The 1986 World Cup in Mexico was the last chance for this golden generation to lift the trophy. The squad was nevertheless also supplemented by some good young players, among them the outstanding defenders Branco from Fluminense and Julio Cesar from Guaraní, as well as the dangerous São Paulo striker Careca.
The Brazilians had started the tournament well with three consecutive victories in the first round against Spain, Algeria and Northern Ireland. In the last-16 they had defeated an ageing Polish side 4-0, but the true test of their strength would come against the European champions of France in the quarterfinals.
France, who had reached the semifinals of the 1982 World Cup arguably had one of the best teams in the world. In 1984, at home, they had been awesome in taking the European championship, where the Juventus star and three-time European player of the year (1983, 84 and 85) Michel Platini had been absolutely outstanding.
Platini was nevertheless not alone, as he presided over what was dubbed “the magic square” (Carré Magique) on the French midfield, composed of Platini himself, the superb Alain Giresse from Bordeaux, and the defensive midfielders Jean Tigana, also from Bordeaux, and Luis Fernandez from Paris Saint-Germain. In defence the French had one of the best defenders of his age, Monaco’s Manuel Amoros, as well as the veteran Nantes’ player Maxime Bossis.
The French had not been that strong in their first matches though, where they had only managed a 1-0 victory against Canada on a late goal by the young Jean-Pierre Papin, then tied 1-1 with the strong USSR and defeated the poor Hungarians 3-0. In the last-16 the French had been faced with the defending world champions of Italy, whom they had defeated 2-0, and were now to face Brazil in one of the most anticipated quarterfinals of the tournament: Brazil and France were two of the best teams in the world in 1986, both playing exhilarating and entertaining football.
The match was no disappointment, and although it perhaps lacked goals, it was one of the best displays of technical skill, attacking football and pace in World Cup history.
The match started at a fast pace, and only after a few minutes Manuel Amoros had an excellent shot from outside. Manuel Amoros would in fact be at the center of the action, playing an outstanding match in defence as the Brazilians attacked again and again. After 17 minutes, following quick combinations between Muller and Junior, the latter found Careca alone at the edge of the area, and the São Paulo striker made no mistake in bringing Brazil ahead.
Brazil continued attacking, and the French defenders fought well, although also with some luck, as when Muller hit the woodwork. However, France patiently worked themselves into the match, and after 41 minutes Dominique Rocheteau centered from the right side. The ball was slightly deflected by a defender, as Yannck Stopyra crashed into the Brazilian goalkeeper Carlos trying to get a header, but with both missing the ball. On the far post, Michel Platini had no problem pushing the ball into an empty goal, as Carlos and Stopyra lay in the center.
The score was 1-1 at halftime.
Both teams opened up more in the second half, and seeking goals, both teams had good chances, although Brazil came closest, with Careca hitting the post on an excellent header. But as the match advanced and nothing happened, the Brazilian coach Tele Santana decided to change Muller for the legendary Zico, who had started the match as a substitute. And after only five minutes the ageing Brazilian took center stage: a perfect through-ball to Branco forced the Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Joel Bats to make a penalty. The experienced Zico was to take it, but shot poorly against the experienced Bats (who is still considered one of the best French goalkeepers of all time), who saved.
Brazil had seen victory within their reach, but the match ended 1-1, and went into extra time.
Although the players were tired after 90 minutes in the hot Guadalajara sun, both teams still sought victory, with the best chance coming to France’s striker Bruno Bellone, who had come on as a substitute for Rocheteau. Alone with Carlos, the French goalkeeper clearly went for Bellone, who out of balance from Carlos foul missed his chance.
Scandalously, the Romanian referee Igna didn’t do anything against this clear foul.
Thus, the extraordinary match would have to be decided by a nerve-wrecking penalty shootout.
One of the greatest stars, Zico, had missed a penalty. Now, Brazil’s captain, Sócrates, was to shoot the first penalty for Brazil, and his shot was also spectacularly saved by Bats. All the advantages were now with France. At the score 3-3, Michel Platini had to shoot for France to bring them ahead; with his experience and technique, it was a surprise when he shot over goal, levelling the shoot-out to the relief of the Brazilians.
All the super-stars seemed to be missing penalties!
It was then the turn of the defender Julio Cesar, who at the time was playing in the French club Stade Brestois 29, to shoot. His hard shot hit the post, and the score was levelled again before the last player went to shoot: Luis Fernandez, the experienced Paris Saint-Germain midfielder made no mistake in scoring the winning penalty for France on a low shot to the right of Carlos.
Zico and Sócrates would never be world champions, this being their last World Cup. In the meantime, the French had proven strongest against the toughest opposition, and emerged from this match as favorites for the world cup title together with Argentina. However, in the semifinal France was to face their eternal nightmare, West Germany. And just as had happened in 1982, West Germany proved to be too clever for the French, who had to return to France with bronze medals.
France and Brazil in 1986 were two of the best teams ever never to win a world championship, but still gave the world a wonderful match in their quarterfinal. All men on that pitch that day went far beyond being athletes, but became artists.
I was not old, but remember watching this match and being in awe at the speed, quality and intensity. It was true football beauty all the way through, and I think I still remember the match as the best I have ever watched.
- 21st June 1986, Estadio Jalisco, Guadalajara
- Attendance: 65,000
- Referee: Ioan Igna (Romania)
Goals: 1-0 Careca (17), 1-1 Platini (40)
Socrates missed for Brazil
Platini missed for France
Julio Cesar missed for Brazil
Brazil: Carlos, Edinho, Junior (Silas), Julio Cesar, Alemão, Branco, Socrates, Elzo, Muller (Zico), Josimar, Careca
France: Bats; Amoros, Battiston, Bossis, Tusseau, Fernandez, Platini, Giresse (Ferreri), Tigana, Rocheteau (Bellone), Stopyra