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France plays perfect host; hoists World Cup in Paris.

By Paul Oberjuerge
Gannett News Service

PARIS (Sunday, July 12, 1998) -- France turned in a perfect performance as host.

Zinedine Zidane scored two first-half goals as the French completed their World Cup tour de force by routing defending champion Brazil 3-0 in tonight’s title game of France '98.

France, unbeaten in seven games, was the first host nation to win the World Cup since Argentina did it 20 years ago. "We deserved to win," coach Aime Jacquet said. "We came to the World Cup to win, not just to be finalists."

Zidane was the difference on a night when Brazil superstar Ronaldo, reportedly both sick and injured, was ineffectual. Zidane entered the game without a goal and without making the impact expected on the world's greatest sports stage. But the gifted midfielder from the slums of Marseille corrected that in the 27th minute when he outjumped Leonardo in the midst of the typically muddled Brazil defense and headed in a corner kick from Emmanuel Petit.

He gave France a two-goal lead in the 46th minute of the first half on another corner from Petit, this one from the other side, his left. He and Brazil captain Dunga bumped as Zidane angled across the box, and Dunga fell, leaving Zidane unmarked as he flicked the ball past helpless goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel.

"It's the most important match of my life," Zidane said. "It hasn't sunk in yet. It will dawn on me tomorrow. The only thing I know is that the Cup will stay in France the next four years."

Added Jacquet: "Zinedine lit a beacon with his two goals."

Brazil never recovered before a Stade de France crowd of 80,000 and a global television audience of nearly two billion.

Brazil coach Mario Zagallo said his team was dispirited because of Ronaldo's poor form. But he also added, "France deserved to win. France played better, especially in the first half."

Ronaldo was rendered irrelevant by the French defense, but that was the fate of all strikers throughout the 33-day tournament. France and goalkeeper Fabien Barthez allowed only two goals, and one of them was on a penalty kick.

"The 3-0 scoreline clearly displays how we dominated the game," Barthez said. "It could even have been more than three."

Petit scored France's final goal two minutes into second-half stoppage time. France played the final 24 minutes with 10 men after defender Marcel Desailly was sent off for his second yellow card caution.

The game was peppered with firsts:
* France became only the seventh nation to win a World Cup, and the first new member of the club since Argentina in 1978.
* The 3-0 final score was the largest shutout victory in a World Cup final, and the first three-goal spread since Brazil routed Italy 4-1 in 1970.
* The three-goal margin of defeat was the greatest inflicted on Brazil in 16 World Cups going back to 1930.

"I can't believe what happened to us," Brazil midfielder Rivaldo said. "We simply have to admit that France won. We just didn't get into the game. We played messily, and we were tired."

Zagallo said Ronaldo wasn't ready and second-guessed himself for using the 21-year-old striker the entire match. "We suffered a major, traumatic shock before the game, a big psychological blow because Ronaldo was not fit to play," he said. "This made us inward-looking and inhibited in our play because the players had been upset that the first start list did not carry Ronaldo's name."

Ronaldo arrived at the stadium 45 minutes before the game and reportedly insisted he be added to the starting lineup. Earlier in the tournament, he complained of a sore left knee and left ankle. "Throughout the game, I was wondering whether or not to take him off," Zagallo said.

Ronaldo was not available for comment, but Brazil team doctor Lidio Toldeo said, "He wasn't feeling well this afternoon (after dinner), and now he's better . . . Quite simply, he felt faint and, after that, he went to rest. I stress that he is feeling better."

It may take Brazil a bit longer to recover. Beatings of the sort France gave it don't often occur to "the world masters," as Jacquet described the Brazilians. But there had been warning signs throughout the tournament that Brazil wasn't at top form.

Ronaldo hinted at threatening the World Cup record of 13 goals but finished with four, in large part because the team lacked a true playmaking midfielder. Brazil scored 14 goals but conceded seven and experienced frequent breakdowns on the defensive end.

Brazil had been seeking its fifth World Cup championship, and was widely expected to do so at the expense of "Les Bleus," as the French affectionately call their team. The victory set off celebrations across Paris, with the loudest and rowdiest centered on the Champs Elysees. Police expected the biggest street party since the end of World War II, 53 years ago.

World Cup Final

France 3, Brazil 0
in St. Denis (Paris)

Brazil -- Taffarel, Cafu, Junior Baiano, Aldair, Roberto Carlos, Dunga, Cesar Sampaio (Edmundo 74), Rivaldo, Leonardo (Denilson 46), Ronaldo, Bebeto.
France -- Fabien Barthez, Lilian Thuram, Marcel Desailly, Franck Leboeuf, Bixente Lizarazu, Christian Karembeu (Alain Boghossian 57), Didier Deschamps, Zinedine Zidane, Emmanuel Petit, Youri Djorkaeff (Patrick Vieira 76), Stephane Guivarc'h (Christophe Dugarry 66).

Goals: France - Zinedine Zidane 27, 45; Emmanuel Petit 90 (extra time).
Shots at goal: France 14, Brazil 12.
Shots on goal: France 5, Brazil 6.
Corners kicks: France 3, Brazil 6.
Fouls: France 13, Brazil 15.
Offsides: France 3, Brazil 5.
Yellow caution cards: Brazil - Junior Baiano 34. France - Didier Deschamps 38, Marcel Desailly 48, Christian Karembeu 56.
Red expulsion card: France - Marcel Desailly (second yellow card) 68.

Referee: Said Belqola (Morocco).
Attendance: 80,000 (estimated).