Why France 1984 remains a glorious benchmark for Euro 2016
England, Holland, 1982 World Champions Italy and semi-finalists Poland were all missing at Euro 1984
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.
Uefa had 22 less member states than the current 55. It might surprise younger football fans looking forward to this summer’s 24-team Euro 2016 that the 1984 edition, also held in France, had only eight teams.
It was also arguably the greatest European Championship of them all.
Euro 1980 in Italy had been a disaster. Half-full stadiums, hooliganism and depressingly dull football somewhat overshadowed a win by a decent, though by their standards hardly spectacular, West Germany.
England, Holland, 1982 World Champions Italy and semi-finalists Poland were all missing at Euro 1984.
Fears the tournament would suffer from the absence of this stellar cast were quickly blown away. Carrying on where the brilliant, colourful 1982 World Cup in Spain had left off, the tournament was a joy.
One truly great team, another beloved cult one, attacking football in packed stadiums, goalscoring records and perhaps the most dramatic match in the competition’s history. It had it all.
Platini leads the charge
Above all it had Michel Hidalgo’s France. The midfield of 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 semifinal defeats in 1982 and 1986, both to West Germany.
But Euro 1984 proved the perfect time, perfect place. Platini, in particular, was unstoppable, producing one of the finest individual performances at a tournament in football history. It even rivals that of Diego Maradona two years later in Mexico.
The French captain 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 semifinal 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).
Thomas Muller, Cristiano Ronaldo, Antoine Griezmann and Robert Lewandowski would do well to get near that mark, never mind Platini’s peerless record, this summer.
It wasn’t just the number of goals, 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.
Red and White “Danish Dynamite”
Joining the hosts in the last four was the the team that would affectionately earn the nickname of “Danish Dynamite”. Playing in their iconic red and white Hummels strip and cheered on by their brilliantly boisterous fans, Sepp Piontek’s Denmark captured the hearts of fans around the world with their own interpretation of Total Football, 10 years after their spiritual predecessors Holland had almost perfected it at the 1974 World Cup.
Denmark had knocked out England in the qualifiers, and after overcoming the blow of losing 1977 Ballon d’Or winner Allan Simonsen to a broken leg in the opening match, stormed into the semi-finals with memorable wins over Yugoslavia (5-0), and an amazing 3-2 comeback against Belgium.
Heartbreakingly, they lost the semi-final on penalties to Spain, but the world was smitten.
Preben Elkjaer, Morten Olsen, Soren Lerby and the outstanding Michael Laudrup would go on to light up the World Cup two years later as the team nicknamed “Danish Dynamite” became one of international football’s most adored.
Euro 1984 also witnessed the rarest of football phenomena, a genuinely poor (West) German team.
Group B, which also had Spain, Romania and Portugal, had provided less entertainment than the chaotic Group A. Still, there was shock and glee in equal measures as West Germany received a dose of the medicine they had been dishing out for years; losing to a last minute goal to Spain and exiting the competition.
In the power vacuum left by the dominant, if somewhat dour, international team of that era, the flamboyant French flourished.
A epic night in Marseille
Nothing epitomised the tournament more than France’s semi-final against Portugal in Marseille, generally held as the best in the competition’s history, and arguably one of the greatest matches ever played.
Jean-Francois Domergue gave France a first half lead, and the inevitable march to the final seemed on. But a 74th minute equaliser by Jordao took the match into extra time, and the same player gave Portugal the lead eight minutes later.
France’s hopes hung by a thread, but they produced a comeback for the ages. Domergue score in the 114th minute, and with extra time looming and a hysterical crowd urging the home team on, Platini, who else, scored in the dying seconds after Tigana had ripped the Portuguese defence to shreds. John Motson’s disbelieving commentary for the BBC remains as memorable as the winning goal itself.
The final against Spain, not surprisingly after such drama, was something of an anti-climax. Luis Arconada’s shocking mistake allowed Platini’s freekick to squeeze in, and Bruno Bellone wrapped up a 2-0 win with delicate chip in the dying seconds.
France’s first international trophy had been achieved on home soil. Their supporters will be hoping that history will repeat itself in Paris on July 10.