Friday, 27 May 2016

1984 European Championships

Looking back on the 1984 European Championships, which despite the lack of British and Irish representation, managed to limp on nonetheless. A tournament involving French flair, an early exit for the holders, penalty anguish for one of the stars of the championships, and tragedy. Just a shame we didn't get to see more of it. 


With only seven qualifying group winners joining the hosts, there were some notable absentees in France. World Cup holders Italy had finished fourth in a group topped by Romania; Denmark knocked out England, the English press back tracking from their original opinion that the Danes would be a pushover; Northern Ireland beat West Germany twice, the Germans scraping through with a late goal against ten-man Albania; Wales came even closer, eliminated cruelly via a last minute Yugoslavian goal against Bulgaria.

Scotland finished bottom of their group, as Belgium progressed; Portugal recovered from a 5-0 defeat in the Soviet Union to make their first major championship since 1966; and Spain made it to France in controversial circumstances. Needing to win by eleven clear goals in Seville against Malta, the Spanish missed a penalty but still somehow managed to triumph 12-1. Little wonder the story made John Craven's Newsround. Little wonder that there were a few raised eyebrows in the Netherlands, the Dutch knocked out in the most extraordinary way.

Television blackout

With no home nation representation in France, both the BBC and ITV decided to snub the tournament. Just two matches were shown live - the West Germany v Spain group match, and the final - a crying shame for those of us starved of football on television. The BBC did screen Uruguay-England live, and ITV showed just the second half of Brazil-England (thus missing John Barnes' wonder goal), yet to not cover Euro 1984 seemed an odd decision.

Realistically, though, TV bosses probably thought that a football tournament with no home nations participating in it was unlikely to be a ratings winner. Football was hardly sexy at the time, so you can see the logic, although the decision by both to mainly show highlights did deprive British and Irish viewers of watching some classic matches as they happened.


If the accusation can be levelled that there are too many teams at Euro 2016, this was certainly not an issue at Euro 1984. With the eight teams drawn into two groups, there was little room for manoeuvre, as the top two teams from both moved into the semi finals. Yugoslavia's manager Todor Veselinovic summed up the situation neatly: "Only one mistake early on and you're out. Three draws could take you to the semi-final."

France were seen as the favourites for the tournament, with the emerging Denmark team expected to accompany the hosts through to the semis at the expense of Belgium and Yugoslavia. Reigning champions West Germany were naturally fancied in the other group, with many predicting a tight fight between Spain, Portugal and Romania for the runner-up spot. Alas, this would be a rare tournament in which the usually well-oiled German machine would splutter.

Simonsen agony

The opening match of the tournament paired together two teams that many experts predicted would contest the final just fifteen days later at the same Parc des Princes stadium. Denmark's respect for France was plain for all to see; Klaus Berggreen sticking to French star Michel Platini like a rash, as the Danes looked to frustrate the hosts.

The plan was going well, but after 43 minutes came an incident that would test the resolve of Sepp Piontek's players. Challenging for a 50-50 with French defender Yvon Le Roux, it soon became apparent that Allan Simonsen was in a lot of trouble. The European Footballer of the Year in 1977 was left writhing in pain, his left shin broken. It was a truly sickening incident, as explained in the superb Danish Dynamite. "Players and the fans in the stadium that day still talk about the sound. It sounded like a branch breaking in a tree."

Amoros loses his head

You might have forgiven the Danes for feeling sorry for themselves. The Simonsen injury was upsetting enough, and when Platini finally escaped the clutches of Berggreen in the 78th minute to claim a deflected winner, the mental strength of the visitors was fully examined. So it was a little surprising that it would be a Frenchman who would inexplicably lose the plot.

Manuel Amoros clashed with substitute Jesper Olsen, trying to throw the ball at the Dane, before headbutting his opponent in an act that would have serious implications for France's captain. Justifiably sent off, Amoros was subsequently suspended for three matches - the French appealed unsuccessfully to get the punishment reduced - and the emergence of Jean-Francois Domergue saw Amoros miss out on a place in France's XI for the final. And all because of one moment of madness.

Belgium roller coaster

As preparations go, Belgium's run-up to Euro 1984 was far from ideal. The Standard Liege-Waterschei match fixing scandal at the end of the 1981/82 season had resulted in bans for defenders Eric Gerets, Walter Meeuws and Gerard Plessers, leaving manager Guy Thys with a selection headache at the back. Jean-Marie Pfaff was a rock solid presence in goal, and the team had enough talent in midfield and attack - Franky Vercauteren, Enzo Scifo, Rene Vandereycken, and Jan Ceulemans playing in the hole behind Erwin Vandenbergh and Nico Claesen - but how would they cope with the upheaval in their defence?

The Belgians did at least kick off their tournament on a high, a 2-0 win over Yugoslavia setting them up nicely for the greater examination that awaited against France. Unfortunately the team were brought back to earth with a massive bump, France's midfield completing running the show, with Platini netting a hat-trick, and Alain Giresse and Jean Tigana also shining. All was not lost for Belgium, but due to Denmark's 5-0 hammering of Yugoslavia, only a win would do in their final group match in Strasbourg.

And what a match Belgium-Denmark turned out to be, as the former experienced emotional highs and lows within the 90 minutes that they had gone through in the tournament already. After 39 minutes Belgium appeared to have one foot in the semis, Ceulemans and Vercauteren giving them a 2-0 lead. Crucially Denmark hit back immediately, Frank Arnesen converting a penalty after Walter de Greef tripped Preben Elkjær, and when Vandenbergh missed a glorious one-on-one chance early in the second half, the Danes made Belgium pay.

Substitute Kenneth Brylle equalised after the hour, as tempers continued to flare. There may have been ten Anderlecht players on the pitch at one point, yet the confrontation between club mates Morten Olsen and Vandereycken highlighted how high the stakes were. The final word would go to the brilliant Elkjær, though. Breaking free from both Voordeckers and De Greef, the Danish striker beat Pfaff to confirm Denmark's place in the semi-finals with a stunning goal. Elkjær was in demand, Tottenham's Peter Shreeves amongst those in the crowd watching him, but news would soon break that the Dane was to join Verona, ahead of what would be a glorious season for the Italian club.


Yugoslavia would be the only nation to lose all their matches, yet this didn't seem important after what the team went through in France. Tinker man Veselinovic had used 53 players since the 1982 World Cup, and the pressure of the job was apparent when he was admitted to hospital with stress and exhaustion after Denmark had beaten his team 5-0. But worse was to follow.

The team pushed France all the way, Platini scoring another hat-trick in a 3-2 win that restored a bit of pride within the Yugoslav camp. But tragedy would strike the team when doctor Milenovic collapsed on the pitch after a heart attack, and would later die in hospital. After the championships, Veselenovic resigned, completing a wretched few weeks for him and his players.

West Germany crash out

In comparison, Group Two was not quite so entertaining, yet come the conclusion there would be drama. West Germany opened their campaign with a disappointing display, their 0-0 draw with Portugal bringing criticism that the team was full of muscle but very little guile. Inevitably the squad brushed this aside, defeating Romania 2-1 after a Rudi Voller brace, and with both Spain and Portugal drawing their two matches, the adage of never writing off the Germans seemed to be coming true yet again.

Indeed the Germans would enjoy the better of the first half against Spain, hitting the woodwork three times, although Spain did blow the best chance when Carrasco's spot kick was saved by the universally unpopular Harald Schumacher. Down the other end, skipper and keeper Luis Arconada kept Spain in the match, but despite Maceda and Senor going close, it looked as if West Germany would get the point they required. And then the dramatic finale.

With just seconds remaining, sweeper Maceda headed in Senor's cross, and the millions of television viewers in Europe, including those watching live on BBC 1, were now facing the reality that the mighty West Germans were going home.

It's reassuring that even the Germans go through a lot of soul searching after an early tournament exit, and in 1984 it would be manager Jupp Derwall who fell on his sword to make way for Franz Beckenbauer. The West German paper Bild pondered the problems facing the national team. But their next four tournaments would see them finish as runners-up, semi-finalists, winners, and runners-up. Crisis? What crisis?

Platini clinches a classic

Portugal accompanied Spain through from Group Two, yet even with talented stars such as Fernando Chalana, Rui Jordao, and Nene, not many gave them a prayer against the French. Even more so when deputy left back Domergue pushed Platini to one side before hammering in a free kick after 24 minutes. The Marseille Velodrome exploded, expectations growing that the French would stroll their way to the final.

But with every Manuel Bento save the tension grew and grew. And when the little genius Chalana crossed from the left and Jordao headed an equaliser in the 74th minute, the air was gradually being let out of the French balloon. Bento still had time to deny Platini and Six once more, as the match ticked over into extra-time.

The Chalana-Jordao partnership worked once more after 98 minutes, the Portuguese winger turning Domergue inside out before crossing for Jordao to volley a bouncer past Joel Bats, leaving the hosts on the brink, and vulnerable to the counter attack. The clock ticked down, the hosts frantically knocking at the Portuguese door but finding Bento in their way. Portugal were just six minutes from the final when Domergue found himself on the edge of the visitors six-yard box, toe-poking home an equaliser, as relief spread throughout the country.

It looked as if penalties would decide the fate of both teams, a seemingly unsatisfactory way to end such a breathless classic, yet Jean Tigana had other ideas. Driving towards the Portuguese penalty area, Tigana cut back an inviting cross for Platini, the French skipper remaining calm amongst the mayhem to fire France to the final. The French were delirious, the Portuguese collapsed to the floor, as John Motson lost his s**t for all of us to hear on the Saturday night highlights. A truly memorable encounter that left you exhausted just watching it.

Danish heartbreak

The other semi-final was just as tense, maybe lacking slightly in the pulsating nature of France-Portugal, but nevertheless, just as nerve wracking. Denmark took a third minute lead through Soren Lerby, only for Maceda to come up trumps again, his 67th minute equaliser sending the match into extra-time.

Berggreen was sent off during the extra half hour, on a night that an Englishman finally made an impression on Euro 84. Along with Berggreen's dismissal, George Courtney booked eight players, including Spaniards Gordillo and Maceda, meaning both men would miss the final.

And so to the penalty shoot out. Courtney would take centre stage again, ordering Michael Laudrup to retake his missed penalty after he had adjudged that Arconada had moved from his line, but soon the Danish luck would run out. Cruelly it would be Elkjær that would miss the crucial kick at 4-4, the great Dane despondent as he trudged away in his torn shorts. It wasn't supposed to end like this.

Manuel Sarabia scored the winning penalty, as Spain celebrated, once again progressing by the skin of their teeth. Maybe their name was on the trophy after the Malta escapade, the late triumph over West Germany, and the penalty shoot out win over Denmark? If Spain were to go one better than their U21 counterparts - beaten by England in the U21 European Championship final - then they would definitely need to up their game against a Platini-inspired France.

Allez les bleus

In truth the final was not as dramatic as what had passed before, yet the vast majority of the 47,368 crowd inside the Parc des Princes did not care. Spain carried on from where they left off against Denmark, their strong tackling earning a couple of early cautions, yet they almost contrived to take the lead through a Santillana header which Battiston cleared off the line.

Gradually Tigana began to exert his influence on the match, David Miller writing in The Times that "it would not be difficult to claim that he was the most significant figure in France's five victories, even allowing for Platini's flurry of usually superbly taken goals." Both would play a part in France's goals. Unfortunately for Luis Arconada, he would figure heavily in Platini's opener.

Throughout the tournament, Arconada had excelled, but very much like Oliver Kahn in the 2002 World Cup final, he chose an inopportune moment to make a mistake. Platini's free kick was initially saved by the keeper, yet somehow the ball squirmed under Arconada and apologetically limped over the line. Elation for Platini, who had now scored in every match. Dejection for captain Arconada.

Spain never really recovered. France's Yvon Le Roux was sent off for a second caution after 85 minutes, but Arconada's error had taken the wind from the Spanish sails. When Tigana put Bruno Bellone through in the last minute, the French forward clipped the ball over Arconada to seal France's triumph. Few would dispute that they deserved their first major trophy.

What a way for French manager Michel Hildago to sign off. His team may have lacked a quality striker - Bellone's goal was the only one scored by a French forward in the tournament - yet the same nation showed in 1998 that a strong defence and midfield can win you many matches. "It was a triumph for attacking football after years of defensive attitudes," Hildago stated in the celebrations. It was hard to disagree with that sentiment.

Some felt Tigana was the star of Euro 1984, yet it is hard to look beyond the contribution of Platini and his nine goals. Very much like another number ten in 1986, France's captain will be remembered for peaking during a major championship, and leading his country to glory at the same time.

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