An expanded, 32 team, tournament, the 1998 World Cup, held in France, saw an end to first round groups where 3 or 4 of the reams advanced, now there would simply be 8 groups with the top 2 in each group advancing.

Following their performance at Euro ’96, England, under new manger Glenn Hoddle, were expected to coast through their group, and got off to the perfect start against Tunisia, with Paul Scholes and Alan Shearer helping them to a 2-0 win. However, a 2-1 defeat to Romania, notable for the fact that Michael Owen, England’s teenage prodigy came off the bench to grab England’s goal. This left England needing to beat Colombia to advance, and goals from Darren Anderton and a superb David Beckham free-kick saw England home, it would be a unforgettable tournament for Beckham, and for Owen, who’s goal against Romania put him firmly in the frame to start in the knockout phase.

Not for the first time, Scotland found themselves in the same group as Brazil, Brazil had beaten Scotland in Italia 90 and Scotland were looking to find revenge on them. The two sides met in the opening match of France 98, with the Scots losing 2-1. Their cause was not helped by a Tommy Boyd own goal, however once John Collins equalised for Scotland they looked hopeful for a point, but eventually Brazil’s class came through. Scotland’s second match was against Norway, which they only managed to draw. However Scotland really fell apart in their final match against Morocco. They lost that match 3-0 and that meant they finished bottom of their group with only a single point. Even if Scotland would have beaten Morocco it still wouldn’t have been enough as Norway beat Brazil joining them in the second round. Scotland kept up their record of being eliminated at the group stage of every world cup for which they had qualified.

Shocks of the first round included Nigeria and Paraguay going through to the second phase at the expense of Spain and Bulgaria, Bulgaria had reached the semi-finals in the 1994 world cup. France and Argentina were the only two teams to emerge from the group phase with unblemished records. Germany were also through to the knockout phase, comfortably winning their group which featured Yugoslavia, USA and Iran. The Italians were amongst the pre tournament favourites and they played well in the first round achieving seven out of nine possible points.

England’s match against Argentina proved to be the most dramatic game of the second round, it had the atmosphere of a cup final and both teams knew only one of them could make the quarter finals. Both sides had penalties early on in the match, which kept them team’s level at 1-1. Michael Owen then scored arguably the best goal of the 1998 world cup, picking the ball up in a very deep position and ran at the heart of the Argentine defence before smashing his shot into the top corner of the net, announcing himself to the world. Argentina levelled just before the half time interval from a clever free kick, and after David Beckham’s sending off for a petulant piece of retaliation on Simeone, the balance of the match looked more in favour to Argentina. Sol Campbell thought he had won the match for England in extra time with a header, however the goal was ruled out for an innocuous looking infringement. The match went to penalties, where England suffered heartache again with another shoot-out defeat. David Batty was the England player to miss the crucial penalty kick on this occasion. Yet the blame fell not on Batty, but on Beckham, vilified in the media for the sending off, redemption would be a long road back.

Brazil and Denmark coasted through the second round, Brazil comfortably beat Chile 4-1 and Denmark beat Nigeria with the score line also being 4-1.

All the other second round matches were won by the odd goal. In France’s case it was the golden goal, the first in world cup history, that clinched victory for them. Laurent Blanc scored the winner for France in the second round match against Paraguay. France looked short of firepower in the match against Italy, needing penalties to progress into the semi-finals. Croatia were the dark horses of the tournament, playing in the most spectacular fashion during the quarter finals. They thrashed Germany 3-0, which sent them through to the semi-finals. Holland beat Argentina 2-1 thanks to a late goal by Dennis Bergkamp, which was along with Owen’s goal was the best goal of the 1998 world cup. The ever-dangerous Brazil, with Ronaldo on top form, came out on top 3-2 after a brilliant match against Denmark.

The first semi-final match saw the favourites Brazil match up against another top team Holland. With the score finishing 1-1 after extra time, Brazil won it in the penalty shoot out. France sent Croatia out of the world cup by beating them 2-1. Their goal scoring problems were highlighted on the day by full-back Lillian Thuram, who notched up the two goals that won the game. Davor Suker scored his sixth goal of the tournament, which earned him the ‘Golden Boot’ award. Croatia marked off their tremendous performance by beating the Dutch in the third place play off 2-1, Zenden immediately gave the Dutch the lead in the first minute however goals by Prosinecki and Suker crowned Croatia with the title of third place in the 1998 world cup finals.

The final looked appetising with the best team of the tournament Brazil matching up against the hosts France. Rumours over Ronaldo’s fitness were quashed once his name was on the team sheet to face France. The world’s top striker, however, didn’t perform on the night and nearly all the Brazilian side was lacking the magic they had shown throughout the world cup. France finally showed the attacking firepower they have which they hadn’t produced in their previous three matches. Zinedine Zidane scored to headed goals and Emmanuel petit sealed victory for the French. France won the match 3-0 and the World cup was won by the host nation France sparking a week of celebrations, led by Michel Platini, organiser of the world cup, and France’s greatest ever player, robbed of the world’s greatest prize 16 years before.

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