Upon a backdrop of political resentment, conspiracy theories and lofty expectations, the rhetoric of the 1998 World Cup final between France and Brazil reads more than simply a game of football.
Bidding to become the first side since they did it themselves in 1962 to win successive World Cup finals, the general consensus was that the Selecao would be leaving the Stade de France with a fifth title, the French however, hadn't read the script.
In a final remembered for the performance of Zinedine Zidane and lack of performance from Ronaldo, Les Bleus overcame a whole host of obstacles as July 12th 1998 marked their maiden World Cup triumph.
Hosting '98's edition of the tournament and the guarantee of a place in the group stage came as some welcome relief to the French national team, as failing to qualify for the previous two World Cups had strained the relationship between fans and players. Although the national pressure was merely the tip of an unwelcome iceberg.
Far-right National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, a man known for his controversial views, made some disparaging comments before the start of the tournament regarding the multiracial aspect of the squad, as Emmanuel Petit recalled:
"Jean-Marie Le Pen said during the World Cup that he didn't recognise the national team because there were too many black players," driving the gaping chasm between the team and the nation even wider.
Despite the unnecessary sideshow, Aime Jacquet's side would defy the preconceived
predictions en route to the final. A 100 percent record in the group stage would precede a narrow last 16 win against Paraguay, before ousting Italy on penalties in the quarter finals and edging past the little-fancied Croatia in the semi final to reach the Stade de France showpiece; not so much a run to the final but more so a limp.
Brazil however, under Mario Zagallo, were a side considered amongst the favourites in their bid to defend their title. Topping their group before putting Chile and Denmark to the sword in the last 16 and quarter finals respectively, they overcame the ever-dangerous Netherlands on penalties in the semi finals, although ahead of their sixth World Cup final, the metaphorical wheels unceremoniously fell off.
Merely hours before the final, a chain of events would unfold in the Brazil hotel to become one of the most iconic moments in competitions illustrious history. Beginning when Ronaldo's name was omitted from the team sheet, the footballing world began to question what the absence was due to.
Masked initially as an ankle injury he sustained in the semi final against Holland, reports surfaced that Ronaldo had in fact suffered convulsion in the team hotel following an afternoon nap, which placed a question mark of his part in the final. Despite the episode, the bizarre event took another dramatic twist as Ronaldo appeared with the rest of his teammates, preparing to walk out for a final he clearly wasn't prepared for.
Conspiracy theorists soon had their fun, speculating as to what actually happened with Ronaldo. One of the loudest was supposed pressure from Nike to see their poster boy in the final whatever the circumstances, while some fingers point in the direction of the manager, doctors and even the player himself, although one thing was for certain, the impostor adorning the famous number nine was not the same player who had already scored four goals prior to the final.
Desperate to appear defiant, Dunga led a Brazil team out, who all followed hand in hand as a distinct message to the watching world. Still boasting the likes of Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos and Bebeto to name but a few, the samba giants weren't short on stars, but their perceived over-reliance on the Golden Ball winner eventually took its toll.
The hosts meanwhile weren't exactly lacking in quality themselves such as Lilian Thuram, Petit and Youri Djorkaeff, while Frank Leboeuf deserves an honourable mention, stepping in to replace a suspended Laurent Blanc. The star, however, was Zidane, who stamped his mark on the final; earning redemption following a red card for a stamp earlier in the competition.
Brazil threatened in parts during the first half, as Ronaldo almost caught out Fabien Barthez with a cross he gathered at the second attempt, before Zidane opening the scoring in the final, ghosting in front of Ronaldo to power home Petit's corner for a deserved lead after 27 minutes.
In truth, France could've registered an unassailable lead before half time, with Petit, Djorkaeff and Stephane Guivarc'h all guilty of wasting golden opportunities. It need not matter, however, as on the stroke of half time, Zidane found himself free once again to head home Djorkaeff's corner for a crucial two goal cushion heading into the interval.
With nothing to lose heading into the second half, Brazil probed for all their worth as they looked to desperately cling on to what appeared to be a World Cup slipping from their reach. Ronaldo could only fire straight at Barthez after the ball fell to him from a cross, although you couldn't help but wonder if the Ronaldo of the last 16 or the quarter finals would've buried the opportunity.
Bebeto was unfortunate to not find a way past a covering Marcel Desially, as the towering defender was covering on the line to spare the blushes of his 'keeper having misjudged a long Roberto Carlos throw in. Desially's part in the game however would soon come to an end, as France's number eight so red for after accumulating a second yellow for a late lunge, just one of many late, aggressive and sometimes reckless challenges littered throughout a final fraught with emotion and frustration.
As the game appeared to be drifting away from them, Brazil almost found a late route back into the game, with substitute Denilson clipping the crossbar, although it would be their European opponents who had the final say on the game. In additional time, Patrick Viera played in Arsenal teammate Petit, who slotted past Claudio Taffarel to seal what was a historic achievement summed up by the man himself, stating:
"I have cried twice in my life: at the birth of my son and at the end of the World Cup."
Once the dust settled following France's first and only World Cup to date, the inevitable inquest began back in South America after the debacle surrounding both Brazil's performance and the curious case of Ronaldo.
Questions were rife regarding the decision to play a striker who had suffered a convulsion before the game, with sponsors, doctors, Zagallo and even Ronaldo himself in the firing line as a result, and while the answers remain a mystery, the Brazilian forward wouldn't have to wait too long before he claimed his chance at redemption.
For France however, despite winning the biggest prize in football, previous tensions had merely been put on hold rather than rectified. Jacquet would resign after the final, citing the fractured relationship between himself and the French FA's hierarchy, while persistent criticism from the media did little to help what appeared a highly volatile position.
Despite Jacquet's resignation, what should not be overlooked is the monumental achievement by that side, inking their names into the history books. An efficient, industrious side that was blessed with grace and talent with the bonus of a true great in their ranks who, as the big players tend to do, turned up for the big occasion.
Zidane became a national hero as a result, making a mockery of Le Pen's insulting comments and bringing French football to the forefront of the world's gaze. An Algerian decedent, it was this Frenchman who finally gave them their moment in the sun.