The landscape of European football in 1984 scarcely resembles that of today and it is no surprise considering Europe itself was in a different phase. With the Berlin Wall still standing, the Cold War cast an enormous shadow across the world. The Soviet Union and indeed the Eastern Bloc were still years away from enduring the kind of changes that would result in a redrawing of maps. UEFA itself only had 33 members at the time and this was in part a reason for the continuation of the format adopted at the previous tournament: Two groups of four teams followed by two knockout rounds.
That is where the similarities with Euro 1980 would end. The previous edition in Italy had, in hindsight, been regarded as a failure. Empty seats in stadiums outside of which hooliganism ran rife and the disastrously dull football that heralded few goals were just some of the reasons many were left disappointed.
In a tournament that had notable absentees, there was a real sense of anticipation surrounding Les Bleus. World Champions Italy, England, and The Netherlands had crashed out in the qualifying phase. With none of the “home nations” participating at Euro 1984, the BBC even decided against airing the matches in what many deemed a case of sour grapes. This would prove to be a mistake. Euro 1984 is fondly remembered by many avid viewers of the game as one of the greatest international tournaments to date.
Big Names Missing
Initial fears that the quality of football would suffer due to some big-name absentees were wide of the mark. Where many had failed in toppling the might of West Germany, Spain and Portugal would announce themselves as unlikely candidates. Where the host nation had failed to inspire their home fans at Euro 1980, France would fuel the imagination of fans all over the world at Euro 1984.
Stadiums were brimming with excitement and tickets were scarce as everyone wanted to bear witness to the attacking football on show. Michel Platini would distinguish himself as a leader capable of influencing any and every game.
Precocious Platini Leads France
“We bought him for a morsel of bread and he put foie gras on top of it!” These were the words used by Juventus president Gianni Agnelli when describing the acquisition of Michel Platini. Going into Euro 1984 the Frenchman had secured his first league title in a division that boasted a series of household names. Euro 1984 would take place on home turf for Platini and for many France was also the birthplace of the competition due to Henri Delaunay’s efforts.
France had been eliminated in a controversial World Cup Semi-Final two years before against West Germany; a game largely remembered for goalkeeper Harald Schumacher’s violent tackle on France’s Patrick Battiston. But the French had made their mark. Platini noted his own ailments in the previous tournament: “In 1982 I was injured – I had a groin problem”, but his side had still managed to pluck up a formidable display.
In 1984, however, Michel Platini was at the peak of his powers, having collected two of his eventual three Ballon d’Or titles. “In 1984 I wasn’t injured and I was able to perform to my peak. It was a great moment for French football and for French sport as a whole.”
One Englishman that had no intention of missing this particular tournament was famed commentator John Motson. “Until 1984, the European Championship had not been blessed with great football,” he said. “Until 1980, only four teams took part in the finals. In 1980, there were eight, but it was a poor tournament.” Motson’s summation of the previous tournament was not an uncommon one, despite the altered format in 1980 there was a distinct lack of attacking play and indeed goals.
Motson’s assertion that the quality was different in 1984 is also largely agreed upon. This was in no small way attributed to Michel Platini’s heroics. The Frenchman went on to score in every single game his side took part in, a feat you will be hard-pressed to find recreated.
Group 1 Sees France Take Control
The opener against Denmark would pose the necessary questions surrounding the hosts’ credentials. Denmark had a star player of their own in the former European Player of the Year, Allan Simonsen. A young Michael Laudrup was also on the side that had dumped England out of the qualifiers.
The Danes were no pushovers and set about trying to frustrate France. After a largely successful first half, disaster struck. Key man Allen Simonsen was left in agony after a 50-50 with Yvon Le Roux that resulted in a broken leg. The wonderful book Danish Dynamite summed up the sickening ordeal, “Players and the fans in the stadium that day still talk about the sound. It sounded like a branch breaking in a tree.” After a huge blow to their talismanic player, Denmark succumbed to the lively Michel Platini who forced a deflected winner.
Unsurprisingly. Platini went on to become the top scorer at Euro 1984, what is a little more surprising is that he remains the top goal scorer in the history of the competition with his nine goals scored in a single tournament. Cristiano Ronaldo has rivaled him in recent years but even his goals scored in four different competitions do not surpass Platini’s nine. This puts into context the incredible achievements of Le Roi.
Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana, Luis Fernandez, and Michel Platini formed the carre magique or the “magic square” that helped France sail through as Group 1 winners having won each of their games against Denmark, Belgium, and Yugoslavia. Denmark would follow into the knockout stages having a second place in the group after seeing off Belgium in a tight game and romping a particularly disappointing Yugoslavia.
West Germany Shocked After Iberian Success in Group 2
Despite the aforementioned absentees, Euro 1984 was not without serious talent. West Germany took their natural place in the competition after topping their qualifying group. By this point however it seemed their time was up as the giant superpower in international football. After a nil-nil opener against Portugal criticism immediately began to mount with many claiming that despite their undisputed physical prowess, West Germany lacked the guile necessary for reaching the penultimate stages of the competition.
Rudi Voller’s brace against Romania secured West Germany’s first win in their second game and seemed to silence the critics if only for the time being. Resolute performances by both Portugal and Spain meant that their respective destinies remained in their own hands come the final group game. Portugal would leave it late to find a winner against Romania. Nene converted in the 81st minute to send his side through to their first knockout round appearance.
Miraculously, Spain left it even later than Portugal. West Germany only needed a point to secure their place in the knockout round. After Lobo Carrasco’s penalty miss, it seemed the same old story would prevail and West Germany would sneak through. With only seconds left, sweeper Antonio Maceda would convert Juan Antonio Senor’s cross to the delight of what seemed like fans throughout Europe who could not believe what they were witnessing. West Germany were out.
There would be a lot of soul-searching for the Germans after what was undoubtedly an unsuccessful campaign. They were quick and efficient in addressing their problems as coach Jupp Derwall was quickly sacked and replaced by the iconic Franz Beckenbauer. Beckenbauer, who had so often been talismanic in his duty for his country, would once help lead his side to better days.
A Semi-Final to Savour
With France distinguishing themselves as the superior side in Group 1, many touted them as easy favorites for their Semi-Final against Portugal. What followed is fondly remembered as one of the greatest international matches ever.
Fernando Chalana, Rui Jordao, and Nene were some of the names that had been intrinsic in propelling Portugal to their first knockout stage appearance, but it seemed in France they would meet their match.
Jean-Francois Domergue had been brought in as a makeshift left-back by France but had no issue with pulling rank over Platini as he smashed his free-kick home after only a quarter of the game had passed. The fans at Marseille’s Velodrome were in delirium, it seemed their hopes that France would sail into the final were being duly realized.
But as the old football adage goes, if you don’t take your chances the opposition will. And with every Manuel Bento save the Portuguese began to believe more and more. Their opportunity finally came through Chalana’s timely cross from the left. Jordao met Chalana’s delivery with expert precision and pulled his side level with only 15 minutes left. Manuel Bento continued to frustrate the hosts and edged the game into extra time.
The nerves were palpable in the Velodrome. The further the game got the more the Portuguese side believed. Their belief resulted in another Chalana-Jordao combination in the 98th minute. Chalana outsmarted a tiring Domergue to deliver another intuitive ball that was caught on the volley by Jordao in what is an exceptionally underrated goal. France were staring down the barrel of defeat and in front of their home fans no less.
With only six minutes remaining, France committed everything to attack and left themselves vulnerable. Domergue would make up for his lapse with another crucial goal in the form of a toe-poke just inside the box. Sighs of relief as the Velodrome seemed to breathe in unison.
It seemed as though penalties, that cruel way of distinguishing a victor, would give us our finalist. But the French were not through. Even after securing an equalizer they remained absolutely determined in the attack. The tireless Jean Tigana drove his side forward and managed to cut the ball back to the one man that couldn’t miss, Michel Platini.
The Velodrome exploded. The Portuguese collapsed. Even fans at home were left breathless after witnessing this spectacle. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing this game, get on YouTube. The moments that this game offered up have left many recalling the beauty of a side that never gave in.
Tireless Tigana the Unsung Hero
Michel Platini’s goals cannot be denied but Jean Tigana was for many equally important to France’s success. Having overcome Denmark in another dramatic Semi-Final that saw Spain needing penalties to advance, they simply could not cope with Tigana’s domineering Final performance in midfield.
The Frenchman orchestrated play from the middle of the park. David Miller even wrote in The Times that “it would not be difficult to claim that he was the most significant figure in France’s five victories, even allowing for Platini’s flurry of usually superbly taken goals.”
Platini would enjoy a slice of good fortune for his goal in the Final as he saw his free-kick comfortably saved initially by Spanish goalkeeper Luis Arconada, only for the ball to spill over the line.
It was difficult for Spain to recover from then on even as France went down to 10 men late in the game. Spain saw the trophy slip away as they conceded a second when Tigana put Bruno Bellone through at the last minute.
France claimed their first international trophy on home soil and the manner in which they achieved it has underlined Euro 1984 as a special tournament. France coach Michel Hidalgo summed up the feeling: “It was a triumph for attacking football after years of defensive attitudes,” he said.
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