XtraTime Web Desk: Every French person above a certain age remembers where they were on 12 July 1998. Whether they were among the lucky spectators at the Stade de France, watching in a bar or following the action on holiday, nobody can forget Zinedine Zidane soaring above the Brazil defence to score two goals in the 1998 FIFA World Cup Final.
Nor has anyone in France forgotten the words of beloved commentator Thierry Roland after Emmanuel Petit’s final goal in the 3-0 victory, or the emotions unleashed at the final whistle. Every France supporter has repeated the words, “We are the champions” and “1-0, 2-0 and 3-0,” and those legendary refrains have become part of French football folklore. Twenty years on from that historic triumph, that famous night in July remains at the forefront of everybody’s minds in France. XtraTime pays tribute to a landmark event.
3 – The margin of victory in the Final. Only three teams have managed to win the showpiece game by three goals, starting with Brazil’s 5-2 defeat of Sweden in 1958. Brazil also swept aside Italy 4-1 in 1970, before France repeated the feat with their 3-0 success against the South American giants in 1998.
6 – France became the sixth host nation to win the tournament on home soil, a feat previously achieved by Uruguay in 1930, Italy in 1934, England in 1966, West Germany in 1974 and Argentina in 1978.
75.8 – Across France, 75.8 per cent of televisions were tuned in to the Final. The audience peak came at the end of the game, with almost 23 million people watching the match on TV.
The heroes of France’s historic victory still savour their achievement, and they shared their memories of that unforgettable night during a game to celebrate the 20th anniversary at the U Arena in Nanterre, just outside Paris.
“It’s impressive 20 years later to see how that win was more than just a sporting event. It was our greatest victory. It was only afterwards that we realised the scope of what we did, when we saw the surge of supporters – a sort of human tsunami. You can never predict that. It just hits you, but the emotions are extremely positive and so intense that in the end that’s all you want to see. The most difficult thing when you’re a footballer is to win people’s hearts.” –Emmanuel Petit, midfielder
“Twenty years on, we’re still coming to terms with the magnitude of that win. 1998 is still totally crazy. We still have our place in people’s hearts 20 years later, and we also have a special bond with each other. At the time, we didn’t realise that. It passed us by. You can’t know what millions of people are thinking. We were playing a game, a World Cup, and we tried to win matches for ourselves and our supporters. Beyond that, though, it’s not up to us what people think and feel.” – Bixente Lizarazu, left-back
“We managed to give ourselves joy by being ourselves, and we made 99 per cent or perhaps even 100 per cent of the country happy. We experienced all those emotions together and I still think about it every day.” – Fabien Barthez, goalkeeper
“I think we gave people joy, and that’s not to be under-estimated. I remember the referee blowing the final whistle and telling myself, ‘We’re world champions.’ Maybe that seems like a small thing or perhaps even silly, but I said to myself, ‘We’re world champions.’ Before that, I saw there was a minute left and said to myself ‘Maybe Brazil will come back,’ but when the referee blows his whistle, that’s the moment when you realise it.” – Thierry Henry, forward
From 1998 to 2018
Twenty years on from that triumph, a new generation of talents are looking to follow in their predecessors’ footsteps – and they have plenty in common with that ground-breaking side.
For a start, Aime Jacquet’s men were boosted by the youth of dynamic forwards David Trezeguet and Thierry Henry, a role now taken on by 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe in Russia. France’s success 20 years ago was also built on an excellent defence, and the current line-up has likewise caught the eye with its rigour at the back. While the 1998 tournament made stars of full-backs Lilian Thuram and Bixente Lizarazu, their modern counterparts Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez continue to impress. And who can overlook the importance of Stephane Guivarc’h and Olivier Giroud? Both forwards put in crucial efforts helping out with defensive tasks, despite not finding the net.
Lastly, there is Didier Deschamps. France’s captain in 1998 and now coach in 2018, the former midfielder could become just the third man after Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and German icon Franz Beckenbauer to lift the World Cup Trophy both as a player and coach.
History was made on 12 July 1998, and a new chapter could well be written on 15 July 2018.