It is perhaps difficult to imagine, particularly for a generation that did not witness Michel Platini with the ball at his feet, but the man was a fantastic player. Platini was one of the best players ever, and one that inspired so many up and coming players in France.
Michel Hidalgo’s team epitomized the spirit of the game in Spain at the ‘82 World Cup. They fought back almost every setback they encountered. Their iconic semi-final did prove to be a bridge too far, however. Despite having led West Germany 3-1 in extra time, they were eventually defeated on penalties. This, on an evening when the entire planet must have been behind them after Harald Schumacher’s indifference to his infamous and brutal collision with Patrick Battiston.
In 1984, the landscape of European football looked vastly different to what it does now. In fact, Europe itself looked very different. The Cold War was at its most spiky for years. The Berlin Wall was still standing. And the disintegration of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, and subsequent redrawing of the continent’s map, was still six years away.
Diego Maradona might have dominated the scene in the second half of the decade, but there was no player in the world (including Maradona), who could come close to the talent of Michel Platini between 1983 and 1985.
Euro 1984 proved to be the perfect time and perfect place for one player in particular. With France playing host to the 1984 European Championship, the opportunity for redemption was presented to Platini, who by now was a Juventus player. Platini was unstoppable, producing one of the finest individual execution on the pitch during tournament play in football history. Platini’s performance rivals that of Diego Maradona two years later in Mexico.
This was arguably the greatest European Championship in history. The tournament was held in Michel Hidalgo’s France. The midfield constructed of powerhouses Michel Platini, Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana and Luis Fernandez still leaves football fans of that era misty-eyed. For France, the tournament fell between heartbreaking World Cup semi-final defeats in 1982 and 1986, both to West Germany.
At the Parc des Princes in Paris, with the legendary Carré Magique now in place, Platini had scored the only goal of France’s opening game against Sepp Piontek’s undeniably talented Denmark. The narrow victory over Denmark, made possible by Platini’s goal at 78 minutes, had been a valuable one. This solidified the hope that Hidalgo’s team would ultimately make it all the way to glory.
It was four days later at Nantes’ Stade de la Beaujoire that Platini and his teammates really turned on the burners. Belgium started the tournament by easing into a 2-0 victory over Yugoslavia in Lens. As the beaten finalists of the 1980 European Championship, they were a team not to be taken lightly. When facing France, in the final moments of the game, Platini completed his hat-trick with a glancing header off Pfaff’s left-hand post. Belgium fought to the very end, but for Platini and France it was the moment that their Euro 84 campaign truly took flight.
Nothing symbolizes the tournament more than France’s semi-final against Portugal in Marseille, generally viewed as the best in the competition’s history, and arguably one of the greatest matches ever played. Simply legendary.
Not surprisingly after such amazing drama, the final against Spain, was somehow boring except for French fans. Luis Arconada’s shocking mistake allowed Platini’s freekick to squeeze in, and Bruno Bellone wrapped up a 2-0 win with a delicate chip in the dying seconds. Michel Hidalgo’s France wrote their names on the annals of football history and entered the Pantheon of French Football.
In the end, Platini scored a tournament record nine goals in only FIVE matches. He managed the only goal in the opener against Denmark, two group stage hat-tricks against Belgium and Yugoslavia, and a semi-final winner. In the final, he scored the opener. The next best tournament haul is five, shared by Marco van Basten (1988), Savo Milosevic and Patrick Kluivert (2000), and Milan Baros (2004). Cristiano Ronaldo, now has 11 goals but over five Euros.
It wasn’t just the number of goals from Platini, but the variety. One penalty; three right- and one left-footed finishes from open play; two magnificent headers; and two direct free-kicks. France roared to the top of their group and into the semifinals, but they were not the only team playing sensational football.
This is a story of overcoming the most devastating disappointments, with a style and verve that electrified a nation and astounded a watching world. No matter what France has achieved since 1984, this was their first major success. The influence of Platini and his awe-inspiring teammates, against which every French team continues to be measured.
Furthermore, France’s first international trophy had been achieved on home soil. On their way to the title they breezed past most opponents, scoring an average of 2.8 goals every match. In this period, everything Platini touched turned into gold. He won two Serie A titles, a Cup Winners’ Cup, an Intercontinental Cup with an all-conquering Juventus team.
Platini raked in individual awards faster than the number of heavy metal bands springing up along the Sunset strip during the ‘80’s, including a hat-trick of European player of the year awards, a hat-trick of Serie A top scorer awards, with a total of 54 goals in three seasons. Yet, despite his magnificent achievements at club level, what elevated Platini from being a supremely talented player to one of the all-time greats was his exploits on his home soil in the summer of 1984.
Platini, the picture of the number 10, scored nine goals in five matches, a record which will perhaps never be broken in so few Euro games.
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