The story of the 1998 World Cup
Between now and the start of the World Cup, we will be looking back at previous tournaments with the help of some of the key characters and the BBC's archive footage. Today we speak to two men involved in the match of the tournament, and recall when Les Bleus swept all before them.
France, June & July 1998
This was a World Cup that ended with the hosts' finest footballing hour and left everyone guessing about the mystery of Ronaldo's missing minutes - but there was far more to France '98 than just a one-sided final where the Brazilians failed to turn up.
The Dutch gave us more moments to savour but again fell short, while new-boys Croatia announced their arrival with a dazzling run to the semi-finals. England? They left early, but with a new hero offering hope for the future - and a villain to pin all the blame on for their exit.
For one man, however, the tournament was over before it even began. Paul Gascoigne had been the star of England's last World Cup, in Italy eight years earlier, but his lack of fitness and form - possibly down to a fondness for late-night kebabs - saw him fail to make manager Glenn Hoddle's squad. It was a decision that angered many, including Gazza himself, and - not for the first time - he did not exactly hide his emotions.
Gascoigne was one of the casualties when a squad of 28 was trimmed to a final 22 at the end of a training camp at the La Manga resort in Spain, but Hoddle chose a unique way of letting his players know whether he would be needing them that summer.
Arsenal defender Martin Keown, who had just enjoyed the best season of his life and helped the Gallic-inspired Gunners win the Double, was one of the lucky ones to make the cut. "It was quite a surreal moment," Keown told me, describing a scene that sounds like Big Brother on eviction night. "We were all sat around the pool, waiting for our time to go to see the manager. If a player came back and collected their stuff, they were going to France. If they didn't, they were going home.
"I went into what was left of Hoddle's room after Gazza, as he had smashed the place up. When I was told I was going to my first World Cup I was looking round wondering what had caused the wreckage. We didn't know exactly what had happened at the time because Hoddle didn't tell us."
I had issues too. Watching the previous three World Cups while I grew up had only involved negotiating a later bed-time with mum and dad in 1986 (difficult but possible), wrestling the TV remote off my sister in 1990 (harder) or ignoring impending exams in 1994 (all too easy). This was the first time, as a supposedly mature adult, that I had the problem of work clashing with important games, and I'm afraid to say I handled it with the same sort of professionalism (or lack of it) that put Hoddle off Gazza.
I'd got my first job on a newspaper a few weeks before, and was despatched up to Darlington on the eve of the tournament to begin a six-month course on how to be a journalist (and yes, I know I clearly didn't learn very much!).
So far, so good - but, unfortunately, the conference where we were introduced to our company directors as the latest crop of eager, young (and cheap) trainee reporters overlapped with the opening game - Brazil versus Scotland.
I wasn't missing that for any corporate chin-wag so ducked out during the first biscuit break and got to the nearest pub just in time to see Cesar Sampaio's fourth-minute goal. Sadly, I was rumbled even before John Collins equalised from the spot and summoned back to my meeting, where I was treated like a naughty schoolboy for the remainder of the afternoon.
The day ended just as badly for Scotland, who - in my absence - looked set to hold on for a battling draw against the holders only to lose out to a late and desperately unlucky Tom Boyd own-goal, and a draw with Norway was as good as their World Cup got.
Yet again the Scots failed to get past the first round but England stumbled through to set up what would be the match of the tournament against Argentina in the last 16. This game packed a heck of a lot into 120 pulsating minutes of open play; including 18-year-old Michael Owen's wonder goal, a delightfully-worked Argentina free-kick and, of course, David Beckham's petulant kick at Diego Simeone that saw him sent off after half-time.
"Even before the red card was shown I remember feeling sorry for David because I knew what he had done wouid be the defining moment of the game," Keown, who was watching from the bench at St Etienne's compact Geoffroy-Guichard Stadium, told me ruefully. "Defeat then was always going to be seen as his fault."
That is exactly what happened but only after a penalty shoot-out that anyone who, like me, watched it on TV will recall not just for Carlos Roa's decisive save from David Batty but also Kevin Keegan's unfortunate commentary that preceded it.
England were out on penalties for the third time in eight years but was this more rotten luck or down to a lack of preparation? "We had practiced them, not that it did us much good," then-captain Alan Shearer explained when I met him last week. "The players we wanted to take them were not all still on the pitch.
"Thankfully, I never missed in a shoot-out (he scored twice in Euro '96 and put away England's first penalty in 1998 too) but the pressure is much greater than taking one in a normal situation. I knew when I walked up against Argentina that there were 20m people watching at home and, believe me, my heart was beating a hell of a lot faster than normal."
Of the other big-guns, only Spain had failed to reach the second round, where France needed the World Cup's first extra-time golden goal to edge past Paraguay. Aime Jacquet's side were top-scorers in the group stages but by now it was becoming clear that, despite being a nation renowned for taking industrial action, the French were lacking a quality striker - and they needed penalties to get past a disappointing Italy side in the quarter-finals despite dominating the match.
Elsewhere, the goals were flying in - but none were better than Dennis Bergkamp's glorious last-gasp winner against Argentina which put the Dutch in the semi-finals. I nearly missed that one too, but in the end caught the very end of the game in what is now a dying breed but has been the last refuge of many a desperate fan down the years - my local high-street TV store. It actually provided the perfect setting: I found myself surrounded by dozens of screens showing seemingly endless replays of Bergkamp bringing down Frank de Boer's perfect 50-yard pass, stepping inside Roberto Ayala and effortlessly volleying past Roa.
Mind you, Rivaldo staked his own claim for goal of the tournament with a cracker for Brazil against Denmark to settle a ding-dong battle in their last-eight clash and Croatia's Davor Suker - who scored six goals in total to take home the Golden Boot - rounded off a shock rout of European champions Germany (who were, in fairness, down to 10 men) to win with a fine solo effort.
That meant the Croats met France in the last four, and they looked odds on to go even further in their first World Cup when Slaven Bilic contrived to get Laurent Blanc sent off before Suker fired them ahead. Enter defender Lilian Thuram, who played 142 times for France between 1994 and 2008 but only scored two goals, both of them in this match to send France through instead.
Brazil, who were at times outplayed by the Netherlands in their semi-final before progressing on penalties, were their opponents in a hotly-anticipated final but that turned out to be a game that saw more drama before it began than it did during the 90 minutes of action.
Ronaldo, Brazil's talisman and top scorer, was left out by coach Mario Zagallo when he issued his first team-sheet 72 minutes ahead of kick-off, but was back in the starting line-up half-an-hour later. There were reports he had been in hospital earlier after having a fit, and rumours - later denied - that he was ill or injured and only reinstated following pressure from the team's sponsors.
Whatever the truth - and only he really knows it - Ronaldo had a stinker of a game, as did his team-mates, and Les Bleus, for whom Zinedine Zidane was majestic, ended up runaway winners.
"It just didn't sink in at the time," Zidane said recently. "At the final whistle I said to myself 'Wow. World champion? When I saw the World Cup, I knew I had fulfilled my dream to hold it in my hands one day - it was mine. It was a magnificent feeling."
The victory, for a French team that reflected the multi-racial mix of their country, united a nation that was far from football-mad and sparked weeks of celebration across the land.
As manager Aime Jacquet would later say: "There was that great feeling of a shared moment spreading through the public and not just among football fans - the whole of France took to the streets."
Let me know your memories of 1998 - I hope trying to watch it didn't land you in trouble too. On Wednesday - with the help of some England players who took part in another brave failure - we look back at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, when Beckham-mania was at its peak and Ronaldo took glorious retribution for his failure in France.