18 years ago the Russia national team had one of the most important victories in its history. On June 5, 1999 Russia played a qualifier against the acting World Cup champion, France, at the Stade de France. The French had quite a strong team at the time - Fabien Barthez, Lilian Thuram, Laurent Blanc, Didier Deschamps, Sylvain Wiltord and other players who helped the team secure the decisive victory in 1998. To be fair, Zinedine Zidane did not play in that game, although the Russian team probably didn’t miss him much.
Russian players had quite the baggage when they came out on the field that night. “We began the qualifiers with three losses in a row, our team was surrounded by bad rumors and everyone and their mother badmouthed us,” forward Aleksandr Panov, hero of that game, recalls. “France was magnificent at the time. They’ve never lost at Stade de France before that day, and we expected them to score three, four goals against us. We clearly realized that we were not the frontrunners of the match. And at the same time we knew that we needed to win – not just because of the tournament, but because we need to restore our good reputation.”
But the Russian team managed to give the fans a game they will never forget. In the last minutes of the first half Panov scored the first goal of the match, inspiring his team. However, the next half started off poorly – on minute 53 the home team scored their second goal. That moment all seemed lost. But the Russians did not give up and overcame the tough moment. After a 20 intense minutes Panov scored his second goal and then finally a few minutes before the end of the match Valery Karpin led the team to victory with 3 – 2.
This was the first time in history of the Russia national team (including the history of the USSR team) beat acting World Champions not in a friendly, and in an away game, at that. “This game was a milestone for the Russian team,” Panov said. “I believe that the match at State de France broke our bad streak and change the way people treated the team. That was the important part for us – people believe in us!”