The 1998 FIFA World Cup in France saw many remarkable players demonstrate their talents. While selecting the "best" players is always subjective and can vary based on opinions, a few players stood out and were widely recognized for their exceptional performances during the tournament. Join us as we journey back in time to celebrate and remember the iconic talents of the 1998 World Cup.
Zinedine Zidane (France)
Zinedine Zidane, often referred to as "Zizou", is one of the most iconic soccer players in history. During the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France, he was instrumental in helping the French national team secure their first-ever World Cup title.
During the group stage, France remained undefeated with two wins and a draw. Zidane was a crucial part of the midfield, providing creativity and linking up plays. However, his World Cup took a challenging turn when he was red-carded in the match against Saudi Arabia for stamping on an opponent. This meant he would miss the next two games.
Due to the suspension from the red card, Zidane missed the Round of 16 match against Paraguay and the quarterfinal clash against Italy. Despite his absence, the French team managed to advance in both games.
Zidane returned for the semi-final against Croatia. Even though he didn't score in this match, his presence in the midfield was significant. Croatia took the lead, but France made a comeback with two goals from an unlikely source, right-back Lilian Thuram.
The climax of Zidane's 1998 World Cup journey was undoubtedly the final against Brazil. At the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, Zidane delivered a performance for the ages. He scored twice with headers from corner kicks, both in the first half, setting the tone for the game. France eventually won 3-0, with Emmanuel Petit adding a third goal in the dying moments.
Zidane's performance in the final, especially his two goals, cemented his place as one of the tournament's standout players and further established his status as one of the world's best. This World Cup win was a transformative moment for French soccer, and Zidane, being of Algerian descent, became a symbol of a multicultural France unified under the banner of "Les Bleus."
Overall, despite the setback of the red card, Zinedine Zidane's 1998 World Cup journey was a testament to his talent, resilience, and ability to rise to the occasion on the world's biggest soccer stage.
Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima, commonly known simply as Ronaldo, was one of the brightest stars of the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France. However, his journey in that tournament is as much remembered for his mysterious health issues leading up to the final as for his incredible skills on the pitch.
Ronaldo was in fine form during the group stages. Partnering with Bebeto and Rivaldo, the Brazilian attack was fearsome. Ronaldo's agility, speed, and finishing were on full display as he contributed with goals and assists.
Ronaldo continued to be an essential player for Brazil as they progressed through the knockout stages. His performances against Chile in the Round of 16 and Denmark in the Quarterfinals were particularly noteworthy, with the striker scoring in both matches.
Leading up to the final against France, Ronaldo was expected to be Brazil's main threat. However, on the day of the match, there were shocking reports that Ronaldo wouldn't be in the starting lineup. Later, he was reinstated, but the initial confusion sent shockwaves through the soccer world. During the game, Ronaldo was a shadow of his usual self, looking distracted and lethargic. Brazil went on to lose 3-0 to France.
Rumors swirled about what happened. It was later revealed that Ronaldo had suffered a convulsive fit the night before the final. Many questioned why he was allowed to play in this situation. Ronaldo himself has spoken about the incident in various interviews, stating he felt fine to play, but the exact circumstances and decisions remain a topic of discussion to this day.
Despite the challenges of the final, Ronaldo's talent was undeniable, and he was still one of the tournament's standout players. He won the Golden Ball award for the best player of the tournament.
While the 1998 World Cup ended in personal and collective heartbreak for Ronaldo, he would make a triumphant return at the 2002 World Cup, co-hosted by South Korea and Japan. In that tournament, Ronaldo was pivotal in securing Brazil's fifth World Cup title, cementing his legacy as one of the game's all-time greats.
Davor Šuker (Croatia)
Davor Šuker, the Croatian striker, was one of the standout players at the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France. His performances during that tournament are an integral part of Croatia's soccer history, especially considering it was the country's debut in the World Cup as an independent nation.
Šuker made his mark early in the competition. He scored goals against both Japan and Jamaica, helping Croatia secure a place in the knockout stages.
In the Round of 16, Croatia faced Romania. Šuker's penalty proved to be the only goal of the match, sending Croatia to the quarterfinals. In the quarterfinals Croatia played against Germany, one of the tournament favorites. In a surprising and dominant performance, Croatia won 3-0, with Šuker scoring the final goal to seal the victory.
Facing the hosts, France, in the semi-finals, Šuker scored early in the second half to give Croatia a surprising lead. However, France came from behind with two goals from Lilian Thuram to win 2-1. This match was particularly memorable, not just for Šuker's goal but for Croatia's spirited performance against the eventual champions.
In the third-place play-off, Croatia faced the Netherlands. Šuker again found the net, helping Croatia secure a 2-1 victory and a remarkable third-place finish in their World Cup debut.
Davor Šuker ended the tournament as the top scorer, winning the Golden Boot with six goals. His ability to score crucial goals at decisive moments was a significant reason for Croatia's dream run in the competition.
Šuker's performances at the 1998 World Cup cemented his place as one of Croatia's greatest soccer players. His goals and leadership on the pitch played a significant role in introducing Croatia to the world as a soccer powerhouse. The 1998 World Cup was the foundation upon which Croatian soccer built its reputation, leading to consistent performances in subsequent tournaments, including reaching the World Cup final two decades later in 2018.
After his playing career, Davor Šuker became an influential figure in Croatian soccer administration, serving as the president of the Croatian Football Federation.
Lilian Thuram (France)
Lilian Thuram, a French defender, played a pivotal role in France's journey to World Cup glory in 1998. Primarily known for his defensive prowess, Thuram made a unique and unforgettable contribution to the tournament's narrative.
Throughout the tournament, Thuram was a vital part of the French defense, usually operating as a right-back. Alongside Marcel Desailly, Bixente Lizarazu, and Frank Leboeuf, Thuram helped form a solid defensive line that was instrumental in France's success. The defense conceded only two goals throughout the tournament until the final.
The most memorable moment of Thuram's career, and perhaps one of the most iconic moments of the entire tournament, came during the semi-final against Croatia. France went down 1-0 after a goal from Davor Šuker. However, Thuram, who was not known for his goal-scoring, unexpectedly became the match-winner for France. He scored twice, first leveling the score and then putting France ahead. These were the only two goals he ever scored for the French national team, making the occasion even more special. The match ended 2-1 in favor of France, propelling them to the final.
In the final against Brazil, Thuram was again solid at the back, helping keep the Brazilian attack, which included the likes of Ronaldo, Rivaldo, and Bebeto, at bay. France won 3-0, with Thuram playing the entire 90 minutes.
Thuram's unexpected match-winning performance in the semi-final and his overall consistency throughout the tournament solidified his place as one of the key figures in France's first World Cup victory. He became an emblematic figure of the multicultural French team, symbolizing unity and diversity. Thuram, of Guadeloupean descent, represented the blend of backgrounds and cultures that made the 1998 French team unique.
Beyond his World Cup contributions, Lilian Thuram had a successful club career, playing for top clubs like AS Monaco, Parma, Juventus, and FC Barcelona. Post-retirement, he has been a vocal advocate for social causes, particularly against racism, and has established a foundation dedicated to education against prejudice.
Dennis Bergkamp (Netherlands)
Dennis Bergkamp, the Dutch maestro, was one of the shining stars of the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France. Known for his exquisite technique, vision, and composure in front of goal, Bergkamp showcased some of his finest moments on the global stage during this tournament.
Bergkamp was an integral part of the Netherlands side that successfully navigated their group, which included Belgium, South Korea, and Mexico. His skillful play, along with the likes of Patrick Kluivert and Marc Overmars, provided a potent attacking force for the Dutch.
In the knockout stage against Yugoslavia, Bergkamp played a pivotal role in ensuring the Netherlands progressed. He was involved in the build-up for the first goal and scored the second one, helping his team secure a 2-1 victory.
The quarterfinal against Argentina is perhaps best remembered for one of the World Cup's most iconic goals, courtesy of Bergkamp. In the 89th minute, with the score tied at 1-1, Frank de Boer launched a long pass towards Bergkamp. The Dutch forward controlled the ball magnificently with his first touch, took another touch to get past Argentine defender Roberto Ayala, and then coolly slotted the ball past the goalkeeper with the outside of his foot. This last-minute goal sent the Netherlands to the semi-finals and remains one of the most replayed and celebrated moments of World Cup history.
The Netherlands faced Brazil in the semi-finals. Despite a spirited performance, the Dutch side was edged out in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw in regulation time. Bergkamp played the full match, but the Dutch couldn't overcome the Brazilians to reach the final.
While the Netherlands didn't secure the World Cup trophy, Bergkamp's performances, especially his unforgettable goal against Argentina, ensured that the 1998 campaign would forever be etched in the memories of soccer fans worldwide. It showcased Bergkamp at his best—a player with unparalleled technique and the ability to produce moments of magic.
Beyond the 1998 World Cup, Dennis Bergkamp is widely regarded as one of the finest soccer players of his generation. His club career, especially his time at Arsenal, further established his legendary status in the soccer world.