France and Croatia are set to play in the World Cup final but they possessed two equally famous teams in 1998, featuring Zinedine Zidane and Davor Suker.
France and Croatia first crossed swords and, ultimately, destinies some 20 years ago at World Cup 1998.
It was Croatia’s first World Cup since obtaining independence and they swiftly became one of the stories of the tournament, as a small country still coping with the aftermath of a war dared to dream big.
However, stars ultimately aligned for hosts France, who went on to lift their first World Cup after beating Croatia 2-1 in the semi-finals.
Below, we look back at the main protagonists of both sides and pick an all-star team from 1998.
GK Drazen Ladic
Fabien Barthez’s iconic pate is one of the abiding memories of 1998, but the brilliance of Ladic shouldn’t be forgotten.
Already 35 in France, he made a crucial one-on-one stop against Japan’s Masashi Nakayama in the group stages to ensure progression. That was topped by his display against Oliver Bierhoff in the quarters, as Croatia ransacked Germany 3-0.
RB Lilian Thuram
If you’re going to score just twice for your country, you may as well save them for the big occasion. The right-back of 142 caps rescued France in that semi against Croatia, including an audacious long-range strike with his weaker left foot.
The then Parma defender also married physical prowess with intelligence on both the attack and in defence. A generational player.
CB Marcel Desailly
Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti will join Desailly in French folklore should they get Les Bleus over the line on Sunday.
Both have a little way to go before being spoken in the same reverential tones as the former AC Milan and Chelsea star, a leader of men who read the game so well that he was equally adept in defensive midfield. But he wasn’t flawless – being sent off in the final for a silly lunge on Cafu 20 minutes from time.
CB Slaven Bilic
Bilic is infamous for the playacting that led to Laurent Blanc’s dismissal and subsequent absence from the final.
He is also incredibly unlucky to miss out on selection here, but Bilic personified Croatia’s underdog spirit as the growling, snapping enforcer of a defence that had conceded just two goals before coming up against France.
LB Robert Jarni
Jarni was the type of raiding wing-back that is so in vogue at present. A wonderful crosser of the ball with pace to boot, he set up Robert Prosinecki as Croatia drew first blood in their eventual 2-1 victory over Netherlands in the third-place play-off.
Much like Thuram, his only goal at international level was a belter – flashing a thunderous left-footed shot past Andreas Kopke to kick-start the sensational quarter-final win against Germany.
DM Didier Deschamps
Deschamps is on the brink of becoming just the third man to win the World Cup as both player and manager, and in 1998, he was no less than the captain.
Eric Cantona nicknamed him the ‘water-carrier’. It was intended as a slight, but Deschamps was as effective as the Hoover Dam in blocking off attacks and funnelling the ball to his glitzier counterparts.
CM Emmanuel Petit
Aljosa Asanovic, who so delicately assisted Suker for Croatia’s opener against France, could have been the pick here but you can’t leave out a man who was so integral in the final.
The former Arsenal star was a jack-of-all-trades midfielder but was treated like royalty at home for his endeavours in 1998, delivering the corner for one of Zidane’s goals before he rounded off the last-minute counter in the 3-0 finale against Brazil.
CM Zvonimir Boban
Boban was the heartbeat in 1998 just as Luka Modric is to Croatia’s current crop, though where the Real Madrid star is coolness personified, his predecessor was a living, breathing firecracker. The fiery Vatreni skipper wrote the manual for midfield play in big, angry letters.
Cruelly it was his mistake that saw France equalise in the semi-final though, in his defence, he had sustained an early injury.
AM Zinedine Zidane
No one quite has a sense of timing like Zidane. Earlier this summer he stepped down at Real Madrid after winning a hat-trick of Champions League titles. In 1998, he rescued a personally non-descript World Cup that had seen him sent off in the group stages with two headed goals in the final.
A gigantic image of Zidane was projected on the Arc de Triomphe after the game, though things didn’t work out quite so well eight years later …
ST Thierry Henry
There’s a place reserved for the Arsenal legend, though his inclusion is not quite the shoo-in it seems.
Henry, the Kylian Mbappe of that time at 20-years old, scored three times in the group stages but lost his starting place for the knockouts as coach Aime Jacquet became more pragmatic.
His displays were a huge teaser of what was to come – for both club and country.
ST Davor Suker
At his peak, Suker made scoring at international look almost impossibly easy. When Croatia scored, Suker scored, netting six goals in seven matches and claiming the Golden Boot in the process.
The left-footed spearhead was not just a finisher but a creator too, harrying the opposition to the point of submission and drawing so many fouls for his troubles.