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France 1998

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Let's look back at the sixteenth World Cup, held in France in 1998 and won by France - their first win. France remain the latest country to win it for the first time.

In 1966, England won and Germany were runners-up. At the final whistle the scorer of the first goal in the final, Helmut Haller, picked up the ball and kept it. No big deal, no-one gave a second thought in those days to football memorabilia and its potential value. Haller gave the ball to his son for his fifth birthday. Over 20 years it was signed by Pele, Eusebio and other greats, but ended up languishing in Haller's cellar.

When England won the right to host the 1996 European Championships the magazine Total Football suggested the 1966 ball should 'come home'. This kicked of a massive campaign. The Sun and the Mirror battled it out for the scoop of getting the ball back. The bemused Hallers said they'd listen to offers. Eventually the Mirror, Eurostar and Richard Branson clinched a deal worth 70,000 pounds to Haller. After much subterfuge the Mirror got the money shot of Haller returning the ball to Geoff Hurst after smuggling Haller into the country. Miffed, the Sun demanded the Hallers give the money to charity, which the did - allegedly. The ball now resides at the National Football Museum at Preston North End's Deepdale ground. Sadly the precious autographs have faded because Richard Branson exposed the ball to full sunlight during the handover.

Scotland met Estonia in Estonia during the qualifying stages in a match set down for a 6:45pm kick-off. The Estonians rented floodlights from Finland. Scotland complained the lights were much shorter than normal and would dazzle the players. FIFA concurred and issued a directive at 9:00am on match day moving the kick-off forward to 3:00pm to avoid the need for lights. The Scottish fans were duly informed and arrived for the early kick-off along with their team and the referees. The Estonians failed to show. The referee awarded the match to Scotland as a forfeit. The Scottish fans were delighted.

The Estonians however had never officially accepted the new kick-off time. They were also concerned about being unable to provide security at such short notice and their fans being at work at kick-off time. So at 5:00pm the Estonian team duly arrived in their team bus along with their fans for a 6:45pm kick-off. They made their point by standing around, arms folded, waiting impatiently for Scotland to turn up.

FIFA now had a dilemma. Acting with their renowned speed and efficiency they came to a decision a month later. They decided the tie should be replayed on a neutral ground. Effectively, Scotland failed to win despite the opposition failing to turn up. The Scots eventually acceded to FIFA despite feeling they were being punished for something that was not their fault. The two sides finally did meet in Monaco a further three months later. Naturally Scotland were dire and were booed off their pitch by their fans in a 0-0 draw. Fortunately for FIFA they were spared a major backlash as Scotland eventually managed to qualify regardless.

The Maldives attempted to qualify for the first time. Given that 99.6 of the islands are officially classed as water and many children hone their football skills with a coconut, little was expected. Little was delivered as the Maldives lost all six of their qualifiers a compiled the worst ever for-and-against record of 0-59.

Princess Diana died from injuries sustained in a car-crash on August 31, 1997. The day of the funeral, Saturday September 6, was declared a national day of mourning by Prime Minister Tony Blair. All Premier League games were cancelled (along with race meetings and so on). Business closed until after the funeral, re-opening at 2:00pm. The Scottish FA however, decided it should be business as usual and that its World Cup qualifier against Belarus should go ahead. FIFA had been consulted and concurred provided the usual marks of respect (black arm bands, a minute's silence, etc) were observed. Eventually after a huge hullabaloo in the English Press the game was moved back a day to the Sunday, despite the observation that you could shop, visit themes parks, buy a Big Mac or purchase a lottery ticket, but not watch, play in or bet on a football match. Scotland won the rescheduled match 4-1.

After England's first match at the finals, an unremarkable 2-0 victory over Tunisia in Marseille, Glenn Hoddle and Alan Shearer were interviewed for TV. Curiously Hoddle was shown in full while Shearer's replies came from off camera. Turns out the producer had spotted the large Marseille sign behind Shearer. Shearer's head blocked the 'M' and the 'ille' was out of shot.

Hair-cuts featured a lot at WC 1998. There was Beckham's mohawk, Seaman's ponytail and Valderama's 'fro. Nigeria's Taribo West went for green pigtails and was rebuked by Nigeria's culture minister as promoting homosexuality for his trouble. Romania went all out though. The entire team went peroxide blond for their final group game (making life very difficult for commentators). Their goal keeper was unable to join in as he was bald and their coach shaved his head in moral support. Romania lost 0-1 and went home.