This feature is a part of RETEUROSPECTIVE
As this tournament progresses, so the decision by the English broadcasting authorities looks ever more foolish. England may well be on a tour of South America due to their non-qualification, but meanwhile, Michel Platini and the rest of Europe’s finest have been putting on a footballing master-class across La Manche.
The BBC have so far only televised West Germany’s final group game defeat to Spain as well as an amalgamation of short news reports and assorted highlights of the other games so far. ITV have elected not to show any of the action from France, though there is a place in the BBCs schedule to show Wednesday night’s final. It is with regret that the game of the tournament has undoubtedly already been played.
The semi-final game between France and Portugal can certainly already be placed in the category of classic. A game that saw the lead change hands three times and an extra-time winner in the 119th minute for the host nation. What is also certain is that French captain, Platini, is leading his nation inexorably to a maiden international football title.
Scoring in every game so far, including back-to-back hattricks and a last-minute winner to send his country to their first major final, never before has a tournament been dominated by an individual to such an extent in the way Platini is dominating the VII edition of the European Championships.
As the teams walked out into the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille, the atmosphere generated by the fans was something to behold. Ticker tape rained down at one end in scenes similar to Buenos Aries six years ago at the World Cup. The sticky warm French summer sun was starting to set and placed the entire scene into a wonderful golden hue that lit up the fervent French supporters. What no one realised as the sun started to set was that their Iberian cousins were intent on spoiling the French party.
The only thing that could possibly inhibit the progression of the Carré Magique was the unknown presence of any psychological damage in the French team’s psyche from the devastating defeat to West Germany in the World Cup semi-final two years earlier.
By the time the Portuguese kicked off, one half of the ‘Magic Square’ had already adopted their casual style of untucking their shirt. Platini and Jean Tigana demonstrating their very cool French chic, while Luis Fernández and Alain Giresse remained tucked in and ready to dominate.
After 24 minutes, Platini won a free-kick centre of goal 25 yards from the Portuguese goal. The French captain stood over the ball waiting to inflict the inevitable. anuel Bento arranged the wall as best he could and waited. Goal! The outcome was predictable but the protagonist was not. Left-back Jean-François Domergue struck with his left foot into the top corner.
What followed was incessant French domination; Bento made several saves to keep his country in the game, Giresse the unfortunate recipient of his brilliance. Then it happened … the nagging doubt that must have been gnawing away at the nerves of the partisan crowd basing in the humid summer’s night were exposed as Rui Jordão placed a header into the far corner. The shock was palpable, as was the momentary silence of a crowd that had been partying in the stands for the previous 74 minutes.
This French side, though, seem different to the one in Spain two years ago, Platini with a sense of self-destiny had an opportunity to win in it normal time, clean through on goal only for Bento to save at his feet and then deflect the subsequent shot from Didier Six on to the bar and over – a truly world-class double save. Once more the French were into extra-time at a major semi-final.
Portugal started the first period in the ascendancy and forced Joel Bats into a wonderful early save but the momentum well and truly shifted on 98 minutes when Jordão scored his and Portugal’s second. If ever France needed Platini then now was the time. The current European Footballer of the Year had 15 minutes to answer the prayers of a deflated nation.
With six minutes left of an unbelievable pulsating fixture, already worthy of the final, the game took yet another twist with birthday boy Domergue scoring his second. The Vélodrome exploded with noise, more in relief than celebration.
With penalties only 60 seconds away so the game took its final twist. That low, monotonous hum of noise had settled among the French supporters, a mixture of relief from equalising and trepidation at the thought of a second consecutive semi-final penalty shoot-out.
Then, as if all the footballing gods had convened in the sky above Marseille and decreed that one man would define this tournament, Platini drove the ball high into the Portuguese net following a desperate scramble. Socks rolled down, shirt untucked, the Frenchman’s languid stride carried him to the French dugout where he collapsed under the weight of his teammates and a nation.
This tournament will already go down as a classic edition and will most likely set the benchmarks for future European Championships. British broadcasters need to be aware that true football fans want to see the very best the game has to offer regardless of whether or not there is a home-nation presence.
France and Portugal served up a delightful feast of entertaining football, which will surely come to define these championships as much as the magnificence of Platini’s performances. Never before has a tournament been so dominated by a single player and it will take something truly incredible in two years’ time when the World Cup gets underway in Mexico for a player to inspire and carry a single nation all the way to the final and possible victory.
If there is any justice in the world, Platini will score a goal in the final and France will finally lift a major trophy – but since when has football been a bastion of justice?
By Stuart Horsfield @loxleymisty44