Happy anniversary Les Bleus!
© AFP

On 12 July 1998, France won their first ever FIFA World Cup™ on home soil, putting an end to almost seven decades of waiting since the competition first began in 1930. The entire nation celebrated, with over a million fans flocking to the Champs Elysees to sing the team's unofficial anthem "I will survive" and fete their red, white and blue heroes. "We are the champions!" sang the crowds, as well as "Thank you Mémé (The nickname of then coach Aime Jacquet)", "One, two three-nil!" and even "Thuram for president!"

Ten years on, and the memories are as strong as ever. France's first goal in the tournament, scored by Christophe Dugarry, Didier Deschamps lifting the Trophy, players retiring after the Final at the peak of their careers - all of these images came flooding back as Les Bleus from 1998 took on a World XI to mark the tenth anniversary.

Aime Jacquet was once again at the helm and had 19 of the 22 world champions to choose from plus the six unlucky ones who were cut from the squad after the pre-tournament training camp at Clairefontaine, as well as Sabri Lamouchi and three other internationals (Olivier Dacourt, Ludovic Giuly and Marc Keller). Only Emmanuel Petit, who scored the third goal again Brazil and the 1,000th French goal of all time, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry were missing. Arsene Wenger and Hristo Stoichkov were the emblematic coaches in charge of the opposing squad of 24 which also included 10 players from the France 1998 tournament.

As the team coach pulled up outside the Stade de France, a different set of players - the ones who inspired Henry, Zinedine Zidane, David Trezeguet and the like, were out on the pitch playing a curtain raiser. The "Generation 84" team, led by Michel Hidalgo and Henri Michel, were on fine form with goalkeeper Albert Rust still looking agile, captain Manuel Amoros pulling the strings and a 53-year-old Didier Six showing he had lost none of his predatory instinct. They were facing the Club des Internationaux de Football, coached by Daniel Rodrighiero and Luc Sonor and with Philippe Vercruysse and overhead kick specialist Amara Simba on sparkling form up front. The various players had a total of 455 caps between them and despite a slow start to the match, they delighted the crowd with a 2-2 draw.

Jacquet holding the Trophy aloft one more time
Half an hour before kick-off, the two teams came out onto the pitch to be greeted by the first Mexican wave from the 80,000 fans - a mere trial run compared with the four later waves which nearly raised the roof. A long silence then fell over the stadium as the FIFA World Cup Trophy descended from the clouds in a helicopter, before the crowd went wild as Jacquet was given the chance to hold the cup aloft for one last time.

With the fans starting up their first chants of "Zizou, Zizou" and Youri Djorkaeff and Fabien Barthez sharing a joke, it was time for the match to get under way.

From his very first touch, it was obvious that Zidane has lost none of his class, but it was Gianfranco Zola who carved out the first real chance in the eight minute. The Italian cut inside Marcel Desailly and curled in a strike which was a good early test for Barthez. A quarter of an hour into the match, Vincent Candela came on for Lilian Thuram, who got a great send-off from the crowd as he called time on his international career.

The World XI continued to make all the running and after Emilio Butragueno almost wriggled his way through four defenders, Zola again brought the best out of Barthez with a curling left-foot effort. The France 98 team was looking a little off the pace, exemplified by Christian Karembeu's sloppy passing and ball control, and the first opposition goal duly arrived on 25 minutes. After a one-two with Zola, Butragueno again swapped passes, this time with Valery Karpin down the right. The Russian slid the ball across for the 44-year-old Spaniard, who slotted the ball into the back of the empty net.

Les Bleus finally got into the game and created their first chance after half an hour. Zidane rolled back the years with a chip over the top for his former Bordeaux team mate Dugarry, whose shot was pushed around the post. From the resulting corner, Laurent Blanc was mere inches away from levelling the score with a header. It was then one-way traffic for the final ten minutes of the half with France 98 laying siege to the World XI goal without ever really looking like finding an equaliser. As the half drew to a close, they were almost caught out as Karpin set Zvonimir Boban free, but the Croat's shot thudded off the foot of Bernard Lama's left-hand post, before Frank Leboeuf went up the other end and managed France's first shot on target, without really troubling Pascal Zuberbuhler.

Zizou turns the tide
The second half was the opposite of the first, with Les Bleus camped in the visitors' half. Three times the French failed to hit the target in a three-minute spell - Alain Boghossian almost converting a corner from Leboeuf, Deschamps missing from four yards out and Dugarry fluffing a header from a Zidane cross. Again they were almost caught on the break, with Lama having to pull off a point-blank save from Leonardo ten minutes into the second period.

Djorkaeff came off to be replaced by Trezeguet, much to the delight of the crowd. They immediately started chanting the name of the Juventus striker, who was pleased to have "signed off amongst friends and really proud to have been involved". Then the French finally got back on level terms on 66 minutes with a well-worked move. Ludovic Giuly put the ball across from the right into the path of Robert Pires, who set up Zidane for a low volley which nestled into the corner.

This merely served to wake up the World XI, with substitute Pauleta firing a Davor Suker cross into the top corner from a tight angle, giving Lionel Charbonnier no chance.

Late drama unfolds
The match then really caught fire, and the remaining 20 minutes were real end-to-end stuff. The 80,000 fans stayed until the very end and were rewarded with a further three goals. Giuly equalised with a right-foot volley after a one-two with Trezeguet with only one minute of the 90 remaining, only for Suker to go up the other end, scythe his way through the French defence and finish his run off with a delightful chip. Bernard Diomede was not about to take this lying down, however, and the former Auxerre and Liverpool midfielder raced past two defenders before launching a left-foot bullet into the far corner of the net to seal a thrilling 3-3 draw.

"French football needed a celebration like this," said a smiling Henri Emile after the match. "Frederic Thiriez (president of the Professional Football League in France) told us out on the pitch that he hadn't been so happy in a long while." A truly spectacular encounter and one last hurrah for France's FIFA World Cup heroes, the spirit of 1998 lives on.