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Marcotti: A tournament to remember

World Cup Jul 14, 2014
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 Posted by Roger Bennett
May 21, 2014

World Cup Moments: Frank Leboeuf

No one expected Frank Leboeuf to be a hero at the 1998 World Cup. Even heading into the semifinals, he would have been a longshot to feature in a meaningful way. He had only played in the final group stage game, by which time the hosts had already cliched qualification to the knockout stage. But when Laurent Blanc was sent off late in the last four win vs. Croatia, Leboeuf's name was called and he started the final in place of his suspended teammate. Tasked with marking Ronaldo, he shone and France lifted the trophy after a 3-0 win. Leboeuf sat down with Roger Bennett to recall his time in the global spotlight...

I did not see Laurent Blanc get a red card. I was on the bench and (Coach Aime) Jacquet was about to make a substituion so lots of technical staff were standing in front of me. I just heard a lot of noise from the crowd and Jacquet suddenly told me to get up. I did not have the time to think. I simply got changed and went onto the field. 10 minutes of playing, I had not touched the ball but the reality dawned on me. If we won the game, I would playing in a World Cup final and I started to get scared.

The three days that followed were the worst days of my life. Before the game you have so much pressure. You are about to play the best team in the world. The nation is expecting so much from you. They want to party. Their ability to party is in your hands.

Jacquet did not talk to me during those three days. He was preoccupied with the final. Anyway, I had spoken to him before the tournament and he had made it clear my role was to be ready if either Blanc or Marcel Desailly were injured or red-carded. Zinedine Zidane was more a leader on the field, he was not a talker. Blanc did not say anything to me. Desailly and (captain) Didier Deschamps made it clear it was no problem for me to play. They were not troubled and had confidence in me. They were focusing on the final, not on Frank Lebouef. {C}I felt so much stress, but the afternoon of the game I slept two and a half hours. My body's way of coping with the prospect of the game and preparing for the final. A football habit built up over 10 years of being a professional.

World Cup memories:
- McBride on the USA's 2002 run
- Steve McManaman on Brazil 1982
- Materazzi on Zidane's headbutt
- Kempes on winning the 1978 World Cup

At the team's morning meeting on the day of the game, I was instructed not to worry about Ronaldo and whether or not he would play. We knew he was in hospital but if he did not play we would still have to face Bebeto. So it stopped mattering to me whether Ronaldo would be in the line-up or not. We stopped checking, focused on Brazil.

My overriding memory of the game is the feeling I had in the tunnel. We had to wait in there for 10 minutes until the televison broadcast was ready. The Brazilians were besides us. They held hands and started singing. It was a real pain because you are so close to the field, you are like, "let's go and play the final already." There were 80,000 fans in the stadium and two billion people ready to watch around the world but we were stuck in the tunnel. It was very, very stressful.

1998 saw the gritty French side shock the world with victory over Brazil in the final.
1998 saw the gritty French side shock the world with victory over Brazil in the final.

Singing the national anthem was something special. You are playing at home. You have the crowd with you. While you sing you think about your family, your childhood, and where you are now -- that you are about to play the game of your life. For a Frenchman it was particularly moving as we had never witnessed such a thing as a French winner before. It was a dream and a nightmare because it created so much pressure. Once the game kicked off, there was a great moment for me when I tackled Ronaldo. It was against the sideline. He was moving his legs like Brazilians do to try and make you lose eye contact with the ball. I told myself just to focus on the ball and I jumped in, tackled him, and in addition, the ball bounced off his shin and we got the throw in. The crowd stood up and applauded. It made them confident in my ability.

Our first goal stands out for me because I expected to get to the ball but Zidane stepped in front of me to head it home. I had seen the cross and knew I was in front of my defender. You can see me on television thinking, "I am going to get this!" (Lilian) Thuram told me later he thought the same thing, but Zidane beat us both. I was so happy when he scored I just kicked the ball into the stands.

Was part of me disappointed not to score myself? (Laughs) I think more about the third, Emmanuel Petit's goal. He was defending with me at that point in the game. I had thought about going forward for that but we both could not go up because that would have been taking the piss. He went up and scored and sometimes I think what would it have felt like if that happened to me? I probably would have missed but that is a fantasy that will have to stay a fantasy, I am afraid. I learned a lot about myself from the whole experience. I realised just how big a competitor I am. Sometimes the pressure can be too big. You have to stand up or collapse. At the World Cup, I stood up.

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