After the success of Euro 96 the World Cup two years later had a lot to live up to, and it delivered in a big way. For me, the 1998 edition of the greatest show on turf is the best competition I’ve seen from start to finish.
It had everything. Great goals, dramatic moments and all the greatest players in the world in one place (and Darren Anderton). Whilst two years earlier football hadn’t come home for England, it did for the French side who blazed their way to the trophy after an incredible month of football.
After months of collecting the stickers, reading the books and playing the Playstation game I was ridiculously excited when the opening game finally came around – mainly because Brazil were in it. Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Roberto Carlos would be showcasing their silky skills against the mighty… Scotland.
There were superstars wherever you looked and Batistuta, Salas and Suker were banging in the goals. England also got off to a good start with a win against Tunisia, but then lost to Romania and only scraped through to the knockout stage with victory against Colombia.
Then came the game of the tournament against Argentina. Michael Owen scored the goal that announced his arrival on the world stage, David Beckham got sent off and became public enemy number one, and David Batty missed the crucial kick as England went out again on penalties.
As a Newcastle fan I was gutted for Batty who played for us at the time, but I couldn’t believe it as he stepped up to take the kick and promptly missed. I’d rather have Heather Mills have a go from 12 yards, but then again she’d probably hit the woodwork…
Despite the Three Lions’ exit France 98 continued to flourish. There were goals galore and for once all the big teams stayed in to ensure some classic encounters. Who could forget Bergkamp’s last-gasp wondergoal against Argentina, or Croatia dismantling Germany on the way to their third-place finish?
But the real story was the French side who were playing brilliantly with Zinedine Zidane running the show on their own patch. We got the dream final of the best team Brazil against the hosts. The drama began before the game with the Ronaldo saga, and Zidane netted two headers as France won their first world title.
World Cup 98 was also my first foray into sports journalism as my teacher got me to write daily reports for her as she didn’t have a TV. It would be something I’d take more seriously later in life but I can only hope that one day I’ll be reporting on a competition that is as magical as the one held across the Channel during the summer of 1998.