Football Italia continues its look back at the Azzurri’s World Cup track record in the lead up to the 2002 Finals. Susy Campanale discovers that France ‘98 has some valuable lessons to teach Giovanni Trapattoni.
Had a deflected strike by Davor Suker not been assigned to the Croat, Christian Vieri would have been the joint top scorer of France ‘98 with five goals in as many games. Prior to this tournament he was one of the world’s most expensive players following a surprise £12m move to Atletico Madrid. He repaid the Spaniards with a top scorer title and 24 goals, but few were expecting such an impact on the world stage.
Bobo Vieri, the son of Italian footballer Bob, grew up in Australia with a passion for cricket, but found himself drawn into his father’s career. Heading back to Italy aged 14, he moved through eight clubs in nine years and was launched on to the international stage by Cesare Maldini. It was an auspicious debut - he scored the 1,000th goal in Azzurri history. By the end of Italy’s brief French campaign, ‘Terminator’ had bagged seven goals in just 13 appearances.
While the Press mused over the relative merits of Baggio and Del Piero, Italy marched forward thanks to their unexpected superstar. “I don’t mind being in the shadows,” admitted the former Juventus star. “The less people talk about me, the more room I have to score.” Former Italy Coach Ferruccio Valcareggi said of him: “His strength in the air and left foot remind me of Gigi Riva, the power of Gunnar Nordahl, the temperament of Silvio Piola, Paolo Rossi’s calm, Giorgio Chinaglia’s pace and Roberto Boninsegna’s work rate.” Not bad for someone who wanted to play cricket.
The father of captain Paolo Maldini and a former Milan great, Cesare was known as ‘Il Nonno d’Italia’ - Italy’s Grandfather. Having taken the Under-21 side to three European Championship titles, his debut match for the Azzurri was the 1-0 qualifier victory at Wembley against England. Maldini’s agitated manner and simplicity made him a fans’ favourite although he was replaced by Dino Zoff soon after the France defeat.
France ‘98 was not as spectacular as the USA tournament that preceded it, but that was mostly due to the failure of the big stars. Alex Del Piero was the biggest disappointment considering his pre-World Cup hype, but Ronaldo was not far behind. Fitness problems were already becoming apparent despite netting four goals, yet what happened on the eve of the Final has clouded the Inter star’s career.
His roommate Roberto Carlos confessed: “He started having convulsions, foaming at the mouth and passed out for around 60 seconds.” Hospital tests showed nothing wrong but despite prescribing rest, 21-year-old Ronaldo played 90 minutes of a World Cup Final just hours after the attack. “We all feared he might die in front of millions of people,” confirmed his teammate. Theories as wild as stress, epilepsy, pressure from sponsors and the Brazilian FA are still under investigation even today.
As for the rest of the tournament, Croatia battled past last-minute specialists Holland to snatch the bronze medal in their first ever World Cup. France’s Laurent Blanc scored the first ever Golden Goal to put plucky Paraguay out in the second round. Japan went home without a single point while Jamaica’s joyous fans danced the night away.
The world fell at Michael Owen’s feet, but only Diego Simeone fell under David Beckham’s spell. Spain’s early promise came to nothing, an ageing Germany were hammered and England lost to Argentina on a penalty shoot-out. Some things never change.
France were handed the trophy by two goals from their most representative player, the ‘Chat Noir’ previously known for rarely scoring and always losing Cup Finals. He was fresh from Juve’s Scudetto triumph and despite a two-match ban for stamping on Saudi Arabia’s Amin, Zizou was instrumental in this campaign. Italy proved that man-marking made no difference and letting him run riot was suicidal. Most of all Zidane did what Michel Platini had not - lifted the World Cup.
A star was born on June 30, 1998. England’s youngest international of the century set off from the halfway line, left Jose Chamot grasping at thin air, skipped past Roberto Ayala and drilled home an angled drive. So fast you needed three replays to fully appreciate the 18-year-old’s prodigious solo effort.
France 3-0 Brazil
Zidane 27, 45 (F), Petit 92 (F)
Desailly s/o 80
France: Barthez; Thuram, Leboeuf, Desailly, Lizarazu; Djorkaeff (Vieira), Deschamps, Zidane, Petit, Karembeu (Boghossian); Guivarc’h (Dugarry)
Brazil: Taffarel; Cafu, Aldair, J Baiano, R Carlos; C Sampaio (Edmundo), Dunga, Rivaldo, Leonardo (Denilson); Bebeto, Ronaldo
Ref: Belqola (Mexico)
Few would have thought that France would lift their first ever World Cup against a side that had never lost a Final. Even less predicted this humiliation. The Brazilians were quite simply outclassed from start to finish by a side that until then had not fully convinced. The trend was further bucked by Zinedine Zidane, a man who scores rarely but practically never with his head, nodding in twice from corner kicks. Even after Marcel Desailly’s second booking for an avoidable foul on Roberto Carlos and with all their strikers on the field, Brazil conceded a third from Emmanuel Petit’s counter-attack. The hosts became only the seventh nation to be crowned World champions.