France 1998 World Cup

The sixteenth FIFA World Cup was held in France to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the third World Cup that was also held in France. For the first time in finals history thirty two teams qualified for the tournament, a number that would become the regular competition amount from this point onwards. The group stage was expanded to eight groups of four and the round of sixteen would be contested by the teams that finished in the top two spots. A further addition to the tournament structure was the introduction of the Golden Goal rule. The Golden Goal rule would come into effect in extra time to encourage attacking play. Any goal scored would signal the end of the match and the victory to the scorers.

Brazil went into the tournament with a side that was greatly different from that in 1994. The substance of four years previous had been replaced with style and flair once again. The 1998 squad contained players of the caliber of Rivaldo, Denilson, Cesar Sampaio, Cafu and Roberto Carlos and was spearheaded by arguably the best player in the world, “El Phenomenon,” Ronaldo. At his best, the mercurial striker was unstoppable as his goals to games ratio at club sides PSV Eindhoven and Barcelona and Inter Milan had already proved. The Samba stars were drawn in a group that contained European sides Norway and Scotland and North African’s Morocco. As defending champions, Brazil would open the tournament against regular strugglers Scotland. Cesar Sampaio gave the defending champions the perfect start as he opened the scoring after just four minutes. With seven minutes of the first half remaining, Scotland was awarded a penalty which John Collins converted. Scotland looked as though they may get a surprise point until a Boyd own goal gave Brazil an opening win. This was followed up by a routine three nil win against Morocco with goals from Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Bebeto. With six points already secured Brazil suffered a shock defeat against Norway thanks to two goals coming in the final seven minutes after Bebeto had scored his second goal of the finals.

In the other groups, Italy and Chile progressed from group B. Italy topped the group, thanks largely to Christian Vieri’s for goals and Chile progressed despite not winning a game. France won all three of their group C games, the only blip being the sending off of Zinedine Zidane, for stamping, against Saudi Arabia and was joined by Scandinavian side Denmark. Nigeria and Paraguay created a shock by eliminating Spain, The Netherlands and Mexico progressed from group E and Germany and Yugoslavia eliminated the USA and Iran. The match between the two eliminated sides pitched the Arab nation against “The Great Satan” resulted in a famous win for the Iranians. The final two groups saw Romania, England, Argentina and Croatia all qualify for the round of sixteen.

In the second round Brazil was drawn to face fellow South Americans Chile. The game was over at halftime as Brazil had established a three goal lead, thanks to two goals from Cesar Sampaio, taking his tally to four, and Ronaldo. In the second half, Marcelo Salas reduced the deficit with just over twenty minutes remaining, but a second goal from Ronaldo would re-establish a three goal lead and result in a four goals to one win that would see them through to the quarter finals.

In the other matches, Italy defeated Norway thanks to a single Christian Vieri goal taking his tally to five, hosts France beat Paraguay one goal to nil, with Lauren Blanc scoring with seven minutes remaining in extra time and Denmark thrashed Nigeria four one. The talented Nigerian’s seemed to have an eye on a quarter final meeting with Brazil and failed to perform as they had done before. Germany had to come from behind to overcome Mexico with two goals in the final fifteen minutes, the Netherlands required a last minute Edgar Davids goal to beat Yugoslavia and a Davor Suker penalty gave Croatia a single goal victory against Romania. The tie of the round came between England and Argentina. The South American’s took the lead through a sixth minute Batistuta penalty only for England to hit back four minutes later via another penalty, this one converted by Alan Shearer. Six minutes later came a moment that launched Michael Owen to superstardom. Receiving the ball from David Beckham, Owen drove into the heart of the Argentine half, slalomed around three bemused Argentine defenders and fired the ball past a helpless Carlos Roa to put England fans in raptures. On the stroke of half time a brilliant worked free kick allowed Zanetti equalize. Within minutes of the restart, Diego Simeone prompted a response from David Beckham which resulted in the latter being dismissed. Even with only ten men England continued to create chances and had a goal disallowed late in the second half. Not even extra time could separate the two teams and penalties were needed. Both sides missed a penalty each and with Argentina leading 4-3 David Batty had his penalty saved by Roa to give Argentina victory.

In the quarter finals, Brazil faced Denmark and was hit with an early setback as they went behind after just two minutes. They were not behind for long and nine minutes later were back on equal terms thanks to Bebeto’s third goal of the finals. Rivaldo then struck to put Brazil in front only for Michael Laudrup to grab an equalizer with five minutes gone in the second half. This closely contested match was ultimately settled by Rivaldo’s second of the match that gave the Brazilians a three goals to two victory to advance them to the semifinals. France overcame Italy thanks to a penalty shoot out, Croatia crushed the Germans by three goals to nil and Holland eliminated Argentina thanks to one of the best goals in the history of the World Cup by Dennis Bergkamp. The Dutch maestro controlled a 60 yard pass with a deft touch from his right boot, turned his defender with a second touch and then bent the ball past Roa, again with his right foot to send the Oranje through to face Brazil.

In the semifinals, Brazil took on Holland in a fascinating match. Brazil had the better chances and the lion’s share of possession in the first half but the scores remained tied. One minute into the second half, Brazil took the lead through Ronaldo. As the minutes ticked down, the Dutch began to come back into the game and created a number of chances. With only three minutes remaining, Patrick Kluivert grabbed an equalizer to send the game into extra time. After the additional thirty minutes the scores remained tied and the Brazilians held their nerve to progress to yet another final. In the second semifinal, Croatia took an early second half lead through Suker only to be pegged back instantly with a goal from Lillian Thuram. With twenty one minutes remaining Thuram struck again to give the hosts the lead. The interesting thing was that those two goals was the first time the Frenchman had scored for his country and France were through to face Brazil.

In the third place match Croatia overcame Holland with the winning goal from Davor Suker which took his finals tally to six and won himself the golden boot. The finals billed the defending champions, Brazil, against the host nation France. The build up to the game was dominated by the fit suffered by star man Ronaldo, the night before the final. It appeared the stress and pressure of being the world’s premier player had finally got to the Inter Milan striker and his body had reacted. Under pressure from sponsors Nike Ronaldo took the field, a mere shadow of the player who had been terrorizing defences for the past four years. In the final, it was another of the world’s blue ribbon players, Zinedine Zidane, who would assume the mantle of the best player in the world. The talismanic Frenchman scored two first half goals, both headers to put the French in a strong position and in the second half, the South Americans were unable to fight back and Emmanuel Petit sealed the win with a third goal deep into second half stoppage time. Brazil had once again relinquished their title and France were champions for the first time.

Statistics:
Matches: 64
Goals: 171 (average 2.7 per match)
Attendance: 2 785 100 (average 43 517)
Golden Boot Winner: Davor Suker (Croatia) 6
Golden Ball Winner: Ronaldo (Brazil)
Fair Play Award: England, France

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