On This Date in Sports July 12, 1998: Viva France

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

France is the host with the most, winning its first World Cup by beating Brazil 3-0 in St. Denis in suburban Paris. France, hosting the World Cup for the first time in 60 years, is the first host to win since Argentina in 1978. Zinedine Zidane is the Man of the Match, scoring two goals to give France a lead in the first half they would not relinquish.

France, coached by Jacque Aime, automatically qualified for the 1998 World Cup as host. They had not qualified for the World Cup Final in 1990 in Italy or in 1994 in the United States. Meanwhile, Brazil, led by Zagallo Mario, was a juggernaut having won a record fourth World Cup four years earlier against Italy in a shootout at the Rose Bowl.

The month-long tournament began with France rolling through Group C. The French beat South Africa 3-0, Saudi Arabia 2-0, and Denmark 2-1. Brazil, the remaining champions, played in Group A and started strong, beating Scotland 2-1 and Morroco 3-0 to advance to the Knockout Round. Playing a meaningless game, Brazil suffered a 2-1 loss to Norway in the finale for the group stage. The United States, meanwhile, was a dumpster fire, losing all three matches in Group F.

France found itself in trouble in Lens as the knockout Round began, as they were held scoreless by Paraguay in the Round of 16. In extra time, France was able to pull out the win as Laurent Blanc scored in the 116th minute. Meanwhile, Brazil dominated in Paris, crushing Chile 4-1 as Cesar Sampaio and Ronaldo scored twice.

Brazil faced its first test in the quarterfinals, as they squeaked by Denmark 3-2 in Nantes, with Rivaldo’s goal in the 60th minute breaking a 2-2 tie, ending a back and forth battle that saw Denmark start the game quickly with a goal by Lars Jorgensen in the second minute. Playing in the National Stadium in St. Denis, the French again played a scoreless tie against Italy. This time the game remained scoreless through extra time, as a shootout was needed. French Goalie Fabien Barthez made two big saves, as Blanc’s shot was the clincher in a 4-3 shootout win.

In the semifinals in Marseille, it was Brazil that needed a shootout after playing The Netherlands to a 1-1 draw, with the Dutch tying the game in the 87th minute on a goal by Patrick Kluivert. Brazil was on the mark in the shootout, while the Netherlands missed twice and lost 4-2. France, again playing in the National Stadium, defeated Croatia 2-1 to advance to the Final. After a scoreless first half, Croatia scored quickly after Davor Suker scored in the 46th minute, but before Croatia was done celebrating, France tied the game a minute later with a goal by Lilian Thuram, who also scored the game-winner in the 69th minute.

In the championship game at the National Stadium in St. Denis, Brazil had a major concern before the match even began, as Ronaldo, their top player, was suffering an illness. After initially announcing he would not play, Brazil announced Ronaldo would just before the game began. Brazil seemed to have the early edge but could not take advantage as Goalie Fabien Barthez made several vital saves. France meanwhile broke through in the 27th minute with a goal by Zinedine Zidane on a header from the corner. In added time, Zidane scored on a header once again at the end of the first half. Down 2-0, Brazil turned up the pressure in the second half but could not get the ball past Barthez. Things would get hairy for the host country when they found themselves shorthanded in the 68th minute as Marcel Desailly was called for his second yellow card and ejected from the match. Brazil kept the pressure on but could never find the answer, while Emmanuel Petit scored the clincher in extra time to make a 3-0 final.