French football legend Michel Platini has sensationally admitted to a “little skulduggery” in rigging the draw to ensure Brazil and France could not meet until the final of the 1998 World Cup, where he was organising committee president.
“We organised the schedule so, if we finished first in our group and Brazil first in theirs, the teams could not meet before the final,” France great Platini told Radio Bleu Sport in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday, highlights of which the station tweeted on Friday.
The revelation comes at a time when Platini is banned from football for receiving a “disloyal payment” of two million Swiss francs (1.7 million euros, $2 million) when he was head of UEFA from disgraced former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
The draw took place in Marseille on December 4, 1997 and was presided over by FIFA’s then-general secretary: Blatter.
“Look, we were at home, you have to make the most of things, we weren’t going to go through the bother of six years organising the World Cup if we could not pull off a few little tricks,” said Platini, a former midfield star for Saint Etienne, Juventus and France.
“Do you think other hosts didn’t do the same at their World Cups?” A France-Brazil final “was everyone’s dream”, said Platini.
Brazil were placed in Group A and France in Group C, ensuring they wouldn’t meet until the final, as long as both won their group. Not everyone was happy with the fairly transparent plan, though.
At the time, the selection process of top seeds for the eight groups had provoked accusations of a “European conspiracy” by then-Brazil coach Mario Zagallo.
Following frantic negotiations behind the scenes, six European countries and two South Americans — Brazil and Argentina — were picked, with Africans Nigeria missing out.
Ahead of the draw, Zagallo had complained that French organisers would “do everything to ensure Brazil are not world champions”, insisting the seeding process was fixed to ensure the Selecao would face two European sides in the group stages: they drew Norway and Scotland, as well as Morocco – a fairly easy draw by anyone’s standards.
But their bitter rivals Argentina drew the only group with just one European team, Croatia, as well as Jamaica and Japan.
France got Denmark, South Africa and Saudi Arabia, finished top and then beat Paraguay, Italy (on penalties) and Croatia on route to the final, playing both their quarter-final and semi-final at the Stade de France national stadium where the title-decider would also be held.
Brazil won their group and beat Chile, Denmark and the Netherlands (on penalties) before losing the final 3-0 to France.
While teams had been allocated to specific groups at previous tournaments, it had typically been to keep apart countries from the same continental federation.
At Italia 1990, when there were just 24 teams in six groups of four, the top seeds were assigned in an way that kept Italy in Rome and had the added bonus for organisers that England, and their notorious fans, were isolated on Sardinia.
England were placed in the “London group” at both the 1966 World Cup and Euro 96, ensuring they would play all their games at Wembley.