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The 1998 FIFA World Cup was held in France for the 2nd time. The first World Cup held in France was back in 1938 when Jules Rimet was president of FIFA.

The competition was now increased from 24 participants to 32. The new format had 8 Groups of 4 teams in the 1st round with the top 2 qualifying for the knockout phase. Another change to the FIFA World Cup was the introduction of the Golden Goal Rule to be employed in the knockout phase. Any goal scored in extra time in the knockout phase would be the final goal and the match would end with that goal being the winner.

There were 4 nations who qualified for the World Cup for the first time Croatia, Jamaica, Japan and South Africa. Portugal was perhaps the most notable absentee missing qualification. Australia failed to qualify for the World Cup even though they never lost a game throughout the qualifying rounds.
The official mascot for France 98 was Footix, a cockerel wearing the blue to represent the jersey of the French National Team carrying a football.

The official ball for France 98 World cup was the Adidas Tricolore.

The official song for the France 1998 FIFA World Cup was La Copa de la Vida sung by Ricky Martin.

Group A featured defending champions and favourites Brazil. The loss of Romario to injury, USA 1994’s star player, was a blow for Brazil but the likes of Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Bebeto, Roberto Carlos, Cafu & Captain Dunga were more than enough talent to make compensate for the loss. Brazil beat Scotland 2-1 in their opening game and followed it up with a 3-0 victory over Morocco to ensure qualification on top of the Group before the final round of matches as Norway drew with both Scotland and Morocco. Morocco thumped Scotland 3-0 in their final game but Norway upset Brazil 2-1 to qualify ahead of the Moroccans. As the games were played at the time, with just 10 minutes remaining Morocco looked like they were going to qualify as they were beating Scotland and Brazil were leading Norway 1-0. However a late turnaround from the Norwegians they shocked Brazil and won the game.

In Group B Chile with their deadly strike force partnership of Marcelo Salas and Ivan Zamarano were in form against Italy in their opening game as Salas scored twice to give Chile a 2-1 lead before Roberto Baggio converted a late penalty to equalise for the Italians. Baggio seemed to have overcome his penalty miss 4 years earlier and showed great character in stepping up to convert the penalty.

In the other game Cameroons’ Pierre Njanka scored an absolute cracker as Cameroon drew 1-1 with Austria thanks to an injury team equaliser. Austria scored another late injury time equaliser against Chile while Italy blasted Cameroon 3-0 thanks to 2 goals from Vieri. Italy beat Austria 2-1 in their final game, with the Austrians scoring an injury time goal for 3rd time, and Chile drew 1-1 with Cameroon making them qualify in 2nd behind Italy.

Hosts France began the tournament against newcomers South Africa. Pierre Issa of South Africa scored an own goal and Dugarry and Henry scored on the right end to give France a 3-0 victory. Denmark beat Saudi Arabia 1-0. South Africa had the better of the game against Denmark but were held to a 1-1 draw as South Africa missed many a chance to win the game. France hammered Saudi Arabia 4-0 with Thierry Henry scoring twice, however Zinnedine Zidane got sent off for kicking out at a Saudi Arabian player and would miss France’s next 2 games. In the final game France beat Denmark 2-1, with Michael Laudrup scoring his 2nd and final World Cup goal twelve years after he scored his first back in 1986.South Africa needing to beat Saudi Arabia 3-0 only managed a 2-2 draw with Saudi Arabia converting 2 penalties and South Africa’s Bartlett scoring twice including a late penalty. Saudi Arabia was one of 3 nations in this World Cup to change their coach before the final game. The change of coach for Saudi Arabia resulted in them scoring their first goals as well as getting their first result.

Our first ever World Cup appearance was not a total disaster. We were outclassed by the French who went on to win the World Cup so not much can be read from that result. However in our 2nd match against the Danes we certainly had the better of the game and were unlucky not to come out with a victory, most notably with Helmen Mkhalele’s goal line miss and Quinton Fortune’s cracking piledriver that rattled Schemical’s crossbar. In the final game against Saudi Arabia we perhaps had our most disappointing result of the tournament with a 2-2 draw resulting in our exit of the tournament. A 3-0 victory was perhaps a stretch to qualify but a victory nonetheless was expected. Phillipe Troussier was the coach for us but not many had faith in him. Bafana Bafana as our National soccer team was known as, was well liked by the many different sets of fans at the FIFA World Cup in France. France 1998 perhaps did not produce a sensational start to the FIFA World Cup for Bafana Bafana but there were definitely some positives to take out from the tournament. The likes of Quinton Fortune and Lucas Radebe & Benni Mccarthy all went on to play for big clubs in Europe with Lucas Radebe becoming a legend at Leeds United and Benni Mccarthy winning the UEFA Chamnpions League with FC Porto in 2004. Local Legends like Doctor Khumalo and John “Shoes” Mashoea also got to show their skills on the World’s Greatest stage.

In Group D Paraguay and Bulgaria played out to a goalless draw, while Nigeria upset Spain in 1 of the games of the tournament. Hierro gave Spain the lead before Nigeria equalised. Raul gave Spain the lead again, but Lawal equalised and Sunday Oliseh hit a cracking shot from outside the penalty area to give Nigeria a surprise victory against the seeded Spaniards.

Spain then drew 0-0 with Paraguay and Nigeria booked their place in the next round with a 1-0 victory over Bulgaria which meant they were already guaranteed top spot in the Group. With Nigeria having already qualified top of the Group they lost 3-1 to Paraguay which meant that Spain’s 6-1 hammering of Bulgaria was in vain as Paraguay qualified 2nd ahead of Spain. Paraguay’s Colourful Keeper Jose Chilavert was an important part of Paraguay qualifying for the next round.

In Group E, Mexico beat South Korea 3-1 in their opening game while Belgium held the Dutch to a goalless draw. Belgium then drew with Mexico while the Dutch blasted Korea 5-0. In the final round of games Holland and Mexico played to a 2-2 draw and Korea, who like Saudi Arabia changed their coach after their two defeats, managed to draw with Belgium resulting in the Dutch qualifying top of the Group ahead of Mexico on goal difference. Belgium who drew all 3 of their games exited the tournament even though they never lost.

In Group F Germany and Yugoslavia won their opening games against USA and Iran respectively. The Germans then drew 2-2 with Yugoslavia. In the Iran vs USA game, political tensions were high between the 2 nations. Pre-match the 2 teams decided to use the game of football to show that Sport can unite nations who are at loggerheads. Iran won the tie 2-1.
In the final round of games Yugoslavia beat the USA 1-0 and Germany beat Iran 2-0 resulting in the Germans qualifying 1st ahead of Yugoslavia on goal difference.

In Group G England began their campaign with a 2-0 victory over Tunisia while Romania beat Colombia 1-0. Colombia beat Tunisia 1-0 while Romania beat England 2-1 resulting in the Romanians all dying their hair yellow resulting in a bet they made if they beat England. England beat Colombia 2-0, with Beckham scoring from a free kick, in the final game to qualify 2nd behind Romania who drew 1-1 with Tunisia who changed their coach for this game.

In Group H, Argentina and Croatia both won their 2 games against Japan and Jamaica resulting in them both qualifying before the final round of games. Argentina thumped Jamaica 5-0 with Gabriel Batistuta scoring a hatrick and Ortega a brace. Batistuta’s hatrick made him the only player to score a hatrick in 2 World Cup’s after scoring a hatrick against Greece in 1994. Croatia’s Robert Prosinceki scored in Croatia’s victory against Jamaica to become the only player to score for 2 different countries at the FIFA World Cup after scoring for Yugoslavia in 1990.

In the final round of games Argentina beat Croatia 1-0 to qualify top of the Group ahead of Croatia. Jamaica, The Reggae Boys, beat Japan 2-1 to take their first & only World Cup victory.

In the 2nd Round defending champions Brazil bounced back from their surprise loss to Norway in the Group Phase and thumped fellow South Americans Chile 4-1 thanks to a 2 goals a piece from star striker Ronaldo and Cesar Sampaio. Germany edged Mexico 2-1. Jurgen Klinsman became the first player to score 3 goals at 3 different World Cup tournaments following on from 1990 & 1994. Christian Vieri scored to give a Italy a 1-0 victory over Norway. Netherlands beat Yugoslavia 2-1 and Croatia beat Romania 1-0 with Davor Suker netting the winner. Denmark caused another surprise by blasting one of the Group Phase’s best performers Nigeria 4-1. Ebbie Sand scored Denmark’s third goal after just 16 seconds after he came on as a substitute which is the fastest goal ever scored by a substitute in the World Cup. Hosts France needed extra time and the first ever World Cup Golden Goal scored by Laurent Blanc to overcome Paraguay.

Argentina vs England. After the very controversial battles between these 2 nations back in 1966 (El Robo Del Siglo) and 1986 (Hand of God) this match was to prove no different. In an absolutely explosive & sensational first half Gabriel Batistuta gave Argentina the lead after just 6 minutes from the penalty spot. Just 4 minutes later Alan Shearer equalised also from the penalty spot. In the 16th minute young sensation Michael Owen scored one of the goals of the tournament as he sprinted through the Argentine defence and scored a brilliant goal to give England the lead.

In stoppage time of the 1st half Javier Zanetti squared the game once again. A sensational first half came to an end with the score level at 2-2. However early in the 2nd half England’s David Beckham got sent off for kicking out at Diego Simeoni after the latter fouled him. This resulted in just a caution for Simeoni while Beckham was sent off. Once again controversy surrounded the battle between these 2 nations as Simeoni was accused of over exaggerating the clash between the 2 players which resulted in Beckham’s dismissal.

The score line remained the same for the rest of the game and extra time resulting in a penalty shoot out. Both England and Argentina converted their 1st spot kicks and then missed their 2nd ones. Argentina and England then both converted their next 2 kick each leaving the final spot kick to be the decider. Ayala converted his kick for Argentina while Batty failed in his attempt and Argentina came out on top in this encounter.


The Quarterfinal between France and Italy finished goalless after extra time. In the penalty shootout Roberto Baggio converted for Italy after he missed the crucial kick back in the 1994 final while Zidane back from suspension converted his kick for France. The next round of penalties were both missed by Lizarazu and Albertini. The next 4 penalties were all converted. Blanc scored and Luigi Di Biagio missed allowing hosts France to progress to the semi-finals. In an entertaining match between surprise quarterfinalists Denmark and Champions Brazil, the Danes took the lead after just 2 minutes but Brazil equalised through Bebeto and took the lead through Rivaldo. Brian Laudrup equalised for the Dane’s but Rivaldo scored the winner for Brazil.

Croatia were fulfilling their billing as tournament “Dark Horses” as they shocked the Germans with a 3-0 hiding. The likes of Boban, Suker, Jarni & Prosinecki were in sublime form in getting Croatia to the semi’s. Netherlands vs Argentina turned out to be another cracking battle. Patrick Kluivert gave the Dutch the lead but 6 minutes later Claudio Lopez equalised for Argentina. Then with just 15 minutes to go Holland’s Arthur Numan picked up his 2nd yellow card and was sent off. With just 3 minutes to go Argentina’s Ariel Ortega was sent off for reacting to Dutch keeper Van de Saar’s complaining about his alleged dive in the penalty area.

2 minutes later Dennis Bergkamp scored an absolute cracker to send the Dutch through to the semi-finals.

In the semi-finals host France went a goal down to Croatia early in the 2nd half with Suker once again the scorer. However just a minute later Fullback Lilian Thuram equalised and then went on to score the winner. Although Laurent Blanc got sent off with 15 minutes to go, Thuram’s 2 goals and his brilliant performance helped the French reach their first ever World Cup Final.

Within a minute of the 2nd half starting in the 2nd semi-final, Ronaldo gave Brazil the lead against the Dutch. A late equaliser from Kluivert took the match to extra time. Chances were missed on both ends in particular by Kluivert.

In the shoot out both Brazil and the Dutch converted their first two penalties each. Emersen &  Dunga scored the next 2 penalties for Brazil while Cocu and Ronald De Boer missed their kicks for the Dutch resulting in Brazil reaching their 2nd consecutive final.

In the 3rd place playoff surprise package Croatia beat the Dutch 2-1 with Davor Suker scoring the winner and his 6th goal of the tournament making him the tournaments leading scorer and winner of the Golden Boot Award.

The final to be played at the Stade de France would be the first and only ever final final between the hosts (France) and holders (Brazil). The French had capitalised on the home support and advantage and reached the finals. The rock solid defence of Barthez, Lizarazu, Thuram, Blanc and Desailly along with the creative skills of Zidane were ready to give France their first title. However standing in their way was Defending Champions Brazil, led by Captain Dunga and with stars Roberto Carlos, Bebeto, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Leonardo among their ranks. However their was some drama just prior to the start of the game as Brazil’s star player and leading scorer with 4 goals Ronaldo had suffered convulsions the night before the game. Coach Zagallo was unsure of whether or not to start with Ronaldo due to this. In the end Ronaldo was selected.

Zinnedine Zidane gave France the lead with a headed goal from an in-swinging corner in the 27th minute. Just minutes later Ronaldo was through on goal but could not manage to get the ball past the onrushing French keeper Barthez and both players collided but were quickly back on their feet.

In stoppage time in the 1st half Zidane in identical fashion to the first goal headed a corner into the net to score his and France’s 2nd goal.

The Brazilians found themselves 2-0 down at half time and the likes of Rivaldo and Leonardo were being well marshalled by Deschamps and his troops. However, Brazil were handed a life line midway through the 2nd half when France’s Defensive Rock, Marcel Desailly was given his 2nd yellow card and with it his marching orders. With Blanc already suspended and now Desailly dismissed France’s strong defensive partnership was no longer on the field.
Stand in Defenders Frank Lebouef and Patrick Vieira stood up to the challenge and held the Brazilians out. In the final minute Emmanuel Petite scored France’s 3rd and put the nail in the coffin for an overall poor performance in the final for the mighty Brazilians. Ronaldo and Brazil were humbled by the French in the final but Ronaldo still won the Golden Ball award for best player of the tournament.
Fabien Barthez had kept 5 clean sheets and won the Lev Yashin Award for Best Goalkeeper and France and their solid defence had only conceded 2 goals throughout the tournament. The French had won their first ever title and become the 7th nation to win the FIFA World Cup. Zidane was France’s hero scoring the first 2 goals in the final as well as being superb throughout the tournament.
The streets of Paris were filled with celebrations. The French had won their first ever World Cup on home soil. Bastille Day was just 2 days after the French Football Team’s greatest ever success. The Champs Elysee was a party. On a personal note having been for France 1998 following the Dutch in the city of Marseille and going for the quarterfinal encounter with Argentina as well as there semi-final match against Brazil. The Dutch supporters were in full force painting the town of Marseille Orange for both the quarterfinals and semi-finals. The atmosphere was electrifying. Although I did not get a ticket for the finals, the atmosphere in the streets of Paris was something I wont forget. Watching the game at a local coffee shop with my Brazilian top on with local French fans was an experience never to forget. Not only do the players swop their shirts after the game but so do the spectators. The streets of Paris after the French victory was a filled with ecstatic French Supporters having one big party. Millions Chanting “Champione” and “Mercy Zidane”. Bastille Day on the Champs Elysee was superb. All in all it was a once in a lifetime experience. I can’t wait for the World Cup to be here in South Africa.


A total of 171 goals were scored at France 1998 making at a record number of goals ever scored at a FIFA World Cup Tournament which still stands today.


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