The 2006 World Cup in Germany was the earliest one I can properly remember. And no one match captured my imagination that this one. The two previous world champions, two of the most famous football nations of them all, and on this occasion, two all-star line-ups. And as the 2022 tournament is now reaching its climax, it simply had to be this match that I picked to look back upon. From memory it was an extraordinary match simply given the quality that was on display, but on a night of many stars, there was one who shone brightest.
So, before I look at the match itself, let’s look at how these two teams got here… Beginning with the 1998 World Cup winners.
The French have a tendency at major tournaments to either be brilliant, or baffling. And the reign of then manager Raymond Domenech was certainly full of plenty of both. A disaster in defending their world crown 4 years prior to this saw France not score a single goal and leave the competition at the group stage, 2 years after that they exited Euro 2004 in the quarter finals to eventual winners Greece. But going in to 2006 their squad was much stronger than prior years, the likes of Ribery, Abidal and Malouda supplemented the likes of Barthez, Thuram, Vieira, Makelele, Thierry Henry, and of course, Zinedine Zidane. The French’s marvellous talisman was taking part in his final tournament as a player, as he would end his remarkable playing career following this World Cup. Already a star of a World Cup winning team, Zidane still possessed the skills to win any game despite his impending retirement.
To reach the last 8, France had to come through a group made up of Switzerland, South Korea and Togo. But their opener saw produced a goalless draw with their neighbours the Swiss, and that was followed by a 1-1 draw with South Korea where a Thierry Henry goal in the 9th minute was cancelled out by a goal 9 minutes from time by Manchester United’s Park Ji-sung. And so, a 2-0 win in their final group match against Togo (thanks to goals from Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry) was only enough for France to finish 2nd in their group behind the Swiss, which would mean a far tougher route in the knockout stages. And so, it proved, as their last 16 opponents were the winners of Group H Spain, who had won all 3 of their group games only conceding a single goal. This was a Spanish side on the verge of a remarkable period of dominance on the international stage, and still featuring the legendary Real Madrid striker Raul.
France came into this mouth-watering quarter final match off the back of a mixed bag of results, but buoyant by a comprehensive disposal of their toughest test of the competition up to this point…
And what of their opposition? …
Brazil came into this tournament as defending world champions, but with arguably an even more star-studded squad looking to win a 6th World Cup in 2006 than the triumphant 2002 side. Rivaldo had gone, but now Ronaldinho was the top player of world football, and Ronaldo (the hero of 2002) had during this World Cup become the all-time leading World Cup goalscorer. They also had AC Milan’s Kaka and goalkeeper Dida to add to the likes of Roberto Carlos and Cafu who remained key components of the South American’s 4 years on from a 2-0 final win against Germany. Their manager this time around was Carlos Alberto Parreira, whose lengthy coaching career had included taking Brazil to glory at the 1994 World Cup.
It was the original Ronaldo, R9 who took the headlines as Brazil strolled into the last 8. Wins against Croatia (1-0), Australia (2-0) and Japan (4-1) saw them top their group with relative ease. And it was during the last 16 match against Ghana were the man whose brace won the World Cup Final in Yokohama made history once again…
The stage was well and truly set then. A repeat of the 1998 World Cup Final, and a chance for Zidane to once again break Brazilian hearts, or would Ronaldo gain revenge and once again light up HIS tournament? Brazil went into this match off the back of a record 11 match winning run at World Cup Finals, and the final loss to France in Paris was the last World Cup match that Brazil failed to score a goal in. Should France lose this match, it would of course be the last we see of Zinedine Zidane’s glorious playing career.
Both teams were able to put out typically all-star line ups…
The match itself began with smiles from our two biggest stars, as former Galactico teammates Ronaldo and Zidane exchanged acknowledgments. Once the whistle was blown, both teams were feeling one another out, although a sense of nerves and of just how high the stakes were was clear. The World Player of the Year Ronaldinho, who had failed to live up to his billing so far at this World Cup, won Brazil a free kick, that was then hit into the wall and out for a corner by famed free-kick taker Juninho Pernambucano. Dida had his first touch of the ball at the 07:40 mark, such was Brazil’s early dominance of the ball, and soon after Brazil won a corner with a classic explosive run from Roberto Carlos, and soon after the full back fired a shot into… a cameraman behind the goal… With 10 minutes on the clock, the magical Ronaldinho stood over a free kick, which was put into the box and the resulting header put over the bar by R9. Brazil on top so far for sure.
Henry’s shot from distance was blasted at the head of Lucio, who sent it out for a throw in, and stayed down as a result… France had their first real sustained spell of pressure now, with Brazil having to scramble away the ball and give away a corner. Dida flapped the ball away, before Ribery fired a ball way over the bar. Brazil went up the other end as Ronaldinho sprayed a ball out to Ronaldo, whose ball into the box couldn’t find a yellow shirt… France tried for the counter, but eventually Lucio muscled Theirry Henry enough to win a throw in for Brazil. Ronaldinho tried for one of his signature runs inside, but his pass was sprayed out just too far for the on-running Kaka. A nice French passing move was soon cut out by Brazil, who themselves went forward and created a chance for Ronaldo, but that was collected comfortably by Barthez. France were beginning to get more of the ball, but still Dida hadn’t yet come close to being tested as a ball into Henry was flagged for offside. A nice Brazil move by Lucio and then Kaka ended with another ball too long for Ronaldo. But the French did well right up the other end as Henry won a corner up against two Brazilian defenders, but from this Brazil were able to break… but yet again a ball went too far for Ronaldo, this time from Cafu. It was clear the Brazil tactic was to weave their way through and then play in their number 9 past the French backline, but so far it hadn’t come close to coming off… France soon after won a free kick, but after a pass to play him down the line from Zidane, a few stepovers couldn’t be followed up as Malouda dragged his cross dreadfully wide.
As the clock hit 25:00 it was France now who were having much more of the ball, without really posing too much of an attacking threat or end product. Zidane not long after put a France free kick high above the bar, but soon after we had our first bit of real Zizou wizardry as he caressed the ball down under control before lofting it to a nearby teammate, and then again wowed the crowd with a quick switch of feet to get the ball around Cafu and into the path of the on-running Eric Abidal who passed down the line to Malouda, and the then Lyon winger’s cross was turned behind for a corner. Brazil cleared and after a free kick again failed to unleash that final ball to Ronaldo, this time a flick from Ronaldinho was thumped away by the French defense. As we ticked into the second third of the match it was still an even contest so far, and so it continued to prove as the first half went on… Of the 5 shots so far between these teams, just 1 was on target… so far…
Juninho went back to collect the ball for Brazil, and his ball out wide couldn’t find Ronaldinho. To me it was more the French organization around the ‘two ronnies’ that had limited the chances so far, more than anything the Brazil team lacked creatively. Ribery’s run forward was stopped by Gilberto Silva to earn a free kick for France that Zidane played into the box towards Lilian Thuram (another hero of the infamous 1998 final between these two sides), and his header back across goal was fired away by Brazil’s Juan. Both Brazil via Kaka and then France through Henry gave away the ball when they really shouldn’t have in the middle of the field, before Ronaldinho tried his best to spin and weave his way through but a combination of Vieira and Makelele denied him. Malouda then had a chance to cause trouble but the patience of Lucio paid off and Brazil got the ball away. Both teams starting to make more mistakes and the game was moving at a slightly quicker pace as the first half drew to a close. Cafu came down that right hand channel he so often dominated, and showed good strength to push away the French defender coming towards him, Brazil then had a chance again but Kaka’s ball forward was just about cleared. Zidan played Abidal in on the left, but Cafu played that out, before another cross from Malouda went off target. A clearance from Roberto Carlos also went array, and not long after French had another free kick. Zidane’s ball in was headed just over by Malouda, but it was they who remained on top. Vieira did very well to keep the ball for France but they then conceded a free kick themselves. Although with Cafu booked already he would need to be cautious. And it was their 2002 winning captain who swinged in a cross that went too far for everyone, again the final pass letting Brazil down when they have their chances. Zidane again with the smoothest of movements was able to control what some would see as a tricky ball to collect and dispatch with absolute ease, he honestly looks like he could play whilst having a cigarette and a glass of French wine as well…
A nice French move ended with Malouda getting into a shooting opportunity before it was played out by Juan. Not long after from the resulting throw a ball from Vieira was just too long and out it went. And again a couple of moments after Henry’s ball went too long for Malouda, who seemed to be the main threat for the French now. Brazil though did get what looked like a possible chance, only for the move to be halted when Roberto Carlos tried for one of his trademark hammer strikes that went off a nearby French defender and out. Brazil went forward again and again it was caught out from Ronaldinho’s pathway, and they then went down the other side before Cafu’s cross was cleared away by William Gallas. Zidane then lead a French breakaway and delightfully glided past two opponents before playing in Patrick Vieira, but he was then fouled by Juan. A yellow card was awarded much to French protests, who thought a goalscoring opportunity was denied… but I think the referee just about got it right… As we went into the one added minute at the end of the first half the France free kick by Henry resulted in another free kick awarded, this time for a handball by Brazil on the very edge of the 18 yard box (the ball hitting Ronaldo’s hand who was in the wall from the first free kick, he was also booked as a result). The second free kick from Zidane hit the wall, and eventually it was cleared away as the ref blew the whistle bringing to an end a quite intriguing first half, without it being a classic. But having seen it you can safely assume it is the French who are the happier of the two teams with how the first half had gone.
France got a free kick almost immediately in the second half, and from it the header went just wide from Vieira. The former Arsenal man then gave away a free kick himself, but avoided a booking that would rule him out of a semi-final should France get there… Ronaldinho’s corner for Brazil soon after came to nothing, but a cross from Ze Roberto created more issues as France goalkeeper Fabian Barthez was caught in two minds it seemed, and so forced to clear the ball with his feet. Again not long after Barthez was left scrambling in the mix of play again, but did claim the ball and get it away, so minutes into the second half and both teams already applying pressure to try and get an opening goal. A ball thrown out by Barthez let through Henry, who so classically came down the left and got past Cafu before the ball was cleared for a throw in. After some back and forth play, France settled with the ball and Gallas played the ball long to Henry, who unsuccessfully tried to get a free kick for a high boot from Lucio. Sagnol played the ball into Henry, who backheeled to Vieira but it was cleared. Malouda’s corner was cleared and then Ronaldo fouled Sagnol for another France set piece…
The free kick eventually went through to Henry, who did convert but was way offside as was Gallas. A short time after Kaka lost the ball to Thuram before Franc came forward… and from this Abidal played to Malouda out wide and they got a free kick… but in this move we saw a delightful bit of control from Zidane, the touch of an absolute magician as always. It was then their magic number 10 who took a free kick which was whipped into the box, and… played to the far post and volleyed… INTO THE NET BY THIERRY HENRY!!! Poor marking but a wonderful finish.
After the goal Brazil would’ve wanted to settle, and after an acrobatic clearance by Juan it was Zidane again who used his delicate touch to play the ball forward, but eventually Dida was able to collect. The atmosphere in the stadium had audibly changed, and the impetus would surely be on Brazil now to try and unlock this seemingly impenetrable French defence. A shocking backpass from France almost let in Ronaldinho but Barthez rushed out quick enough to clear… and Dida at the other end almost was too late coming out… the goal definitely has livened up the pace and tension of this match. After Ribery had wonderfully got past Lucio, his cross was ALMOST put into his own net by Juan! Zidane’s corner led to nothing, but France were almost out of sight then… Brazil needed SOMETHING… Enter Adriano who readied to come on as a substitute. Cafu’s cross after a free kick was cleared away, and after Malouda failed to clear he gave away a corner. Adriano then entered the match replacing Juninho as the clock ticked into minute 64.
Ribery again had a run at the Brazil defence, but Roberto Carlos was able to stop him in his tracks, Ribery having scored in their last match in the last 16 against Spain, was starting to look a threat in this match. Brazil went forward with a decent passing move, but AGAIN the final ball (from Kaka this time) wasn’t enough. Zidane got the ball into the opposition half, but showed the calm and poise to weave one way then the other before spraying a pass out wide to Sagnol, who’s cross won France a corner. Zidane again there playing with total ease it seemed, just a delight to watch. Ribery’s corner went though everyone and Brazil broke, Adriano played in Cafu who exchanged a 1-2 with Ronaldinho, but Vieira got back and got the goal kick. Ronaldinho’s ball found Adriano, but he lost it and it was cleared away. Again Brazil came, but they again were thwarted. Brazil passed it around, before Ronaldo ran at goal before being brought down with nothing given by the referee. From this France went down the other end, and only a crucially well-timed interception from Dida kept France from a certain second goal. With 20 minutes left the tension was palpable from both sides.
France attacked with a solid spell of possession, and Zidane played in Henry who was brought down, but not enough to warrant a penalty. Ronaldinho lost possession that eventually led to an Henry shot at Dida. Although Henry hadn’t got the better in the Champions League Final a couple months prior, the Brazil number 10 was the one falling short in this match and this tournament so far. After France won back the ball a picturesque roulette from Zidane followed by by a pass and release across the field really dazzled. Henry tried to march through a gap but Lucio stopped that. Sagnol pushed away at Kaka (another who had flattered to deceive in this tournament for Brazil having wowed for his club side), and Sagnol was booked. Lucio came forward and played a pass out wide to Cafu, whose cross in was made a mess of by Thuram but eventually it was kicked away, Ribery and Henry exchanged passes before Lucio fouled the Arsenal man and became the 3rd of the Brazil back 4 to be booked in this match. Sidney Govou came on for France replacing Ribery who was excellent todau, and for Brazil Cafu was replaced by Cicinho.
Cicinho played in Kaka down the right, before coming to the other side to try and find a way through… Robinho then replaced Kaka for Brazil (who now had 4 forward players on the pitch). Roberto Carlos played a huge ball out to the opposite side but it was cleared away, and with a free kick given Brazil quickly got the play moving again… Cicinho’s ball in eventually led to a shot hit wide and another chance spurned for Brazil. Malouda was then replaced by Sylvain Wiltord for France, as Zidane drew a foul from Ze Roberto. Less than 10 minutes of normal time now for Brazil to find a goal from somewhere, a team who hadn’t lost a World Cup match since that 1998 loss to the same opposition. Brazil had a free kick with 7 players in the box, but again France cleared it away. Things seemed to be slipping away for the 5 time World Champions now…
Ronaldo’s shot seemed desperate but Govou was able to stretch and drag it wide. Henry after his goal was then subbed off Louis Saha, they had less than 5 minutes to hang on for a semi final with Portugal. Ronaldinho was able to keep the ball in after to allow Adriano to gain a corner, but from it a ball in led to a foul on Barthez as he went for the ball. Just after Saha was booked for timewasting less than one minute after coming on. Ronaldo then had another run forward and looked to be about to add his own bit of magic with a signature run, before he was fouled just outside the area, and a booking for Thuram followed despite his protests. What a chance this was for Brazil with a host of candidates for the free kick, but Ronaldinho sent it over the bar. Just.
France went forward again with Govou going into the area, but it went out for a goal kick. Brazil restarted right away, Roberto Carlos’ ball looked for Adriano but Sagnol cleared. France came on the counter through Zidane, but the shot from Saha was saved by Dida with only 3 added minutes left for them to find a goal. A shot from R9 at the other end was batted away by Barthez and Gallas cleared after, Brazil were in the most desperate of times now. A flash ball in was put of of play by the heel of Ze Roberto for a goal kick to France. Their manager called for calm, but how could they just minutes from victory? As the time ticked away Ronaldinho could only smile as he gave away a free kick… Brazil with one minute left came forward but Ronaldo was brought down and France cleared. Zidane then played a ball forward but eventually it was a free kick to Brazil. Cicinho raced forward, and the long ball went in… but was caught and held by Barthez and the offside flag also killed any final chance for Brazil. Full time, France 1 Brazil 0.
Brazil just didn’t show up sadly. They came up against a resolute France team and just could find an answer. Time and time again the final ball for Brazil let them down, France’s midfield trio of Viera and Makelele led by Zidane won them the game and deservedly so.
The storied World Cup careers of Brazil’s former champions was over. For one Frenchman in particular, there were still a few more tales to tell.
GK 16 Fabien Barthez – 6
RB 19 Willy Sagnol – 8
CB 15 Lilian Thuram – 6
CB 5 William Gallas – 7
LB 3 Eric Abidal – 6
CM 4 Patrick Vieira – 8
CM 6 Claude Makélélé – 8
RW 22 Franck Ribéry (77) – 8
AM 10 Zinedine Zidane (c) – 9
LW 7 Florent Malouda (81) – 6
CF 12 Thierry Henry (86) – 7
FW 9 Sidney Govou (77) – 6
FW 11 Sylvain Wiltord (81) – 5
FW 14 Louis Saha (86) – 5
GK 1 Dida – 6
RB 2 Cafu (c) (76) – 6
CB 3 Lúcio (75) – 7
CB 4 Juan (45) – 6
LB 6 Roberto Carlos – 6
RM 17 Gilberto Silva – 5
CM 8 Kaká (79) – 5
CM 19 Juninho (63) – 5
LM 11 Zé Roberto – 6
SS 10 Ronaldinho – 6
CF 9 Ronaldo – 6
FW 7 Adriano (63) – 6
DF 13 Cicinho (76) – 6
FW 23 Robinho (79) – 6
If you couldn’t already tell from the blog so far, this match was controlled at it’s heart by one man. There was a movie made that followed him during a match playing for Real Madrid, I am sure if they knew in advance the directors of that would’ve picked this match to show off just how god-like Zinedine Zidane was at times on a football pitch.
Following the match of course, the inquest for Brazil began. And change was afoot, after a golden era of Brazilian football where they reached 3 World Cup Finals in a row between 1994-2002, the run ended here with elimination at the Quarter Final stage. The coach Carlos Alberto Perreira was replaced after the tournament by his and Brazil’s World Cup winning captain Dunga, despite the fact that he had no prior coaching experience of any note whatsoever. And to give an idea of how the players of this amazing run were coming to their end also, only SIX of those in the Brazil 2006 squad came with them again to the World Cup in South Africa 4 years later. Brazil to this day are still looking for their 6th star.
As for the French, they went on to reach the 2006 World Cup Final… and well… you know how that went…
A lot of people remember the match that had the biggest effect on them as a kid. The one that TRULY captured their imagination, I was a football fan before watching this, after I was in love with the sport. Sure this wasn’t the greatest match that’s ever been played, but the stars on show and the stakes and just the whole package, the all-star Brazil vs the Zidane-led France was the match that made me fall for football. And I never looked back.