Expert Football > World Football > World Cup > France 1998XVI World Cup Championship
Most football fans were stunned when France was crowned World Champion in 1998. As France became the seventh nation to ever win the trophy, many questioned how much home advantage had to do with their success. Few unbiased pundits dared to acknowledge the superb defensive and midfield work, which the French displayed. Even their bald keeper Barthez made almost no mistakes allowing an astonishing total of two goals in seven matches. Zidane, Petit, Djorkaeff, and Lizarazu were all World-class footballers, who deserved winning the Cup. At that time they were generally unproven and the public was displeased by their success. Croatia was the surprise of the tournament, making a run similar to Bulgaria from four years ago.
A slightly obscure side effect was caused by the expansion of the tournament from 24 to 32 teams by the introduction of two additional groups. The presence of nations like Saudi Arabia, USA, Japan and South Korea can be viewed as subtle attempts by FIFA to popularize football. Overall, the level of football decreased in the group stage while the number of games was inflated thus making it harder to follow the entire tournament with interest.
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The 1998 World Cup started off with former World Champion Brazil against the relatively unproven Scotland. The match itself was close and finished with a 2-1 victory for the South Americans who struggled against the physical Scots. Rivaldo was most impressive for Brazil, but most attention remained on younger Ronaldo who was at the peek of his popularity. Morocco played the most creative football in this group under the playmaking of Mustapha Haji but came short in terms of points. Norway forced their way to a second place in the group beating even Brazil who let their guard down in the last match of this stage.
Former World Cup finalist Italy were victorious in this group, followed by Chile. Austria and Cameroon settled for the bottom two seats. A lot of defensive football produced four draws from a total of six matches.
France dominated Group C, while many critics questioned the poor opposition which the host nation was selected to face. The French almost effortlessly earned the maximum of nine points from their three matches. Midfielder Zinedine Zidane was in the spotlight creating spontaneous and exciting plays. South Africa and Saudi Arabia were pretty much happy to be participating at the tournament and showed little vision. The South Africans conceited a number of devastating own goals.
The "Group of Death" was a thigh battle between Nigeria, Spain, and Paraguay. The aging team of Bulgaria was completely out of the tournament after losing in their second match against Nigeria. In the last group round, Bulgaria was trampled by Spain with a result that eventually had no influence on who would advance. Spain were packing talented players but failed to produce in their encounters with Nigeria and Paraguay. The South Americans kept themselves alive partially because of their quick wing attacks and mainly thanks to mischievous but effective goalkeeper, Chilavert. Nigeria managed to get two victories and win the group with their youthful and physically superior squad.
Holland and Mexico earned the top two spots in this group. The Dutch had an edge over Mexico because of their tighter defense. Belgium performed very well but surprisingly could not manage to beat South Korea in their last match. That essentially cost them the chance of advancing to the next stage.
Germany and Yugoslavia dominated Group F. They each shared seven points while Iran and the US were cast off at the bottom of the table. Iran and USA met in an insignificant match that was hyped as "strengthening of international relations." The USA failed to impress in all of their games finishing with three consecutive losses and a single goal.
The skillful squad of Romania rose victorious in this group led by the aging but still gifted George Hagi. Romania even managed to beat England, who settled for the second spot followed by Colombia and Tunisia. Colombia failed to impress and Tunisia was simply happy to partake in the tournament.
Argentina expectedly dominated Group H. Gabriel Batistuta seemed to grab most attention by scoring some beautiful goals. Brand new FIFA member Croatia, originally a province of Yugoslavia, finished second in the group. The reason for their success revolved around experienced footballers who at that time were situated in top European clubs.
In the second round of World Cup 1998, Norway's tenacious run was put to an end by another defensive team, Italy. Nonchalant Brazil finally turned up their game and crushed Chile with a 4-1 victory. The Brazilians showed skill and elegance in a very entertaining and open match. France barely defeated Paraguay, who kept the match close, thanks again to keeper Jose Luis Chilavert. Regardless, the temperamental Chilavert was not lucky enough to carry his team to a penalty shoot-out against France. The Europeans managed to score a Golden goal thus preventing penalties, one of Chilavert's special talents. Nigeria was crushed by Denmark both tactically and physically in what turned to be a one-sided game. The Scandinavians completely neutralized their African opponents, led by Serbian expert Bora Milotinovic. Germany and Holland both earned quarterfinal spots by doing barely enough to get through. The entire Romanian team played with dyed blond hair as a lucky charm they utilized after qualifying for the second round. It did not help them against Croatia, a squad who was on top of their game. In respect to tradition, Argentina and England produced another controversial yet entertaining match. Argentina won thanks a goal from a cunning set piece. Young David Beckham was ejected early on and was later blamed for his country's defeat.
Brazil hardly managed to defeat the inspired Danish squad that was coming back from a 3-0 victory over Nigeria. France also barely eliminated Italy, probably the top defensive team at France `98. The decisive moment was Dino Bagio's miss in the penalty shootout. Ironically, Roberto Baggio choked in the very same manner four years earlier at the final match of World Cup 1994. Another similarity from the 1994 World Cup is Germany's elimination at the quarterfinals by a Balkan nation (this time it was Croatia). "There will not be another Bulgaria!" proclaimed the Germans at the start of the tournament. Croatia's creative midfield and Davor Suker's consistent scoring were too much for the Germans as they tripped at the quarterfinals once more.
Brazil struggled versus consistent side Holland in the first semifinal match. Ronaldo's goal and Taffarel's superb goalkeeping gave Brazil an edge over the Dutch. Croatia and France displayed an interesting tactical battle. The Eastern Europeans showed a lot of heart but were set back by dubious refereeing. Winger/defender Thuram had two goals that shaped France's 2-0 victory.
Croatia, a total newcomer to world football, had significantly overachieved their plans by the time they got to the 3-rd place match. The 2-1 victory over Holland was just icing on the cake for them.
At the 1998 World Cup final, home side France faced sleeping Brazil in a one-sided match. Young forward Ronaldo was hyped to be Brazilís main offensive threat but was denied by the physical French defense. After the final, it was reported that the Brazilian might have been sick during the match. In reality, Rivaldo was much more effective throughout the tournament but remained in the shadow of his young teammate. The entire Brazilian midfield line looked asleep as the French led by Zinedine Zidane outperformed them in every way. Zizou himself headed in two nearly identical goals. Emanuel Petit contributed too, ensuring the final 3-0 victory for France. Most fans viewed the game as "Brazil's loss" rather than "France's victory". As absurd as it may sound, Brazil's Silver medals were viewed as a failure back in their homeland.