‘TheHardTackle Relic’ is a semi-regular column which dusts the pages of football history and takes you back to events, players and teams which have been buried under cobwebs and lost in time. Today, we turn back the clock to the day when two European powerhouses played their part in one of the most iconic yet controversial clashes in European football history.
France, Germany and four other European countries came together on 18 April, 1951 to sign the Treaty of Paris which established the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Although the purpose of establishing the community was economic in nature, the Treaty of Paris set the foundation for greater unity in a continent ravaged by the onset of two cataclysmic wars in the first half of twentieth century.
France and Germany, the two main antagonists in the World Wars, came together and spearheaded the “One Europe” initiative. By establishing a framework for mutual economic cooperation, the two countries made a concerted effort to set aside their differences and overcome their bloody history of conflict and suffering.
However, the idea of a united Europe has been threatened time and again by the occurrence of certain portentous events in the past five decades. The recent “Brexit” vote, which will pave the way for the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, threatens to derail the European project.
Little does one know, that the 1982 FIFA World Cup semi-final clash between France and West Germany in the Spanish city of Seville came as close to shaking the foundations of the Europe Union as any other event before it.
The Battle of Seville 1982
The semi-final of the 1982 World Cup between familiar foes France and West Germany at Sevilla’s Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium will go down as one of the most iconic clashes in the history of international football. Although France and Germany had faced each other 15 times before, this was only the second meeting between the two teams in a major international tournament.
An unconvincing West Germany side had hobbled its way through to the semi-final of the tournament after beating the hosts Spain in the previous round. After a shock 2-1 defeat to minnows Algeria in the opening match of their campaign, West Germany squeaked into the next round following victories over Chile and Austria. With captain and European Player of the Year Karl-Heinz Rummenigge only fit enough to start on the bench, the West Germans headed into the semi-final as the clear underdogs.
France, on the other hand, were the clear favorites to lift the World Cup owing to several swashbuckling displays in the early rounds of the competition. Led by the mercurial Michel Platini, the French boasted of several star names such as Jean Tigana, Didier Six, Alain Giresse and Dominique Rocheteau in their ranks.
The Die Mannschaft struck first after an error by French goalkeeper Jean-Luc Ettori allowed Pierre Littbarski to smash home the rebound from 18 yards. Ten minutes later, the French were offered a way back into the match after German defender Bernd Förster was penalized for fouling Dominique Rocheteau inside the penalty box. Michel Platini emphatically dispatched the penalty to bring France level. The first half ended with the scores level at 1-1.
Although the first half was characterized by thrilling football, it is the memory of an incident that occurred in the second half of the match that will forever be etched on the memories of those who were present inside the stadium that night. Midway through the second half, French substitute Patrick Battiston found himself one-on-one with German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher. With virtually no chance of getting to the ball before Battiston, Schumacher failed to check his run and crashed knee first into the ribs of the Frenchman, who fell down, unconscious. Battiston suffered 3 fractured ribs, 2 broken teeth and a damaged vertebrae as a result of the collision. The impassive nonchalance of Schumacher, who waited to take the goal kick as Battiston lay motionless on the pitch, angered the French and set the mood for the rest of the match.
A match that started off as a footballing spectacle descended into utter anarchy as both sides lay into each other with violent ferocity. After 90 minutes, the score remained at 1-1 and extra time followed. Two minutes into extra time, Marius Tresor gave France the lead for the first time on the night after dispatching a sweet volley into the back of the net following a deflected free kick. German hopes were further dispelled when Alain Giresse curled home from the edge of the box to double France’s advantage and put them 3-1 up, six minutes later.
Facing exit from the competition, German national team coach Jupp Derwall was forced into sending a half fit Karl-Heinz Rummenigge on to the pitch. The change worked almost immediately as Rummenigge struck on the stroke of the first half of extra time to bring West Germany back into the match. Klaus Fischer scored an acrobatic overhead kick 3 minutes into the second half to complete one of the most remarkable comebacks in World Cup history and send the match into a penalty shootout.
In the shootout, Harald Schumacher saved Didier Six and Maxime Bossis’ shots to send West Germany into the final of the World Cup, where they would eventually lose out to Italy.
Despite losing, French striker Michel Platini would go on to describe the match as his “most beautiful game”. Platini further went on to say, “What happened in those two hours encapsulated all the sentiments of life itself. No film or play could ever recapture so many contradictions and emotions. It was complete. So strong. It was fabulous.”
As expected, the incident between Schumacher and Battiston dominated the post match discussions. While the French media went on to berate Schumacher for his actions, the German press attempted to downplay the incident. The German magazine Kicker described the incident as “an unfortunate collision.” The German commentators were similarly unperturbed by Schumacher’s actions, saying, “These things can happen in a game when both sides go flat out.”
The incident ended up souring the relations between France and Germany. French national team manager Michel Hidalgo lambasted Dutch referee Charles Corver in a post-match interview saying, “We have been eliminated brutally. People witnessed a great injustice. The match reignited the Franco-German antagonism that had faded.” A national poll conducted by a French newspaper after the match placed Schumacher as the “second least popular person” in France, second only to Adolf Hitler.
The national team’s controversial semi-final win over France even ended up antagonizing the German fans. Following their run to the final of the tournament, the German football team were expecting a hero’s welcome after returning home in mid-July. However, as Ulrich Lichtenberger described it best, “the squad was met with frosty silence, if not outright disgust.”
The memories of the incident between Schumacher and Battiston are invoked each time Germany play France in a major international tournament. Not only did it sour the footballing relations between France and Germany, but also threatened to damage the fabric of European unity — something which the two countries strived to work tirelessly towards.