When they were chosen in the summer of 1992 as host country for the sixteenth edition of the FIFA World Cup, France became the third country to showcase football’s biggest event for the second time after Mexico and Italy. The French had won the trophy the previous time they had hosted a major tournament – the 1984 European Championship – and much was expected of a talented Les Bleus side featuring an array of stars, among them the talismanic Zinedine Zidane.
The 1998 tournament saw a change to the format from the previous one in the United States; the number of teams at the finals was increased by a third from twenty-four to thirty-two, mainly as a result of the desire to embrace more teams from the smaller regions such as Africa and Asia. The thirty-two finalists were divided into eight groups of four, which made things easier to fashion the second knockout phase; the top two and best four second place spots system was replaced by a far more simple method where just the top two teams in each of the eight groups would progress to the round of sixteen.
As was the case in the United States four years earlier, first phase groups were no longer allocated “home” stadia, and seeded teams no longer had the privilege of playing all three of their opening fixtures at the one ground. With there now being eight first phase groups, the idea of allocating two grounds of international standard to each individual group was both unsustainable and beyond any reasonable hosting budget; it made far more sense to spend the money on a smaller number of stadia to bring them to the highest possible standard and then circulate them around the forty-eight first phase fixtures.
As the bar was continually being raised in terms of spectator comfort and facilities, many famous old grounds were often completely refurbished or even rebuilt from scratch; indeed, most modern football stadia can best be described as leisure centres with a plethora of amenities for spectators, and are a far cry from those even used in Italia ’90. While it is true that some of the raw stadium atmosphere might have been lost, spectators would no longer have to put up with such things as uncomfortable concrete “seats” and streams of warm urine cascading down the stands on account of others not willing to brave the long queues outside the six filthy holes in the ground dotted around the ground.
The other change outside of the tournament’s expansion – and one that had an effect on the field of play itself – was the introduction of the golden goal method, which had first been used in a major tournament two years earlier in the European Championship. In essence, the concept was simple: in the event of extra time, the first team that scored won the game – no chance for a comeback by the opposition, and no possibility of a repeat of the six-goal classic that was Sevilla 1982.
This Golden Goal tie-breaker was employed in all good faith to encourage more attacking play, but in reality it probably led to more negativity in that teams were more likely to concentrate on not conceding rather than chasing the game and taking unnecessary risks – four games in the latter stages went into extra time, with only one Golden Goal being scored, that by France’s Laurent Blanc in the second phase tie against Paraguay.
With thirty-two teams in the tournament the programme was expanded from fifty-two to sixty-four matches, spanning just over a month. France ’98 kicked off on 10th June and ended on 12th July, with a total of 171 goals being scored at an average of 2.62 per game – there were ten tournament venues in nine host cities.
The final in the newly-built Stade de France in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis saw a triumph for the host nation and a victory for it’s fêted multi-ethnic team, which did much – at least in the short term – to give French society a healthy shot in the arm. For many football fans however the final will largely be remembered for Brazil’s rather flat display and the mystery surrounding the no-show of Brazil’s buck-toothed boy wonder Ronaldo.
Qualifying Campaign and pre-tournament build-up
Berti Vogts’ side had gone unbeaten through their round of ten qualifying fixtures, but things remained undecided right until the last round. A win again against Albania cemented top spot and an automatic qualification for the finals, but it was not without its hairy moments.
Seven friendly international fixtures were played in 1998 between the conclusion of the qualifying campaign and the start of the finals in France; the first two of these took place during a tour of the Middle East, where solid 2-0 and 3-0 wins were secured against Oman and Saudi Arabia respectively. The first home game of the year took a negative turn however, with the Mannschaft being defeated 2-1 by Brazil courtesy of a Ronaldo strike two minutes from time. Vogts’ side then entertained Nigeria in Köln, earning a 1-0 win with Andy Möller getting on the scoresheet.
As the finals approached, three fixtures were packed into the space of the week; the first against Finland in Helsinki produced a very ordinary performance and a rather sterile goalless draw, but the home fixture against Colombia three days later saw an encouraging 3-1 victory with Oliver Bierhoff scoring twice. The final warm-up game against Luxembourg in Mannheim gave provided the perfect send-off in front of the home fans, as the Mannschaft racked up seven unanswered goals with all of the forward line getting on the scoresheet. While Luxembourg were far from the most testing opposition, it was no bad thing to see Klinsmann, Kirsten and Bierhoff all hitting the target.
Germany’s Tournament in brief
The campaign in France began with a solid if unspectacular 2-0 win over the United States in the opening match, followed by a somewhat shaky 2-2 draw with Yugloslavia which had seen Berti Vogts’ side come back from two goals down. The third game game saw another professional perfomance to dispatch minnows Iran 2-0, taking the Mannschaft to seven points. The Yugoslavs matched this points total, but their having scoring fewer goals against the group’s weaker teams meant that Germany progressed to the next phase top of the group on goal difference.
During much of this early period of the tournament however many minds in Germany had been torn away from what had been happening on the pitch. On the day of the match against Yugoslavia a number of German hooligans and run riot in the streets of Lens, leaving a French Gendarme fighting for his life.
The assault on Daniel Nivel caused widespread outrage in Germany; while there had always been a hooligan element this was the first time had been exported to another country in such a brutal fashion. To many in England this would have been an expected occurence – England “supporters” had already been giving the authorities a hard time in Marseille – but in Germany the idea of an Amoklauf by their own countrymen in another country made many recoil in horror. A majority of Germans polled suggested that the team give their World Cup bonuses to the family and the state broadcaster ARD opened a bank account to receive donations; many even thought that the team should actually pull of the the tournament, an action that had actually been considered by then DFB president Egidius Braun – who later helped to set up a foundation named after the police officer to investigate and prevent football-related violence.
The rioting in Lens clearly cast a long and dark shadow over the ongoing campaign; given the idea that pulling out of the tournament had actually been considered at the highest level, it is very likely that players might have found it hard to concentrate on training and playing football.
The second phase pitted Vogts’ workmanlike unit against an energetic Mexican side, with the Germans coming back from a goal down to win four minutes from time. It was perhaps a flattering win, and one where professionalism emerged victorious over raw enthusiasm and energy – this was clearly not a great German side, but somehow they were just one match away from a place in the last four.
Like in 1994, the quarter-final draw set the Mannschaft against Balkan opposition – this time in the form of tournament debutants Croatia. With five minutes left in the first half the game swung decisively against the Germans – Davor Šuker was sent tumbling to the ground, and a shocked Christian Wörns was given his marching orders even before the Croat had stopped rolling in faux agony.
Up until Wörns’ dismissal Germany had marginally been the better side, but it proved to be a mortal blow as they failed to see out the first half with a clean sheet. Two more Croatian goals were scored on the break in the second half as yet another World Cup campaign came to an end at the quarter-final stage. The atmosphere was unmistakably fetid, an experience that was new to many fans of the Mannschaft. The quarter-final exit to Bulgaria in 1994 will always be seen as an infamous day in German football history, but at least it could be argued away on account of it being a genuine shock: after all, other teams have been shocked before and since. During the campaign in France however there was a feeling of inevitability about it all, and the loss to Croatia was met not with shock or surprise but something approaching discontented resignation.
The overall standard of play by an ageing and at times listless German side, combined with the incident in Lens which elicited an altogether different sort of horror, made this a World Cup many Germans would want to forget.
v United States First Phase Group F, Paris, 15.06.1998 View Report »
v Yugoslavia First Phase Group F, Lens, 21.06.1994 View Report »
v Iran, First Phase Group Group F, Montpellier, 25.06.1998 View Report »
v Mexico, Second Phase, Montpellier, 29.06.1998 View Report »
v Croatia, Quarter-Final, Lyon, 04.07.1998 View Report »