There isn’t much FIFA can do to shock us these days, considering how numb we’ve become to the antics of world soccer’s governing body over its long, corruption-addled existence. Put the World Cup in a country with debilitating summertime heat and no discernible soccer tradition? Sure! Keep electing the same guy as president over and over even though he’s nothing more than a low-rent James Bond villain? Yes, do that! Become so incorrigibly lawless that justice agencies in multiple countries start sniffing around! Why not?
In the wake of all that, the latest shenanigans revealed Friday by former UEFA President Michel Platini seem almost quaint: According to Platini, organizers of the 1998 World Cup in France fixed the draw so that the host country could not face defending champion and global powerhouse Brazil until the final.
And Platini seemed rather pleased with himself while revealing this in a radio interview with France Bleu Sport:
— France Bleu Sport (@francebleusport) May 18, 2018
Platini, considered one of the greatest French soccer players of all time and later the coach of the country’s national team, was co-chief of the organizing committee for the 1998 World Cup, so if anyone would know about this, it would be him. Host France and Brazil both were among the eight seeded teams entering the draw, as designated by FIFA, and those eight teams were supposed to be randomly assigned to one of the eight first-round groups. But Platini claimed they fixed it so Brazil would head up Group A and France would be placed in Group C. Thanks to the setup of the knockout-stage bracket that year, the teams would not be able to meet until the final.
In previous years and in every World Cup since then, the host country has been placed in Group A. But not in 1998.
“When we organized the calendar, we did a little trickery,”he said in the interview. “If we finished first in the group and Brazil finished first, we could not meet before the final.”
“There was a little trickery,” he added with a laugh. “We did not spend six years organizing the World Cup to not do some little shenanigans. Do you think other World Cup hosts did not?”
But the scheme only would work if France and Brazil either both won their groups — which happened — or both finish second. Had France finished second and Brazil first or vice versa, they would have been positioned for a meeting in the quarterfinals. The two teams did meet in the final, with France scoring a somewhat stunning 3-0 win over the defending champion to earn its first and only World Cup title.
Platini, once the right-hand man of disgraced former FIFA president and aforementioned low-rent James Bond villain Sepp Blatter, was banned from world soccer in 2015 over financial improprieties, a sanction that was later reduced from eight years to four.