A big part of the dramatic tension in the Euros lies in the history behind every single match. I’m not talking about contrived history, like how England is forever doomed to lose to Germany on penalties. I’m talking about the history you have to learn about in school. The stuff with shifting lines on maps, and endless lists of dates, the stuff that turns Austria vs Hungary, normally bit players in modern European football, into Must See TV.
Understanding the history between Germany and France would require a semester-length undergraduate course. Even the football history is complicated, up to and including their friendly last November. There’s a kind of pall that hangs over the proceedings, even in the postwar era. Yet the tension also lends itself to some incredible moments on the pitch. Including one of the most incredible games in international football. Ever.
This week, we look back at that memorable clash— West Germany vs France at the 1982 World Cup.
Did you know that Spain can get really hot in the summer? Apparently FIFA forgot when they decided to award them hosts of the 1982 World Cup. The normal solution when cities have daily highs in the upper nineties with intense humidity is to schedule evening kickoffs. Seville, one of the hottest cities in Europe, had to schedule their World Cup fixtures for 9pm due to the heat. Even so, West Germany and France, held at Seville’s Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, kicked off with temperatures hovering around 98 °F.
The game got off to a rollicking start. Pierre Littbarski squeezed a rebounded shot past the keeper and a couple defenders in the 17th minute to draw first blood. The West Germans had all of ten minutes to enjoy their lead before conceding a penalty, converted by Michel Platini. (Yes, THAT Michel Platini.)
That’s when things got interesting.
Following France’s equalizer, German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher, perhaps possessed by his Merovingian ancestors, brought centuries of pent-up aggression out on opposing French attackers. Had he been born 15, 20, 25 years later, a promising career in MMA would’ve awaited him once he was finished in the Bundesliga. In these moments, he embodied the very spirit of the West German side— willing and able to win by any means necessary.
Yet that ruthlessness was not without consequence.
In the 50th minute, Patrick Battiston came on for France. Ten minutes later, he found himself alone on goal with only Schumacher to beat. Panicked, the German keeper ran out to try and block the shot. He hurled himself at Battiston to either block the shot or bring him down in the attempt. The Frenchman got the shot off but it drifted wide of the post. But by the time the ball left his foot, Schumacher was already in the air. They collided, with Schumacher’s hip crashing into Battiston’s face. Schumacher was fine. Battiston… was not.
The Frenchman collapsed in a heap. He was unconscious. His ribs were cracked. He lost some teeth. He had to be carried off the pitch in a stretcher. He later slipped into a coma (but eventually woke up). Michel Platini said after the game that he thought Battiston was dead. All the while, Schumacher paced back and forth, impatient, annoyed that the game was being held up. Needless to say, the French fans were not endeared to the German keeper.
With Battiston carried off and the French squad visibly shaken, both sides tried to carry on.They hurled themselves at the goal but neither could make a breakthrough. The clock ticked on past 90 minutes with no winner.
Moments into the start of extra time, Marius Trésor scored off of a set piece. A few minutes later, Alain Giresse finished a tidy goal to put France up 3-1. This should have booked a place in the Final.
Alas, no. Karl Rummenigge pulled one back in the 102nd minute and Klaus Fischer equalized in the 108th. France had collapsed, West Germany had roared back into life.
Neither side could find that winning goal, however.
We all know penalties are brutal. You don’t need me to tell you this. But they are especially harsh when both teams have gone after each other full-tilt. When teams sit back and try not to lose, penalties almost seem like a fitting punishment. Here, they were a cruel lottery.
And, of course, the Germans came out on top. Both sides finished five frames level, but it was settled in the first sudden death round when Maxime Bossis failed to convert. Horst Hrubesch hit his target. That was that.
West Germany, of course, went on to lose to Italy 3-1 in the Final. It would take 34 years for the Germans to break their Italy curse.
As for France, well,……going into the ups and downs of French football in the past 30 years could also be an college-level class, though they were buoyed by a European Championship win only two years later on home soil.
This football rivalry, with all its historical and cultural baggage, will be renewed later today as France and Germany fight for the right to take on Portugal in the Euro 2016 Final on Sunday. (3pm EST on ESPN).
And in case you’re wondering— Schumacher got in touch with Battiston and apologized, and the latter graciously accepted. Sometimes you can put the past to rest.