France will be playing the Fifa World Cup 2018 final in Luzniki Stadium on Sunday. They are through to the final after beating Belgium 1-0 with help from Umtiti's goal. The Les Blues are waiting for their opponent in the Finals which will be decided between England vs Croatia today. France have now reached more World Cup finals than any other nation since reaching their first one in 1998.
Fifa World Cup 1998: The arrival of Les Blues
In the 1998 edition of the Fifa World Cup, France emerged victorious after beating Brazil at the Stade de France. The host nation France had reached the final of the tournament for the first time. France won the match 3–0 to claim the World Cup for the first time, with the timing of the match two days before Bastille Day adding to the significance of the victory. The French National Day is the anniversary of Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, a turning point of the French Revolution. Indeed that World Cup victory was a revolution for the France national team, which finally announced the arrival of France as a footballing powerhouse. The 'golden generation' at the dawn of the 20th century consisted of players like Patrice Viera, Theirry Henry, Robert Pires, Emmanuel Petit and of course Zinedine Zidane.
Zidane was named man of the match, scored twice before half-time and Emmanuel Petit added a third goal in the last minute in 1998 final.
After the 1998 World Cup, France also set to win the 2000 Euro, which is regarded as one of the most competitive modern day tournaments by football critics.
France won the match, defeating Italy 2–1 in the final. Marco Delvecchio gave Italy the lead in the 55th minute and they held on until the final minute of injury time, when Sylvain Wiltord crashed a low drive past Italian keeper Francesco Toldo to take the game into extra time. France won the game just before half-time in extra-time when Robert Pirès cut the ball back for David Trezeguet to fire the golden goal and win the tournament for France.
These 2 major victories put France in the International map as they joined the likes of Germany, Italy, Brazil and others as a force to reckon in international tournaments.
However, their fortunes have not changed much after that. Amid a certain consistency, France have not won any major international trophy since 2000 Euro Cup. They have reached 2 finals: in 2006 Fifa World Cup and 2016 Euro Cup. France have faltered at both the finals they have played in the last 2 major tournaments.
Final losses and disappointment
In the 2016 Euro Cup final, Portugal defeated the hosts and two-time winners France 1–0 after extra time, with a goal from substitute Eder, to claim its first major tournament title. France became the second host team to lose the final, after Portugal in 2004, and suffered their first defeat at a major tournament hosted in the country since the 1960 European Nations' Cup third-place playoff against Czechoslovakia. France lost the game even though they had a better team in terms of representation in elite clubs. They also enjoyed better possession and had to play against a Ronaldo-less side. But, it didn't seem to work out.
The major disappointment was the 2006 Final. The final defeat marked the end of France's 'golden generation' and also the end of one of football's greatest Zinedine Zidane. Zidane cruised France to the World Cup final with his heroics and match-winning performances, especially the quarter-final against Brazil. But, the defeat was heart-breaking and shocking because of the way it unfolded.
Zidane was sent off for headbutting Marco Materazzi in the 110th minute. France had taken the lead with a brilliant Zidane penalty in the 10th minute which was equalised by a headed goal from Materazzi in the 19th minute.
Zidane anchored the whole match but lost his temper over a heated encounter with Materazzi. The red card marked the end of his career and France's World Cup dream in 2006 in the worst possible way. The final eventually headed to penalties, which Italy went to win 5-3.
Will history repeat itself?
A similarity between the 2006 and 2018 World Cup is that in both the tournaments, France had the best side on paper and had everything going in for them apart from a certain thing called destiny. The destiny to win the World Cup.
The 1998 winners and 2018 France have another similarity. Didier Deschamps was the captain of the 1998 squad and now he is the head coach of France. Didier Deschamps is the first ever manager in France history to reach the final of 2 major tournaments (EURO 2016 & World Cup 2018).
Fifa World Cup 2018 has been a dream run for the France with a mixed bag of experienced and the young players. France will face either of the two outcomes, one of the 1998 World Cup where they emerged World Cup winners or the way it ended in 2006.
The current crop of France players display that France have a lot of potential to reclaim their claim as a traditional power house. They also have a lot of hot heads and controversial character with the usual supect being Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappe. Going forward to the final, they need to remember Zidane's heorics and also his mistake in the 2006 final.