The World Cup in Mexico ’86 is generally regarded as Maradona’s tournament. It’s arguable whether Argentina would’ve even made the final, let alone win the thing without him.
Two years earlier, Michel Platini did the same for France in Euro ’84.
France had one of the best sides around so you could argue they may still have lifted the title without their talismanic captain, but it’s difficult to argue against how much of an edge he gave them.
He scored nine goals in five matches and in every one he was the difference which made all the difference.
He was generally employed as an attacking midfielder, or even a deep-lying striker in a formation more commonly known these days as a ‘false nine’. He had ‘the knack’ of always arriving in the area at the right time, as if he’d already read the script and knew just when his character was to enter the stage. 1984 seemed to be a play he’d written himself, with him as the central character. The other players had bit parts to play. In most cases they were where he wanted them at every moment, giving the impression no one was able to stop him.
Platini had the lot. He could pass or score with either foot. He scored headers, he scored from inside and outside the box, he scored from free-kicks and penalties. Players found him so easy to play alongside, as they knew he would bring them into the game if they were in the right position. Everything went through Platini.
France came into these European Championships off the back of an impressive showing in World Cup ’82. Despite losing their opening match to England, they played some scintillating football and were unlucky to lose out on penalties to West Germany in the Semis.
If anything, that loss to the Germans galvanised the side two years later. They had victory in their grasp and let it slip. They weren’t going to make the same mistake again.
Their European Championships record had been almost non-existent. After a fourth place in 1960 they never appeared in the final stages since, even once the tournament was expanded to eight teams in 1980.
Platini’s first appearance in an international competition came in Argentina in 1978. France were poor, not making it past the group stage. They failed to qualify for the Euros two years later
They were managed by Michel Hidalgo. Hidalgo was probably the first French manager to really gain the respect and admiration of the players. He’d won two league titles as a midfield player with Monaco in the late 50’s/early 60’s. Taking over in 1976 he had assembled an attractive side around Platini, with a midfield line-up to rival Brazil. Along with Platini, Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana and Luis Fernandez became known as ‘carré magique’ (‘Magic square’). Two years on they were more experienced, more developed, more confident and of course, more at home.
This was the second edition of the Euros with eight qualifiers. It contained some of the most attractive sides the continent had ever assembled. France were drawn into a group with Belgium (runners-up four years earlier), Denmark and Yugoslavia.
The other four nations were West Germany, Portugal, Spain and Romania.
Back then European audiences only got to see sides like Brazil every four years when the World Cup came around. The ’82 side had captivated the viewing public. This French team gave them a glimpse of Brazil in blue, so much so the public named them ‘little Brazil’, or ‘European Brazil’.
The host nation were up first against Denmark at Parc des Princes to open the tournament. Since the World Cup France lost just one of their 13 friendlies. That came in a 1-3 defeat in Copenhagen against Denmark.
Denmark in ’84 were probably where France were two years earlier, harbouring some outstanding talent but still short of experience on the world stage. This was their first ever appearance in an international tournament, having put England out in the qualifying stages. They were captained by Morten Olsen, who played his football in Belgium with Anderlecht. Their star player was Allan Simonsen, then back playing in Denmark, having been European Footballer of the Year in 1977 when with Borussia Monchengladbach. Alongside, he had players who would become some of the most famous within Europe over the next five/six years. Preben Elkjaer, Jesper Olsen, Soren Lerby, Jan Molby and Frank Arnesen. Despite their lack of exposure internationally, Europe had already tapped into the talent with all but six of their squad playing outside their throughout the continent.
The game was a tight affair. Just before break, the Danes suffered their own when Simonsen broke his leg, ending his tournament after just 44 minutes.
The two sides gave as good as they got and it looked as if it might end goalless, but for Platini to reveal the twist in his script. With 12 minutes remaining he scored the goal which won it for the hosts, when he pounced on a loose ball on the edge of the box.
There was still time for Amoros to receive his marching orders, which coloured the occasion slightly, but they were off and running.
After two first-half goals gave Belgium a win over Yugoslavia in Lens, the French were back in action four days later in Nantes against the Belgians.
Belgium had surprised all when finishing runners-up to West Germany four years earlier. But now had added the hugely talented, Enzo Scifo to their ranks. They could still call on the experience of Jan Ceulemans, Erwin Vandenbergh, Frankie Vercauteren and Rene Vandereycken.
But for all the pre-match expectation of another tight match, France had worked out all their nerves on opening night. Now they were word-perfect as Belgium were blown away in a 5-0 win.
Platini scored the perfect hat-trick. Left-foot, right-foot (from the spot), header. Hidalgo’s two attackers, Bernard Lacombe and Didier Six, were both wide players, so this gave Platini the perfect platform to conduct his own particular symphony.
Platini put the home side in front inside the opening five minutes. By half-time, Giresse and Fernandez had put them beyond reach. Platini scored from the spot in the second half and then completed his hat-trick in the closing minutes. The marker put down against the Danes was now a blazing beacon.
Later that evening Denmark thumped Yugoslavia 5-0 and the French knew a draw would be enough in their final group match to see them progress to the Semis.
In St. Etienne they lined up against a Yugoslav side which was already out. Milos Sestic took the opportunity to showcase his skills, by scoring his country’s first goal of the tournament and give them a first half lead.
Yugoslavia still lead at the break. But in the second half Platini took over. He scored his second hat-trick in four days to give France the win. Again it was the perfect hat-trick. One thing which stands out in this tournament is how he seemed to be unmarked for most of his headed goals. It’s what gives the impression the defenders were just extras in his own movie.100% success after the group matches saw them through to the Semis where they met Portugal.
The game went down as one of the greatest matches the European Championship had ever witnessed.
With both teams having played some of the best football of the tournament, it was clear it was going to be a close game. The deadlock was broken after 25 minutes. France had a free-kick just outside the area, to the right of centre. It was usual for Platini would take these, but instead left-back Jean-Francois Domergue fired a left foot shot which curled away from the keepers hand and France were 1-0 up. It was his first goal for his country.
France held the lead until 12 minutes from time. Jordao, the big Portuguese striker, headed the equaliser and the game went into extra-time.
Then just eight minutes into the extra period, a cross from the right found Jordao at the back post. He swivelled and hit a right-foot shot into the ground so it bounced up and over Joel Bats in the French goal. Portugal now lead 2-1.
Almost 55,000 were packed into the Stade Velodrome in Marseille and the French players have since spoken of how they felt the crowd will them on. Their second successive international Semi-Final, again going into extra-time. Surely they weren’t to be denied once more?
They pressed forward, desperately hoping Platini would give them the inspiration for a fight back. A scramble in the area saw Platini turn and look to hit a left-foot shot. He appeared to be fouled but the ball ran loose and up popped Domergue to fire home his second of the game.
There were just six minutes remaining. Could they handle another penalty shoot-out, or could they win it from open play?
With time running out, Tigana took the ball on and into the right of the area. As he reached the edge of the six-yard box he pulled the ball back to the penalty spot where he knew one man would’ve taken up position. There was Platini, right-angles to the goal. With three Portuguese players on the line he had the presence of mind to steady himself. The whole of France gasped and shouted ‘shoot!’ at the same time. Platini waited just a split second before firing into the roof of the net.
He’d done it. Nobody else on that pitch probably could have been so composed, so calm at that moment. But Platini knew what he had to do and he didn’t let his team or his country down.
Unlike in Seville two years earlier there was no comeback from their opponents. There just wasn’t enough time left. France were into their first ever international tournament Final.
It was a magnificent piece of theatre. As with so many of the matches in this tournament, it just looked like the script had been written for Platini.
The other Semi-Final did go to a penalty shootout with Spain beating Denmark.
The three best sides in the tournament had been France, Portugal and Denmark, but unfortunately for the watching public only one made it to the Final.
Spain had probably overachieved and this was never more evident than in the Final. France won comfortably, 2-0. Platini scored his ninth of the competition. Perhaps fittingly for a drab contest, it was a bit scrappy as his free-kick rolled under Arconada and into the net.
France had won a major honour. It was to be the catalyst for future French success in the nineties and beyond.
Even now, any success France has on the football pitch can be traced back to the trail blazed by Michel Platini in 1984.