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France '98 or Russia 2018: Revisiting Les Bleus' two World Cup triumphs

Andy Mukolo
ANALYST
Feature
380   //    06 Sep 2018, 11:41 IST

French team group
France World Cup Final Starting XI vs Brazil

Sunday, 12 July 1998, France 3-0 Brazil.

1998 was a good year for French football, Kylian Mbappe was born, but it was also a far more remarkable year for Aimé Étienne Jacquet and a group of culturally diverse, but uniquely talented footballers representing République Française at the FIFA World Cup.

It was one of few, brief, beautiful, moments in history when French people from all walks of life gathered in masses at the Champs Elysees to celebrate a unifying moment, sans cultural or religious differences, sans social prejudice, and sans political bigotry. It was simply about the harmonizing effect of a rare historic triumph on home soil - a feat only Uruguay, Italy, England and West Germany had attained in yesteryears.

France were the deserving champions. They were a remarkable team at a truly remarkable tournament.

En route the Grande Finale at the Stade de France, after easing through a group consisting the likes of Denmark, South Africa and Saudi Arabia, the host nation encountered serious hurdles in the knock-out stages - fixtures capable of driving any group of mortals insane, but the French held their own.

In the round of 16 against Paraguay, Jacquet's men progressed after Laurent Blanc won it in extra time. Against the Italians, extra-time was not enough, and it came down to penalties, where, Laurent Blanc, again, scored the winning kick for the host nation, setting up a frightening semi-final class against the Croats.

76,000 spectators watched as the legendary Davor Suker put Croatia ahead in the early moments of the second half. But in the 12 minutes that followed, Lilian Thuram - still one of the most brilliant defenders to pull on a football shirt - scored the two most important goals of his life - equalizing and then scoring the winning goal to send France to it's first ever World Cup final.

Time is the wheel track in which we roll towards eternity, conducting us through the incomprehensible, often beguiling facets of life. But in sport, especially this beautiful game, there is no eternity, only moments; moments of triumph, and moments of defeat.

Fourteen days is a lot of time in politics and government, but twenty years in football is more than enough time for two generations of triumphant French footballers to come and go.

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Two decades after Didier Deschamps captained Les Bleus to World Cup glory in Saint-Denis, mother nature weaved the same web still. The legendary captain returned in a blue suit, to repeat what he had achieved donning a captain's armband.

Qualification tasted as good as wine and steak. Les Bleus qualified for the 2018 FIFA World cup topping a group having the likes of Sweden, Netherlands, and Bulgaria

In Group C, there was Denmark, Peru and an Australian side led by veteran midfielder Michael Jedinak. Narrow wins against the Socceroos and Seleccion Peru helped Deschamps men finish as group winners, ahead of the Danish Dynamites.

Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium all fell to the blue sword as Deschamps' men romped to the finals, looking for a second World Cup title, signing off with an emphatic demolition job at the Luzhniki stadium; A 4-2 demolition of the tournament's dark horses.

32 nations had been whittled down to two. For Croatia and Luka Modric, it was a maiden appearance in the final of the mother of all tournaments, but for France, the opportunity to right the wrongs of Germany 2006 and Euro 2016 had finally come.

Time doesn't just heal wounds, it recycles fortunes too. The Gods will offer you chances, know them, take them. Mother nature waits to delight in you.

Twenty years ago in Saint-Denis, against a brilliant Brazil side managed by the great Mario Zagallo, it had been Zinedine Zidane and Emmanuel Petit who got the job done for Les Bleus, but this time, République Française didn't require any bald-headed heroes.

The reliable services of Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and France's poster boy Kylian Mbappe proved sufficient in shaping the fate and destiny of a nation desperate to redeem itself on the big stage.

France v Croatia - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Final
Kylian Mbappe wheels away in celebration after scoring against Croatia in the 2018 World Cup Final

While such immortals as Didier Deschamps and Zinedine Yazid Zidane have since evolved into successful managers - tasting as much success in suits as they did in kits - the class of 2018 still have a couple of years - maybe a decade - ahead of their promising careers, before the legs tire, and boots are hanged forever.

Two World Cup triumphs in twenty years may not be sufficient enough to solve France's deep-seated social issues. But these brief beautiful historical moments, that had a rare unifying effect on an often politically divided nation, had been brought about by two distinguished generations of French footballers, in two remarkable World Cup tournaments.

Will it take two more decades for Les Bleus to add the third star to the baits imperial blue? Or will the class of 2018 regroup in Qatar to defy the curse of Champions and rewrite history?

Whatever happens, whatever script unfolds, we can only live in the moment, appreciating the privilege of having watched two diverse, but equally unique classes of French footballers triumph on the big stage.

France 98? or Russia 2018? Only Didier Deschamps would know.

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