9. Ronaldo suffers as France finally clinch the World Cup – World Cup Final, Paris, France 1998
Continuing the countdown of ten defining World Cup moments, we look at the final of France 98. Where admittedly this is more of a collection of moments, in what was to become a memorable tournament for many reasons.
July 1, 1992. The venue Zurich, Switzerland. The FIFA executive committee are meeting to decide the hosting for the 1998 World Cup. Meanwhile, Erasure topped the UK charts, the G7 summit was taking place in Munich and American Andre Agassi was on his way to clinching his first grand slam title at Wimbledon.
France, Morocco and Switzerland were scheduled to have been in the running to host the world’s most prestigious sporting event (athletes may disagree). Switzerland however, had their bid removed due to the delegation wanting to exclude the possibility of competing european bids. So the stage was handed over to France and Morocco…
Rewinding back in time, France had been perennial underachievers on the world stage for a number of decades. Despite prodigious talents in the 1980s such as Michel Platini, Jean Tigana and Jean-Pierre Papin the french had failed to win the World Cup, but had finally added a major tournament in the form of the European Championship; hosted by the thrilled nation in 1984. As the country basked in the summer sun, the carré magique (magic square) of Luis Fernández, Jean Tigana, Alain Giresse, and Michel Platini were sublime and gained the reputation of the world’s greatest midfield. Platini helped himself to a record 9 goals in 5 games and France collected the trophy with a 2-0 win over Spain in the final in front of a packed Parc des Princes in Paris.
Jumping back to the summer of 1992, the delegation voted in favour of les bleus 12-7 during the first round of balloting. The World Cup was to be held in France for the first time since 1938 and thanks to the European triumph a decade earlier, inevitable thoughts of hosting a successful campaign were already emerging.
Many people aren’t aware France had played a monumental role in establishing a world football tournament in the early parts of the twentieth century. Following the success of the first Olympic football tournaments, FIFA’s wish for a tournament intensified and questionnaires were sent to affiliated nations to gauge interest. The French affair with World Cup history had begun; FIFA president Jules Rimet (whom the trophy would later be named after) was French and he was ably assisted in his quest by the president of the French FA Henri Delaunay. In 1930, FIFA established the first tournament in Uruguay, the double Olympic champions and who were celebrating 100 years of independence the very same year. The World Cup was born.
Shortly after the announcement of the successful World Cup bid by France, Michel Platini resigned as national team manager and would play an instrumental role in the World Cup organisation process. “This award is the crowning glory of three years of work,” said Fernand Sastre, chief organizer of the French bid. “It’s a great day for French football, a great joy.” France of course, didn’t have to endure qualification as a result of being host. The planning was to commence, the World Cup 1994 would take place in the USA in two years, then, either side of an exciting Euro 1996 tournament in England, the world’s footballing eyes would fall on the French; in their own eyes the World Cup was coming home.
World Cup 1998 is regarded by many people I meet in England as their “first proper World Cup”. Not sure why this is the case, or even what they mean by that phrase (maybe reading this you understand it) but for me it’s thanks to the excellent coverage by both the BBC and ITV, multiple highlights available and of course a friendly time zone for us budding fans here in the UK. The whole 1998 experience seemed engrossing and exciting. It was also the tournament where a number of European based players of the time would cement their status as world class.
The tournament started with champions Brazil meeting Scotland. In a tighter encounter than many anticipated Brazil prevailed 2-1 and subsequently finished top of their group despite a final game defeat to Norway. France topped their group in scintillating form, winning all three games scoring 9 goals and conceding 1.
During the knockout phases, Brazil defeated Chile, Denmark and The Netherlands on penalties to make the final and France saw off Paraguay in extra time, Italy on penalties and Croatia to book a home date against the world champions. The scene was set, could the world have asked for a better final…the holders against the hosts? Could of been better for some of us as we know…but we’ll get to that later in the series.
Casting our minds back to the start of the tournament, the undoubted players to watch from both teams were Ronaldo from Brazil, who as a 17 year old had been an unused squad player 4 years previously in Brazil’s triumph and Zinedine Zidane, the French talisman who’d began to earn a reputation as one of the world’s finest midfielders.
Ronaldo had been in fantastic form, scoring 4 goals on the way to the final and Zidane, despite a suspension for a red card earned in the group stages, had played a big part in France’s progression.
The night was set, but before the game something was to happen, one of the most defining moments of the entire tournament and World Cup history. One that would send shock waves not only through the Brazilian squad, but through the world.
News broke out that Ronaldo had been omitted from the Brazilian team sheet. The world’s greatest striker. Dropped. Surely something was wrong? One can only imagine the media frenzy that would have engulfed Paris and the world that night had social media and twitter been born a decade earlier. It was to become even more confusing when Ronaldo was reinstated to the lineup 40 minutes before kickoff. Rumours have since surfaced that Ronaldo was only promoted back to the starting lineup due to the demands of sponsors. But there was never any confirmation of this claim…
In the aftermath of the confusion reports began to circulate that Ronaldo had suffered a convulsive fit. It was clear from the onset of the game that he was not the same player. Brazil as a consequence of the events lacked the flair, intensity and creativity that was so evident in their previous games. The squad was a shadow of its former self.
France took the lead thanks to a Zinedine Zidane header just before the half hour mark and the French star added a second in first half stoppage time. Brazil were delivered a knockout below which they were unable to recover from. Ronaldo failed to convert a chance in the second half, firing a shot straight at Fabian Barthez. Emmanuel Petit wrapped the game up in the 90th minute when he slotted home a goal on the break and France were crowned world champions for the first time.
Jules Rimet, Henri Delaunay, Just Fontaine, Michel Platini, Euro 1984, July 1st 1992. The fairytale was complete. Decades of waiting, striving, working towards the ultimate goal, France were finally champions of the tournament they were so instrumental in initiating. So fitting that the nation could witness the culmination of the ultimate footballing story. A team had united a multi-racial nation and an estimated one million people lined the Champs Élysées to celebrate.
Zinedine Zidane had captivated the world’s imagination with his wizardry in a dominant French side. France had won the world over with a tournament which combined teams of exceptional organisation with teams of divine flair and skill, creating a showpiece for the world, which ranks as one of the greatest. France 98’s many great matches & moments, the drama before the final’s kickoff and Zidane’s defining performance rank as some of my greatest World Cup memories. Whatever the truth around Ronaldo, France were dominant winners and Zidane the star performer has since added “It just didn’t sink in at the time. At the final whistle I said to myself ‘Wow. World champion? When I saw the World Cup, I knew I had fulfilled my dream to hold it in my hands one day – it was mine. It was a magnificent feeling.”
Further success would follow for Zidane in club football. A multi-million pound move to Real Madrid rendering him the world’s most expensive footballer followed where he won the UEFA champions league in the team of ‘Los galacticos’. Ronaldo too would join Real a year later, and both players would go on to be part of further defining moments in future tournaments…