The 1998 world cup was another really memorable and enjoyable one for me. Perhaps no other world cup was an enjoyable and as exciting for me personally. I was 21, not yet 22, studying at NIIT and despite most of the matches ending late at night, like 1am-2am, I would watch all of them and get up at 5 am 4 days in a week to get to the 7 am class at NIIT. Me and the other guys would be in class, eyes red as hell and guzzling down loads of hot black coffee to stay awake while the ladies looked at us as if we were insane. Once the classroom and lab sessions were over (usually at around 11 am) we would spend the next 2 & a 1/2 hours discussing the matches that we had seen the previous night. At 1:30 pm we would leave for lunch and head back home.
I would sleep for awhile and in the late evenings read all the match reports and analysis of the matches played and rest up for that night’s matches. This was a fun time. I never discussed so much football in one place ever. There were so many good squads. Norway & Denmark represented Scandinavia with Sweden having failed to qualify and both teams entertained, especially Denmark with the final time that we would see the Laudrup brothers playing on a big stage together. Chile & Italy gave us a good match but Nigeria were the big surprises in the group stage, qualifying at the top of their group which included Paraguay – who also qualified – along with Spain & Bulgaria who didn’t! The Netherlands started slowly drawing 2 games and thrashing South Korea. By the way, this was also the first time that I saw my favourite utility player of all time Philip Cocu play. He was an unheralded hero playing defender, wing back, midfielder, winger & striker in different matches throughout the tournament.
Romania also showed some early flair finishing top of their group that also included England & Columbia, while Argentina looked the strongest during the group stage winning all 3 of their group stage matches in style. The big game in the round of 16 was ofcourse England vs Argentina and drama ensued. David Beckham was red carded for kicking at Diego Simone after being fouled by the Argentine in a fit of rage. Argentina went on to win the game via penalty shootout. In the quaterfinals Brazil vs Denmark and Argentina vs Netherlands were two exciting affairs and it was a shame that both Denmark & Argentina had to lose at that stage. Brazil would face off against the Netherlands in the semis and won via penalties. The other quarterfinals were between France & Italy with France winning in the shootout while a big surprise was up with the Cindrella team of the tournament with Croatia beating Germany 3-0. France would then beat Croatia and go onto beat Brazil 3-0 under the brilliance of Zinedine Zidane, give the French their first ever World Cup. Davor Suker won the golden boot with 6 goals and led Croatia to the 3rd place, beating Netherlands 2-1.