Updated: Jul 16, 2020
By Alex Al-Kazzaz
Yesterday was the 22-year anniversary of France winning their first World Cup title. On July 12th, 1998, France defeated Brazil 3-0 in the final to become the new World Champions. In addition, the 1998 World Cup tournament was held in France meaning that France officially became the sixth national team to win the tournament on home soil, joining the likes of Uruguay, England, Italy, West Germany, and Argentina.
Coming into this tournament, there were no big expectations for France. They had previously failed to qualify for the last two World Cup tournaments. They came into this tournament ranked 25th in the world and despite being the hosts, they were not expected to make a deep run. In other words, nobody really believed in them. The odds were heavily stacked against them.
France went unbeaten in the Group Stage. Beating the likes of South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Denmark sparked some confidence for Les Bleus. But three wins were required to reach the final. Basically, Les Bleus had got the preliminaries out of the way, but the tough and challenging obstacles were only just beginning.
In the Round of 16, France defeated Paraguay in a hard-fought 1-0 win. Laurent Blanc would score the game-winning goal in extra time to send France to the quarterfinals. Blanc's goal would be the first golden goal in World Cup history! In the quarterfinals, France took on Italy and the game had to be decided via a penalty shoot-out. France prevailed and was officially part of the tournament's final four.
France vs Croatia in the semifinals. This game would go on to be one of the most memorable and historical games in World Cup history. France would win 2-1 to advance to the final. In this game, French defender Lilian Thuram became a national hero when he scored both goals.
The final was set. France vs Brazil. Brazil were the defending champions and was poised to hoist the trophy yet again. Even though France had managed to make it all the way in the final, some critics still felt that France could not get it done against Brazil. However, ultimately, France said otherwise.
France would dominate the entire game. Brazil would threaten and create chances to score only to be thwarted by a solid, resilient, and fearless French defense. Laurent Blanc was controversially suspended in the final due to a red card he received in the semifinal. However, Frank Leboeuf would fill in for Blanc and be tasked with defending Brazil's best player Ronaldo. Leboeuf ultimately proved he was more than capable of playing a part in containing the Brazilian attack.
Goalkeeper Fabien Barthez was able to made some great saves and played a big role in helping France keep a clean sheet. Barthez kept a total of five clean sheets in the tournament and conceded only two goals. His performances resulted in him being named the tournament's best goalkeeper. Furthermore, his brilliant performance in this tournament would eventually result in him leaving Monaco to go play for Manchester United.
French Legend Zinedine Zidane made a name for himself in this game. Two goals, both headers off of corner kicks. His performance in this game enabled him to become a hero to the French Republic. To this day, Zidane is still a national hero in France and is considered to be one of the greatest soccer players in history. At the end of the game, the entire National Team would be remembered as heroes to the French Republic.