With debutant teams, a new format and some of the world’s best players on display, it is safe to say expectations of Euro 2016 are high. Memories will also be stirred of the last time France hosted a major tournament - the 1998 World Cup. The second World Cup to be held on French soil produced a number of astonishing results and career-defining moments that will live long in the memory of fans everywhere.
Group A (Opening Match): Brazil 2-1 Scotland
It was then world champions Brazil who kicked off the final World Cup of the 20th century at the Stade de France. An imposing task for Craig Brown’s team seemed even more daunting when the Brazilians took a 1-0 lead inside the opening minutes thanks to Cesar Sampaio’s header. However, the Scots grabbed a shock equaliser when they were awarded a penalty late into the first half, which was converted by John Collins.
Scotland did their best to keep the impressive Brazilian attacking line at bay, but just over ten minutes from time their resistance was broken in unfortunate circumstances as Tommy Boyd scored an own goal to give Brazil the win. A 1-1 draw against Norway in the next game gave Scotland hope of reaching the knockout phase, but a crushing 3-0 defeat against Morocco confirmed their elimination.
Group D: Spain 2-3 Nigeria
After reaching the round of 16 four years previously, Nigeria caused another upset in their opening fixture in France. Fernando Hierro’s free kick gave the European side the lead, before a Mutiu Adepoju header leveled the scores. A superb volley from Raul restored Spain’s lead just after half time before two goals in the space of five minutes secured a shock victory for Nigeria. The first came courtesy of an own goal from the Spanish goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta before a stunning 25-yard strike from Sunday Oliseh wrapped up the points. It proved a costly defeat for Spain, which failed to make it out of the group, while Nigeria were beaten 4-1 in the next round by Denmark.
Group F: United States 1-2 Iran
This was one of the standout fixtures of the group stages due to the uneasy political relationship between the two nations. Despite some concerns, the game was played in relatively good spirits as Iran secured their first ever World Cup victory. Hamid Estili gave the Iranians the lead with a goal just before half time, before Mehdi Mahdavikia made it 2-0 with just under ten minutes to go. Brian McBride grabbed a late consolation, but Iran held on for a famous victory in what was a remarkable moment in the history of the World Cup.
Round of 16: Argentina 2-2 England (4-3 AET and Penalties)
Two countries with a tense political history of their own took part in one of the most memorable matches in recent history in Saint-Etienne. Gabriel Batistuta gave the South Americans an early lead from the penalty spot before Alan Shearer equalised after England were awarded a penalty of their own just four minutes later. The Three Lions then took the lead when Michael Owen scored one the best goals seen at the World Cup. After collecting the ball on the halfway line, he ran through the whole of the Argentine defence before smashing it into the top left hand corner. Javier Zanetti rounded off an enthralling first half by making it 2-2 from a cleverly worked free kick.
The game’s defining moment came just after half-time, as David Beckham was sent off for kicking out at Argentina midfielder Diego Simeone. Despite being at a disadvantage, England looked to have won the tie when Sol Campbell headed home from a corner in the last ten minutes of normal time. However, the goal was ruled out and the game went into extra time and then to penalties. Although David Seaman saved Hernan Crespo’s attempt, England’s Paul Ince and David Batty also saw their efforts saved as England were knocked out by Argentina for the second time in three World Cups.
Quarter-Final: Netherlands 2-1 Argentina
A repeat of the 1978 final was the reward for Argentina after their win against England. It was the Dutch who took the lead through Patrick Kluivert. However, Argentina quickly struck back courtesy of a Claudio Lopez goal following a brilliant through ball from Juan Sebastian Veron. The game looked to be heading for extra time, until the Netherlands won the tie and a place in the semi-finals thanks to one of the most memorable goals in recent World Cup history. A long ball from Frank de Boer in the final minutes of normal time found Dennis Bergkamp in the Argentina box, who expertly controlled the ball before smashing it into the top corner to send his side through.
Quarter-Final: Germany 0-3 Croatia
Croatia caused a huge upset in their debut World Cup by finishing third, and their quarter-final victory over the Germans was undoubtedly their most stunning result. Robert Jarni gave them the lead right at the end of the first half before Goran Vlaovic grabbed a second with just ten minutes left. Star striker Davor Suker, who would go on to win the Golden Boot, added a third to round off an incredible upset. A narrow 2-1 defeat to hosts France in the semi-finals denied them a place in the final, but they did defeat the Netherlands to claim third place, with Suker fittingly scoring the winning goal.
Final: Brazil 0-3 France
For many it made for the perfect final as the holders would take on the hosts for football’s biggest prize. It was hard to look past Brazil, which boasted an impressive attacking line consisting of Bebeto, Rivaldo, and Golden Ball winner Ronaldo. They also had four previous World Cup wins, while France were aiming for their first.
However, the drama began before the game as Ronaldo was initially left out of the starting lineup, but was then reinstated before kick-off. This sparked a number of rumours concerning the reason why the striker was originally omitted. Whatever occurred, Ronaldo was anonymous as France cruised to a memorable 3-0 victory, with Zinedine Zidane scoring two first half goals to set Aime Jacquet’s side on the path to glory.
Despite losing Marcel Desailly to a red card in the second half, Emmanuel Petit’s last minute goal capped a superb victory for the French to send the home fans in the Stade de France and across the country into raptures. It capped an extraordinary end to an extraordinary tournament.