Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The European Championships - 1984

After a fairly disastrous opening tournament, the European Championships were given a lick of paint for the 1984 finals, with rules being changed to prevent a repeat of the torpid affair that had taken place four years prior. It was still an eight team tournament, but this time there would be no pointless third/fourth place play-off, and the top two from each group would play in semi-final matches. After the infamous World Cup finals match between West Germany and Austria in Gijon, when the two sides walked around for ninety minutes to ensure the 1-0 victory that saw them both through to the next round, the final group matches would be played simultaneously, and seven venues would be used rather than the four used in Italy. This format would remain unchanged until UEFA doubled the number of entrants in 1996.

The tournament would come to be defined by one man and one man alone - Michel Platini, would go on to score an astonishing nine goals in five matches for France. The French started nervously, requiring a late goal from Platini to beat Denmark 1-0 in Paris. From here on, Platinni would make the tournament his own, scoring two successive hat-tricks. The first came in a 5-0 demolition of Belgium. The second, with France already effectively through to the semi-finals, came in the space of eighteen second half minutes against a spirited Yugoslavia. They were joined in the semi-finals by Denmark. The Danes (who had knocked England out in the qualifying stages by beating them 1-0 at Wembley) were coming into their own golden generation of players. They bounced back from their defeat by the French to beat Yugoslavia 5-0 in their second match, setting up a straightforward final match shoot-out against Belgium. With a massively superior goal difference to the Belgians, a draw would see them through, while the Belgians would still qualify if they won. On a dramatic evening in Strasbourg, Belgium went 2-0 up with goals from Ceulemans and Vercauteren, but the Danes clawed their way back to win 3-2.

The other group featured fewer goals, but was just as tense. After West Germany and Portugal had played out a goalless draw in Strasbourg, Spain were surprisingly held by Romania. The Germans then beat Romania, but the draw between Spain and Portugal meant that any of the four teams could still qualify for the semi-finals going into the final round of matches. Both of the eventual semi-finalists would leave it late. Portugal beat Romania 1-0 with a goal from Tamagnini Nene nine minutes from time in Nantes, but the real drama came in Paris. Nene's goal for Portugal left the Germans need to hold on for the final ten minutes or so to qualify, but a winner in the dying seconds from Antonio Maceda sent them home, and sent Spain through to the semi-finals.

Our featured game from this tournament is the first semi-final between France and Portugal - probably the greatest match in the history of the European Championships. I don't recall ever have seen a match in which the atmosphere inside the stadium (in this case, the Stade Velodrome in Marseille) ever leapt out of the television screen and grabbed hold of you the neck in quite the same way. France had been expected to beat Portugal comfortably, and it looked as if this would be what happened when Jean-Francois Domergue put them into an early lead, but after they missed a string of chances, Rui Jordao levelled for Portugal with fifteen minutes to play, and silenced the stadium completely when put them in front, eight minutes into extra-time. The second period of extra-time would permanently change France's perception of its national team. The Portuguese goalkeeper, Bento, had been playing outstandingly, but with six minutes to play, the ball bounced off Platini's shins and into the path of Jean-Francois Domergue, who tied things up at 2-2, and with a minute to play, Jean Tigana carried the ball to the touchline and dragged the ball back for Platini to score the winner.

The other semi-final and the final couldn't live up to the match in Marseille. Spain and Denmark played out a tense 1-1 draw in Lyon, and Spain won 5-4 on penalties, with Preben Elkjær missing the final penalty for the Denmark. The final was played in Paris at Parc Des Princes, and after a quiet first half, turned on its head when Luis Arconada, the Spanish goalkeeper, fumbled a Platini free kick over the line to give the French the lead. With Spain pushing forward in the final seconds of the match, Bruno Bellone broke away and lobbed Arconada to give France a 2-0 victory. You can see the goals from this match here, but it is that semi-final between Portugal and France that lives long in the memory - if any two of this summer's sixteen entrants can play out a match like that, they'll have come up with something really rather special. You can see extended highlights of it on YouTube, in seven parts, here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six and Part Seven.


ursus arctos said...

I had a ticket for France-Portugal in Marseille.

Actually, I still do, because I chose to leave France for a rather unique professional opportunity the week the tournament started.

I'm still not sure I did the right thing.

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