Group matches at France 98 played on Friday, 12th June.
France vs South Africa in Marseilles (3:0).
Paraguay vs Bulgaria in Montpellier (0:0).
Saudi Arabia vs Denmark in Lens (0:1).
Stoichkov shined early on a sunny afternoon in Montpellier. The
Bulgarian started full of self-belief and on a mission for an early goal.
While Stiochkov was proving a headache; picking up balls from the
midfield, and knocks from the Paraguayan defenders around the penalty area, Bulgaria's
Balakov received a head-wound in the 16th minute; from Ayala's elbow.
The number 10 returned to the pitch with his head fully bandaged and
continued the crusade.
In the 26th minute, Paraguay's Acuna curled in a beautifully dipping
ball, but the Bulgarian goalkeeper was easily down to it.
Just as the game seemed to lull, and lazy fouling seemed the order,
Stoichkov cracked onto a poor clearance from the Latin American pretenders and thundered a
shot against the bottom of the post. Chilavert didn't seem interested; more to the point,
he didn't see it!
Jankov's free kick, five minutes from half-time, did have Chilavert
Moments later Cardozzo only had the Bulgarian keeper to beat at the
other end, but fired wide; from the edge of the area.
In the second half, Balakov played without the head holster and
continued to apply the pressure with Iliev, Penev, and Stoichkov.
Around the 65th minute, Stoichkov worked down the left again, and
pulled the ball back for Penev. The number 9 wasted the chance by lifting it high, and was
Campos was downed by Ivanov, as he made a break for goal in the 73rd
This was the chance for Chilavert, the flamboyant Paraguayan
goalkeeper, to come up to take the free-kick and entertain the fans.
Luckily for him, the deflection gave him time to return to his own
goalmouth; while the corner was being taken.
Stoichkov was soon there with the ball too, and almost punished him.
The Paraguayans had their chances too, especially in the closing
minutes, but Zdravkov calmly smothering everything.
A second yellow card for Bulgaria's Nankov produced the first sending
off of the tournament as the game produced another World Cup draw; sadly with no goals.
Paraguay 0 -
Our Man of the Match:
The Danish win the most vocal national anthem singers award to
date, but they didn't have a lot to sing about after the start.
The Saudi players entered into a little ring of conference before they
took their places for the kick-off.
What were they saying?
Let's make this the mother of all boring encounters.
The slow-hand clap on the quarter-hour explained the progress of this
match. A Saudi fan singing prayers through a loud speaker made more sense than much of
what was happening on the pitch.
Brian Laudrup and company failed to find an oasis through the wall of
Saudis and, instead, showed a drought of ideas. [I have a lack of imagination too].
The Saudi keeper is very unorthodox and likes to slap at the ball like
his Moroccan counterpart; only the Saudi prefers to concede corners rather than goals.
In a 41st minute free-kick, Peter Schmeichel was forced to pull out a
save, but had prepared himself to deal with it relatively easily by his standards.
Corners never troubled the Manchester United number 1 either. If the
Saudis had been facing Benzekri of Morocco, they might have made the score-sheet before
On the hour, I thought we were going to see some football. Two end to
end attacks; then sadly back to the jockeying, teasing, and wasting of balls, space, and
my time. Watching a game of Subuteo would have been more fun.
A cheer went up for the entry of Tottenham's Nielsen, in the 65th
Three minutes later, red flares were let off for a goal.
Denmark went in front thanks to a header from Marc Rieper of Celtic. A
long lob came into the penalty area, the Danes look puzzled and the ball was rolled out to
Jorgansen of Udinese, who chipped the telling cross back in.
The Danes started to look like one time European Champions but again
the final touch, the scoring touch, just wasn't there.
Was this really two football teams trying to be the best in the world?
Saudi Arabia 0 -
Our Man of the Match:
The Drummer, who didn't pause throughout the game.
Allez, Allez; for France, this was the opening day.
Les Bleus, playing at home, could not afford to sit back like some of
the other heavyweights. The French expect.
The referee showed his courage early; to wave play on when a forward
running Zidane fell over himself.
The South Africans weren't intimidated either, pushing up through any
openings the French were leaving.
Fast and furious, the first fifteen minutes was like wine in a desert
after the drought of inspiration in the earlier Saudi Arabian debacle.
An injured Guivarc'h was replaced by Dugarry, on the half-hour.
Seven minutes later, the ecstatic Dugarry, was celebrating the header
he scored from Zidane's corner.
The South Africans showed tremendous courage and spirit. The
atmosphere must have been extremely overpowering, yet they kept their concentration and
quietened the crowd with their surprisingly tenacious play.
Vonk seemed lucky with a save from Petit, as the ball crashed against
his forearms and settled under his legs.
A second now might have killed the spirit of the South Africans.
In turn South Africa almost equalised, when Masinga headed on a
free-kick just before half-time.
Thirteen minutes into the second half, Deschamps was booked and a
French goal disallowed; much to the disapproval of the home fans.
Deschamps, as captain, signalled to his players to button la bouche.
The South Africans continued to impress with their never-say-die
attitude, their contagious desire to close down and cut out every French attack or cross,
and their swift acceleration when switching to offensive.
In such an attacking game, both teams left openings. Although the
South Africans passed more than well enough, the clinical finisher just wasn't there.
With less than ten minutes to go, something fell apart.
Dugarry received a ball in the penalty area and, with three defenders
on his back, he managed to swivel and release a pass to Djorkaeff. Djorkaeff's shot was
helped in by an unfortunate Issa. Own goal of the tournament number three.
Sadly, McCarthy was stretchered off in the dying moments of this
exceptional match. What was a closely fought contest turned into a rout, as Henry picked
up a loose ball, beat two players and coolly chipped the advancing South African keeper.
South Africa 0
Our Man of the Match:
Brazil, Morocco, Norway, Scotland.
Austria, Cameroon, Chile, Italy.
Denmark, France, Saudi Arabia, South Africa.
Bulgaria, Nigeria, Paraguay, Spain.
Belgium, Holland, Mexico, South Korea.
Germany, Iran, United States, Yugoslavia.
Colombia, England, Romania, Tunisia.
Argentina, Croatia, Jamaica, Japan.
1998 World Cup Finals -
Group Tables - Leading
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