This week marks the 20th anniversary of the 1998 World Cup draw taking place. In the latest of our recollections of England World Cup campaigns we recall their fortunes out in France, when as with the 2018 tournament they would start against Tunisia. Glenn Hoddle’s side would be involved in an iconic match, but suffer yet more penalty-shoot-out heartache…
After England clinched qualification for the 1998 World Cup with a memorable 0-0 draw away to Italy in October 1997, there was a feeling of optimism over what they could achieve in France the following summer. In the previous couple of years they had come perilously close to being Euro ’96 champions, they had won Le Tournoi in France and they had finished ahead of the Italians to top their qualifying group. But critics could find holes in those arguments, given England had failed to reach the Euro ’96 final on home soil; Le Tournoi was only effectively a series of friendlies and England were second best in the match against Brazil; and Italy had a better head-to-head record than England during qualifying.
But being back in the World Cup finals after eight years was important for the nation and the short trip to France would represent a major test for the reputation of England fans, with thousands expected to support the side – if they could get in that is, given tickets were controversially in short supply to visiting nations. But other things looked more positive. Le Tournoi helped England steal a march in terms of their preparations for the World Cup, as they again booked La Baule as their base for the finals.
The draw on December 4 unusually took place on a Thursday at the Stade Velodrome in Marseilles and it handed England a return there for their first game in Group H against Tunisia on June 15. England were not seeded and they could feasibly have been paired with such lauded sides as Brazil, so Romania were generally welcomed as their opponents from the top tier. However, the Romanians had impressed en route to the quarter-finals of the 1994 World Cup – even though they had then gone out in the group stage of Euro ’96. That 1994 World Cup had seen Colombia hyped up as potential winners before making an early exit and they would be less vaunted four years on as they accompanied England, Romania and Tunisia in their group. The general consensus was England had been handed a favourable draw, albeit not an easy one.
Age was generally on the side of Glenn Hoddle’s men, given he had not had to make widespread changes to the squad he inherited from Terry Venables in 1996 and players such as David Beckham and Paul Scholes had established themselves in the meantime. But Hoddle wasn’t going to restrict his options to those players who had helped England qualify. “There might be a few surprises,” he said on Football Focus after qualification was clinched. Liverpool forward Michael Owen had just turned 18 when 1998 began but he was handed his debut against Chile in February and his first goal would follow against Morocco shortly before the finals. Owen was making a big impression and made his way into Hoddle’s World Cup squad, but Matt Le Tissier must have been left wondering what he had to do after scoring a hat-trick for England B against Russia but not even making the 30-man shortlist.
Some of the more established players could not take it for granted they would make the final squad. England headed to La Manga during their preparations with their 28-strong group (injury had ruled out Jamie Redknapp and Ian Wright) before it was whittled down to 22. Six players would need to be axed and there were questions raised about whether Hoddle was doing the right thing in terms of squad harmony by going about it in this manner. On May 31, Nicky Butt, Dion Dublin, Andy Hinchcliffe, Phil Neville and Ian Walker would all receive the crushing news that they wouldn’t be in the final squad. But those omissions went almost unnoticed compared to the media storm that concerned another absentee. Paul Gascoigne, who had featured so prominently during Italia ’90 and Euro ’96, was out. His absence meant no member of England’s squad had ever played in a World Cup finals match before, with only David Seaman having been in the Italia ’90 party (when he had to withdraw early on due to injury).
The relationship between Hoddle and Gascoigne (pictured together above) was never as straightforward as that which Gazza had enjoyed with mentor Venables, but the player had remained involved despite fitness concerns and reported off-field issues. He had played in the draw in Italy which clinched qualification and few would have anticipated him not making the World Cup squad. But Hoddle wasn’t convinced and, following warm-up games in a mini-tournament against Morocco and Belgium, he took the decision – which was sensible or stupid depending upon who you asked – to leave Gazza out.
Hoddle’s technicial abilities as a coach are hailed, his man-management skills less so and the latter was tested more than ever as he had to tell Gascoigne he wasn’t going to France. The player was inevitably distraught and the details of what happened in the hotel room would controversially be revealed by Hoddle in his My 1998 World Cup Story book. In the same publication he outlined his decision-making over Gascoigne: “The question kept going round in my head, ‘Can you honestly say that Gazza is going to last seven games in France? Will he really be back to his very best?’ And I kept coming back to the same answer. No.” It marked a sorry end of the line for Gascoigne’s eventful 10-year England career.
The eight months between England qualifying for the finals and the tournament beginning brought a series of warm-up games, which yielded mixed rewards. Friendly wins over Cameroon and Portugal boosted confidence, a goalless home draw with Saudi Arabia less so. The side also drew away to Switzerland and lost against Chile at Wembley, while their last matches before the finals came in the King Hassan II Cup in Morocco. Owen scored his first England goal to defeat the hosts, before a goalless draw against Belgium led to England’s ‘forgotten’ penalty-shoot-out – which ended with a familiar outcome as they lost out. Would it be a taste of what was to come out in France?
Football’s popularity had continually risen during the 1990s and both the World Cup and England were attracting plenty of interest, evidenced by the number of songs recorded in homage to the side including an updated version of Three Lions – which now called for “no more years of hurt” – and Fat Les with Vindaloo. Prince Charles sent the England squad a fax wishing them well against Colombia, a game he attended with Prince Harry. Meanwhile, New Labour had swept to power little more than a year earlier and Prime Minister Tony Blair was certainly throwing his backing behind England, ringing Hoddle at the start of the tournament to wish him well (and later commiserating with him following England’s exit). However, things wouldn’t be quite so cordial between the pair when Blair weighed into the debate over Hoddle’s future early the following year.
A stylish start
The World Cup had been expanded to 32 teams and there would be lengthy gaps during the group stage for competing nations. It was the tournament’s sixth day when England met Tunisia in the afternoon heat of Marseilles. Sadly, pre-match headlines mainly cornered matters off the field rather than on it, with unsavoury incidents involving a section of England’s followers rekindling fears over that hooliganism would again damage the nation’s reputation. Hoddle and his players just got on with focusing on the opener against Tunisia, with the boss opting for experience as he left Owen on the bench. More controversial was the decision to leave Beckham out of the starting XI, despite having played in every qualifier. Darren Anderton had overcome a long-term injury lay-off to make the squad and he was preferred on the right, amid speculation that Beckham had become distracted by his high-profile relationship with Posh Spice. “He’d been drifting in and out of too many games,” said Hoddle when justifying his decision. Of England’s side, Anderton, David Seaman, Tony Adams, Gareth Southgate, Paul Ince, Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham had all played against Germany in the Euro ’96 semi-final. They were joined by Scholes, Sol Campbell, Graeme Le Saux and David Batty.
“Shouldn’t you be at work?” quipped BBC presenter Des Lynam ahead of the match, which kicked-off at 1.30pm (BST) on a Monday, Those who pulled a sickie were rewarded by seeing a composed England display that bore fruit. England have frequently broken the deadlock in their first tournament game over the years and they duly did so here as Shearer headed in Le Saux’s free-kick to give them a half-time lead. But, unlike some other opening England matches in major competitions, they pushed on after forging ahead and sealed the victory in style as good work by Ince freed Scholes to curl in an excellent goal. For the first time since the 1982 World Cup, England had started a major tournament with a win. “I was particularly pleased with the manner of the victory and with individual performances,” declared Hoddle. “Playing David Batty and Paul Ince together in the middle of the park to control the game worked well.”
“There’s only one team going to win it now”
England now had a week to recover before they faced Romania in Toulouse, in a match between the two sides most likely to progress. Southgate was ruled out so Gary Neville came into the side, while England would then lose Ince after sustaining an ankle injury in the first half as Beckham replaced him to make his tournament bow. It was a goalless at half-time but two minutes after the break the evergreen Gheorghe Hagi set-up Viorel Moldovan to score past Seaman. Owen had made a brief cameo appearance when he replaced Teddy Sheringham a week earlier and this time he came on for him with 17 minutes left. The move paid off as Owen was on hand to equalise, becoming the youngest player to score for England at a World Cup.
“There’s only one team going to win it now and that’s England,” declared ITV co-commentator Kevin Keegan. It seemed a valid enough comment at the time as England now appeared to be on top, but it would come back to haunt him as defensive hesitancy allowed Dan Petrescu – a man Hoddle knew well from Chelsea – to score the winner. There was still time for Owen to hit the post as England slipped to a frustrating 2-1 defeat, on a night where they had not played particularly badly but had been punished defensively.
It was a blow for England, but not a crushing one. Despite the pain of losing, progression was still in their own hands. If they avoided defeat against Colombia – who had lost 1-0 to Romania and then beaten Tunisia by the same score – four nights later then they would go through, although their hopes of winning the group were realistically over. Provided England went through in second then they would probably play Argentina in the second round, followed by a particularly difficult path including Brazil in the semi-finals. It was becoming clear that if England were to finally enjoy success, they would have to do it the hard way.
Hoddle calls it right
The most recent meeting between England and Colombia had been a 0-0 draw at Wembley in 1995 that was forever recalled for the ‘scorpion kick’ save by Rene Higuita. He was no longer on the scene but another distinctive character, Carlos Valderrama, was appearing for the decisive World Cup group stage match in Lens despite his 37th birthday approaching. Owen was selected to start ahead of Sheringham and Hoddle opted to utilise both Anderton and Beckham, with Batty relegated to the bench, and the move paid off as the right-sided pair both scored impressive goals to effectively wrap up progression by half-time.
Anderton controlled the ball neatly before smashing the opener into the net, with the lead doubled as Beckham delightfully placed a free-kick out of the reach of Farid Mondragon. Colombia were never realistically going to score the three goals needed to prevent England going through, with the second half best remembered for a charge forward by Campbell on a night when Rob Lee and Steve McManaman came off the bench for a taste of World Cup action. As expected though England had to be content with second place in the group, with Romania drawing 1-1 against Tunisia to finish a point clear at the top.
Pride and pain
Argentina had won their group ahead of Croatia – who, it should be recognised, would also have been tough opponents for England – and so the stage was set. The sides would meet in St Etienne, 12 years after their never-forgotten ‘Hand of God’ clash when Hoddle was in the England line-up. Since then the only meeting had been a 2-2 draw at Wembley in 1991. ITV would have exclusive live coverage of this second round match, providing a last hurrah for commentator Brian Moore who was retiring after the finals. Thousands of England fans in the stadium and millions more back home were kept on the edge of their seats by an enthralling contest that would have merited a later stage of the competition.
The match would live long in the memory. Both sides scoring penalties in the opening minutes through Gabriel Batistuta and Shearer; Owen scoring a wonderful solo goal to put England 2-1 ahead; Argentina making great use of a set-piece to catch England napping and equalise on the stroke of half-time through Javier Zanetti; Beckham being sent-off after kicking out at Diego Simeone; England’s 10 men battling admirably; Campbell having a late ‘winner’ disallowed, before Argentina suddenly broke away with Hoddle’s side stretched; and after extra-time ended without a golden goal and the scores level at 2-2, it was penalties; Ince and Batty were denied as England lost out. The woes for the England squad were compounded by their jubilant Argentine counterparts appearing to goad them when the team coaches were lined up next to each other afterwards.
For the third time during the 1990s, a huge TV audience back home had watched England go out of a major tournament on penalties after competing well against strong opponents. Unlike Ramsey prior to 1966, Hoddle had not gone on the record that England would win the World Cup but he had privately believed they would. He found the second round exit hard to swallow. “It was the most painful defeat I had suffered in all my years as a player and manager,” wrote Hoddle. Even as he watched hosts France lift the World Cup 12 days later he was left feeling he should have achieved what Aime Jacquet had. “I’ll always believe it should have been me. It should have been England,” he wrote, sounding like a man painfully watching the object of his affections marrying someone else.
In the Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter summed up matters by writing: “Never outplayed, never outfought, never outsung, England are nevertheless out of the World Cup. And once again it is the tyranny of penalties that has brought England down, as at Euro ’96, as at Italia ’90, history repeating itself in the most callous manner imaginable.” The nation was becoming accustomed to penalty-shoot-out losses and questions would be asked over Hoddle’s reluctance for the squad to practise penalties. Beckham’s dismissal had reduced the number of natural penalty takers on the field come the shoot-out and Batty, who had replaced Anderton during extra-time, was now unexpectedly elevated to fifth taker after Shearer, Ince, fellow sub Paul Merson and Owen.
But compared to their Italia ’90 and Euro ’96 exits there was less focus on those who failed to score in the shoot-out, with much more media attention devoted to Beckham and his sending-off. ’10 heroic lions; one stupid boy,’ screamed the front page of the Daily Mirror. Beckham faced a negative reception back home and it could have damaged him, but he responded by helping Manchester United win the treble in 1998-99 and redeeming himself internationally by scoring the winner against Argentina at the 2002 World Cup from the spot. Returning home to a more positive reaction in 1998 was Owen, whose goal was being widely talked about despite the final outcome. It was perhaps a measure of football’s ever-growing popularity that Owen should be voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year, whereas Gary Lineker had not even made the top three when he was top scorer during Mexico ’86.
Hoddle generally still had public support after the side’s performance out in France, but the tide would soon turn against him. A poor start to the Euro 2000 qualifying campaign and the controversial publication of his My 1998 World Cup Story diary book didn’t help his cause (ghostwriter David Davies later voiced regret about the book being published). Early the following year Hoddle’s reign was brought to a close following his ill-judged comments over the disabled and reincarnation. It was a messy end, just a matter of months after he had genuinely believed England could win the World Cup. It wasn’t to be and England headed home with three rounds remaining. They didn’t get the desired outcome against Argentina, but the gutsy performance is still fondly remembered.
Blogging about the history of the England national football team, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s.