then drawing with Tunisia. The win against England came courtesy of a 90th-minute winner from Dan Petrescu, who was then playing his club football in England for Chelsea. England, who had beaten Tunisia 2-0 in their opening game, then beat Colombia by the same scoreline to win a place in the last 16.

Scotland followed their national tradition by doing well against the best opposition, only to flop in matches where they might have been expected to do well. They were unlucky to lost 2-1 to Brazil, the winner coming from an unfortunate own goal by Tommy Boyd. They then drew 1-1 against Norway, with Craig Burley equalising after Havard Flo gave Norway the lead - but then crashed 3-0 in their last game against Morocco. It was Norway who finished second in Group A, after pulling off a shock result against group winners Brazil. Bebeto put Brazil ahead in the 78th minute, but Tore Andre Flo equalised five minutes later, and Kjetil Rekdal got the winner from the penalty spot with two minutes to spare.

Mexico were the comeback kings in Group E. They fell behind in their opening match against South Korea, but went on to win 3-1. They trailed 2-0 to two Marc Wilmots goals against Belgium, then fought back to draw 2-2. The most dramatic comeback of all came in their final group game. In that match, Mexico were 2-0 down against the Netherlands after 18 minutes, but once again they recovered to force a draw. This time, Luis Hernandez got the equaliser in the 90th minute. It was all enough to put Mexico through to the second round, along with the Netherlands.

The host nation got off to a flying start in Group C, collecting maximum points. France beat South Africa 3-0, Saudi Arabia 4-0 and Denmark 2-1. Denmark claimed the runners-up spot despite some unconvincing performances, beating Saudi Arabia 1-0 and then drawing 1-1 with South Africa. Italy got off to a less promising start in Group B, needing a late Roberto Baggio penalty to force a 2-2 draw with Chile. But wins over Cameroon and Austria put the Italians safely through to the last 16 as group winners. Three draws were enough to give Chile second place.

The match of the second round was surely the epic encounter between Argentina and England. The first half was simply superb. Gabriel Batistuta gave Argentina an early lead from the penalty spot after himself being fouled by England goalkeeper David Seaman, but England were soon level after they too were awarded a penalty, which was converted by Alan Shearer. Then, a quarter of an hour into the game, Michael Owen scored a stunning goal to put England ahead, going on a devastating long run through the Argentine defence before beating goalkeeper Carlos Roa with an unstoppable shot. England stayed ahead until just before half-time, when Javier Zanetti equalised from a free-kick.

Then, two minutes into the second half, Argentina's Diego Simeone brought down England's David Beckham. As he lay on the ground, Beckham impulsively kicked Simeone on the leg. It was hardly a vicious assault, but the Argentinian player went down as if he'd been shot, and Beckham was shown the red card. He couldn't complain too much. Simeone's reaction may have been exaggerated, but Beckham was certainly guilty of violent conduct.

So England had to play almost all the second half, and extra time, with ten men: but they held their own against a powerful Argentinian side. They might well have won the game: England had a Sol Campbell 'goal' disallowed for pushing, and had a strong penalty claim waved away by the referee after a defender appeared to handle the ball during an aerial battle in the Argentina penalty area. But in the end, it came down to a penalty shoot-out - and all England's efforts came to nothing when Roa saved David Batty's spot-kick.

World Cup history was made in the game between France and Paraguay, when France became the first team ever to win a World Cup tie on the golden goal rule. Laurent Blanc scored the only goal of the game in the 23rd minute of extra time, to end the match and put France through to the quarter-finals.

The Netherlands won an exciting game against Yugoslavia thanks to a very late winner. Dennis Bergkamp put the Dutch team ahead shortly before half-time, but Slobodan Komljenovic equalised early in the second half. The game had gone into stoppage time when Edgar Davids struck to win the game for the Netherlands.

After all Mexico's comebacks in the first round, it was ironic that they went out after Germany came from behind to beat them. Luis Hernandez put Mexico ahead early in the second half, but Juergen Klinsmann equalised with 15 minutes left, and then Oliver Bierhoff hit an 86th minute winner.

Impressive wins for Brazil and Denmark earned them the right to play each other in the quarter-finals. Brazil swept aside Chile 4-1, and Denmark beat Nigeria by the same scoreline. Italy and Croatia both went through thanks to 1-0 wins. Christian Vieri's first-half strike was enough for Italy to beat Norway, and Davor Suker's penalty separated Croatia and Romania.

Brazil and Denmark produced the best of the quarter-finals. Martin Jorgensen scored for Denmark in the second minute, but goals from Bebeto and Rivaldo put the Brazilians 2-1 up at half-time. Brian Laudrup equalised in the fifth minute of the second half, but Rivaldo struck again ten minutes later to score the winner for Brazil.

The match between the Netherlands and Argentina was certainly keenly contested. It ended as a ten-a-side match, after the Dutch team's Arthur Numan and Argentina's Ariel Ortega were both sent off during the second half. The score was 1-1 after 17 minutes: Patrick Kluivert put the Netherlands ahead, but Claudio Lopez equalised.

The game had a highly dramatic conclusion. With three minutes to go, Ortega was shown the red card for headbutting Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar. Almost immediately after the resulting free-kick, the play went straight up the other end as a wonderful long pass found Dennis Bergkamp on the edge of the Argentina penalty area, and Bergkamp finished in style to put the Dutch into the semi-finals.

The biggest surprise of the quarter-finals came with Croatia's easy win over Germany. Things started to go badly wrong for Germany's ageing team when Christian Woerns was sent off in the 40th minute. In the third minute of the second half, Robert Jarni put Croatia ahead, and two late goals from Davor Suker meant an emphatic 3-0 win for Croatia. So Croatia were through to the semi-finals. Pretty good going for a team competing in its first World Cup finals, and representing a nation that had declared its independence as recently as 1991.

The fixture between France and Italy promised much but delivered little. The game was goalless after extra time, and was settled when Luigi di Biagio hit the crossbar with Italy's fifth and final penalty in the shoot-out.

For a minute or so, it looked as if Croatia's wonderful World Cup run might take them all the way to the final. In their semi-final against France, Suker struck in the first minute of the second half to put them ahead. But a minute later, defender Lilian Thuram scored his first-ever goal for France. Midway through the second half, he added another, and that was enough to take the host nation through to the final. But Croatia had performed way above expectations. They went on to win the third-place play-off, and Davor Suker was the tournament's leading scorer.

The other semi-final also produced a goal right at the start of the second half. This time the scorer was Ronaldo of Brazil, and as the second half went on it seemed as though his goal would be enough to beat the Netherlands. But Patrick Kluivert equalised in the 87th minute, and the match went into extra time. No more goals were scored, so a penalty shoot-out was required, and Brazil won it 4-2.

The drama around the 1998 World Cup Final began in the Brazilian team's hotel on the night before the match. Precisely what happened to Ronaldo that night, and on the day of the game, remains one of the World Cup's great mysteries: but what is clear is that he was very ill.

Ronaldo's room-mate Roberto Carlos later remembered the drama this way: 'Ronaldo was scared about what lay ahead. The pressure had got to him and he couldn't stop crying. If anything, it got worse because, at about four o'clock, he started being sick. That's when I called the team doctor and told him to get over to our room as fast as he could.'

According to that doctor, Lidio Toledo, Ronaldo was rushed to hospital after suffering a convulsion in his sleep, but then cleared to play after neurological and cardiac tests. Ronaldo himself has been able to shed little extra light on the matter. He said later: 'I don't remember what happened but I went to sleep and, like the doctor said, it seems I had a fit for about 30 or 40 seconds.'

The next morning, it certainly didn't look as though Ronaldo would be playing in the final. Brazil manager Mario Zagallo gave a team talk in the hotel in which he broke the bad news to his players, and reminded them of what had happened in the 1962 World Cup, when Brazil had won the Cup despite losing Pelé to injury early in the tournament.

Seventy-two minutes before the kick-off, Zagallo issued a team sheet to media representatives at the final. Ronaldo's name wasn't on it. But then, before the game began, a second Brazil team sheet was issued. Suddenly, despite the drama of the night before, Ronaldo was back in the starting line-up.

There were all kinds of rumours about how and why the change of heart happened. One strong rumour suggested that pressure had been put on Zagallo and Ronaldo by Brazil's commercial sponsors. Ronaldo has strongly denied this, insisting that the decision to play was his own.

If so, then Ronaldo obviously isn't the best judge of his own match fitness. He seemed dazed throughout the final, and barely made any impression on the game. The rest of the Brazilian team appeared to be disturbed by the poor performance from their star player, and never reproduced the form they'd shown earlier in the tournament.

Meanwhile, France hit peak form at just the right moment. Midfielder Zinedine Zidane was superb in the final, opening the scoring in the 27th minute and then adding another just before half-time. France were reduced to ten men midway through the second half when Marcel Desailly was sent off, but still the below-par Brazilians couldn't make any impact. France finally rounded things off with a third goal - a 90th minute strike from Emmanuel Petit.

France had won the World Cup, but Ronaldo put things in perspective. He said: 'We lost the World Cup, but I won another cup - my life.'

Tournament Trivia

There was another first for African football in the final of the 1998 World Cup. Said Belqola of Morocco became the first African referee ever to take charge of a World Cup final.

Considering the heights of popularity he would later achieve, it's amazing to remember how unpopular David Beckham briefly became after the 1998 World Cup, when his sending-off was felt to have effectively ended England's chances. There were news reports of effigies of Beckham being burned outside pubs, and calls for him never to be allowed to play for England again. How times change...

The World Cup prompted an unprecedented feat in the UK pop charts. 'Three Lions', by David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and The Lightning Seeds, became the first song ever to top the UK chart twice with different lyrics each time. The original version of the song with the infectious 'football's coming home' refrain was written for England's 1996 European Championship campaign. Its makers wrote updated words, re-recorded the song as 'Three Lions '98' for the World Cup, and scored a much bigger hit than the official England record - '(How Does It Feel To Be) On Top Of The World' by England United, a temporary ensemble featuring The Spice Girls and Ian McCulloch of Echo And The Bunnymen. The official Scotland World Cup record also made the top 20. Sadly, the Scottish team were unable to respond to the plea in the title of the song - 'Don't Come Home Too Soon' by Del Amitri.

At the end of the season after the 1998 World Cup, the Argentinian goalkeeper Carlos Roa announced that he was retiring from football on religious grounds. Roa, a devout Seventh Day Adventist, reportedly believed that Armageddon would arrive along with the year 2000. Rather than spend what he thought would be his last months on earth doing something so trivial as playing football, he entered a religious retreat. However, his club Real Mallorca persuaded him to return to the game in the summer of 2000, after the world failed to end on schedule.

For The Record

First Round

Group A
  P W D L F A Pts

Group B
  P W D L F A Pts

Group C
  P W D L F A Pts
South Africa3021362
Saudi Arabia3012271

Group D
  P W D L F A Pts

Group E
  P W D L F A Pts
South Korea3012291

Group F
  P W D L F A Pts
United States of America3003150

Group G
  P W D L F A Pts

Group H
  P W D L F A Pts

Second Round

Brazil 4 : 1 Chile
Italy 1 : 0 Norway
Denmark 4 : 1 Nigeria
France 1 : 0 Paraguay
(France won on golden goal rule in extra time)
Germany 2 : 1 Mexico
Netherlands 2 : 1 Yugoslavia
Argentina 2 : 2 England after extra time
(Argentina won 4-3 on penalities)
Croatia 1 : 0 Romania

France 0 : 0 Italy after extra time
(France won 4-3 on penalties)
Brazil 3 : 2 Denmark
Croatia 3 : 0 Germany
Netherlands 2 : 1 Argentina

Brazil 1 : 1 Netherlands after extra time
(Brazil won 4-2 on penalties)
France 2 : 1 Croatia

Third Place Play-Off
Croatia 2 : 1 Netherlands

France 3 : 0 Brazil

Tournament Top Goalscorer
Suker (Croatia) - 6 goals

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