Even in defeat, Michel Platini and Jean Tigana showed where their hearts lay.
Platini, the sad-faced genius who has been the inspiration of the French national team for almost a decade, and Tigana, the midfield magician from Mali, made their exits from the World Cup stage Wednesday afternoon.
Neither will be seen at this level again, both having turned 31 within the last few days, but as they left the Jalisco Stadium soccer field, they made one final gesture on behalf of the game they love.
The gesture went almost unnoticed in the frenzy of West Germany’s 2-0 semifinal victory, which put the West Germans in Sunday’s championship game at Mexico City against Argentina, a 2-0 winner later in the day over Belgium.
To one small group of about three dozen fans, the last remnants of Brazil’s vast army of supporters, the gesture by Platini and Tigana will forever be remembered.
Having seen their own team beaten by the French Sunday, the fans, still wearing their gold and green Brazilian colors and still carrying the drums that beat out Brazil’s samba rhythm, had come to cheer France.
From them, it was a gesture of respect for the one team in the world that has come the closest to approaching Brazil’s level of skill and, more importantly, its dedication to creative, improvisational soccer.
Platini and Tigana responded in kind. As they left the field, they removed their French World Cup jerseys and, instead of exchanging them with their West German conquerors, tossed them to the Brazilian fans.
It was their way of acknowledging the support and, on a deeper, perhaps more figurative level, of passing the flame back to Brazil.
For France, or at least for this generation of French players, the dreams of World Cup glory are over. It will be some time before France once again can boast a World Cup team containing the likes of Platini, Tigana, Alain Giresse, Maxime Bossis and Dominique Rocheteau.
Twice they climbed to within a step of international soccer’s highest peak, and twice they were denied by the West Germans. In Spain four years ago, the French lost on penalty kicks in the semifinals after having played the West Germans to a 3-3 tie.
On Wednesday, the West German victory was more clear cut. Coach Franz Beckenbauer’s team grabbed an early lead and made it stand up. The West Germans scored their second goal--on a breakaway by Rudolf Voeller--just seconds before the final whistle.
But even Beckenbauer, who has won every honor there is in the game and who is now on the threshold of adding another, admitted afterward that the better team had lost.
“We are very, very happy to be in the final and to beat France,” Beckenbauer said at a packed press conference. “France was probably the best team in the tournament.
“We were very, very lucky. This is more than we expected before the World Cup started.”
Two factors led to the West Germans’ victory. They were fortunate in being able to take an early lead on a shot that could have--and should have--been stopped by French goalkeeper Joel Bats. They were even more fortunate in catching the French on a day when France’s offense was misfiring.
France, which applied most of the pressure throughout the game, created numerous scoring chances but squandered each of them.
For Platini, it was an afternoon of utter frustration as he struggled to escape the tight guarding of West Germany’s Wolfgang Rolff, who shadowed him throughout the match.
Beckenbauer’s choice of Rolff to shadow Platini was an inspired one, the West German having successfully done so for his club team, Hamburg, against Platini’s Italian club, Juventus, in the 1983 European Cup final at Athens.
But is was not just Platini who was stopped cold by the West Germans. There wasn’t a single French player able to break through the wall that was erected in front of goalkeeper Harald (Toni) Schumacher.
In the second half, when France was attacking in wave after blue wave, West Germany switched tactics and began using the offside trap to frustrate the French. A goal by Platini was nullified because he was offside and others were similarly thwarted.
It was in the first half, though, that France should have scored. That would have altered the nature of the game.
West Germany, which entered the game as a slight underdog after having managed to score only four goals in its previous five games, took a surprising lead in the ninth minute.
Awarded a free kick to the right of the net after a foul by French defender William Ayache, the West Germans surveyed the French defensive wall and then found a way to beat it. Felix Magath rolled the ball to Andreas Brehme, and Brehme blasted a shot that goalkeeper Bats dived to his left to save.
Somehow, Bats, who had performed brilliantly against the Brazilians on Sunday, saving a penalty kick by Zico, among other feats, did not get his body behind the ball. He partly blocked Brehme’s shot, but the ball slipped beneath him and into the net.
The jubilant West Germans then set about protecting their lead, occasionally mounting counterattacks that caused the French all kinds of trouble. But generally, the West Germans were content to sit back and absorb anything the French threw at them.
The closest France came to tying the score was half an hour into the game when Giresse chipped a free kick over the West German wall to an onrushing Platini. Schumacher did well to parry Platini’s shot, but the ball rolled free to the feet of Bossis directly in front of the unguarded net.
The groan that went up from the French fans as Bossis skied the ball over the crossbar could have been heard in Paris. It was a dreadful miss and indicative of what was to come.
France, which had beaten three-time champion Italy in the second round and three-time champion Brazil in the quarterfinals, just could not find what it takes to beat West Germany.
“Today was not our day,” French Coach Henri Michel said afterward. “On Sunday, we were very lucky. Today, we were not.”
There was one final word from Beckenbauer as the West German bus pulled away from Jalisco Stadium. Asked what it is like to have reached the World Cup final as a coach instead of as a player, he smiled and said: “The job is different, but the feeling is the same.’
Unfortunately for Platini, Tigana and the rest of the French veterans, it is a feeling they will never experience.
World Cup Notes West German goalkeeper Harald (Toni) Schumacher and French defender Patrick Battiston showed that any ill feeling that might have remained between them has ended. Schumacher, whose violent foul on Battiston in the 1982 semifinal broke the French player’s jaw and put him out of soccer for six months, shook Battiston’s hand before the kickoff, and the two exchanged grins. . . . Similarly, Michel Platini and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the rival captains, met during the warm-ups and wished each other luck. . . . Jalisco Stadium was filled only to about 70% of its 66,000 capacity, the over-priced tickets again taking their toll on attendance. . . . Sunday will mark the fifth time the West Germans have played in the championship game. They won the World Cup in 1954 and 1974 and finished second to England in 1966 and second to Italy in 1982. Coach Franz Beckenbauer played on the 1966 team and captained the 1974 team. . . . France and Belgium will play Saturday in the third-place game.