Sometimes football is bigger than a single match. ‘The game’ is indeed bigger than the game. No matter that a particular match may carry great significance in its own right, sometimes what it represents, what it portrays, what it speaks of to the watching world is much more important. Even if the match is a World Cup semi-final, a mere single step down from the most important match in world football. Even if there’s historical antagonism of armed conflicts between the protagonists. Even then. The significance of it to football as a whole and how it should be perceived can even be bigger than that.
It’s July 8, 1982. The venue is the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, in Seville, Spain. It’s the semi-final of the World Cup between West Germany and France. A game that Michel Platini, captain of France and the leader of a French team full of flowering romanticism, suggesting an apparent ennui at the fatalism of life expressed by football, later described as something that “No film or play could ever recapture so many contradictions and emotions. It was complete. So strong. It was fabulous.”
His summary neatly fits with the image of the French team as poets eschewing concern of any future consequences, merely lost in the moment. Extravagant and grand gestures dominating the imagery, and ignoring tomorrow. It was, however, not fabulous in the way it spoke to the world as to how the game should be played. How it should be loved and cherished. Simply put, the result was wrong.
It’s perhaps no surprise that in football, more often than not, there’s a team – sometimes a club, sometimes a country, sometimes both – that sets the style for an era. They define the game as an art form. New lines are drawn on the page. It’s a new movement. There were the Hungarians in the 1950s. Brazil were dazzling in the 60s, and the Danish Dynamite team of the mid-1980s exploded into prominence, but faded just as quickly. More recently there was Barcelona and Spain. The throne may currently be vacant. If things follow their historic path, a new hegemony will soon be claimed, perhaps in the ‘transition’ game of the Germans.
Back in 1982, a similar scenario prevailed. The bright orange flame of the Rinus Michels-inspired Ajax and Holland’s Total Football that had scorched so many pitches, finally burnt out as the Dutch lost their second successive World Cup final in Argentina, four years previously. Michels would return in 1988 to lead the Oranje to the European Championship, but that was a different Holland, and more a last bright flare from the dying embers of a philosophy now overthrown. The Argentine passion play that had triumphed in 1978 was never likely to assume dominance, and so the next style was awaited.
On the banks of the Seine, the Rive Gauche has a tradition for style, so perhaps the next standard bearers for the game could be France. Les Bleus at the time were like an orchestra missing a bass section. Highly strung, enigmatic, delightful at times – if perhaps incapable of a required discipline – but that only added to their attraction. Michel Hidalgo had taken over as national coach in 1976. Ironically, the baton was passed to him by Ștefan Kovács, a man who had won the European Cup twice with Ajax. Was there any significance that perhaps the role of the game’s standard-bearer was also being passed on? Perhaps in retrospect it’s a nice coincidence to ponder.
Hidalgo was apparently named after a Mexican patriot who had championed the poor and led a popular army of revolt against the authorities in the early 19th century, earning a number of victories and becoming a folk hero before eventually being captured and executed in 1811. Success or failure for the French Hidalgo was never likely to have such dramatic consequences fortunately. He could at least consider himself fortunate to be at the helm of the national team at a time when a crop of outstanding players was available to him. It was, however, for the Normandy-born Hidalgo, to raise these into his own particular Grande Armee.
By the time the 1982 World Cup rolled round, Hidalgo had spent the intervening six years in building the squad into what he wanted. Two quotes neatly sum up his philosophy at the time, and how he wanted his team to play:
“Intelligent play is more important than any instruction,” he remarked when asked about the importance of flair players with the intelligence to influence games. As if to reinforce the point, he also said, “I have never talked results with my players. Never. I have always told them to focus on the game and the results will follow. I have been a player, a coach and a spectator and I have always thought that way. And I’m not worried if that sounds poetic or trite.” It does of course carry a somewhat poetic theme, but with players such as Platini available to him, should it ever have been any different?
Any thoughts of Hidalgo being made of anything other than the sternest of stuff should not be entertained. In the group stages of the ‘82 tournament, when a Kuwaiti official appeared to be on the verge of having a referee’s decision overturned in the match against Les Bleus, an enraged French manager stormed from the sidelines to fight his corner. If justice hadn’t prevailed, Hidalgo would certainly have taken his team from the pitch. Fortunately for all concerned, sense – and Hidalgo – prevailed. The decision stood and France went on to win 4-1.
If France were to be the coming power in the international game, the early stages of the tournament gave little indication of it. A defeat by England, and a draw with Czechoslovakia sandwiched the victory over Kuwait to allow them to qualify as runners-up in Group 4 of the preliminary section, behind England. But much as great deeds are seldom achieved on minor occasions, the full flowering of this French team was destined for a bigger stage.
Rather than have quarter-final matches, the next stage of the competition was four further groups, the winners of which would compete in the semi-finals. France were drawn alongside Austria and Northern Ireland. After a Genghini goal brought a comfortable, if unspectacular, victory over the Austrians, Platini et al began to stretch their legs, perhaps savouring thoughts of the bigger games to come with a 4-1 win over the Northern Irish. Giresse and Dominique Rocheteau – whose nom de guerre of the ‘Green Angel’ spoke of his years with Les Verts of Saint-Étienne, before he joined Paris Saint-Germain in 1980 – scored a brace each. With the opening stanzas now complete, it was time for the poetic verse to be delivered impassionato.
The team that took the field against West Germany on that Seville evening was very much born of Hidalgo’s philosophy. In goal, Jean-Luc Ettori was the mop-haired Monaco stopper who spent 19 years in the principality and held the record for the most number of appearances in Ligue 1, totalling over 600. He won a mere six caps for his country, however, and after the 1982 World Cup lost his place in the national team.
Right back Manuel Amoros was a team-mate of Ettori’s at Monaco and at only 20, the youngest member of the team. That should not suggest, however, that his inclusion was anything other than on outstanding merit. Perhaps the most orthodox defender of the back four, Amoros ironically played as a striker in his youth and an appetite to go forward did not desert him as he averaged a goal less than every nine games across his domestic career. It was an approach that nearly brought great fortune in Seville. He was also to be nominated as the outstanding young player of the tournament.
In the centre of defence, Hidalgo could deploy the burgeoning talent of Marius Trésor and the reliability of Bernard Janvion. Trésor was the very essence of a modern libero. His muscular and athletic prowess presaged the coming of Marcel Desailly and he was named by Pelé as one of the best 125 footballers of all time. With the composure and ability to bring the ball forward from defence, the Bordeaux player was an integral part of the way France played.
Bizarrely, Trésor was also at the centre of a hoax in May 2015, by the mediamass.net website, claiming he had accumulated some $96 million during 2015, thanks to some shrewd investments. Although a superb player at his height, it’s doubtful that even in today’s inflated transfer market, he would be rated at such a value. Both Trésor and Janvion, as if offering a nod of approval to the brooding mood of superior tolerance projected by the forward players, played with socks rolled down to their ankles throughout the game. If a gesture, it was extravagant; if a statement of style, it was even more so.
On the left flank of the defence, Maxime Bossis, just a dozen days after his 27th birthday, took such haut couture to another level. As well as rolled down socks, the Nantes defender also had his shin-pads exposed and loose. It’s questionable if modern playing conditions would allow such individuality, but this was a different time, and the approach seemed to fit with the French ethos. If for other members of his team there appeared a desire for a rakish performance of devil-may-care flashing blades and insouciance of the consequences of the morning, when the final picture of the game had been painted, it would be Bossis who would have to face an unpalatable truth.
It was, however, the more forward players that scripted the words and beat out the meter of the team. Platini was the captain, but also very much its leader. At the time, many had argued his case to be considered the number one player in the world, and certainly within the confines of his role. His prominence was bringing a summer move to spend time with Turin’s Signora Vecchia as his contract with Saint-Étienne ran out. He would play nearly 150 games for Juventus, scoring 68 goals from midfield. That was all for the future, mind you. Seville was now primed for a masterclass Platini performance.
Surely very few would doubt that Platini was an outstanding talent, but it was to Hidalgo’s great credit that he had the ability to see what could be achieved when combining the maestro with the talents of his midfield partners, Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana and Bernard Genghini. Together they formed what came to be known as Le Carré Magique (the magic square). All four players were outstanding in their own right and if Platini was the major creative influence, the three others also served distinct roles. Here was a square full of angles, always acute in thought, never obtuse in deployment. Passages of intricate geometry and nerveless extravagance, with fine lines between indulgence and efficacy. But such lines were wonderfully fine.
Giresse was slight of frame but deceptively quick and a clever playmaker. If Platini and Giresse were the more creative elements, Jean Tigana who – sometime later dallied a while in a west London cottage and reprised the habit of fictional New York detective – was the box-to-box midfielder, redoubtable of engine, and with no little desire to supplement his colleagues. If Didier Deschamps was defined by Eric Cantona disparagingly as a “water carrier”, Tigana may well have been bringing wine to his colleagues instead. Giresse and Tigana were team-mates at Bourdeaux and the established understanding served Les Bleus well. Completing the quartet was Bernhard Genghini. Tall, left-footed and with a loping stride, Genghini was always the quiet man of the four and many miss him out when quoting the French midfield of the time. His six goals in just over two-dozen caps show he was no bit part player.
It’s difficult to think of a more inappropriate description for this French midfield than the ‘engine room’ of the team. There were no thudding pistons, no tough-tackling ball-winners and hardly a defensive approach across the quartet. Rather, there was artistry and a poetic license granted by Hidalgo. The four comprised an Alexandre Dumas-esque creation. The Three Musketeers of Giresse, Tigana and Genghini, supplemented by the talismanic d’Artagnan play of Platini.
If the midfield carried the majesty of angels, the apex of the French attack was hardly the sharp point of a musketeer’s rapier. It was an issue Hidalgo was hardly ignorant of, but one he felt powerless to resolve: “If we had Jean-Pierre Papin up front, we would have won the World Cup in 1982,” he later lamented. It was a regret that by the time France had a great striker the midfield of Le Carré Magique had broken up. There was a strange echo of this in 1998 when France, as hosts, at last acceded to the top of the world’s footballing nations. Again, shorn of a world-class striker, much of the goal-scoring requirement fell on the midfield players, particularly Zinedine Zidane.
There was no Papin, however, and Hidalgo was forced to compromise somewhat with Rocheteau and the lightweight, if pacey, Didier Six, who numbered Aston Villa among the no less than 15 clubs he played for across a two decade career. Neither were prolific goal-scorers. Rocheteau netted 15 times in a 49 cap international career, and Six scored 13 in 52 games. If their goal-scoring prowess was hardly the cutting edge that the magnificent midfield deserved, their appearance fitted well with the romantic image of the team. Whist Platini, Giresse, Tigana and Genghini had the creativity to weave intricate patterns of play worthy of elegant poetry surely very few would advocate them as carrying the physical embodiment of Shelley or Byron. For Rocheteau and Six, however, dark and handsome with their tousle-hair and boyish looks, it was an image that sat very well with the romantic poetry of the Les Bleus football.
It would be a mistake of merely think of Rocheteau and Six as the window-dressing of the team. This was no Cyrano de Bergerac scenario. Rocheteaau was a hard-working player, and unusually for the time, a well-tuned political activist, known for his associations with the Revolutionary Communist League of the day. If the authorities considered him an enfant terrible at the time, he would later be reformed and now heads the National Commission of Ethics of the French FA.
Would it be too simplistic to describe the French as the Cavaliers, and their West German opponents on that day in Seville as the Roundheads? Was it a battle between romantics and pragmatists? Perhaps, but if France were the ragged-trousered poets from the garrets of Montparnasse, the Germans seemed unabashed about taking on the role of pantomime villains.
Much as with the French, Jupp Derwall’s West Germany had an interesting route to the semi-final. Perennial favourites to excel in such competitions, they had been drawn in a group with Austria, Chile and the supposed makeweights of Algeria. Prior to their opening game against the Africans reports suggested that there was much raucous behaviour among the Germans regarding how many goals they would score, and who they would dedicate each one to. Derwall even said that he had not shown his players a film of the Algerians, as he would have been laughed at.
If pride cometh before a fall, perhaps it was little surprise that such arrogance led to an almighty tumble. In a result that was richly deserved, Algeria defeated West Germany 2-1. Austria then beat Chile 1-0, before their neighbours improved on that by defeating the South Americans 4-1. A seemingly tired Algeria then tumbled to the Austrians 2-0, before beating Chile 3-2 to complete their programme. This left the final game of the group to be played out between West Germany and Austria, with both teams knowing that 1-0 or 2-0 victory for Derwall’s team would see both sides through to the quarter-finals and eliminate Algeria.
In a game that has become known as the ‘Disgrace of Gijon’ or in Germany as ‘Nichtangriffspakt von Gijón’ (Non-aggression pact of Gijón), Horst Hrubesch scored a tenth minute goal to give West Germany the lead, after which followed eighty minutes of some of the most sterile football ever played at such a level. Many pundits – even in Germany – have declared the obvious conclusion that collusion between the two teams took place to fix a mutually agreeable result that would see both qualify. It was a direct consequence of this that caused FIFA to change the format of group games so that concluding matches are always played simultaneously.
It’s been widely reported, although I’ve yet to see any definitive evidence, that one German fan even burnt his own national flag on the terraces as a mark of shame as the Spanish fans yelled insults at the apparent stitch-up and Algerians burnt banknotes hammering against the fences surrounding the pitch.
There was no such embarrassment felt at the West German hotel, however. Apparently blithely oblivious to the uproar, Derwall even commented: “We wanted to progress, not play football.” It’s also been reported that when fans appeared in front of the hotel to protest, players threw water balloons at them. Suffice to say the Germans were not the most popular team in Spain. This was hardly helped when in the second round group stage West Germany drew 0-0 with England, before defeating the hosts 2-1. A 0-0 draw between England and Spain then saw West Germany through, where they would meet France.
So with July 8 dawning, and the game between France and West Germany ahead, perhaps we should reconsider the appropriateness of that Cavalier and Roundheads comparison. Is it so wrong to define France as being for flair and artistry, and the Germans more for the graceless efficiency of getting the job done; wanting to progress, not play football? This is why the game was so important for ‘The Game’. If France could show that a willingness to trust a belief in ability, deployed with artistry and joie de vivre to overcome a relentless efficiency, football could have worthy heirs to the Magical Magyars, the Brazilian Samba and the Dutch Masters.
The Seville evening was muggy as Dutch referee Charles Corver called the two captains together. A Dutch referee? Surely an advantage for the elegant French style. A decision deep into the game, however, would suggest to the contrary. Platini shook hands with Manfred Kaltz, the long-serving Hamburger SV defender standing in for the hamstrung Karl-Heinz Rummenigge who was sat on the bench. The rituals were watched by Scot Bob Valentine, but the match to follow would be more a triste than a celebration of love as its denouement unfolded. Corver whistled for the game to begin in front of a capacity 70,000 crowd and set in motion one of the most talked-about games in history.
Back in 1974, Paul Breitner had been a member of the West German team that had doused the flame of Cruyff and the first flowering of Dutch football during the World Cup final in Munich. On that day, efficiency had won out over flair. Breitner was now the only survivor of that team, no longer a full-back, but now coaxed from international retirement to be the fulcrum of Derwall’s midfield. Would the same happen again? The early stages of the game suggested that it may, with Breitner dominant, unleashing surging runs and passes, seeking to open up the French defence.
Shortly after the quarter-hour mark, he took possession of the ball just inside the French half and shrugged aside a light-hearted challenge by the ineffective Six. Drawing the defence towards him as he headed left, he then deftly flicked the ball with the outside of his right foot, unbalancing the defence and putting Klaus Fischer clear into the penalty area. There was no specialist bicycle kick this time for the Köln striker, and Ettori blocked his run. The ball ran out slowly to the edge of the box where the young German wide man, ironically with the French Christian name, Pierre Littbarski, rifled it into the net through a seemingly impenetrable web of French legs.
The next ten minutes saw the game develop as the French sought to impose themselves, and the Germans to capitalise on their lead. Tresor began to bring the ball out from defence, causing a numerical advantage in the middle of the field for the French and opening up possibilities for Platini’s vision to find a way back into the game. In true efficient fashion the German defence was suitably robust, and when a late Kaltz challenge caught Genghini, with only a passing reference to the location of the ball, the referee awarded the clear free kick. Giresse caressed the ball into the German penalty area with the outside of his right foot. The ball described an elegant arc as it dropped towards Platini, who out-jumped the marking Dremmler to head it towards goal.
VfB Stuttgart’s Bernd Förster was every inch a centre-back, tall and strong, and he easily volleyed away Paltaini’s header. In doing so, however, he had inexplicably decided that the slight Rocheteau might beat him to the ball and had wrestled him away. Despite German protests, it was a clear penalty, and Corver pointed to the spot. The taker was never in doubt.
In goal for West Germany was the Köln ‘keeper Harald ‘Toni’ Schumacher. As Platini first kissed the ball before placing it on the spot, Schumacher stood and glared at the French captain, hands on hips, as if any attempt to score would be some kind of unspeakable insult. If it was an attempt to psyche out Platini it was about as far from the mark as Schumacher was from the ball when Platini placed it past him. As the ‘keeper dived left, the French captain arrowed the ball just inside the opposite post. It’s difficult to imagine how Schumacher could have got himself any further from the ball than he did. With both teams now having proved to themselves – and each other – that they could score, battle was joined – and in more ways than one.
Amoros was displaying little subtly dealing with the lithe movements of Littbarski, and a break out of defence by Tigana was abruptly brought to an end as Dremmler robustly intervened. The physique of Trésor was well-suited to this sort of encounter and he was becoming an increasingly significant factor in the game. A burst from defence launched the French forward, and led to a cross from Amoros being flicked on by Six. The winger’s header was too close to the goalkeeper, however, and as Platini moved forwards, Schumacher gathered comfortably. Making no attempt to slow, he ran into Platini. Schumacher knew it was a ‘free shot’ and as long as he kept the impact down to a managed level, there was no way he was going to be penalised. Revenge for scoring the penalty? Quite probably, but there was worse – much worse – to come.
As the half-time break came and went, any thoughts that the game may settle down were quickly quashed when Rocheteau received the ball wide on the right. Reprising the incident that led to the penalty but with more than a slight increase in aggression, Förster rushed into the back of the striker, jumping so high as to knee him in the shoulder. The German defence was putting the French flair players on warning. Förster received the fully deserved yellow card, but the message had been delivered.
Five minutes into the second-half it became clear that another message, delivered to Genghini, had taken its toll, and he had to be replaced. In his stead, Hidalgo deployed Patrick Battiston. The Saint-Étienne star was nominally a defender, but an outstanding footballer capable of adapting to a number of positions, and could fit easily into the French pattern of play. This was amply demonstrated not long after his inclusion when he played a neat wall pass with Giresse before striding forward and hitting a powerful effort just wide of the upright.
There was now a dynamic to the game as patterns disintegrated and reformed with rapid fluidity. As the French weaved their poetry, the Germans pressed in their athletic style, suppressing and harrying, but always with purpose. In contrasting styles, Platini probed and Breitner bustled, but neither could find a way through their opponent’s defences.
Rocheteau thought he had made the breakthrough when a Giresse pass from the left found him tangling with Berndt Förster. The German appeared to have misjudged the ball as it bounced to Rocheteau. The Green Angel squirmed the ball past Schumacher as he advanced to close down the angle. Was this the moment? No. The referee decided that, in a reversal of roles, this time it was the Frenchman who had committed the offence, and awarded the Germans a free kick.
Then came one of the most infamous of events in World Cup history. A Platini shot from the left had drifted high and wide into a bank of French fans. Schumacher stood waiting, as the fans refused to the return the ball. A glaring German goalkeeper seemed to be unmoved until an official passed a different ball to him so that he could resume the game. Before he did so, however, he feigned to hurl that ball into the crowd. Given his approach up to that time, it’s understandable that the French fans took it as a mark of aggression, and booed him. It was the precursor of greater aggression.
Within a minute, a German attack had broken down as Bossis won the ball from Dremmler and played it to Tigana. Ever the attendant, he passed to Platini, who glanced up to see the fresh-legged Battiston running into clear space. With a wave of the wand of his foot, Platini clipped the ball into the grass ahead of his advancing team-mate. The pass was played with such finesse that neither Karl-Heinz Förster or Uli Stielike – sweeping behind him – could get to the ball ahead of Battiston. Was Schumacher still seething at the taunts of the French fans? Was an aggression already simmering as illustrated by the charge on Platini now brought to boiling point? It’s difficult to say.
By this time, the clock had clicked round to the 60th minute mark. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, as the saying goes. Whatever the cause, Schumacher charged from his goal in what was surely a forlorn attempt to legitimately challenge Battiston. He lifted the ball over the onrushing Schumacher who seemed to have little interest in it as it sailed over his head. As the ball bounced agonisingly towards the vacant goal before drifting just wide, Schumacher half-turned his body and jumped into the air as he crashed into the still off-balance Battiston. The German’s hip collided into the chest and head of the French player who fell to the floor like some blue-shirted rag-doll, clearly unconscious before he hit the ground.
Some will argue that it was merely a poorly-timed attempt to block the ball and that any collision afterwards was unfortunate, but unplanned. Of course people are entitled to their opinion, but to any unbiased observer, a contrary view is difficult to escape. In the course of research for this article, I’ve seen countless stills and videos of the incident, without a single one suggesting there was an absence of malice.
In the incident, Battiston lost two teeth, had three broken ribs and suffered damage to his back that he carries to this day. Later he stated – to his eternal credit: “I feel no hate”. The defender who recovered from the injuries suffered sufficiently to resume his career before finally retiring in 1991, related the incident in an interview last year. Schumacher was always a controversial character and after his career ended, caused uproar in Germany with accusations of substance-abuse and similar misdemeanours. Although shocking to many people, some may be less surprised it was Schumacher that was involved.
In last year’s interview, Battiston recalled: “I remember his attitude even when I was sitting on the substitutes’ bench. I observed his behaviour, the way he clashed with Dominique Rocheteau and Didier Six. I thought he was very hyped up, very excitable. I remarked on this to the other players on the bench.” His suspicions may well have been prescient.
With the scores level at 1-1 and just seven minutes after being introduced as a second-half substitute, Battiston’s suspicions were brutally confirmed. As the stricken player lay so still on the ground French players, plus the German captain, gathered anxiously around him, as the French doctor ran on calling for a stretcher. Reportedly, by some bizarre act of over-zealous officialdom, the Spanish police had apparently barred the Red Cross from the pitch-side area, and banished them to a position away from the sidelines. This meant it was a full 180 seconds before the stretcher arrived to take Battiston for attention.
For all of this time, an unapologetic Schumacher stood in his goal area, waiting to take the goal-kick that the referee had astonishingly awarded following the incident, rather than the free kick and straight red card to the German goalkeeper that many thought apposite. Some would consider the attitude of Schumacher after the event almost as callous as the assault itself. It would be difficult to dispute. An over-aggressive act in the heat of the moment is one thing; an indifference to its consequences is something else. As if to compound such thoughts, when Schumacher was later told that Battiston had lost some teeth, he reportedly replied that “I will pay for the crowns.”
The Frenchman’s response was eminently measured: “That was not a very wise remark – it was pretty gauche,” he said. “Maybe he did feel guilty. One can draw all sorts of conclusions as to what he did feel. All I know is that Schumacher was someone who wanted to win at all costs and he went way over the top that evening.”
Despite his reasoned approach to the incident in isolation, Battiston is in little doubt that it probably cost France their chance of winning the game. Following Genghini’s enforced substitution, and the change required to replace him, France had used both of their permitted changes with a full 30 minutes to play. For a game that would eventually go to extra-time and penalties, this would prove a burden too heavy to bear. “Entrenched in our memories is this charge by Schumacher who flattened the little Frenchman,” Battiston told Agence France-Presse. “That’s how things are. People talk to me about 1982 often. But it wasn’t only about me.”
As Battiston was removed from the field on a stretcher, Platini walked alongside his stricken team-mate. The captain later said that at the time, he feared the worst: “He had no pulse. He looked so pale.” It would be a full half-hour before consciousness was regained. As the referee blew his whistle, Schumacher took the goal kick and cleared up field. There had been not even a word of reprimand from the referee. So much for any theory about a Dutch official favouring a team with flair.
Whilst Schumacher seemed indifferent, many of his team-mates appeared to be affected by the incident, and seemed to shy out of tackles, perhaps fearing retribution. There certainly seemed a new zeal in the way the French players chased down German possession. It was typified by a horrendous studs in the air lunge by Trésor aimed at Kaltz. The German player skipped aside to avoid the contact, and the referee reprimanded the French defender. A rustle of his team-mate’s hair by Platini appeared a clear mark of empathy, if not approval.
Coals were poured on to the heat as the game continued and the passions increased accordingly. France’s vigour seemed to be overcoming their flair; a rush of blood overcoming cooler heads. Frantic passes replaced thoughtful play, and floundered on the solid German defence. All the time, West Germany retained a danger on the counter-attack. Felix Magath was nearly through, then Dremmler had a shot well saved. The game began to resemble a basketball match. France attacked, Germany countered; France again, Germany again.
As legs tired and frantic anger subsided, the French regained a little of their composure. Their game appeared sure again, as flair once more looked like it may overcome structure. Six had a chance a mere half-dozen yards out, but his shot was straight at a grateful Schumacher. Extra-time seemed inevitable, but there was one, surely final, chance. Tigana’s engine appeared still full of fuel and as he charged away down the right flank, he skipped first past a tiring Breitner and then the muscular Briegel, before delivering a sumptuous cross. Unforgivably, as Dider Six prepared to take the clear headed chance, an over-enthusiastic Rocheteau blocked his path, and the chance was gone.
Amoros had been occupied mainly in a defensive role, but as the clock ticked round towards the 90 minute mark, he found himself in possession and in space, advancing into the German half. Recalling his many years as a striker he launched his shot from fully 35 yards. The ball flew unerringly towards goal, dipped over Schumacher’s head and seemed poised to bring a glorious finale to the game. A French rocket to launch their bid for domination. This particular Ariane failed, however, as the ball exploded against the crossbar and bounced clear. In the Battiston injury time, Fischer had a half chance, but Ettori beat him to the ball, smuggling it behind for a corner. Then the whistle sounded. Thirty more minutes.
It was a brief time for reflection. Managers cajoled their players to greater efforts, demanding more of tiring limbs, massaged by trainers as they lay on the turf. For the watching millions, the game was now clear. If the Germans had been disliked before the game started, Schumacher’s antics had done all that was necessary to sway any doubters. Of course there had been robust challenges on both sides, but those from the blue-shirted players seemed responsive, if a rather inelegant illustration of self-defence. It’s often wrong to paint your own picture as representing the moods of millions, but for me at least, it was time for France to slay the dragon, and say that football was a game for talent. Jogo Bonito needed a champion.
As the extra period kicked off, perhaps the romantic ending was in sight. Briegel fouled Platini wide of the penalty area. Giresse clipped the ball into the box and whether by design or off-the-cuff intuition, a series of movements by Les Bleus forwards conspired to free up the prominent figure of Tresor hovering around the penalty spot. With an Exocet accuracy, the ball found the libero who crashed a volley past Schumacher to throw open the gates of glory for France.
Apparently bouyed by a righteous injustice now redeemed, France clearly felt the game was theirs and they poured forward in attempt to score a surely deciding third goal. Tigana shot wide. Six had an attempt. It seemed that a goal was coming. It was. After an intricate move involving Six and Platini, then Six again, the wide man found the most telling contribution of his evening as he laid the ball into the advancing Giresse’s path. The little midfielder never looked like missing and curled the ball with the outside of his right foot, around the despairing Schumacher’s dive and into the net, just clipping the post.
The West Germans were nothing if not resilient and in between the two French goals Derwall had decided to play his card and sent the surely less than fully fit Rummenigge on to replace the clearly tiring Briegel. It was a bold move, but as Giresse’s goal lit up the French supporters, it seemed a wise one if his team were to fight their way back into the game.
The French were now in full flow and their game took on an air of perceived invincibility. A belief in destiny seemed to be coursing through them. There was only one thing to do now: score again. Platini fired a fierce free-kick through the German wall that as much hit Schumacher, as he saved it. The Germans were on the ropes, and the French continued to pour on the punches.
The only answer received was a robust tackle and a pugnacious resistance to capitulation. Another fierce challenge saw Giresse upended and apparently in pain. Rocheteau with an ill-disciplined benevolence to the fore stopped to check his team-mate wasn’t badly injured. As the French still had possession, however, the referee waved play on. In fairness, with the banners unfurled and now in full cry the French probably wanted to continue going forward in their revelry, but it turned out to be folly.
Platini lost possession, and with so many blue shirts up field, a break was on. Rummenigge, Littbarski and a now advancing Stielike from sweeper quickly moved forward. Littbarski was in possession and floated a ball into the area. Ettori, Janvion and Rummenigge were all in contention, but the German striker – reigning European Footballer of the Year – got there first to turn the ball past the French goalkeeper and into the net. The referee blew for half-time in extra-time, and everyone paused for breath and to gather thoughts. Still a goal clear, and with a mere fifteen minutes play, surely it was time for Hidalgo to settle his team down and see out time.
If that was the case, it seemed to have little effect. The French continued to pour forward. Flair would not be denied; not on this night. Tanks were on empty for so many of their number. Tigana alone seemed to have eternal energy, but there were signs of increasing fatigue among his team-mates. Players that ventured forward valiantly to support an attack were increasingly slow to return to their defensive positions. Like some boxer intent on knocking his opponent out, the French kept on swinging. One more punch would do it. One more attack, and then one more. It was magnificent, and more so that it was ultimately doomed to failure.
The clock ticked past the 100 minute mark and still no knockout blow had been landed. The Germans were still in the game. Then, Littbarski crossed from the left and the giant Hrubesch, a late second half substitute, with a beguiling grace headed the ball back across goal. Klaus Fischer had made the bicycle kick his own specialty, and as the ball floated across, there was time for him to go to his garage, dust off the two-wheeler, and deploy his party-piece to hurl the ball into the top corner of the net past an impotent Etorri. There was no doubting it was a brilliant goal, but it destroyed the dream.
As the French were forced to recognise their exhaustion, a similar feeling seemed also to wash over the Germans with the relief of the equaliser. There were further attempts, but both teams were now spent and limped their way towards the inevitable penalty shoot-out; the first in a World Cup finals competition. That such a game should be decided on penalty kicks was nobody’s idea of a just outcome, but if asked to play until the next goal, it’s questionable if either team could have summoned the energy. Even the irrepressible Tigana was limping by now.
Now was a time for nerve. Flair can play a part, but nerveless determination was the overriding key and, like many, I feared for the French. Giresse put the French ahead. Kaltz netted to level it up. Amoros scored and Breitner equalised. Now Rocheteau put the French ahead again, and the pressure was ratcheted up. Stielike, who had been very much a defensive sweeper throughout, save for his intrusion into the movement that brought the second German goal, moved forward for his penalty. It was a tame effort, however, and Etorri made a comfortable save. He collapsed onto the turf, distraught, in tears that he had lost the game for his country. Now the chance was there again. Allez Les Bleus! Didier Six stepped up to lock out the lead. Fate, however, like some coquettish tease had only been allowing the French a glimpse of glory before snatching it away once again. Schumacher plunged to his right and Six’s shot was saved.
Platini and Rummenigge both comfortably scored. Then it was Maxime Bossis. Shinpads flapping, Bossis had been exemplary throughout, but the doom was always going to fall on one man, and as the chamber rotated in the gun, it sopped with Bossis’s name on the bullet. His penalty was not badly struck, but Schumacher had guessed correctly, and as he dived to his right he almost had to wait for the ball to arrive with him. Many people in so many walks of life have cause to be considered as heroes; Harald Schumacher’s fate seemed an ill fit. All that was left now was for Horst Hrubesch to walk forward and fire home the deciding penalty. It was duly dispatched, and West Germany had won.
After the game, an understandably jubilant Derwall was full of praise for his players. “You must give my players the credit they deserve,” he demanded. “They showed such strength of character.” It was true, especially when the French were 3-1 ahead and looking totally in command. Tenacity, however, should surely not be the deciding factor at such times. Hidalgo was not keen to laud the Germans. “We have been eliminated brutally,” he insisted, claiming his team had been victims of some “flaccid” refereeing by Corver. He didn’t mention the Battiston incident specifically. There was probably no need.
It would be cold comfort to Hidalgo that in the final Italy triumphed and back in West Germany sentiment apparently sided more with his analysis, than with that of Derwall. In his book TOR!: The Story of German Football, the German journalist and author Uli Hesse states: “Obviously for this West German squad the only thing that mattered was winning.” He goes on to add: “The [West Germany] side returned home expecting to be hailed as the second best team in the world. Instead, the squad was met with frosty silence, if not outright disgust.”
A couple of years on, France would realise a measure of benefit by securing the European Championships on home soil. By now, Genghini had gone and was replaced by the metronomic Luis Fernández. This new midfield quartet also inherited Le Carré Magique sobriquet, but it was a square of different dimensions. Platini was still the star, netting nine of his country’s 15 goals in the tournament, and was rightly lauded for his performances. Did it compensate for that heart-stopping, heart-breaking night in Seville? If Platini’s assessment of the defeat mentioned above is reflective of his attitude, then perhaps his response would be some kind of Gallic shrug. For fans of the flair demonstrated by the Hungarians, Brazilians, Dutch and Danish, such attitude would merely be more prose than poetry.
As with rock stars lost too early, there’s a macabre benefit in dying young and unfulfilled. For this Dead Poets’ Société, there will always be a lament about what might have been, but to steal a line from a Don McLean song perhaps “this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”
By Gary Thacker. Follow @All_Blue_Daze