One from the Seat Pitch archives, written way back in 2000 before Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and even, er, MK Dons existed — if you can believe there was such a time…
France triumphed, Germany flopped and Portugal emerged as dark-horses. Sound familiar? But this wasn’t Euro 2000.
No British teams qualified and only two live games were shown on national television — no surprise than that the 1984 UEFA European Championship, held in France, was one of the greatest tournaments in living memory.
The England squad were touring South America at the time. They had lost to Denmark in a crucial qualifying game at Wembley in September ’83 and the Danes went on to win the group by a point. Three days before the tournament kicked off, John Barnes scored that goal in the 2-0 win over Brazil at the Maracana. But a tournament without the Home Nations had little interest for the British press, TV or public. Sports journalist Patrick Barclay says: “People know a lot about overseas football these days. But back then they knew absolutely fuck all.”
They were to miss a victorious French team, described by Miguel Munoz, the Spain manager, as “the greatest I have seen since the Brazilian team who won the 1970 World Cup.” Many still consider the French midfield the best of all time — the so-called carré magique (‘magic square’).
The late Bobby Robson, who was England manager at the time, described the French tactics in an interview with Observer Sport Monthly magazine. “The team was built on the midfield of Michel Platini, Alain Giresse and Jean Tigana [complemented by the defensive Luis Fernandez]. Platini, who could thread the ball through the eye of a needle, was in the hole, looking for the counter-attack, doing next to no defensive work.
“When France regained the ball they passed it to him. Behind Platini was little Giresse, knitting the midfield with the back four. Tigana had amazing pace and endurance and he worked the right channel.
“What you had here was a clever coach [Michel Hidalgo] who was aware of his weaknesses [namely the lack of a world-class striker] and found a way of playing that suited his players, while at the same time causing confusion in the opposing team.”
The dominant figure of this French team was Platini. The 1984 European Footballer of the Year stamped his authority on these games like no other before him. Barclay, who covered the event for the Guardian, says: “Never in the history of major football tournaments has one man exerted such influence as Platini in 1984. Not Pele in the 1970 World Cup; he was complemented by Jairzinho’s goals and Gerson’s architecture. Not even Diego Maradona in the 1986 World Cup.”
France began slowly. A late goal by Platini brought a 1-0 victory over a Denmark team featuring a 19-year-old Michael Laudrup. Four days later Platini bagged his first hat-trick of the tournament as the French crushed Belgium by five goals. The French manager Hidalgo described it as their best performance in his eight years in charge. Platini struck another three in their final group game against an already eliminated Yugoslavia in an entertaining 3-2 victory.
Denmark qualified as group runners-up after they defeated Belgium, the 1980 finalists, 3-2. “I thought this was one of the best games in the whole tournament,” says Barclay. “That was a sensational match won by Preben Elkjaer-Larsen who was the Danish centre-forward and one of my favourite players of all time. He was a heroic player and that was definitely his day.”
In the other group, West Germany, the holders and 1982 World Cup runners-up, spectacularly crashed out of the tournament winning only one game — the first time they had not made the final since 1968. Their presence was not missed by the French, still grieving after their unceremonious defeat by the Germans in the 1982 World Cup semi-final in Seville, Spain. France were denied an extra-time victory by Harald Schumacher’s infamous foul on Patrick Battiston. Spain and Portugal progressed at the German’s expense, setting up two memorable semi-finals.
The France v Portugal semi-final is not only regarded as the best game of the tournament but as one of the best of all time. “I’ve still got a tape of the semi-final and I still watch it from time to time,” enthuses Barclay. “You know how sometimes matches lose something with the years? That match still looks good enough to be set in a modern context. It was a fast game, it was a game of tremendous physical effort and, of course, enormous courage by the Portuguese.”
The hosts felt this would be an easy route to the final. This was not to be so. During the first half the French looked ordinary. The Portuguese defence almost contained them but conceded a Jean-Francois Domergue free-kick after 24 minutes.
At 1-0 up France emerged dominant in the second half, Platini directing a stream of one-way traffic at the Portuguese goal. Fernandez, Platini and Giresse all had efforts saved by Manuel Bento. Then Rui Jordao equalised with 15 minutes to go, heading in Fernando Chalana’s shallow cross from the left-wing. Portugal struck again in extra time, Jordao volleying from another Chalana cross. France, now 2-1 down, faced the ignominy of losing their second semi-final in two years. Their only retort was attack.
With just six minutes remaining Domergue scored his second to make it 2-2 and penalties loomed. While Portugal appeared to be hanging on for the shoot-out France were determined to win in open play. With just 56 seconds on the clock the irrepressible Tigana found space on the right and sent the ball into the area. Platini trapped it, scored and sent the Marseille crowd into a frenzy — it was his eighth goal in four games.
In the other semi-final Spain met Denmark in Lyon. Following their 5-0 destruction of Yugoslavia, the Danes were the favourites to meet France in the final. They began well, scoring after just six minutes through Soren Lerby. But the game gradually swung Spain’s way and their sweeper Antonio Maceda, who had scored against West Germany, equalised after 66 minutes.
The deadlock remained after extra-time and the first penalty shoot-out of the championships saw Spain emerge victorious. One of the players of the tournament, Elkjaer-Larsen, had the heartbreak of missing Denmark’s final spot-kick.
The final at the Parcs des Princes, Paris was disappointing. Anxiety played on the minds of the French. Spain, missing Maceda and Rafael Gordillo through suspension, were cautious. In a physical game the Spanish gained an early superiority by playing five across the middle, stifling the French midfield quartet. Only in the second half, when Platini’s free-kick trickled through Luis Arconada’s arms for the first goal, did France come to life. Tigana began to dominate proceedings, creating chances for Giresse and himself.
Centre-back Yvon Le Roux was sent off for his second bookable offence six minutes before time prompting a late Spanish revival. But in injury time striker Bruno Bellone scored the decisive second goal after being set up by Tigana. France had finally won their first major championship.
And so football became the beautiful game once more. After the wretchedness of the 1982 World Cup came the most enthralling tournament of its kind. It was a victory of flair over tactics. It was a victory for a manager who spent eight years cultivating the Gallic style. And it was a victory for one of the greatest footballers to ever grace the international stage. In this year Platini won the Italian League and Cup Winners’ Cup with Juventus, was the top scorer in Serie A, became the European Footballer of the Year for the second-year running and not only won the European Championship but scored an unrivalled nine goals.
Alas, France would suffer semi-final heartbreak again at the hands of the Germans in the 1986 World Cup.
1984 European Championship results
Group 1: France 1-0 Denmark, Belgium 2-0 Yugoslavia,
France 5-0 Belgium, Denmark 5-0 Yugoslavia,
France 3-2 Yugoslavia, Denmark 3-2 Belgium
Group 2: Romania 1-1 Spain, Portugal 0-0 W Germany,
W Germany 2-1 Romania, Portugal 1-1 Spain,
Portugal 1-0 Romania, Spain 1-0 W Germany
France 3-2 Portugal (AET)
Spain 1-1 Denmark
(AET – Spain won 5-4 on penalties)
France 2-0 Spain[youtube=http://youtu.be/325iwtSiFrM]