Sunday, 2 April 2017

10 reasons why France 98 was the peak of Football

10) The City

If you're going to host a World Cup in the peak of summer, few cities can compare with the spendour of Paris. The location meant a central hub for all European fans, and saw the Champs-Elysees lined with French fans following the home nation's success - with the Arc De Triomphe lit up in the colours of the national flag. The country also spawned the finest World Cup song ever, Dario G's classic football anthem "Carnival De Paris."

9) The Video Game

Honestly, if you didn't play this game as a kid, it was basically child abuse. From the singalong intro theme tune, to the stodgy graphics which looked revolutionary at the time, World Cup 98 was one of the finest football games ever made on any console. And if rain stopped play out in the local park, chances were you were trudging indoors with your mates instead, picking up your controllers on the now defunct N64, and whacking out some multi-player mode.

8) The Ball

A true classic, this little beauty was belted around endlessly during those long summer nights of 1998 as you screamed the names of your favourite players with your friends, and argued over whether it was "post and in" on the jumpers you'd laid down on the grass. White, with flashes of blue and red, the leathery beaut was a homage to the colours of the French flag, and hence obtained its name (The "Tricolore") in the process.

7) The Kits

From the ravishing Romanian red above (complete with matching bleached barnets), to the tablecloth effect of the Croatians, and the bright green of the Nigerians. 1998 was a time when kit snobbery was yet to exist. All we had back then were bright, brash, in-your-face designs that looked like the the multi-coloured insides of a cat's stomach. The best? Arguarbly the yellow and green of the never-ordinary Jamaicans.

6) The Drama

Using the Second Round clash in St Etienne as a prime example, the matches at France 98 were never dull. England and Argentina's epic 120-minute battle saw two penalties awarded, a red card shown, four goals, (five if you include the disallowed "golden goal"), and a penalty shoot-out so tense it made an episode of "Deal or no Deal" look like Emmerdale. In the end, England lost on penalties because... well, they're England.

5) The Phenomenon

See Number 6, The Drama. For many, France 98 will be remembered for the controversy surrounding the inclusion, and exclusion of a Ronaldo who was deemed the greatest before his Portugese namesake had even turned professional. The Brazilian striker was rumoured to have suffered an epileptic fit on the eve of the final, but for the rest of the tournament, sparkled, with numerous goals, and stunning performances. "The Phenomenon" as he was nicknamed, was truly a joy to watch.

4) The Underdogs

A country only formed shortly before the tournament, Eastern Europeans Croatia proved a frenetic force in France, en route to a sensational 3rd place finish. Driven on by their inspirational talisman, Davor Suker, the Croats dumped reigning European champions Germany out in the Quarter-Finals with a 3-0 thumping. Their unforgettable journey came to an unlucky end in the Semi's courtesy of two rare Lilian Thuram goals. So rare in fact, he never ever again for his country, during his 142 caps.

3) The Youngsters

Whilst France 98 was full of several established international stars, ranging from Gabriel Batistuta to Paolo Maldini, it was perhaps the impact of the younger stars that will live long in the memory. Juan Sebastian Veron impressed for Argentina, as did David Beckham for England (whatever happened to him?), but it was 18 year old Michael Owen who really put himself in the spotlight, following up an equaliser against Romania, with this stunner in the following round:

2) The Goals

Aside from Owen's mazy sprint and finish, this World Cup saw goals of beauty more frequently than any other. Sunday Oliseh's piledriver against Spain was special, but was made to look fairly ordinary by the brilliance of Bergkamp. Taking the ball down with his first touch in the final minutes of a Quarter-Final clash in Marseille, Dennis the menace used his instant control to bamboozle the defender before flicking home. Pure genius.

1) The Hosts

A country divided for so many reasons as the tournament began, France's victory united a nation as Les Bleus swept past all before them, including a highly fancied Brazil side. From the defensive heroics of Fabien Barthez and Marcel Desailly, to the midfield dominance of Emmanuel Petit, and the sourcery of Zinedine Zidane. The iconic French no. 10, scored a brace in the final, and was by far the standout player of the tournament with his tricks, flicks, and mesmerising ball control.

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