The one and only World Cup played on U.S. soil came and went without France – a team that would go on to win the whole shebang just four years later.
How that came to pass is emblematic of how one goal – one shot, one missed tackle, one missed positional adjustment in defense, one fortunate bounce, etc. – can mean so much to an entire country’s sporting fate.
In 1993, France and Bulgaria met at Paris’ Parc des Princes. A side of Les Bleus under the direction of Gerard Houllier needed just a draw, a seemingly manageable result at home, even if the Hristo Stoichkov-led Bulgarians had talent and a style that worked for the team.
France was talented, too – but appeared to crack infamously under the weight of it all. (France had lost at home to Israel, shockingly so, in its previous contest. In fact, all Les Bleus needed from its final two qualifiers, both at home, was a single point.) Here’s how FIFA.com wrote about the classic contest, now ensconced in World Cup lore:
There are some football matches that will never be forgotten, memorable clashes that awaken feelings of joy or pain in the hearts of players and spectators alike whenever they come up in conversation. And one encounter that most definitely belongs in this category is France’s fateful FIFA World Cup™ qualifier against Bulgaria on 17 November 1993.
“With a packed Parc des Princes cheering them on, Les Bleus were confident of clinching their place at the biggest football show on earth for the first time since 1986. But on a chilly winter evening in the French capital, the visiting Bulgarians proved they had not come to Paris for the sightseeing.”
So what happened? A 90th minute goal from Miroslav Kostadinov became the heart-break and history maker, the game-winner in a stunning 2-1 result. Bulgaria was in … France was out. Just like that.
It’s all relevant 20 years later, very nearly to the day, because fashionable France meets Ukraine on Tuesday in the second leg of the teams’ home-and-away set. Ukraine lead in the aggregate goals battle, 2-0.
And here is the goal that so significantly altered the 1994 World Cup field. And even though Bulgaria did quite well that summer, events of Paris in November of 1993 certainly made World Cup USA organizers – concerned about ticket sales and perception – just a little more nervous, removing one fashionable side from the field, replaced by the far, far less sexy Eastern European side.