During the 1960s and 1970s French football had gone into decline, but in 1976 Michel Hidalgo became national team coach, and he began building up a team around one of the most talented generations ever in French football. In the 1982 World Cup they played fantastic football and made it to a semi-final against West Germany which remains one of the most dramatic matches in World Cup history. As hosts of the European Championship of 1984 they did not have to qualify, and were huge favourites to win the tournament.
The undisputed star of the team was Michel Platini from Juventus, European footballer of the year in 1983, and soon to become the same in 1984 and 1985. But other brilliant players complemented him: Alain Giresse and Jean Tigana from Bordeaux, were generally considered two of the best midfielders in the world, and along with Platini and Luis Fernandez from Paris Saint Germain, they formed what was considered “the magic square”, the best midfield in the world at the time. On goal, Joel Bats from Auxerre was a solid goalkeeper behind a defense with strong players such as Patrick Battiston from Bordeaux, Maxime Bossis from Nantes and Manuel Amoros from Monaco. Up front the players that had the luxury of benefitting from the “Magic Square” were Bordeaux's Bernard Lacombe or Monaco's Bernard Genghini.
They had been awesome during the tournament: three victories in the first round against Denmark, Belgium and Yugoslavia put them up as huge favourites in the semifinals where they would meet Portugal, who was somewhat of a surprise in their first semifinals in the first European Championship ever.
Portugal had not done any great things since the 1966 World Cup, but had built up a side that would also make it to the World Cup of 1986, and this 1984 Euro was their first. They entered the tournament without huge expectations although everyone had noted that they in qualification had eliminated Poland (1982 World Cup bronze winners) and the USSR. In a group with West Germany, Spain, and Romania, Portugal surprised again: they opened with 0-0 against the Germans and then tied Spain 1-1. A 1-0 victory against Romania was enough to put them in the semifinals.
The Portuguese side was formed purely of players from the country's two big sides, Benfica and FC Porto, except for the veteran striker from Sporting Lisbon, Rui Jordao, who was also one of he most important players on the team alongside the Benfica striker Diamantino. The star of the team was Fernando Chalana from Benfica, still considered one of the greatest Portuguese players of all time and the leading midfield general of the Portuguese. The side was captained by the experienced Benfica goalkeeper Manuel Bento.
As hosts of the tournament France were the undoubted favourites against Portugal, and many considered that the semifinal would be a walkover on the way to the final, but the Portuguese wanted it differently in what would become one of the greatest matches in European Championship history.
In first half things seemed to go as planned for the French who were dominant. After 24 minutes Michel Platini was fouled outside the area, a place where the Frenchman was an expert free kick taker. However, it was not him who scored, it was Toulouse's Jean Francois Domergue.
The only consolation from the first half for the Portuguese was that they were only 1-0 down. In the second half they improved, but France still dominated, but without being able to pass Bento to score a decisive goal. Instead, as often happens in football, Portugal equalised when Jordao scored his first goal of the tournament on a header after a perfect cross by Chalana. This seemed to give the Portuguese renewed heart, but it was Bento who again made a spectacular double save that led to a tie and extra time.
It was now Portugal who seemed to have more energy, and eight minutes into extra time Chalana dribbled elegantly on the right side, made a cross into the French penalty box where Jordao on the far side volleyed the ball into an unlikely Portuguese lead.
Time seemed to move slower for Portugal from that moment, as France put everything into attack. Five minutes before the end Domergue equalised for France when receiving a ball that the Portuguese had been unable to clear. And just one minute from the end Portuguese dreams of a surprise were shattered when Jean Tigana ran through a Portuguese defense, and from the back line centered into an unmarked Michel Platini, who was as cool as an ice-cube when stopping the ball and placing it hard behind struggling Portuguese defenders.
Michel Platini's eighth goal of the tournament and surely his most important, as it put France in a final that they would end up defeating Spain in.
This was perhaps the best match in European Championship history.
Marseille, 23rd June 1984,
Referee: Paolo Bergamo, Italy
France: Joel Bats; Jean-François Domergue, Maxime Bossis, Patrick Battiston, Yvan Le Roux, Luis Fernandez, Michel Platini, Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana, Didier Six (Bruno Bellon, 104), Bernard Lacombe (Jean Marc Ferreri, 64). Coach: Michel Hidalgo
Portugal: Bento; Joao Pinto, Lima Pereira, Eurico, Álvaro, Chalana, António Sousa (Nene, 62), Frasco, Jaime Pacheco, Diamantino (Fernando Gomes, 64), Jordão. Coach: Cabrita
1-0 Domergue (24)
1-1 Jordão (74)
1-2 Jordão (98)
2-2 Domergue (114)
3-2 Platini (119)