On the face of it, literally nobody expected France and Croatia to be vying for the World Cup 2018 trophy – the former may be, the latter definitely not. But these two teams have masterminded their paths all the way to the final showdown in Moscow, and their places in the final are absolutely deserved.
While Croatia’s steely resolve paved the way for them all the way to the summit clash, French flair outdid the best of teams in their run to the Luzhniki Stadium.
It certainly shapes up really well; a young and exciting French team ready to dominate world football for the better part of the coming decade, while their Croatian counterparts seek to achieve the impossible with a team full of sagging superstars in their swansong.
All this promises excitement and drama aplenty, which really would be a fitting finale for what has been an incredible month of phenomenal football.
As the curtains come down on the world’s showpiece sporting event, this article chronicles the highs and lows of World Cup finals - the champions and the nearly-men; the fine lines between the most famous victories and the most ignominious defeats; the celebrated winners and the forgotten losers.
#4 France vs Brazil, 1998
France hosted the World Cup for the first time which was cause enough for excitement – France’s run all the way to the final led to pandemonium in the country. Lying between the French and a maiden World Cup triumph was Brazil, the one team nobody wanted to play in a final. The South American football behemoths had won every World Cup final they had played since 1950, and had been crowned world champions four times already. Led in attack by the rampant Ronaldo, Brazil swatted away opponents to comfortable make it to the final in Paris.
Upstarts, France had never played a World Cup final before, with their run almost always petering out by the semifinal stage. 1998 too nearly saw a repeat, with the hosts trailing Croatia in the semifinal. Lillian Thuram, however, had other plans, as his only two international goals saw France through.
The days before the final, however, were dominate with speculation around Ronaldo and whether or not he would play, with reports of an injury coming from the Brazil camp. It was widely expected that the talismanic Brazilian would sit out the final. However, in a startling turn of events, he was named in the starting lineup an hour before kickoff.
This surprise, however, didn’t startle France.
Backed by a raucous home crowd, France took the lead through a Zinedine Zidane header from a corner. Zidane repeated the trick in first half stoppage time with a carbon copy of his first goal to double the French advantage.
Brazil were offered a lifeline in the second half when Marcel Desailly was sent off for a second booking. Immediately, attacking changes were made and the likes of Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Bebeto and Rivaldo looked increasingly menacing.
For all their star names, however, Brazil were unable to penetrate the French rearguard, and in second-half stoppage time, Patrick Viera picked up the ball to thread it through for his Arsenal teammate Emmanuel Petit, whose strike bulged the Brazilian net for the third time.
Brazil were comprehensively outplayed by France. The likes of Thiery Henry, Robert Pires, Fabian Barthez, Zidane, Didier Deschamp and Bixente Lizarazu cemented their own statutes as legends while earning the Les Bleus the tag of being one of the best teams in modern football. The 3-0 victory at the Stade De France kicked off a brief period of French supremacy in football – France won the European Championship in 2000, becoming the only team at that time to be holders of both the European Championship and the World Cup simultaneously.