When France last hosted the Euro finals 32 years ago, the tournament was smaller (eight contestants) and shorter (15 days) than the forthcoming 24-team, four-week marathon.
Uefa was smaller in the Cold War era, and the 32 national teams who contested qualification included East Germany, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. The squads of the finalists comprised 20 players, of whom two could be used as subs in any match.
Disciplinary rules were different, too. Yellow cards from the qualifying competition carried into the finals. This gave France, who qualified automatically, an unfair advantage.
The 15 matches (this year has 51) were played at seven stadia, of which the largest was Marseille’s Stade Velodrome (55,308). Fittingly, the biggest venue staged the best match, an epic semi-final in which France beat Portugal 3-2. Michel Platini scored the winner that night, and he was the shining star of a high-quality tournament. Of 14 goals netted by France on the path to glory, Platini notched an astonishing nine. No player in Euro history has made a more sustained impact on the final stages.
Midfielder Platini, who turned 29 during the tournament, swung the opening match at Parc des Princes with a late winner against Denmark, who suffered the loss of the brilliant Allan Simonsen to a broken leg. The Juventus ace then struck twice in a 5-0 demolition of Belgium, whose team included goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff, midfielders Enzo Scifo and Jan Ceulemans and striker Nico Claesen.
Captain Platini followed up with a hat-trick against Yugoslavia (3-2), while Denmark beat Belgium by the same score to claim runners-up spot in Group One and a semi-final ticket.
Group Two was cagier. Holders West Germany, who only qualified on goal difference ahead of a Northern Ireland team who beat them home and away, lacked inspiration and drew 0-0 with Portugal. Spain and Romania also finished level (1-1).
Starting the last pair of matches, all four teams had chances to progress. Portugal took theirs by beating Romania 1-0, and West Germany were set to join them until a last-minute header by defender Antonio Maceda dethroned the champions 1-0 and ensured Spain’s place in the last four.
Both semi-finals were memorable. Inspired by midfielders Jaime Pacheco and Fernando Chalana, Portugal survived the loss of a first-half goal to force extra-time through Jordao’s headed equaliser. When the same player put Portugal in front, French dreams were fading. But full-back Jean-Francois Domergue scrambled France level with his second goal, before the tireless Jean Tigana’s lung-bursting run created the winner for Platini.
Dynamic Denmark and fast-improving Spain contested the second semi-final. Organised by sweeper Morten Olsen and driven forward by Frank Arnesen, Soren Lerby, Michael Laudrup and Preben Elkjaer-Larsen, the Danes made a big impact in France.
Spain’s spine grew stronger as the tournament unfolded (goalkeeper Luis Arconada, defender José Camacho, midfielders Senor and Victor, and striker Carlos Santillana). A penalty shoot-out was needed after a 1-1 draw in Lyon. Spain advanced, but neutrals regretted Denmark’s departure.
The final at Parc des Princes was tense and cautious involving two tired teams. Spain settled quicker but couldn’t find a way past Joel Bats, in front of whom Max Bossis was a commanding leader. As often happens, the match turned on a mistake. The unlucky player was Spain keeper Arconada, who let Platini’s free-kick squeeze under him in the 56th minute.
As Spain pressed, France counter- attacked and Tigana fed Bruno Bellone for the goal that sealed France’s first international triumph. Bellone was the only recognised striker in Michel Hidalgo’s squad to score in the finals.
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