History of the World Cup: 1998 – The French revolution


Zinedine Zidane won the Ballon d'Or in 1998. (Dusan Vranic/AP)

Buoyed by Zinedine Zidane and a Golden Generation of players, France finally fulfilled its World Cup dream in 1998 by beating Brazil in the final.


In 1998, after a 60-year absence, the World Cup returned home to France, its country of birth. Dreamt up by two noble Frenchman, Jules Rimet and Henri Delaunay, the World Cup was first staged in Uruguay in 1930 and didn’t take place in France, the country in which it was gloriously conceived, until 1938 at the third time of asking.

Over the ensuing decades, the World Cup expanded and grew in importance, prestige and popularity, so much so that the 1998 competition in France, with its worldwide television audience in the hundreds of millions and corporate sponsorships galore, bore little resemblance to the humble 1938 tournament that was staged on French soil for the first time.

With France boasting an exciting roster brimming with world-class talent – Zinedine Zidane, Lilian Thuram, Didier Deschamps and Marcel Desailly to name but a few – expectations were high that Les Bleus would finally come good and win the World Cup. In the end, Zidane and his cohorts delivered, trashing a dangerous Brazilian side led by Ronaldo in the final.

The country celebrated in style with over a million fans dancing the night away on the Champs Elysées and singing those immortal words from the national anthem, La Marseillaise: “Our day of Glory has arrived.” After a 68-year wait, France, the country that bequeathed the World Cup to the world, were champions of the world as the cup had finally come “home.” And somewhere, Jules Rimet and Henri Delaunay were smiling.

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The expansion from 24 teams in 1994 to 32 in 1998 meant a new format, with the field equally divided into eight groups of four and the top-two finishers in each qualifying for the second round.


With Ronaldo far from his best (more on that later) France ran roughshod over Brazil in Saint Denis, dictating the pace of the game and toying with the fragile Brazilian defence.

Zinedine Zidane rose to the occasion and cemented his status as the best player in the world. In the 27th minute, an unmarked Zizou scored a majestic header off a corner kick from Emmanuel Petit to spot France a 1-0 lead. With Brazil on the back foot, French forward Stephane Guivarc’h squandered a glorious scoring chance. France, though, would not be denied. Just before halftime, Youri Djorkaeff delivered a dangerous corner kick into the box that Zidane duly headed into the net past Brazilian goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel.

A stunned Brazil barely bothered the French defence in the second half, unable to put together a half-decent scoring chance with Ronaldo in a zombie-like state. When French defender Marcel Desailly was sent off for a horrible foul on Cafu in the 68th minute, it seemed, for the briefest of moments, that Brazil might have new life. Even while playing a man short, France still called the tune, dominating possession before sealing the victory with a goal in the 90th minute. Patrick Vieira sliced open the brittle Brazilian defence with a timely pass to Petit – a thorn in Brazil’s side the entire game – who scored on a clear breakaway to make it 3-0.

Humiliated and embarrassed, the Brazilian players hung their heads in shame while French captain Didier Deschamps collected the World Cup trophy amidst thunderous applause from the emotional crowd at the Stade de France.


Number of participating teams: 32
Top scorer: Croatia’s Davor Suker (6 goals)
Number of games: 64
Total goals scored: 171
Average goals per game: 2.67
Highest scoring game: Spain’s 6-1 win over Bulgaria on June 24
Total attendance: 2,785,100
Average attendance: 43,517


Zinedine Zidane. Yes, Davor Suker was the top scorer, and yes, Ronaldo was given the Golden Ball award as the tournament MVP. But without Zidane pulling the playmaking strings from midfield and dominating games with his dazzling skills — not to mention his two goals in the final against Brazil — France never would have won the World Cup.


Argentina’s 3-2 victory over England in the second round. This game had it all. Michael Owen’s coming out party. Javier Zanetti’s brilliantly worked goal coming off set piece. David Beckham’s contentious red card. Tension. Drama. You couldn’t ask for more. Honourable mentions go to France’s 2-1 victory over Croatia in the semifinals and the Netherlands’ 2-1 win over Argentina in the quarterfinals.


All eyes were on Brazil, and in particular Ronaldo, the 21-year-old goal scorer par excellence and the two-time reigning FIFA world player of the year. An unused substitute four years earlier, Ronaldo was anxious to shine on soccer’s biggest stage. With an injured Romario back home, the Inter Milan striker would have to carry the goal-scoring burden for Brazil by himself.


There was controversy long before a ball was even kicked on the day of the final, resulting in one of the biggest mysteries in World Cup history that, to this day, has yet to be properly explained. Prior to the game, journalists in the press box were stunned to discover Ronaldo’s name was missing from the starting team sheets. It was believed at first that his troubled knee was bothering him, but then it quickly emerged that the Brazilian star had some sort of seizure while sleeping in his hotel room.

Teammate Roberto Carlos quickly alerted Brazilian officials and Ronaldo was rushed to the hospital, but local doctors could not find anything physically wrong with him. Had Ronaldo simply “cracked” under the pressure? It’s a question that remains unanswered. Ronaldo arrived at the stadium later that evening and although there were legitimate concerns over his mental health, Brazilian coach Marcelo Zagallo – reportedly at the insistence of Ronaldo – decided to put him in the starting lineup. Reports later suggested that Ronaldo was given some sort of sedative and that Nike, the team’s sponsor, exerted immense pressure in forcing Brazil to play their star client.

Whatever the truth, it was clear from the opening kickoff that Ronaldo was not fit to play and Brazil paid the consequences. Robbed of the services of the usually deadly Ronaldo, the champions were limp in attack and barely mounted a serious challenge against the French.


The 1998 World Cup was the first to employ the “golden goal” in games that went to extra time, but the rule was first used in a major tournament at Euro ’96 in England.

The “golden goal” was introduced into soccer to encourage offensive play in extra time in an attempt to limit the number of games decided by penalty shootout. Critics argued that it had the opposite effect, with teams taking an even more cautious approach in extra time knowing that a goal would immediately end the game.

The “golden goal” was used at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan – three “golden goals” were scored – but in February 2004 the International Football Association Board, the body that determines soccer’s laws and rules, ruled it would no longer be used to decide games that went to extra time.


The England-Argentina match in the second round turned, famously, in the 47th minute when David Beckham was red carded for petulantly kicking out at Diego Simeone. A foul, maybe, but certainly Simeone exaggerated the offence by falling down so easily? No matter. Beckham was sent off and England had to play the rest of the game shorthanded.


Argentina and England traded early penalty-shot goals before an 18-year-old Michael Owen announced his presence to the world, going on a dashing solo run that carved up the Argentine defence, sliding the ball past goalkeeper Carlos Roa.


Argentina was involved in another thriller, this time against the Netherlands, in the quarterfinals. With the contest tied 1-1, the back-and-forth affair seemed destined for extra time. But Dennis Bergkamp, the classy and elegant forward from Arsenal, had other ideas as he scored one of the greatest goals ever at the World Cup in the 89th minute. Bergkamp calmly controlled a 50-yard pass in the air from teammate Frank de Boer, sidestepped Argentina defender Roberto Ayala and blasted the ball into the roof of the net past a helpless Carlos Roa.


Playing in their first World Cup as an independent nation, Croatia captured the hearts of neutral fans with their attacking style of play that saw them advance to the semifinals and finish in third place. Davor Suker shot to international fame with his tournament leading six goals.


With eight teams added to the field for the finals, a record 174 countries entered the qualifying competition.


Brazil’s 2-1 loss to Norway was its first in the opening round at the World Cup since 1966.


Denmark’s Ebbe Sand scored the fastest goal by a substitute at the World Cup. The Dane scored a mere 16 seconds after coming onto the field in the second half of Denmark’s 4-1 win over Nigeria.


The 1998 World Cup marked a new era as Joao Havelange stepped down as FIFA president after 24 years on the job. Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s former general secretary, replaced Havelange after winning an election two days prior to the opening game of the competition.


• Germany’s Lothar Matthaus (1982-98), Mexico’s Antonio Carbajal (1950-66), and Gianluigi Buffon of Italy (1998-2014) are the only players to have appeared in five World Cups. Matthaus holds the record for most career games with 25. Germany’s Miroslav Klose (2002-2014) is second with 24.

• Robert Prosinecki, who represented Yugoslavia in 1990 and Croatia in 1998, is the only player to have scored for two countries at the World Cup.

• Italy was eliminated via penalty shootout for the third straight time, having previously lost in 1990 to Argentina and to Brazil in 1994.

• Morocco’s Said Belqola was the first African to officiate a World Cup final.

• This was Croatia’s first appearance at the World Cup, having competed in previous competitions as part of Yugoslavia.

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