This is the 16th in a weekly series of World Cup history lessons brought to you by our very own “Professor” Guy Bailey. He is not actually a professor; the only professor on staff is Jamie Clary. Well, sort of.
The 1998 World Cup
The 16th World Cup was held in France between June and July 1998. The tournament format was changed again to incorporate an extra eight teams from around the world, which necessitated two extra groups in the First Round stage but did away with the superfluous third place qualifiers – Top two through, everybody else out. Four nations made their bows at the tournament – Croatia appeared as themselves for the first time in one of the greatest football kits ever, their unique red and white check design. Japan and South Africa also made their bows along with the hyped Reggae Boyz from Jamaica.
The other official tinkering was the introduction of the controversial ‘Golden Goal’ rule in extra time. The “next goals the winner” format beloved of anybody kicking about in the park and wanting to run off home for their dinner was played out on the grand stage and FIFA expected a whirlwind of attacking, incisive football between two teams desperate for the breakthrough. The reality, as we all saw, was somewhat different.
Group A saw the holders Brazil meet Scotland, Morocco and Norway in their defence of the trophy. They kicked off against Scotland who, seized by watching Braveheart the night before the match and greeting their fans in official Kilts at the Stade De France, provided stiffer opposition than one would have thought. Brazil went ahead early but John Collins of Everton equalized from the penalty spot. A nervous second half saw Scotland’s reputation for tragic-comedy further enhanced when a cruel own goal from Tommy Boyd gifted the Brazilians victory on 73 minutes. The Norwegians opened with two draws, against Morocco in the first match and Scotland in the second while Brazil finally looked like themseleves with a 3-0 pounding of the North Africans in the second match – Ronaldo and Rivaldo amongst the scorers. Morocco recovered to eliminate Scotland 3-0 in the last match and would usually have expected to qualify but Brazil were shocked by Norway. Leading 1-0 with a late goal from Bebeto, the Norwegians equalized five minutes later then won the game with a penalty two minutes from time to secure their advance into the second round behind the World Champions.
Group B saw Italy entertain Chile, Cameroon and Austria. Draws all round in the first set of games, 2-2 between Italy and Chile with Marcello Salas grabbing a brace for the Rojas, Cameroon and Austria ground out a 1-1 in Toulouse in front of this correspondent who won a work based competition of two tickets. It involved a 48-hour round trip to the South of France from England but was well worth it – the match being the worst part of the trip, Toni Polster grabbing the last gasp Austrian equalizer. Chile and Salas scored again in another 1-1 draw with the Austrians while Italy stretched their muscles in a 3-0 beating of Cameroon. The Italians sealed the group beating Austria 2-1; Vieri getting his fourth goal of the tournament in the process and Chile’s third draw, 1-1 against Cameroon, enough to secure second and qualification.
Group C saw hosts France welcome South Africa, Denmark and Saudi Arabia and they laid down a statement of intent beating the new boys from the dark continent 3-0 in their first match. Denmark made steady progress, beating Saudi 1-0 in the first game and drawing 1-1 with the South Africans in the second while France secured qualification with a 4-0 rout of the Saudi Arabians. France beat Denmark 2-1 to decide the group and Saudi shared four goals with South Africa in a 2-2 finale.
Group D was ostensibly the Group of Death as Spain, Bulgaria, Paraguay and Nigeria, all evenly-matched, faced off. Nigeria seizing the early initiative with a 3-2 beating of Spain who led twice. Paraguay drew their first two matches against Bulgaria and Spain 0-0 while Nigeria went through with a 1-0 defeat of the uninspired Bulgars, no patch on their side of four years earlier. Proven as the Spanish took their frustrations out with a 6-1 win which proved academic as a second-sting Nigeria lost 3-1 to Paraguay to eliminate Spain and see Nigeria and Paraguay through.
Group E saw neighbors Holland and Belgium who would jointly host the European Championships together in two years time meet South Korea and Mexico. The good neighbours drew 0-0 while Mexico gained a priceless 3-1 lead against South Korea. Belgium drew 2-2 with Mexico in the second match while Holland tried to gain lost momentum with a crushing 5-0 victory over South Korea. The last round of matches ended in two draws, Holland 2 Mexico 2 and Belgium 1 South Korea 1 which saw the Dutch through as winners and Mexico through in second.
Group F saw the tough Germans with Yugoslavia, the USA and always belligerent Iran. Yugoslavia put down the early Iranian revolution 1-0 whilst Germany imposed some Teutonic discipline on a disappointing American team 2-0; The US then found themselves on the end of an embarrassing scoreline which also gifted a political victory to their Iranian opponents as well as a footballing one as they beat the US 2-1. Germany and Yugoslavia sharing a 2-2 draw in the meantime. The final game saw Germany and Yugoslavia victorious again, 2-0 over Iran and 1-0 over the US respectively and they both went through.
Group G was another “any two from four” permutation as England, Romania, Colombia and Tunisia met. England beat Tunisia 2-0 in their first match and Romania joined them on top with a 1-0 victory over Colombia. The South Americans rallied in their second match beating Tunisia 1-0 to match England who had gone down 2-1 to Romania with a last minute goal from Petrescu. Romania and Tunisia drew the last match 1-1 so the last group game became a playoff for second place. England took the lead on 20 minutes and a young midfielder called David Beckham with a lions mane of flowing blond hair scored a stunning free kick nine minutes later to announce his presence on the world stage and England’s in the Second Phase.
Group H saw Argentina playing Japan, Jamaica and Croatia. Argentina and Batistuta showed they meant business with an unspectacular 1-0 victory over Japan followed by an unsentimental 5-0 win against Jamaica, Batigol claiming a hat-trick. Croatia also beat the Jamaicans in the first match and Japan in the second so the final matches just decided places. Argentina claimed first beating the Croats 1-0 while Jamaica at least celebrated a World Cup victory on their debut, 2-1 against Japan.
The second phase began with Italy overcoming the doughty Norwegians 1-0 and Brazil showing more of their old sparkle with a 4-1 derby victory over the Chileans. France and Laurent Blanc (Larry White in England) made World Cup history with the first Golden Goal in extra time as they overcame Paraguay 1-0 while Denmark sought to rekindle memories of 1986 with a 4-1 demolition of Nigeria. Germany dispatched Mexico 2-1 and Holland dug deep to find a last-minute winner against Yugoslavia 2-1. Croatia built on their growing reputation with a 1-0 win against Romania and old enemies Argentina and England added another chapter to their growing book of infamy. Two penalties in the first 10 minutes saw Argentina go in front before England pegged them back. A young 18 year old called Michael Owen outpaced the Argentinean defense and the whole stadium to put England in front six minutes later with a superb goal and Argentina pulled their way back against the run of play with a well-worked free kick from Zanetti in first half stoppage time. Early in the second half, David Beckham kicked out at an Argentinean opponent who went down as if shot by a cannon – it’s intent not damage and the referee dismissed the golden boy. England acquitted themselves very well with ten men and had a Sol Campbell header controversially ruled out for pushing before we went to penalties. The penalty competition went to 4-3 to Argentina when David Batty joined the miserable ranks of English penalty failures, missing his kick and sending England home with justifiable regrets.
A nation was cheered as Holland stuck it to Argentina 2-1 with a last minute Denis Bergkamp winner – an Arsenal player making it a little sweeter; while France had their own nail biting penalty drama against Italy after ending extra time goalless. 4-3 was the score again as this time Di Baggio saw his shot saved by the eccentric but effective Fabian Barthez. Brazil came through a topsy turvey barnstormer against Denmark 3-2 with Rivaldo settling matters in the 60th minute and in a genuine shock, Croatia made the Germans look very ordinary with a 3-0 win.
The first Semi final went to extra time. Brazil took the lead against Holland on 46 minutes through Ronaldo and looked to have got through until Kluivert equalized on 87. Brazil’s faultless penalty display took them through to another final after Cocu and Ronald De Boer missed from the spot in a 4-2 result. Croatia looked to be heading for another surprise victory as they took the lead against France in the semi on 46 minutes, Davor Suker getting his fifth of the competition before defender Lillian Thuram equalized a minute later and then put France into their first final on 69 minutes.
Croatia sealed third place in the playoff against Holland, winning 2-1 and gaining Suker the golden boot in the process with another strike.
Buildup to the Final was dominated by a controversy over whether an injured Ronaldo would make the final. Several conspiracy theories abounded about his possible inclusion as a clearly out-of-sort striker took the field but it was an electrifying French team that set about Brazil from the start; Zinedine Zidane grabbing the match by the scruff of the neck with two first half bullet headers. Everybody expecting a Brazilian fight back in the second half was disappointed and it was really no surprise when Manu Petit grabbed a third French goal in injury time to give them their first World Championship, becoming the seventh hosts to do so.
Guy Bailey is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at email@example.com.