The official Chelsea website continues our look back on past Chelsea involvement at the World Cup by reflecting on the 1998 and 2002 editions, which produced mixed results…
The cosmopolitan nature of our squad in the later part of the 1990s meant there were 10 Chelsea players on show at France ’98, representing a remarkable nine different countries. Thrillingly, we had our first Chelsea goalscorer at a World Cup – Dan Petrescu – and, by the tournament’s end, our first winners, too.
It felt as though there was a Blue on display every day and history suggests that was the case, certainly at the beginning of the tournament, anyway. On the first day we saw Tore Andre Flo lead the line for Norway in a cracking 2-2 draw with Morocco; Roberto Di Matteo was involved as Italy drew by the same scoreline with Chile on day two.
Day three brought Chelsea supporters a chance to see two new signings in action. Marcel Desailly and Brian Laudrup had agreed to move to Stamford Bridge before a ball had been kicked in France, and both enjoyed impressive tournaments. Desailly was vital as France lifted the trophy, while Laudrup weighed in with two goals as an exciting Denmark side reached the quarter-finals.
Celestine Babayaro, of Nigeria, and Frank Sinclair, of Jamaica, then got their tournament underway on consecutive evenings, before a group containing two more Chelsea defenders began with victories for Dan Petrescu’s Romania and Graeme Le Saux’s England, against Colombia and Tunisia respectively.
Our full-backs would provide arguably the most lasting Chelsea memory from that tournament. England’s game with Romania in Toulouse was locked at 1-1 as the game entered its final minute. Petrescu found himself in the unfamiliar position of centre-forward and was tracked by the equally out-of-place Graeme Le Saux as he darted onto a through ball placed in between England’s centre-backs. Quite how our right-back had ended up in an attacking left position, and our left-back in a right-sided defensive position, remains one of football’s tantalising enigmas.
Petrescu, seemingly in one movement, got the better of both Le Saux (below) and David Seaman, craftily and cutely slipping the ball inside the England goalkeeper’s near post. It was the first goal by a Chelsea player at a World Cup finals. Romania and England progressed and both players would only miss their first minutes of the tournament when subbed late on in second-round exits, Petrescu having faced Croatia and Le Saux Argentina.
Babayaro was another whose tournament ended in the Round of 16, despite Nigeria topping a qualification group which included Spain, and Albert Ferrer, who like Desailly and Laudrup signed before the footballing feast got underway.
Laudrup’s Denmark proved too strong for Baba’s Nigeria in the second round. Laudrup scored one, made one, and hit the bar in an easy 4-1 victory. His and the Danes’ run would end at the quarter-final stage, but not before he had netted his second goal and provided his second assist in as many games, against the brilliant Brazilians.
The reigning champions were on the receiving end of a shock in the group stage, though, in no small part due to the strength and finishing ability Chelsea fans had grown accustomed to seeing Tore Andre Flo (below) produce in his first year at the Bridge. Trailing 1-0, the Norwegian striker proved too quick and too strong for a yellow-shirted defender, and he converted with trademark aplomb past Taffarel, the Brazil keeper. Flo then won an 88th-minute penalty, initially in controversial circumstances until one photograph taken from the perfect angle later proved he had been fouled. The victory sent Norway, captained by former Blue Frode Grodas, into the Round of 16, where Italy, without Di Matteo in the side, beat them 1-0.
Jamaica, for whom Frank Sinclair played every minute, began France ’98 as serious underdogs in their maiden World Cup appearance. Though they didn’t make it through the group stage the Reggae Boyz did have a victory to celebrate, beating Japan 2-1 in Lyon.
In the end, on home soil, it was France’s tournament. With Desailly imperious they conceded just two goals throughout, while going forward Les Bleus possessed the enviable knack of scoring crucial goals at critical times. Laurent Blanc’s golden goal against Paraguay in the last 16, the first such type in World Cup history, was one; another defender, Lilian Thuram, struck an unlikely brace in the semi-finals against the dangerous Croatians, who had briefly held the lead.
Frank Lebeouf had come on in that game immediately after Laurent Blanc was sent off. He also featured in the group stage win over Denmark too, but, in his illustrious career, perhaps nothing will equal starting the World Cup final in Paris and producing a defensive masterclass, alongside Desailly, to thwart the danger posed by the world’s greatest striker, Ronaldo.
Zinedine Zidane thumped in two perfect headers at the other end and the French, captained by Didier Deschamps, were able to see out the game despite a red card, for two bookable offences, being shown to Desailly. Another future Blue, Emmanuel Petit, wrapped up the scoring and Chelsea supporters could smile at seeing two of their own with the World Cup trophy.
The first Asian World Cup, hosted by Japan and South Korea, was far less memorable than its predecessor from a Chelsea perspective. Only Jesper Gronkjaer, who played in all four of Denmark’s games, made it out of the group stage. They were comfortably beaten by England in the last 16.
There was no Holland at all at the tournament, so no Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Mario Melchiot, or Boudewijn Zenden; Gianfranco Zola and Carlo Cudicini did not make the cut for Italy, while there was no space in Sven Goran-Eriksson’s England squad for either Graeme Le Saux or the emerging John Terry.
Marcel Desailly and Emmanuel Petit were selected for France, who went into the tournament as the holders, but they suffered an ignominious group stage exit that included a 2-0 loss to Denmark, and Gronkjaer (pictured below). France’s defeat to upstarts Senegal in the opening game set the tone for a showing that was as poor as their efforts in 1998 had been heroic.
Celestine Babayaro appeared at his second World Cup for the Super Eagles of Nigeria, playing left-back in their defeat to Argentina, and left midfield in their defeat to Sweden. He was an unused sub in the goalless draw with England that ended Nigeria’s involvement in the Far East.
Mario Stanic, integral for Croatia as they reached the semi-finals in 1998, had nothing more than a bit-part role four years later. He came on as a substitute in tame losses to Mexico and Ecuador, and, deployed in the unconventional role of centre-forward, couldn’t help turn around one-goal deficits.
By Rupert Cane