#WorldCupAtHome: Titanic Thuram sinks Croatia

  • #WorldCupAtHome series continues with France-Croatia semi-final from 1998

  • The Croatians upset the odds by reaching the last four in their first World Cup

  • Trailing by a goal, Les Bleus were rescued by an inspired Lilian Thuram

On 8 July 1998, the Stade de France provided the stage for an unprecedented FIFA World Cup™ semi-final. The French were one step away from reaching the Final for the first time, while their opponents, Croatia, were viewed as the surprise package of the tournament. The Vatreni continued their jaw-dropping exploits by opening the scoring, only to be eventually undone by a brace from the unlikeliest of sources.

The summary

France 2-1 Croatia 8 July 1998 | Stade de France, Saint-Denis

Goalscorers: Croatia: Davor Suker (46’); France: Lilian Thuram (47’, 70’)

Line-ups: France: Fabien Barthez, Bixente Lizarazu, Lilian Thuram, Marcel Desailly, Laurent Blanc, Christian Karembeu (Thierry Henry 31’), Didier Deschamps ©, Emmanuel Petit, Youri Djorkaeff (Frank Lebœuf 77’), Zinedine Zidane, Stephane Guivarc'h (David Trezeguet, 68’)

Croatia: Drazen Ladic, Igor Stimac, Slaven Bilic, Dario Simic, Mario Stanic (Robert Prosinecki 89’), Zvonimir Soldo, Robert Jarni, Zvonimir Boban © (Silvio Maric 63’), Aljosa Asanovic, Goran Vlaovic, Davor Suker

The stakes

With three wins from their three group matches, Les Bleus had advanced to the knockout stages without being significantly tested. All that changed, however, in the Round of 16, where they required a golden goal from Laurent Blanc to see off the resilient challenge of Paraguay. In the quarter-finals, Aime Jacquet’s men were involved in an even tighter clash with Italy, whom they eventually defeated 4-3 on penalties after a 0-0 draw.

As for the Croatians, their campaign began more discreetly, with two wins and a defeat securing second spot in Group H. In the second round, they squeezed past Romania 1-0, before sensationally dismantling Germany 3-0 in the quarters. In their first-ever appearance on football’s greatest stage, Miroslav Blazevic’s charges had already massively exceeded the expectations of their fans by reaching the last four.

The story

Suker strikes: With their skills, fighting spirit and attacking prowess, the Croatians, playing in an effective 3-5-2 spearheaded by the mercurial Davor Suker, had already earned the respect of the football world during this World Cup. At the start of the second half, the Real Madrid front man pounced to slam the opener past France’s Fabien Barthez, who had only conceded one goal – a penalty kick – in the five matches leading up to the semi-final.

Terrific Thuram: When Suker received the ball on the edge of the box prior to scoring, it was Lilian Thuram who played him onside. Determined to make up for his mistake, the athletic right-back equalised a minute later, before going on to score the winning goal 20 minutes from the end. His memorable celebration, in which he knelt on the ground with his hand over his chin in a thoughtful, doubting pose, appropriately reflected the unbelievable turn of events.

Blanc sees red: Laurent Blanc, generally admired for his fair play, received a red card – the first of his career – in the final quarter of an hour. Having come up for a free-kick, the French defender raised his hands in a tussle with Croatia’s Slaven Bilic, who fell to the ground. The referee’s decision was a bitter blow for Blanc, who missed the Final through suspension as a result.

The star

It is practically impossible to discuss the 1998 semi-final without considering the role played by Thuram. Aligned at right full-back by Jacquet throughout the World Cup, the versatile defender had never previously scored for his country, and would never score again, despite racking up 142 caps. The rearguard he formed with Blanc, Marcel Desailly and Bixente Lizarazu is often considered as France’s greatest-ever back four.

What they said

“What was funny was that everyone reacted like I did. All of the players and staff were saying ‘What just happened?’ And let me tell you something. My mother was in the stands. They told her that her son had scored the first goal – she couldn’t understand it. When they told her I’d scored again, she fainted. I’m not joking. Marcel came up to me after the second goal and said, ‘What are you playing at?' I told him, ‘I don’t really know, to be honest.’" Lilian Thuram, France defender (speaking to RMC)

What happened next?

In the Final, France resoundingly defeated a Ronaldo-led Brazil 3-0, courtesy of a headed brace by Zinedine Zidane and a late strike by Emmanuel Petit, finally earning the right to place a star on their jerseys and sending the entire country into raptures. Croatia, meanwhile, also ended on a high note, overcoming the Netherlands in the match for third place.