Paul Marcuccitti is a passionate
soccer fan from Australia who will share his views about the World Cup in this column.
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N'oubliez pas les Bleus
It's time that you, the reader, learnt a few trade secrets. You know that at
World Cup Archive we have predicted which 16 teams we think will advance to
the Second Round. And you know that the site is predicting an Italian
victory. So how did we come up with all that?
It was fairly simple. Webmaster, Jan Alsos, asked all the columnists to
submit their predictions - first to fourth in each group and who would win
the tournament. From there, Jan assigned points to all our group predictions
(including his own): 4 points for a group winner, 3 for second place, and so
on. In each group, the two countries with the most points became the teams
that the site predicted to advance.
The winner? Even more straightforward. Three columnists selected Italy and
no other country received more than one vote.
I agonised over my selections (after all, I don't want to let the team
down!) and I'm sure the others did too. I probably spent a few hours ranking
the teams in each group from first to fourth.
But when I started thinking about who I would predict to win the World Cup,
I instantly thought of a moment, late in the first half of the 1998 Final,
and my mind was virtually made up.
That's not to say that I made my decision lightly. When friends and
colleagues ask for predictions, they normally don't ask me about which teams
I'm tipping to make the knockout phase, who will win Group F, etc. They
invariably want a football expert (you can see I've got them fooled) to tell
them who will win the World Cup.
Yes, I may have made my prediction quickly but I certainly didn't make it
lightly. It's the one thing you really want to get right.
Now, back to that moment in the 1998 Final which inspired my selection:
France leads Brazil 1-0 and half time is rapidly approaching; the French
attack again with a long ball played diagonally towards the penalty box; the
Brazilian defenders miss it; and the French centre forward runs on to the
ball and shoots but Brazil's 'keeper, Taffarel, saves well. The result is a
The story hasn't quite finished. The corner is long and the ball is
eventually collected inside the box by that same French centre forward. He
wins another corner and, from that, Zinedine Zidane scores for the second
time. France 2, Brazil 0.
Who was that French centre forward who forced those corners and might have
OK, it's not meant to be a tough trivia question. I'm talking about Stéphane
Guivarc'h, a player who won a place in the French team with a couple of
prolific seasons at Rennes and Auxerre. I didn't know an awful lot about
Guivarc'h before the tournament and although he had limitations at
international level, I was not totally unimpressed by what I saw. Still, he
was probably never going to top the World Cup scoring charts and I didn't
pick the French to win the '98 tournament because I felt they didn't have
enough firepower up front. Who was going to be their Romario, their Paolo
Could it have been Monsieur Dugarry? No. He is more the creator, an inside
forward. And what about Thierry Henry and David Trézeguet? They were
obviously talented but both were very young - still uncut diamonds.
Ultimately, France was not hindered by its shortcomings in attack and,
amazingly, every French goal in the knockout matches was scored by a
defender or midfielder. Count them - Laurent Blanc in the Round of 16;
Lilian Thuram (twice!) in the semi-final; and in the Final, Zidane (twice)
and Emmanuel Petit struck.
The French midfield was quite clearly one of the 1998 edition's best - if
not the best. Their defence was also exceptional and, consequently, the team
was able to win the World Cup despite the forwards' failure to score at the
business end of the tournament.
So what does France offer in 2002? The midfield has lost Didier Deschamps
but it now boasts a Patrick Vieira nearing his peak. Robert Pires will be
missed but, if we are comparing the 2002 team to the champions of four years
before, we must acknowledge that he didn't spend much time on the pitch
during that tournament. Besides, a midfield that can call on Vieira, Petit,
Zidane, Youri Djorkaeff, Alain Boghossian and Claude Makelele isn't a
midfield that is lacking for much.
Laurent Blanc, who was suspended from the 1998 Final, is gone from the
defence but, otherwise, France still looks solid at the back with Desailly,
Leboeuf, Lizarazu, Thuram and co.
And let's get back to poor Stéphane Guivarc'h. Injury has recently put a
premature end to his professional playing career. But there is a harsh truth
here that the man himself would probably not deny - even if he was fully fit
and in his best form, Guivarc'h would almost certainly not be going to
Korea/Japan as a member of the French squad. How could he? Henry and
Trézeguet are no longer just young talents; they are two of the world's top
forwards. And along came Sylvain Wiltord and now Djibril Cissé. The
production line seems endless.
The forward line, where France was a bit short in 1998, is now one of the
most feared. Thus I barely hesitated to predict a repeat triumph for les
I was surprised that I was the only WCA writer to pick France (though
Matthew Monk has since come on board) and I find many of the arguments used
by pundits making a case against the French to be rather dubious.
Some feel that the players might lack hunger as the French won last time,
then they won at Euro 2000 and they won the Confederations Cup last year. It
has also been pointed out that France is sure to have an extremely tough
draw through the knockout phase.
I just don't buy the "lack of hunger" line. Winning can become a habit and,
in the last 4 years, France's record in competitive matches is 21 wins, 4
draws and only 3 losses. (You might know that Australia handed France the
most recent of those losses in last year's Confederations Cup but I just
thought I'd mention it anyway.) And those 3 losses were in competitions that
France eventually won. When les Bleus have really needed to produce the
goods, they haven't failed to do so.
France undeniably has a tough draw. If matches go to form, the French might
have to play England, Brazil and Argentina before they even get to the
Final. There will be no margin for error against opponents of that strength
and a succession of tough encounters might take its toll. Indeed, one of the
most frightening things about predicting a French victory is that they have
to play a team from Group F in the Round of 16 and, if their World Cup ends
that early, those of us that have backed France might have enough egg on our
collective faces to make several omelettes. (Or a lot of French toast
I have learnt in the past, however, that it can be dangerous to use the draw
as a basis for predicting a team's success or failure. If a team is good
enough to succeed, whatever failures it has are usually of its own making.
The French had a very tough run through Euro 2000 - they still won. And
their trophy lifting days may yet continue.
Italy, Argentina and Brazil - countries which seem to perennially challenge
- have very strong claims at Korea/Japan. England, Germany and Portugal
should not be discounted too quickly. And the Spaniards have a brilliant
squad. I suspect the only thing keeping them from the second or third line
of betting is their history of World Cup catastrophes.
But as our wonderful football festival begins in the Far East, n'oubliez pas
Don't forget les Bleus.
Info on how
the World Cup was founded and about the trophy as well.
on every match in every tournament.
Interesting columns about the past, present and future of the World Cup.
with appearances in the World Cup. Detailed info on every country.
of many of the most influential players in history.
An A-Z collection
of strange and different stories in World Cup history.
A big collection
of various statistics and records.
since it was introduced in 1966.
knowledge about the WC. Three different levels. No prizes, just for fun.
lots of stuff. For instance Best Goals, Best Players and Best Matches.
of links to other soccer sites with World Cup connection.
and buttons for you to link to us if you want.
A little information
on who keeps this site available.