One of the world’s great rivalries will get another airing on Thursday when France host Brazil in a friendly at the Stade de France. Both the venue and the teams will be the same as for the 1998 World Cup final when France humbled Brazil 3-0 to lift the trophy for the first time, in a match that will forever be remembered for the mystery surrounding the exclusion and then reinstatement in the starting lineup of Brazilian striker Ronaldo.
The current coaches of both teams captained their countries that night on the outskirts of Paris, and are now charged with returning them to a position at the top of the sport. For Didier Deschamps, the specific goal is to put France in a position to lift the European Championship next year on home soil. At last year’s World Cup, France rebuilt their reputation after the in-camp turmoil that precipitated a group-stage exit in 2010, but they still ultimately went out limply to Germany in the quarterfinals. Since returning from Brazil, though, they have gone unbeaten in friendlies, and picked up impressive wins over Spain and Portugal.
“We've been playing good games and we showed that we can suffer and win,” France striker Karim Benzema said, reports BBC Sport.
The tasked faced by Brazil coach Dunga, despite his side going one round further in the World Cup, is a far more arduous and pressurized one. The former midfield anchorman was a surprise and largely unpopular appointment when he was chosen to take charge of Brazil for a second time in the wake of a humiliating 7-1 defeat to Germany on home soil. After a match which exposed a long decline in a team once beloved the world over, many sought someone to return the fluidity and joy to the national team. Instead Dunga selected, despite having coached the team to the 2010 World Cup with a style that mirrored the no-thrills approach he demonstrated during his playing days.
But he has been able to silence some of his critics, thanks to six wins from six matches since taking charge. Most impressive of all was a 2-0 win over World Cup finalists Argentina last October, which is likely to have been a particular boost for confidence ahead of this summer’s Copa America and World Cup qualifiers that begin soon after. And Deschamps insists he is expecting Brazil to provide a stern test for his France team.
“They are reeling from a World Cup that was not unsuccessful despite the trauma they went through -- they were still in the semi-finals,” he said, according to Reuters. “I have seen what they have been doing since then and I saw many, many very good things.”
Fresh from his win with Barcelona in El Clasico, Neymar will be the star attraction for Brazil, and he could be joined in attack by first-time starter Roberto Firmino. The Hoffenheim forward came off the bench to score Brazil’s winner against Austria last November. France, meanwhile, will be missing first-choice goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and midfielder Paul Pogba, but could hand a debut to Nabil Fekir. The in-form Lyon attacking midfielder has chosen to play for Les Bleus ahead of Algeria.
Kickoff time: 4 p.m. ET
TV channel: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes
Live stream: Watch ESPN