By Jay Mwamba
Seventy years ago, an idea spawned by a Frenchman came into being as the World Cup. Fittingly, perhaps, the World Cup will spend the remainder of this century in its birthplace after France’s emphatic 3-0 drubbing of defending champions Brazil in the 1998 final outside Paris last Sunday.
Inspired by their balding midfielder m’stro, Zinedine Zidane, France inflicted the heaviest World Cup defeat ever on a highly touted Brazilian side that was expected to bag its fifth title.
France, who became the first hosts to win the championship in 20 years, rocked the Brazilians twice in the first half through Zidane (27th, 45th), who on both occasions headed in from corner kicks.
The French, as a matter of fact, could have been home and dry at halftime if it hadn’t been for a display of poor finishing by their strikers front of a capacity 80,000 crowd at the Stade de France in the Parisian suburb of St. Denis.
Outplayed in midfield and with their vaunted Ronaldo-led attack shackled by the imposing French defense, Brazil rarely threatened the home side. Their best efforts were a Rivaldo header in the first half and a close-range effort by Ronaldo (57th), both of which were stopped by goalie Fabien Barthez.
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The dismissal of defense kingpin Marcel Desailly (68th), for a second bookable offense, offered the promise of a life-line to the South Americans, who by now had hurled strikers Denilson and Edmundo into the fray.
But it was Arsenal linkman Emmanuel Petit instead who ignited French celebration ahead of Bastille Day with an injury-time goal on the break.
France became only the seventh nation to lift the World Cup in the 16 finals played since 1930, and the first victorious hosts since Argentina in 1978. Brazil, meanwhile, were beaten in the final for only the second. Winners in 1958, 1962, 1970 and 1994, the charismatic South Americans last lost a final in 1950 when they hosted the tournament.
Said French coach Aime Jacquet after victory after running a gauntlet of criticism en route to the final: “It’s a fabulous dream. When I think about all we’ve gone through, all the work done by this team. A whole group of players has decided to make France happy.”
Brazilian coach Mario Zagallo said his team had lost the match in the first half. “France dominated it entirely,” he said. “I couldn’t wait to get to half time so that I could change our style. The French took their chances well.”
An estimated 1.7 billion viewers worldwide watched the final, including Pope John Paul, a former goalie in his native Poland.
France and Brazil’s pedigree showed in the FIFA All-Star selection. Both finalists had four players named to the select side picked by FIFA’s technical study group. Michael Owen, England’s 18-year-old wonderkind, was named a reserve.
The team is: Goalkeepers; Fabien Barthez (France), Jose Luis Chilavert (Paraguay).
Defenders: Marcel Desailly (France), Roberto Carlos (Brazil), Frank de Boer (Netherlands), Lilian Thuram (France), Carlos Gamarra (Paraguay).
Midfielders: Edgar Davids (Netherlands), Dunga, Rivaldo (both Brazil), Zinedine Zidane (France), Michael Laudrup (Denmark).
Strikers: Dennis Bergkamp (Netherlands), Ronaldo (Brazil), Brian Laudrup (Denmark), Davor Suker (Croatia).
Reserves: Edwin van der Sar (Netherlands), Thierry Henry (France), Jay Jay Okocha (Nigeria), Michael Owen (England), Juan Veron (Argentina), Christian Vieri (Italy).