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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Best World Cup Game I Ever Saw: West Germany-France (1982)

With the Semi-finals going on in this year's FIFA World Cup from South Africa, and The Netherlands win over Uruguay on Tuesday to put the Dutch into their first World Cup Final since 1978; it got me to thinking of the best World Cup  match I had ever seen...and I still have to say that in terms of quality of play, the caliber of the players on the field, drama and controversy, it is still hard for me to think of a game that was better than the semifinal played out between West Germany and France in the brutal heat of Seville, Spain during the 1982 World Cup.

I watched most of the 1982 World Cup in Montpellier, France, where I was a student during my junior year abroad. I came back to Minnesota to take some summer school classes just before the semifinals. I was able to catch this game on a new network that had come up with the revolutionary idea of 24 hour sports broadcasting...ESPN.

There was a lot of intrigue even before these two teams met.

France started their World Cup campaign in Bilbao, where they got thumped 3-1 by England, in a match that was not even that close.  Jean-Francois Larios was sent home after it became known that he was having an affair with captain Michel Platini's wife. (Football is not always about diagonal runs) French coach Michel Hidalgo was able to right the French ship, getting France out of group play, where they beat Austria and Northern Ireland to punch their semi-final ticket. After the early hiccup against England, France was really feeling it-particularly after they beat Northern Ireland 4-1 with a swashbuckling display of flowing football with their sublime midfield of Michel Platini, Jean Tigana and Alain Giresse.

West Germany (In 1982, Germany was still a divided country) had stars like Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Paul Brietner, Manfred Kaltz and Pierre Littbarski. They also had big physical, imposing players like Briegel, Forster and Hrubesch.  The Germans had their own faux-pas in group play: a stunning 2-1 loss to Algeria-still rated as one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. The Germans had to play Austria in their last match. The one result that would see both Teutonic nations into the next round would be a 1-0 win by the Germans. After Hrubesch scored early on for Germany, the two sides played kickball with one another with no serious attempt at goal. It was clear to all in attendance that the fix was in. Algeria, with two wins and one loss, had to pack their bags to back to North Africa. It is interesting to note that after that shameful display, FIFA made the decision that moving forward, all last round games of group play will have the same kick-off time on the same day to prevent this from happening again.

With Brazil's shocking upset by Italy, and Spain not able to get past it's second round group, most Spanish fans and many neutrals were rooting for France to beat the Germans. It would be a contrast in styles of French flair versus German strength and athleticism.

The Germans opened the scoring when Pierre Littbarski hit a rebounded Paul Brietner shot, and threaded the ball past 4 French players before the ball hit the back of the net. The French equalized off a Michel Platini penalty kick, which was created by Rocheteau getting hauled down in the box by Bernd Foerster.

The match would turn in the second half. Michel Hidalgo brought on Patrick Battiston to midfield, and that injected some more life to the French attack. His stay in the game would not last long. After being on the field for maybe 7 minutes, he chased after a loose ball in the box...the German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher made no attempt to play the ball. He hip-checked Battiston, and knocked the St. Etienne midfielder out colder than a mackerel. Incredibly, the Dutch referee, Mr. Coerver did not see the infraction that everybody else in Seville and watching on TV saw. At the very, very least Schumacher should have been red-carded and France should have had another penalty. As it was, Hidalgo had to go with his last sub for Battiston, Shumacher stayed in the match, and the game carried on.

After near misses by both sides-including a 25 yard bomb from defender Manuel Amoros that rattled off the crossbar in the 89th minute, it came down to overtime. In the overtime, defender Marius Tresor scored a goal off  a magnificent full volley from a deflected Alain Giresse free kick.  Six minutes later, Giresse finished off a wonderful movement between Giresse, Rocheteau, Platini and Didier Six, who laid the ball off for Giresse to bury in Schumacher's net.

At 3-1 down in overtime, German coach Jupp Derwall had to roll the dice and bring on the injured Bayern Munich star, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. The move paid almost instant dividends, with Rummenigge putting the ball past Jean-Luc Ettori to make it 3-2.  France was wilting in the heat, and they just did not have it in their DNA to just put bodies on the ball and defend. In the 108th minute, the Germans tied it off a spectacular overhead scissors kick by Klaus Fischer.

The match continued into the cruel drama of Penalties. Harald Schumacher, the man who should not have even been on the field for his assault on Battiston, stopped penalties by Didier Six and Maxime Bossis to get the Germans into the final against Italy(A match won by Italy 3-1)

I cannot tell you how gutted I was after this game. I was sad that France had lost...but over the years, I have come to appreciate what a special game this really was-even the great Michel Platini said that this was the greatest game he had ever played, and in spite of the loss, the match still holds a special place in his heart..


  1. I don't know if you've caught this on ESPN, but they have a show running called "I scored a goal", that features different players from World Cups past who have scored. I think you'd really enjoy it... Karl-Heinz (what a great name by the way) was on last night...

  2. Wade,I have seen a few episodes of this. Fox Soccer plus has also had some great episodes on great rivalries that has had some classic footage as well.