The Build-Up

France entered the 1986 World Cup in Mexico as newly crowned European Champions having annexed the title on home soil two years earlier. Michel Platini inspired his country to victory in that tournament and was still the heartbeat of a side desperate to bounce back from their harrowing penalty shoot-out loss to West Germany at Spain \’82. France also included ace defender Manuel Amoros, Alain Giresse and renowned shot-stopper Joel Bats in their 1986 squad.

Brazil were under huge pressure to deliver at football’s most prestigious tournament having been surprisingly knocked out at the quarter-final stages in Spain by a Paolo Rossi inspired Italy. The South Americans had not lifted the World Cup since the tournament was last held in Mexico 16 years earlier. Pele inspired a star-studded side to glory in 1970 but now Brazil looked to the likes of Zico, Careca, Socrates and Josimar to bring the trophy back to Rio.

Both countries manoeuvred through their initial qualifying groups with relative ease to qualify for the knockout round of 16. France defeated reigning champions Italy 2-0 with Platini and Stopyra netting. Brazil brushed aside Poland 4-0 thanks to goals from Socrates, Josimar, Edinho and Zico to setup a hugely anticipated quarter-final showdown.

The Match

The French make a positive start with Brazil struggling to deal with the stifling 45 degrees centigrade heat in the Jalisco Stadium. Amoros and Platini fire narrowly wide of the target early on before Brazil finally settle with Socrates bringing the best out of Joel Bats.

The South Americans increase the tempo and break the deadlock just after the quarter hour mark when the deadly Careca finishes off a flowing move to put Brazil one up. Muller strikes an upright shortly afterwards and Brazil look set to run riot.

The influence of brilliant defender Manuel Amoros helps tilt the advantage back to a previously wilting French side. Amoros was ahead of his time as over-lapping full backs were a rare commodity at international level in the 1980’s.

The defender bursts forward at every opportunity and forces the Brazilians to double back in an effort to thwart his attacking efforts. The French battling qualities are rewarded with an equaliser just before half time. Dominique Rocheteau’s cross is missed by Yannick Stopyra who collides with Brazilian net-minder Oscar but the ever-vigilant Platini is on hand to tap in a leveller at the back post.

The pace of a frenetic clash is maintained in airless humidity throughout a thrilling end-to-end second half. Careca hits a post; Rocheteau wastes a one-on-one before Junior brings the best out of Bats.

Zico is introduced as a substitute and the Brazilian striker’s impact is instant with a slide-rule pass releasing Branco who is hauled down by Bats for a penalty. Zico takes responsibility for the spot-kick but the Brazilian legend is denied by a superb save and extra time is needed.

Additional time fails to produce a winner despite a dramatic end to the extra 30 minutes. Bruno Bellone is played in by an exquisite Platini touch but Oscar races out to blatantly push the Frenchman off balance and it is enough to prevent a certain goal. Despite vehement French protests the referee refuses to award a penalty. The remainder of the quarter-final peters out with both sides suffering badly from the humidity.

The Penalty Shoot-Out

The prospect of exiting a second consecutive World Cup on penalties must be weighing heavy on the French players minds until Socrates’ first kick is brilliantly saved by Bats. The shoot-out is tied at 2-2 when Bellone steps forward. The Frenchman who should have been awarded a penalty in extra time sees his effort rebound off the post and then deflect in off the back of Oscar. Romanian referee Ioran Igna amazingly allows the goal to stand despite contradicting FIFA penalty-kick rules.

Branco levels it up at 3-3 for Brazil before Platini shuffles forward only to see his spot-kick balloon high over the crossbar. The South Americans waste a glorious opportunity to take control of proceedings when defender Julio Cesar smacks the post with his country’s next effort. It all boils down to Luis Fernandez and the tireless French midfielder makes no mistake, putting Oscar the wrong way to win an incredible quarter-final 4-3 on penalties.

The Aftermath

France progressed to a repeat semi-final showdown with Germany, the side who heartbreakingly knocked them out on penalties four years earlier in Seville, only to come unstuck once again. The Germans prevailed 2-0 with Andy Brehme and Rudi Voller scoring in either half. A 4-2 third and fourth place victory over Belgium proved scant consolation as a golden generation of French football finally came to an end at Mexico \’86.

Brazil went home following their penalty shoot-out loss in Guadalajara and would fare little better four years later bowing out to arch-rivals Argentina in the second round of Italia 90′. Brazil would have to wait until USA 1994 before conquering world football once again.

Careca finished the tournament as second highest scorer with five, one behind eventual Golden Boot winner Gary Lineker of England. The Brazilian joined Italian Serie A side Napoli in 1987 and enjoyed domestic and European success along with fellow countryman Alemao and a certain Diego Maradonna.

Manuel Amoros was named best left back of the 1986 World Cup. He continued representing France at international level until the 1992 European Championships and enjoyed domestic success with Monaco and Marseille thereafter. The full back retired at the age of 34 having suffered from arthritis in his hip in his final years as a professional.

Ger McCarthy is author of \’Off Centre Circle’, published by the Evening Echo, which chronicles the curious life of a West Cork amateur soccer player.

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