In Italy, we call “meteora” (meteor) a football player who lives a short period of glory before fading away, back into anonymity. The World Cup is full of such stories, of players who in some way managed to find their edge right during those 30 days, once in four years, when the whole world revolves around a foot ball. They shone on the most important stage, and then quickly turned back into regular journeymen, or even worse disappeared from the calcio che conta (“football that matters”). Like a broken spell. Like a dream from which they suddenly woke up.
Antonio Guarini takes us through a journey among the Top 10 “one-hit-wonders” in the recent history of the World Cup. Some of them helped Italy climb to the top of the world, some others recall painful memories for the Azzurri. But all share the same fascinating meteora status, all found the magic formula to sparkle and shine just when it mattered most.
They may not have been Ballon d’Or winning champions, but we are sure that these names will ring a bell or two to all football lovers.
9) Stéphane Guivarc’h, the Goalless World Champion
Luck was definitely on the host Country side during the 1998 World Cup played in France. This is something that became clear during the Round of 16, with Paraguay holding the French onto a goalless draw, until a single scoring by center back Laurent Blanc during extra time pushed Aimé Jacquet’s side further.
In the following round, Les Coqs won against Italy on penalties, after both regular and extra times had ended with no goals. In the Semifinal, it was a double by Lilian Thuram – another defender! – to overcome Croatia. Then, in the Final match, a brace by Zinedine Zidane, and a goal by Emmanuel Petit awarded the French their first World Cup title.
But…What about the strikers?
That French national side could feature young Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet, yet the starting forward ended up being Stéphane Guivarc’h. Les Bleus’ Number 9 had had a great season with Auxerre, where he totalized 21 goals in 32 Ligue 1 appearances. However, during the World Cup he didn’t score a single goal, rather distinguishing himself for trying to disfigure Fabio Cannavaro’s pretty face.
An elbow that was well worth a red card, the one from Guivarc’h during that France-Italy Quarter Finals match, but back in the days Video Assistant Referee was still not in use…
The French forward played six out of seven total games at France 1998, but didn’t manage to make it to the scorecard in any of them. Still, the World Cup gave him some global visibility, and convinced Newcastle United to bring him to Premier League. Guivarc’h didn’t last long in St. James’ Park. He was sold to Glasgow Rangers a few weeks after Ruud Gullit sat on the Magpies’ bench. He spent one season in Scotland, then came back home to play with Auxerre again, and then with Rennes.
He did not score a single goal as a forward, yet he became a World Champion. His counterpart, and opponent, during the Final with Brazil, was Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima – the so-called Fenomeno. That night, the Brazilian sensation couldn’t even realize what he was doing. Rumors have it that earlier in the day he had risked his life, due to convulsions.
But four years later, Ronaldo scored two goals in the 2002 World Cup Final against Germany. That same year, Guivarc’h concluded his career. Sometimes football, just like life, can also be fair.
Translated by Matteo Carnevale
Check out the other World Cup Meteors in our countdown:
10) Ahn Jung-Hwan, Italy’s Korean Killer