Thursday, 15 April 2010


MEXICO 1986, Quarter-Final: Brazil v France

A pulsating quarter-final in Guadalajara. Brazil's possession football saps the energy out of the opposition at the best of times; factor in the searing heat of that mid-summer's day and the Samba Stars were favourites to progress. Mexico had also been the scene of their last World Cup win 16 years earlier, and an expectant nation would settle for nothing less than an emulation of that triumph. France on the other hand were still dealing with the scars of four years earlier and a heart-breaking semi-final defeat. But having just ended Italy's reign as World Champions in the round of 16, Platini and co. knew that, if they could get past Brazil, there would be a chance to lay to rest the ghosts of Seville 1982. Mexico and West Germany were playing their quarter-final later that day with the two winners to meet for a place in the Final.

In thirty years of watching football I can't remember a match in which there was so much offensive play and so little time to take breath. The Brazilian teams of the 1982 and 1986 tournaments were two of the best sides never to win the World Cup. There are only two ways to stop Brazil; break their rhythm with cynical, periodic fouling, or play them at their own game. Thankfully, for the worldwide audience and for the sake of the 'beautiful game', France did the latter, counteracting Brazil's brilliance with an artistry of their own, weaved predominantly by the magical midfield quintet of Tusseau, Fernandez, Tigana, Giresse and Platini.

Careca's goal after 17 minutes was trademark Brazil; a sudden increase in tempo, a bamboozling interchange of split-second, one-touch passes to create space from nothing, and an unerring finish. They failed to build on their lead though, and France drew level four minutes before half-time through Platini, playing one of the biggest games of his life on his 31st birthday. An amazing second half saw Brazil miss an open goal (Socrates) and a penalty (Zico). Attacks continued to reign down at both ends. It was natural to assume that extra-time would see French legs tire, but their reprieve seemed to inject a new resolve into the team and they surged forward with purpose, out-possessing Brazil and looking the more likely to emerge victorious. It's a credit to both teams that neither played for penalties, especially given the heat, but destiny had in store that the French were to revisit the cauldron of the shootout - a place that held so much fear for them after the heartache of four summers before.

Socrates missed with the opening spot-kick, and France held the advantage until Platini stepped up to take the fourth kick and sent it over the bar. Julio Cesar, however, failed to level matters as his spot-kick hit the post, leaving Luis Fernandez to send France through to what appeared to be a date with destiny -another semi-final against West Germany, and an opportunity for revenge.

It was not to be. The Germans won a lame game 2-0. Perhaps it was not such a surprise; the quarter-final took everything out of Les Bleus, and the Germans were the beneficiaries of their extreme fatigue. Brazilian misery was compounded eight days later as their fierce South American rivals Argentina lifted the World Cup.

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