1. Lilian Thuram, France
Knowledge of what he could do, and what he would subsequently do in Euro 2000, has tended to cast 1998 as Zinedine Zidane’s World Cup, but actually this was a tournament won through solid defence and the ability to conjure a goal just when they needed it.
With a narrow midfield – Didier Deschamps, Emmanuel Petit and Christian Karembeu all started the final – there was an onus on the two full-backs, Bixente Lizarazu and Lilian Thuam, to provide width, something both did superbly. It was Thuram, though, who stood out, principally for his astonishing performance in the semi-final against Croatia.
At Euro 84, another full-back, Jean-Francois Domergue, had scored his only two goals for his nation to turn a semi-final in which France were struggling. Here, Thuram repeated the trick. In 141 other games for France he didn’t score, but 30 seconds after Les Bleus had fallen behind, he dispossessed Zvonimir Boban, exchanged passes with Youri Djorkaeff and tucked an angled finish across Drazen Ladic. Then, 22 minutes later, he outmuscled Robert Jarni and drove in from the edge of the box.
It had been Thuram who played Davor Suker onside for Croatia’s goal, but as that was the only time they conceded in his six games during the tournament, he could be forgiven.