French glory and le carré magique.
It was France that started the World Cup. It France that started the European Championships. So why then, 54 years after the first World Cup and 24 years after the first European Championships, had the French not won either of the tournaments they started? What did they need to get them over the line?
The answer: possibly the greatest team of a generation.
After a heartbreaking defeat in the 1982 World Cup much was expected of the France in the 1984 European championships. Michel Hidalgo’s side came into the 1984 finals as favourites to lift the trophy.
With Michel Platini in midfield alongside Luis Fernandez, Alain Giresse and Jean Tigana, they formed the carre magique or ‘magic square’. Having qualified as hosts France played friendlies in the build up to the tournament and had a formidable record, playing 14 games, losing only twice, scoring 20 goals and not conceding a single goal in the 5 games prior to the tournament.
Platini scored the winning goal in his side’s opening group match against Denmark, before netting a hat-trick against Belgium in the next game and ending a group stage masterclass with another hat-trick in the 3-2 defeat of Yugoslavia in Saint-Etienne.
Speaking to the BBC years later John Motson said of the then 28-year-old: “In that tournament, Platini was unbelievable. I’d put him on the same level as Diego Maradona at the 1986 World Cup and Johan Cruyff in 1976.”
The French marched to victory on home soil, winning all 5 of their games, scoring 14 and conceding just 4.