The 1998 World Cup Final – on reflection…

March 6, 2010

Extended highlights of the 1998 World Cup Final is currently on repeat on a particular British television channel showing ‘classic’ sporting encounters. Most famous for Zidane’s two headers and Ronaldo’s pre-match breakdown, it’s not a game that is generally held up as a great tactical victory.

And it probably wasn’t. If Brazil had marked at set-pieces better, the result might have been different – the sides had a similar number of chances in open play.

There were three things noticeable about the France side, however, which is normally looked upon as being a 4-3-2-1, with Zinedine Zidane and Youri Djorkaeff playing just behind Stephane Guivarc’h.

Firstly, Guivarc’h’s role was a lot different to how it is remembered. With Fabio Capello opting for Emile Heskey upfront throughout England’s recent qualifiers, the inevitable anti-Heskey feeling emerged amongst people who believe that you need a goalscorer upfront. And those who believe Heskey is important for England rightfully point to the fact that France won the World Cup by playing Guivarc’h as their main striker, who didn’t score for the entire tournament. Guivarc’h, apparently, brought the best out of the team.

But actually, it’s difficult to see quite what he did for France. He didn’t hold the ball up, his movement wasn’t particularly good, he didn’t win aerial encounters and he didn’t defend from the front. None of France’s best moves came from Guivarc’h doing anything well. France were simply a good side with a really poor striker, and he simply missed a hatful of chances.

Secondly, the system was a lot more 4-3-1-2 than it was 4-3-2-1. Djorkaeff plays almost in a conventional striker role when France have the ball – he drops deeper to occupy either Dunga or Cesar Sampaio when Brazil are on the attack, but he plays much closer to Guivarc’h than he does to Zidane.

Thirdly, the French defenders have an unbelievable license to attack. With Deschamps sitting in front of the defence, Petit covering the left-hand side and Karembeu the right, the back four regularly motor forward to join the attack. Lizarazu, of course, made a career out of this throughout his career, and Thuram motored forward in the semi-final to score the only goals of his international career. But even the centre-backs drive forward. Marcel Desailly brought the ball out of defence like a sweeper – and it was on one of his charges forward that he received his second yellow card for a foul on Cafu, and was sent-off. France adjusted by shifting Emmanuel Petit into the backline, and yet Petit still felt free to run forward in stoppage time to grab a third goal for the France. So the two most significant moments of the second half came from the furthest forward French player being one of their centre-backs.

This is admittedly only from watching hour-long highlights of the one gae, but it was interesting how different France actually set up, compared to how they are often remembered.

Comments welcomed.

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