I barely watched the FIFA World Cup in 1998. I may have caught glimpses of the games live as I sat with friends and family at home but I only remember few moments, such as Sunday Oliseh scoring THAT goal against Spain, Thuram’s double against Croatia in the semi-final (I remember the celebration more though…super epic…go check it online if you haven’t seen it), and Zidane’s 2 headers against Brazil in the final (I actually thought he scored one goal and the second was a replay…lol…cos they looked so alike). France became my favourite team, simply because they were World Champions, and they claimed that title as the underdogs.
Over the years, it has been different for France. They staged the worst defence of their title in 2002 where they had 3 players who finished top of the scoring charts in England (Henry), France (Cisse) and Italy (Trezeguet), and managed to score ZERO goals in the tournament. It doesn’t get more embarrassing than that. They pulled off a miracle to reach the final in 2006, but that squad was old, spent and unspectacular. Quite frankly, I don’t even know how they made that final. I think Zidane’s motivation for seeing out his career in the best way possible drove the team there. Once it got the better of him (yea, I’m talking about the headbutt), the fantasy crumbled. Still doesn’t feel real till today (They actually got TO THE FINAL? with that team? gaddamn).
Elements of that team were present in 2010. By then, it was tiring to be a Les Bleus supporter. Quality players were hard to come by from France. The slightest sight of a talent was overblown badly (remember Gourcuff?) and since no one was retiring like Zidane, the team was always a ticking time-bomb. The revolt undertaken by the squad in South Africa was disgusting to say the least and self-destruction was inevitable. They went out in the first round.
It took a serious action from the French FA to set things straight. I think about a million players were banned from the squad (lol), with some of them retiring afterwards. The overhaul was complete by 2014 when the team performed admirably in Brazil. Key to this was the appointment was Laurent Blanc, a member of the 1998 squad who understands the importance of teamwork. Quality players started emerging again; Pogba, Koscielny, Valbuena, Giroud and Lloris were standouts from that squad.
2018 marked 20 years since that memorable night in Paris. Difference was that France was the favourite. They had another coach from the Class of ’98 in charge with Didier Deschamps tasked with finishing the process of bringing back the glory days. On Sunday, he did just that. He had to. It’s exactly 20 years since they were kings of the world. He was part of that historic achievement. He knows why it was so important to win it this year.
It took 20 years for France to let me know that I wasn’t supporting them in vain. It was hard to watch them crumble in those years. What’s worse is that I didn’t fully enjoy their success back then. I just loved a good team. I didn’t get to really see and appreciate why they were so good. The impressions I had, for years, were disturbing and I wondered many times if things would change. Thanks to Pogba, Griezmann, Mbappe and Mandzukic (lol), my support was justified.
In short, it was worth the wait.