FIFA World Cup 1986: The final four in action as the semi-finals take place in Mexico – day 21

World Cup 1986 day 21 semi-finals France West Germany Argentina Belgium

Day 21, 25th June 1986

The World Cup needed a couple of days off, just to catch its breath after the two knockout rounds so far. Three of the Quarter-Finals went to penalties, with the other providing some of the most talked-about incidents in history. Today was the day where we were left with the last four challengers for World Cup ’86. There had been some classic matches, some great goals but now there were just three more matches till we knew who would lift the World Cup trophy.

One solitary South American country up against three Europeans. No European country had won a World Cup outside the continent. Would this be their year?

The Semi-Finals were a fascinating prospect. In one corner we had a repeat of the epic Semi-Final in Seville four years earlier. West Germany against France. In the other corner was Argentina, along with the greatest player in the world, against Belgium, who’d surprised Europe when reaching the Euro ’80 Final. Now six years later they’d reached the last four in the world.

It promised to be quite a day.

World Cup 1986 SEMI-FINALS

Estadio Jalisco, Guadalajara, 45,000

FRANCE (0) 0

WEST GERMANY (1) 2 (Brehme 9, Völler 90)

FRANCE: Bats; Amoros, Battiston, Bossis, Ayache; Fernández, Giresse (Vercruysse), Tigana, Platini; Bellone (Xuereb), Stopyra

WEST GERMANY: Schumacher; Förster, Eder, Jakobs, Briegel; Rolff, Matthäus, Magath, Brehme; Rummenigge (Völler), Allofs

Four years earlier these two nations had fought an epic battle at the same stage of Spain ’82. In Seville the West Germans came from 1-3 down to force a penalty shootout they ultimately won. Five of the German team that day, were in this one. Karl-Heinz Förster, Toni Schumacher, Felix Magath, Hans-Peter Briegel and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Schumacher became infamous for his assault on France’s Patrick Battiston which left the defender unconscious and with broken ribs. Famously Schumacher didn’t even receive a yellow card for the offence he clearly wasn’t sorry for. Rummenigge had come on as a substitute in extra time and got the Germans back into the game, scoring their second goal. This time round he wasn’t 100% fit either, but Beckenbauer was determined to use him, and started with him for the third time (all of them in the knockout stage). Thomas Berthold was suspended after his sending off against Mexico. Wolfgang Rolff came in to replace him. Rolff’s only other appearance at the tournament was in the defeat to Denmark. He was selected to do a man-to-man marking job on Platini. He’d done the same very effectively in the recent European Cup Final for Hamburg against Juventus.

The French side contained six players from that Seville night. Manuel Amoros, Jean Tigana, Michel Platini, Alain Giresse and Maxime Bossis all started that night with Battiston coming off the bench.

Henri Michel made two changes from the side which beat Brazil in a penalty shootout four days earlier. Bruno Bellone came into attack for Rocheteau. Rocheteau had been a starter in Seville with Bellone an unused substitute. Bellone had made two appearances from the bench this time round, against USSR and Brazil.

Italy, Brazil and now West Germany. This knockout stage had been quite a challenge for the French.

This was the third meeting between the two sides in a World Cup. Apart from the Seville clash, they met back in 1958 when West Germany were the defending champions. France won 6-3 with Just Fontaine scoring four. These were never dull affairs.

The opening ten minutes was cagey with both teams cancelling each other out. Rummenigge was tripped on the far right hand edge of the area. Matthäus knocked it for Brehme to shoot. He fired a left-foot shot round the wall which Bats looked to have well covered. But unbelievably the French keeper let it slip under his body and it went in. 1-0.

It was a dreadful goal for the French to concede.

Giresse then had two half-chances both from passes by Platini. Both went wide.

Then they were awarded a free-kick after Tigana ran all the way from just outside his own area, to the outskirts of the German area. He was obstructed by Jakobs. Giresse chipped it into the box where Platini met it on the volley. Schumacher got down to it but could only parry it up in the air. In came Bossis but from barely four yards out he put the chance over the bar. It was a horrible miss, but he was saved by a sympathetic linesman who flagged for offside.

Not long after, the Germans came forward and Eder and Briegel combined to force a chance. It bounced back out to Rummenigge on the edge of the area. His shot was saved by the feet of Bats. Again, the ball bounced back out. Eventually, Matthäus hit a shot from long range, but Bats held on to it.

As the half wore on the Germans became more and more fluent. One move involving Brehme and Matthäus, ended with Allofs putting Rolff in. But the Hamburg man hit his shot straight at Bats. Again it came back out and Magath had a go. But he just succeeded in finding Bats too and the chance had gone.

After Brehme scuffed a shot wide, France had a really good chance. Ayache joined the attack and as he was played in, he squared the ball for Platini. The French captain was charging into the area with Rolff, who managed to foil the shot.

Eventually the Romanian referee brought the first half proceedings to a close. The Germans went in still leading by a goal.

The two teams couldn’t have been at more opposing conditions at this stage. For West Germany they looked to be getting into their stride. For France it looked like a game too far.

West Germany had the first really good chance of the second half. A quickly taken free-kick on the left caught the French half asleep and Rolff was able to move forward unchallenged. From 30 yards out he decided to have a go and Bats was forced to make a decent save.

Just before the hour Beckenbauer decided he would rest his captain, in anticipation of getting to the Final. Rummenigge came off and Rudi Völler replaced him.

Almost immediately the French came close to getting on level terms. Giresse floated a lovely ball across the area but it was just too far for Platini to reach it on the stretch. This seemed to invigorate them and they came back at the Germans.

Fernandez played Stopyra in down the right wing. He twisted and turned Jakobs, putting the latter on his backside. He made it into the area but his shot was saved by Schumacher’s legs.

This was the best spell of the match for the French and Platini was close again when trying to get on the end of a ball in from the left by Amoros.

Michel then shuffled his pack, taking off Bellone and bringing on Daniel Xuereb. It was his first appearance at this, or any other World Cup. He was playing for Lens at the time and this was only his fourth cap in five years.

France kept the pressure on and finally got the ball in the net. A lovely passing move involving Bossis, who was increasingly joining the attacks, Giresse, Tigana and Fernandez. At last they were able to get put Platini through in the area, but he was offside.

Then with two minutes to go we had the moment the whole world had been waiting for.

Battiston through on goal against Schumacher.

It wasn’t quite ‘Seville revisited’. Battiston joined the attack and as he laid the ball off to Platini in midfield he continued his run down the left-hand side. Platini played it to Fernandez on the edge of the ‘d’. He saw Battiston had now made it into the area and played him in.

Was this to be his revenge? Was this to be a headliners dream? The journey the Frenchman had, had to endure just to get back to playing at this level was remarkable. Could he embarrass his assailant from four years before and level the match for France?

‘Non’, was the answer.

Battiston took one touch too many and tightened the angle for himself. This allowed Jakobs to put in a challenge. In the end the shot was almost a backpass for which Schumacher gleefully collected.

For the final ten minutes both Battiston and Bossis had been heavily involved in the build-up play in each attack. This held a certain symmetry with the events of 1982. It was Bossis who missed the penalty which put France out then. He and Battiston both had reasons to get one over the West Germans.

With just seconds remaining the West Germans were desperately trying to repel everything the French threw at them. As the ball was thumped into the French half Bats came up as far as the centre-circle to get it back into the opposition half. Tigana found Platini wide on the right. His cross into the area was headed away by Eder, but it was headed by in and France had a man free on the penalty spot. It was Bossis.

Once again, the world held its breath. Could he do it? Would this be his redemption for Seville?

‘Non’, was the answer once again.

Bossis fluffed his shot as he tried to volley it in.

Through all the pressure the French had brought on West Germany, their two best chances in the final minutes had fallen to two defenders. Sure, they were the two players with most to prove, but they were not of the same class as a Platini, or a Stopyra, or a Fernandez.

You just knew it was their last hope. As if to rub salt into the wounds, Schumacher would once again have the last word. He threw the ball downfield for Magath. He squared it to Völler who was through one-on-one with Bats. The French keeper came 25 yards off his line but Völler was too clever for him, and far less hasty. He chipped the ball over the keeper, took one touch to control it and passed it into the empty net. 2-0.

The final whistle went, the French were angry, there were words exchanged. But in the end they only had themselves to blame. It wasn’t the classic of four years before. It didn’t have the drama or the controversy. But once again France were left frustrated by the Germans who were just more clinical. West Germany were now through to their fifth World Cup Final, more than any other nation. Since reaching their first in 1954 they’d been in five of the last nine.

Estadio Azteca, Mexico City, 114,500

ARGENTINA (0) 2 (Maradona 51, 63)


ARGENTINA: Pumpido; Brown, Cuciuffo, Ruggeri; Batista, Giusti, Enrique, Olarticoechea, Maradona; Burruchaga (Bochini), Valdano

BELGIUM: Pfaff; Gerets, Renquin (Desmet), Grün, Demol; Scifo, Ceulemans, Vervoort, Vercauteren; Veyt, Claesen

The world was still talking about Diego Maradona. He’d been magnificent throughout the tournament but stepped up a gear against England. We had the good and the bad. One of the greatest goals you were ever likely to witness, coming after a cute piece of skulduggery with his disguised punching of the ball into the net. Bilardo named an unchanged side for the first time in the competition. Henri Enrique kept his place in midfield.

Belgium had come through to very tough knockout matches already. They’d come from 2-3 down to beat the Soviet Union, 4-3. Then they had the penalty shootout win over Spain in the Quarters. Guy Thys also named an unchanged side.

Belgium were bidding for their second major Final appearance in the last three tournaments. Argentina were looking for their second World Cup Final appearance in the last three.

This was the third meeting between the two sides, the first one was the opening game of the last World Cup. Belgium pulled off a shock when Erwin Vandenbergh’s goal beat the defending champions in Barcelona. Argentina won a friendly in Brussels two years later. Maradona missed that game so he’d never been on the winning side against Belgium. Would tonight be different?

Maradona was magnificent against England, but there was a feeling he moved up a gear during this game. He seemed to grow into the England match, as if trying to suss the opposition out first. Against Belgium he was in full flow from the start.

It was almost as if the run he went on for the first goal in the Quarter-Final was ‘a sighter’. In this game he appeared to believe he could do this every time.

The England game looked to have galvanised the team around him too. Don’t fool yourself into believing this was a one-man team. Of course he was the catalyst, the talisman, the leader. But every successful leader needs willing deputies around them. In Burruchaga and Valdano, Maradona found the right type of support. He didn’t really get that four years before and he certainly was unlikely to receive it from the likes of Kempes and Luque eight years before.

The first instance of this saw them stream forward through Enrique. He found Valdano who had no qualms about passing to Maradona with defenders around him. Through a combination of a swing of the hips and the burst of speed over a couple of yards, Maradona was passed three defenders. It took a well timed challenge from Eric Gerets to take the sting out of the shot as Pfaff gratefully received the ball.

Belgium knew they were going to be in a battle to stop him.

Maradona was playing further forward than against England, which made them a more dangerous proposition. As soon as the ball broke in midfield, Burruchaga or Enrique would look to find him straight away.

Minutes after his first foray, it looked like he might do it again but instead he played Burruchaga in and the number seven tried his luck from 25 yards out. It went just wide.

But this was clearly a marker. They would try again. It didn’t take long either.

A lovely interchange of passes between Giusti and Maradona almost put Valdano in. The ball bounced back out and after Olarticoechea control it, Maradona took over. After one touch he struck a venomous left-foot shot from about 25 yards out and it went like a rocket towards the Belgian goal. Pfaff did well to turn it onto the bar. It bounced back out and Valdano was first to react and he turned it in.

Immediately the flag went up for handball. As you can imagine all English commentators crowed at how the Argentine’s weren’t ‘going to get away with it this time’. It was scant consolation for them. Replays showed the ball spun back up at Valdano and was caught between his arm and his side.

It was all Argentina to this point. Burruchaga fooled everyone by taking a free-kick when we all expected Maradona to. His shot went wide.

Belgium finally had a go when Vervoort tried his luck from long-range but Pumpido watched it go harmlessly wide.

They were then a little unlucky when Veyt was booked for protesting over an offside given against him. Ceulemans played him in from the centre circle and he would’ve been away with just the keeper to beat. Replays showed it was just on. He was booked for his protest.

But Argentina came back at them, as you’d expect. Burruchaga played Maradona in down the right wing. He beat Renquin to the ball and pulled it back for Giusti. Ricardo Giusti was just 10 yards out but hooked his shot wide when he had more time to settle himself first.

One aspect of the Belgian play was the counter-attack. At one stage they had three against two but Veyt was again adjudged off as Ceulemans sent him clear. Replays again seemed to indicate the linesman may have got it wrong.

The first half ended goalless. Argentina were the more attacking side, but Belgium had shown they could break at speed and shouldn’t be underestimated.

Burruchaga had the first shot of the second period. Again, it was from outside the area and Pfaff again dealt with it.

Six minutes after half-time and as with the England game, Maradona produced a moment of magic. Burruchaga came inside from the right wing. He waited for Maradona to make the run, then cleverly flicked the ball with the outside of his right foot. The ball had enough wait on it for Maradona to hit it first time.

Yet it was the manner of the finish. With two defenders around him and Pfaff coming off his line smartly, Maradona flicked it with the outside of his left foot into the corner of the net. 1-0.

It illustrated his speed of thought and speed of foot over a few yards. There was no stopping him.

Belgium had a couple of corners they could’ve done better from. Scifo headed over unchallenged when he probably should’ve hit the target. Claesen hooked the ball over the bar from six yards out when trying to convert a shot-cum-cross from Grün.

You knew the sucker punch would come.

Maradona chipped the ball over Renquin for Enrique to run onto and his shot was just over. Then Maradona curled a pass with his left-foot from the right to Valdano on the left of the area. He played it back for Olarticoechea who forced a good save from Pfaff.

Then it happened.

There was a menace about Argentina every time they had the ball in the Belgian half. Players joined the attack but the focal point was also the captain. Cuciuffo came forward and found Maradona 35 yards out. He’d pulled away to give himself some space. As he had willing runners ahead of him, Maradona only had one thing on his mind.

He went on yet another mazy dribble at speed. He went between three defenders, then twisted and turned Renquin on the edge of the area. He was now into the area and on his left foot. Eight yards out as Pfaff tried to narrow the angle, he hooked it into the opposite corner for the second goal. 2-0.

It was pure magic, pure genius. A goal to rival the one against England. He didn’t run from as far out this time, but the distance made it harder to see how he could beat so many players. His low centre of gravity and speed across the ground just kept him ahead of the opposition.

In two of the biggest games of his career he had performed feats of such quality, that would’ve been beyond any other player around that time.

It was almost Maradona against Belgium. Men against boys.

Minutes later he went on another run into the area, beating off defenders as he went. This time his shot across the goal went the wrong side of the post. Had he scored it, it would probably have been one of the greatest hat-tricks anyone had witnessed.

Belgium didn’t have a Barnes to get them back into it. But unlike the England match, Argentina still had something to offer.

After one attack, the ball was cleared from defence out to Olarticoechea in his own half about 30 yards from his own goal. He brought the ball down then played a raking pass to Maradona on the right wing. He was up against Grün but yet again he had the beating of him. As he controlled the ball down by the bye-line, he saw Pfaff come to meet him. He pulled it back for Valdano, who was free on the penalty spot with the goal at his mercy. He side-footed it over the bar.

Pumpido was largely untroubled. Grün had a long-range effort but he saved that easily.

Argentina ran out comfortable winners, and the world bowed to the brilliance of Diego Maradona. Could anyone stop him.

So now it was confirmed. The World Cup Final would be between Argentina and West Germany. That will be on 29 June. The day before we will have the Third Place Match between Belgium and France.

Join us then.