Euro ‘84: The mind-bending magic of Michel Platini’s hat-trick vs Belgium

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Michel Platini Euro 1984

It is perhaps difficult to imagine for a generation that did not see Michel Platini play, but the man that would eventually go on to become the UEFA president — a hard-nosed, unrepentant football politician of disrepute, and all-round pantomime villain — was once upon a time portrayed as the betrayed and unfairly vanquished genius of the global game.

At the 1982 World Cup, in Spain, Platini had been the hypnotic figurehead of what was viewed as Europe’s most aesthetically pleasing team.

What played out was a tense and emotional psychological melodrama, laced with heartbreak, both on and off the pitch. A slow start to the tournament, when defeated by England in their opening group game, was nervously remedied.

A comfortable victory over Kuwait, resplendent with the uproar of the head of the Kuwaiti FA, Sheikh Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, imploring his players to leave the pitch, and successfully having what appeared to be a legitimate fourth French goal overturned, was followed by an anxious last few minutes against Czechoslovakia to see themselves into the second round.

Thrown into the mix of this eclectic route into a three-nation second round group stage, alongside Austria and Northern Ireland, was scandal. Stories had circulated that Platini’s wife had been involved in an affair with his international and club teammate, Jean-François Larios, and France’s loss to England had suggested the two could no longer play together. Which they indeed never did again.

Larios had played in France’s opening defeat to England, before being replaced by Bernard Genghini for the Kuwait game. He would sit on the sidelines, until handed a game in Platini’s absence, for the third-placed play off, then never play for his national team ever again.

Michel Hidalgo’s team showed a rich sense of spirit in Spain, to fight back from almost every setback they encountered. Their iconic semi-final did prove to be a bridge too far, however, when despite having led West Germany 3-1 in extra time, they were eventually defeated on penalties, on an evening when the entire planet must have been behind them, after Harald Schumacher’s indifference to his infamous and brutal treatment of Patrick Battiston.

Two years later, with France the hosts of the 1984 European Championship, the opportunity for redemption was presented to Platini, who by now was a Juventus player, while the ostracised Larios was trying to reinvent himself in Switzerland, with Neuchâtel Xamax.

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 wonderfully talented Denmark. Yet, it was four days later, at Nantes’ Stade de la Beaujoire, that Platini and his teammates really sparked into life.

Belgium had started their campaign by easing to a 2-0 victory over Yugoslavia, in Lens, and as the beaten finalists of the 1980 European Championship, they were a team not to be taken lightly.

Led by the legendary Guy Thys, Belgium had no shortage of talent at their disposal. Jean-Maire Pfaff, one of the most respected goalkeepers in Europe, was blessed to marshal a defence that included the excellent Georges Grün, while their midfield was the envy of most nations, inhabited by the complimentary gifts of Enzo Scifo, René Vandereycken, Franky Vercauteren, and the magnificent Jan Ceulemans. Up front, the prolific Erwin Vandenbergh was partnered by the future Tottenham Hotspur striker, Nico Claesen.

Within four minutes, France had the lead.

After Platini rolled him the ball, at a free kick some 30 yards from goal, Battiston let loose with a wonderful dipping effort that rattled violently off the Belgian crossbar. As it ricocheted back towards the edge of the penalty area, Platini and Paul Lambrichts were the first players to react.

Lambrichts should have reached the ball before Platini did, and he would have done so, had he not completely misjudged the bounce. Making the most of the mistake, the French captain was onto it in a flash. Calm control with his right foot and a devastating finish with his left, Pfaff had little chance as the ball flew past him, low and just inside his left-hand post. Intuitive and instinctive, it was a stunning piece of football.

The noise in the Stade de la Beaujoire was deafening.

As a hint to the double-sided coin of his personality, Platini was soon throwing himself down in search of a penalty, in the most unconvincing of manners, while Belgium sought to gain parity with a series of their own attacks.

Before the interval, however, France had scored two more goals. Alain Giresse with a delicious effort, and Luis Fernández on the stroke of half time. Giresse was to be as influential in this game as Platini was.

It was an incensed Belgium that began the second half within an admirably determined aura. Thys’ side forcing the play, the closest they came to scoring was when Michel De Wolf hit the post. Unrewarded for their attempts to carve a way back into the game, however, Platini killed them off when finally getting the penalty he had failed to procure earlier on.

In the final moments of the game, Platini completed his hat-trick with a glancing header off Pfaff’s left-hand post.

A harsh scoreline on a Belgium side that fought to the very end, for Platini and France it was the moment that their Euro 84 campaign truly took flight. While the narrow victory over Denmark had been a valuable one, this was the one that engendered the self-belief that would ultimately take Hidalgo’s team all the way to glory.

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 have achieved since 1984, it is that first major success, and the influence of Platini and his awe-inspiring teammates, against which every French team continues to be measured.

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