1998 France

The world’s biggest star of the day
Ronaldo, was passed fit to play
But Brazil were in trouble
When Zidane scored a double
As France won three nil and made hay

France was chosen as the host of the 1998 World Cup for the second time, joining Mexico and Italy as two-time hosts. It was the biggest tournament yet, with an expansion to 32 teams to get greater representation from emerging continents. France themselves were something of an unknown quantity, having failed to qualify for the previous two events, but they would meet the demanding expectations of a fervent public.

What was going on in the world in 1998?

  • A massacre in Likoshane, Yugoslavia triggers the Kosovo war
  • Suharto resigns after 32 years as President of Indonesia
  • 2nd Congo war commences; 3.9m will die by 2003, the highest toll in a war since WW2
  • Google is founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin
  • Iranian President, Mohammed Khatami retracts the fatwa in force against Salman Rushdie since 1989

Back to the World Cup – the format

1998 saw an expansion of the tournament to 32 teams; 8 groups of 4 with the top 2 in each group going forward into the Last 16 knockout. FIFA also introduced the concept of a ‘golden goal’ so that extra time would become sudden death. There was only one such outcome in 1998 and France were the beneficiaries, beating Paraguay via a Lauren Blanc strike in the 113th minute in the Last 16.


South Africa, Jamaica, Japan and Croatia qualified for the first time. South Africa obtained tow draws in the group against Saudi Arabia and Denmark. Japan and Jamaica were drawn together in the same, and the Reggae Boys won. Japan finished last in the group with no points.

Croatia fared especially well, finishing in third place, the best rookie performance since Portugal in 1966. And Croatia were a little unlucky not to get further. After easily eliminating Germany in the quarter-final, Croatia led shortly after half time, and it took two goals from right back, Lilian Thuram, his first international goals ever, to see the hosts through.

Tournament Facts and Records

  • Davor Suker tp scored with 6 goals
  • Marcel Desailly was the first player to be sent off in the final and still finish on the winning side
  • France finished the tournament with a 100% record, the first time since Brazil in 1970
  • The youngest player in the tournament was Samuel Eto'o at 17 years, 3 months; the oldest was Jim Leighton at 39 years, 11 months
  • Romania finished top of group G, ahead of England, and celebrated with a crop of peroxide hairdos. Perhaps this was tempting fate as they lost in the Last 16 to Croatia


Argentina and England played out a classic match in the round of 16, though England were down to 10 men before half time when David Beckham was sent off for a petulant kick out at Diego Simeone. The match finished 1-1, after a Sol Campbell header was disallowed for a dubious Alan Shearer push at a corner, and eventually it went to penalties, so naturally England lost.

Who should have won but didn't?

It is hard to argue against France with their 100% record, but it was an odd final against a very subdued Brazil, who had defeated the dangerous Dutch on penalties in the semi-final. For the final, Brazil's star striker, Ronaldo, was only inked on to the team sheet at the last minute after a medical incident; it has been suggested that he suffered some kind of fit.

The world's biggest star of the day
Ronaldo, was passed fit to play
But Brazil were in trouble
When Zidane scored a double
as France won three nil and made hay.

Croatia also were terrific rookies, and thumped Germany in the quarter-final which is always guaranteed to get the neutrals onside. But France probably deserved their win despite a poor disciplinary record, with red cards for Zidane, Blanc and Desailly, and a distinctly underwhelming roster of strikers.

Heroes and Villains

Both hero and villain come from the semi-final between France and Croatia.

Hero: Lilian Thuram

Lilian Thuram is the epitome of the phrase ‘unsung hero’. A true defensive stalwart, he has played 1,523 minutes, in 16 World Cup matches in 3 World Cups for France, starting every one of those games. This puts Thuram second on the list in terms of minutes played for France, behind Fabien Barthez. In those 16 matches Thuram has scored 2 goals, and both came in the 1998 semi-final against Croatia.

France showed almost no attacking flair in this game, and it was left to Thuram to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and single-handedly ensure that France progressed to the final. It would not be a stretch to say that France would not have won the World Cup without Thuram's magnificent opportunism.

Villain: Slaven Bilic

In the 76th minute, with Croatia trailing 2-1, frustration got the better of Slaven Bilic. Responding to a commonplace gentle push by Lauren Blanc when jostling for position at a free kick, Bilic went down holding his face, and did enough to make sure Blanc was red carded, thereby unjustly being suspended for the final. It was shabby behaviour from Bilic, who was experienced enough to know better.

Great World Cup Goals

It would be amiss to finish the 1998 World Cup story without a nod to Dennis Bergkamp. The stylish Dutchman scored the winning goal in the quarter-final against Argentina with one of the most sublime finishes in World Cup history, a masterclass in control and a first touch to have all fans drooling. See if you enjoy this one as much as the Dutch commentator!

Quick Facts

  • Teams: 32
  • When: 10 June 1998 to 12 July 1998
  • Final: 12 July 1998
  • Matches: 64
  • Goals Scored: 171 (average 2.7 per match)
  • Attendance: 2,785,100 (average 43,517)

Verdict: Good, Bad or Ugly?

More good than bad, despite an anti-climactic final. France's success may have been built more on defence (they only conceded 2 goals in the tournament) than a powder puff attack, but it was not an overly defensive tournament overall. Croatia, Brazil and the Netherlands all had good moments which can be looked back on with pleasure.

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