Soccer, 1998 World Cup, Lilian Thuram celebrates scoring against Croatia – Sportskeeda facebook account
CAIRO – 28 March 2018: After decades of failure and disappointments, on July 8, 1998, France’s national team had the chance to be the first team in the history of the nation to reach the World Cup final when they met Croatia in the semi-finals.
On that night, the French expected Zinedine Zidane, David Trezeguet or Thierry Henry to lead them to the final, but the savior was their right back, Lilian Thuram.
In 1998, France hosted the World Cup for the second time in their history. They hosted the competition first in 1938, when they were eliminated in the quarter-finals by the title holders, Italy.
The French fans did not expect a lot from their team, who failed to reach the World Cup in the last two tournaments, and they did not expect a better fate than that of 1938.
France’s national team, led by Aimé Jacquet, was a mixture between veteran players – like team captain Didier Deschamps, Emmanuel Petit and Marcel Desailly – and newcomers, like Trezeguet and Henry.
Despite their success in UEFA EURO 1996, when they reached the semi-finals and lost to Czech Republic on penalties, there were better teams in the World Cup than the hosts, but Jacquet and his players had something special to give their people.
France topped their group with 9 points from three victories over Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the UEFA EURO 1992 winners, Denmark, to reach the round of 16, where they played against Paraguay.
France failed to score during the regular time, but they secured their victory thanks to a golden goal from their veteran defender, Laurent Blanc, that sent them to the quarter-finals.
France again found themselves against the Italians, who sent them out of the 1938 World Cup, but the French gained more confidence during their path and were ready to take revenge.
Both teams failed to score, despite having two massive attacking lines, and the game went to a penalty shootout. The French goalkeeper, Fabien Barthez, took his nation’s 60-year revenge when he saved two shots from the Italian players, leading his team to the semi-finals.
Before the semi-finals against Croatia, our hero, Thuram, was just a right back who formed a defensive partnership with Desailly, Blanc and Bixente Lizarazu.
But during the game, the French fans’ feelings towards their defender were conflicting.
After a goalless draw in the first half, Croatia’s striker, Davor Šuker, opened the score for his team, as he received the ball alone at the edge of the French area while Thuram was covering the offside.
After the Croatian goal, Thuram turned into France’s biggest enemy and they would tear him apart if his teammates at the attacking line could not equalize the score.
Thuram had a different idea and decided to make his fate himself. He ran towards the Croatian area a minute after their goal, took the ball from the Croatian defender and made a one-two with Youri Djorkaeff to score the equalizer for the French.
Thuram did not believe himself, as that goal was his first with the national team since he first wore the jersey in 1994.
The night held more surprise for Thuram, who took the ball from the Croatian defender around their area and scored his second goal in the game, securing his team’s qualification to their first World Cup final ever.
After the game, Thuram was more famous in France than the Eiffel Tower, having turned from their biggest enemy after Suker’s goal to their hero in just 20 minutes.
Three days later, France fulfilled their glory, as they defeated the title holders, Brazil, 3-0 to win their only World Cup in history.
Thuram played for eight years with the French national team since that night and won the UEFA EURO 2000. He played in the 2006 World Cup final, but he never scored another goal for the national team, keeping his goals to that special night.