World class: Vive la France Zidane's two goals, stifling defense earn upset of Brazil, 1st Cup

July 13, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SAINT-DENIS, France -- The French soccer team, which had aroused an indifferent nation with its exceptional play over the past month, delivered an even more stunning accomplishment yesterday, dominating favored Brazil to win its first World Cup title. In winning the world's largest sporting event, 3-0, France produced the tournament's most improbable championship game upset in nearly five decades.

Zinedine Zidane, France's exquisite playmaker, scored his first two goals of the competition at its most decisive moment, heading in a pair of corner kicks and making the home team the champion of the quadrennial tournament for the first time since Argentina prevailed in 1978.

Even after defender Marcel Desailly was ejected for receiving his second yellow card 22 minutes from the end, France kept attacking and produced a short-handed goal in the 93rd minute from midfielder Emmanuel Petit. So much for the belief, held inside and outside of France, that French athletes seldom have the confidence or poise to win the big game.

France clearly dominated this tournament, surrendering only two goals in seven matches with a compact defense that pressured Brazil yesterday and smothered its attack in midfield. With more precise shooting, France could have won 6-0 or 7-0. Even so, the three-goal margin matched the largest ever in the championship game.

"We were not satisfied just to be in the final," said Aime Jacquet, France's embattled coach. "We've been working toward this for two years, and we deserved to win."

Ronaldo, the Brazilian forward considered to be the best player in the world, was reduced to limping immobility yesterday by an ankle injury and tendinitis in his knee suffered earlier in the tournament. The team doctor, Lidio Toledo, also said that Ronaldo felt faint after lunch yesterday but had begun to feel better after resting.

The O Estado newspaper of Sao Paolo, Brazil, relying on an interview with Ronaldo's close friend and teammate, Roberto Carlos, reported that the pressure to succeed had apparently led the 21-year-old superstar to suffer a severe case of nerves that included vomiting and dizziness.

He was taken to a hospital for treatment for his ankle before the game, according to FIFA, soccer's world governing body, and was not listed in the original starting lineup. With Ronaldo a nonfactor, Brazil lost a World Cup final for only the second time in six appearances. That earlier defeat, a 2-1 loss at home to Uruguay in the 1950 championship game, was the most unexpected result before yesterday.

"France was better," said Brazil's 66-year-old coach, Mario Zagallo. "We suffered a major traumatic shock. Ronaldo was not fit to play. That was a major psychological blow. Everyone was upset and down that Ronaldo would not be able to play well. The team was a little inhibited thinking about this."

With 75,000 spectators watching at Stade de France, and an estimated 1.7 billion watching on worldwide television, France became only the seventh team ever to win the World Cup, which began in 1930, joining Argentina, Germany, Uruguay, Italy, England and four-time champion Brazil in this exclusive sporting fraternity.

It was a Frenchman, Jules Rimet, who conceived the idea of a soccer world championship and yesterday it was the Jules Rimet trophy that President Jacques Chirac handed over his head to Didier Deschamps, the exultant French captain. This was quite a turnaround from 1994 when France failed to qualify for the World Cup, and from 1958, 1982 and 1986, when it exited prematurely in the semifinals.

When this tournament began June 10, France hardly seemed interested that it was host to an event that dwarfs the Olympics in terms of international anticipation. But slowly the French grew consumed by their soccer team, and yesterday hundreds of thousands gathered to celebrate along the Champs-Elysees and the plaza at City Hall.

Chirac wore a soccer scarf around his neck, and ordinary fans dyed their hair red, white and blue. Even some French policemen had the country's tricolor painted on their arms in anticipation of victory.

France played without one of its central defenders, Laurent Blanc, who was ineligible because he received a red card in the semifinals. But Frank Lebouef played steadily in replacement, and the French defense was equally impregnable.

"That's just an excuse," Lebouef said of Ronaldo's sick stomach. "Brazil is always dangerous, no matter who is out there."

While France attacked from the beginning, Brazil played with a curious torpor in the first half. Ronaldo conserved his energy for the occasional sprint, only to suffer further injury with a high-speed collision with Fabien Barthez, the French goalkeeper. Ronaldo was unable to jump, and though he was in the vicinity, he was useless in attempting to stop Zidane as he headed a corner kick over Leonardo in the 27th minute and as he repeated the maneuver unmarked in the 46th minute.

Throughout the first half, Zagallo said he kept wondering whether "I should keep Ronaldo on the pitch or take him off."

There was never any question about removing Zidane, the 26-year-old French midfielder, even though he had not scored before yesterday's championship match. An impetuous foul cost him a red card and a two-game suspension in the first round. But he is everything to this French team, its best scorer and playmaker, its unquestioned leader.

"Zidane brought light to the game and illuminated it," Jacquet said. "He scored with his head. Who could have predicted it? But it is one of those unpredictable things that makes this a beautiful game."

Pub Date: 7/13/98

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