As sports fans we all have events that have marked us, and will continue to mark our memories, dare I say, until the day we die? I realize that might be a tad dramatic. 1982 was that for me. Let me start with the background.
France's footy team had been in the waste lands of international football during the 1960s and 1970s, they had been able to find the talent nor system that could match the "golden generation" that went to a third place finish in the 1958 World Cup. However signs of turning the corner could be seen in 1978 in Argentina - a player by the name of Platini found his way into the side. Coming into 1982, Platini was no longer a young prospect, he was now seen as one of world's best players. A player that had starred on the powerful Saint-Eteinne squad and was heading to Juventus. Riding on his talents as well as players such as Bossis, Tresor, Giresse, Amoros, Tigana, Rocheteau the French national team felt as if it was on a cusp of a new golden generation. They had qualified for the World Cup and did so by beating the runner up from the 1978 World Cup - Holland. They had a club side, Saint-Eteinne that had allowed for some to dream that France would become a premier footballing nation on the world stage.
France did not start off the 1982 World Cup on the right foot, losing to another hated rival - England. They also gave up the fastest goal, at the time, in the World Cup during that game to Bryan Robson. France would go on to finish second in the group. During the 1982 World Cup teams would be placed back into groups to determine the 4 semi-finalists. I remember being at the beach at Saint Jean-de-Monts after France defeated Northern Ireland (yes they used to make it to major tournaments) and seeing cars honking horns and people celebrating the fact Les Bleus were heading to the semi-finals. At that moment I knew what football was, but I didn't appreciate the passion associated with the beautiful game. That would change.
The day of the semi-finals I remember my great-uncle's house buzzing. There must have been a dozen of us from the family there, not because of the game, but because we always came together during the summer and would spend time at the beach. But we had a bonus this summer - a World Cup semi final for Les Bleus. That afternoon leading up to the game, things were being put in place. The usual large family dinner we would have every night around the dining table, would be moved in front of the television. I also remember the larger than usual quantities of wine that was being rolled out, it felt like a celebration.
Once the game started I can remember feeling a slow boil of tension building. Germany scored early only to see Platini convert a penalty to level the score. Both sides then settled into a cautious match. And then the assault of Battiston occurred. On a caviar of a through ball from Platini, Battiston runs onto it and gets crushed by German keeper Schumacher. I remember as an ignorant 10 year old that I knew something bad had happened but not to that extent!
The fact there was no foul given, let alone a card was criminal. The Dutch referee waved on play and was even slow in calling in medical services to tend to the fallen player. Rumors would run wild the next day that since France had eliminated Holland in the qualifiers that the official was biased against France. This vile act of aggression would only heighten the tension of the match. France should have had a penalty kick and possibly seen Germany go down a man...alas it was not to be! The game would then take on a new dimension.
The score line would stay 1-1 into extra time. France would find a way to score twice in the first half of extra time. Marius Tresor would hit a canon of a volley from the penalty spot. Watching it I remember wondering how did he possibly do that? How could he take a ball in
|For a few minutes they were heading to the finals|
Alas there were still 15 minutes in the game. And a certain Rummeingge sitting on the bench. The rest lives on in infamy. Rummeingge scores in the 102nd minute and Fischer would score a few minutes later....what? Really?
How did that happen?? All of a sudden we were heading to the penalty kicks. The first time this torture device would be used to determine a winner and a loser. How could this be?
The penalty kick sequence drama could not have been any more tense. From the Schumacher mugging of Battiston, to the back and forth goals in the extra time and now penalty kicks. I remember watching Stielike missing his kick and crumbling in tears. He could barely walk back without help from his teammate. And there was Toni Schumacher, stone faced gaze, basically scolding Stielike to get out his kitchen because he would take care of it. Which he did. He stopped Six and brought Germany level again. The next kicks were converted...so we had sudden death in penalty kicks. How could you add more tension to this match?? Maxime Bossis strides up and misses his kick...Germany's turn...and they don't miss in penalty kicks.
France crash out. Germany will face Italy in the finals. 120+ minutes of football between fierce rivals. France had arrived, in defeat, onto the global stage of football. Germany the defending European Champion and at the time, two time World Champion, had weathered the storm of being embarrassed by losing to their "little brother" neighbor.
The innocent 10 year old, who minutes ago had run around in wild celebration, wasn't sure what had happened. That was the first football game I remember watching from start to finish. It was my first introduction to the highs and lows associated with sports - I would have others! Notably with the Red Sox in 1986!!
Looking back I realize that much of the game itself I remember more from having watched it again in documentaries and YouTube videos (I will admit that re-watching Giresse score the third French goal I still believe somehow they will find a way to hold on). Germany would go on to lose to Italy in the finals while France would lose the 3rd place match against Poland. No surprise. Both teams had empty their tank both from a physical stand point as well as mental.
Since 1982, France has more than earned its place at the table for tier one footballing nations. Winning the European cup 2 years later with an unstoppable Platini. They would get to another World Cup semi final in 1986...losing to West Germany again. But France has since then won a World Cup as well as another European Cup and reached another World Cup final in 2006. By all accounts that has propelled France closer to their footballing big brother - Germany. But that July evening in 1982 will always remain in the heart of a 10 year old who for a few minutes was overcome with uncontrollable joy.