France vs Germany: a football rivalry 30 years in the making


While the French football team concentrate on the make-or-break game against Germany on Friday, legions of French fans see the World Cup quarter-final clash as an opportunity to settle the score against a historic rival.


France face off against Germany on Friday in the legendary Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, an appropriate venue for an epic battle between old foes.

For ‘Les Bleus’, who remain unbeaten in the World Cup, Germany represent by far the toughest opposition they have faced in the competition to date. Also, Germany is in many ways France’s World Cup bogey team, having knocked them out of the tournament in the semi-finals in 1982 and 1986.

But it was the controversial way in which West Germany beat France in the 1982 World Cup semi-finals in Spain that has remained painfully etched in the minds of French fans.

“The memory of that game is full of regret, disappointment and bitterness,” Alain Giresse, who scored a goal for France in the infamous match, told FRANCE 24 by telephone from Rio de Janeiro. “Missing the chance to be in the final is one of my big regrets, and one that I will always carry.”

With a 1-1 score in the second half, French defender Patrick Battiston made a break toward the German goal, tapping the ball past the charging goalkeeper Harald Schumacher. While Battiston’s strike narrowly bounced wide, the video replay shows Schumacher hitting Battiston squarely in the head with his hip.

Battiston collapsed on the field in Seville unconscious.

Controversy and collapse

Players rushed to his aide and waved frantically for assistance. Teamate Michel Platini has since said that he thought the defender was dead, saying, “He had no pulse. He was so pale.”

French fury was sparked during all the ensuing drama by Schumacher remaining calmly on the six-yard line, appearing oblivious to Battiston’s clearly serious injury and looking simply impatient for the match to re-start.

Controversially, and long in the memories of French fans, the referee did nothing and did not give so much as a free kick.

The French defender - with two missing teeth, three cracked ribs and a damaged vertebra - was finally stretchered off the pitch.

France took the lead 3-1 in extra time, only to see their goal advantage heartbreakingly wiped out and to eventually lose on penalties.

And in the post-match interviews, Schumacher did not apologise.

In a post-World Cup poll in a newspaper for the least popular person among the French, Schumacher shaded Adolf Hitler into second place.

“The refereeing was regrettable,” Giresse said in reference to the fact that the collision was left unsanctioned. “There was the act of violence that took out a player, but there were other errors that also cost us the game.”

The two teams met again at the same stage four years later in Mexico, but their would be no revenge for the French, who lost the game 2-0.

Since then, France and Germany have squared off in numerous friendlies, but Friday’s showdown will be the first on a World Cup stage in almost three decades.

‘The night in Seville’

The bitter defeat, woefully dubbed “The night in Seville” by the French, echoed far beyond the football pitch in the years to follow.

It’s become the subject of books and a documentary, and has been alluded to in more than one pop song.

In the 2006 French film “Un ticket pour l'espace" (“A ticket to Space”), a security guard played by former rugby player Vincent Moscato decides to change careers after watching Schumacher’s reckless tackle.

In his book “Seville 1982 : France - Allemagne : le match du siècle" (Seville 1982: France-Germany: the match of the century) journalist and writer Pierre-Louis Basse recalled experiencing the defeat as a painful and personal wound – one that is yet to heal.

“How many of us on that late Thursday evening took an oath to never step on the other side of the Rhine? I’ve been limping on since July 8, 1982. I’m certain millions of inconsolable fans are by my side,” says Basse in his book.

Turning over a new leaf?

Nevertheless, Basse says that fateful night belongs to a different era, and that it’s a mistake to think of that momentous night when facing Germany on Friday.

“The world has changed and the game has changed profoundly. We now have a globalised football system, where [French striker Frank] Ribery plays for Bayern [Munich] and [Karim] Benzema plays for Real Madrid,” Basse told FRANCE 24. “Today’s players are not hung up about the incident, that’s just the way it is.”

French coach Didier Deschamps has used this line of argument to fend off questions from reporters in Brazil about the supposed enmity between the two European sides.

“What do you want me to tell them?” Deschamps retorted during a recent press conference. “None of them were even alive at that time.”

While a post-1982 generation of French athletes may be playing only for a spot in the semi-finals, and not some sort of historic retribution, former football star Giresse says the old rivalry is still smouldering elsewhere.

“I see it on a day-to-day basis, and I’ve been surprised by the number of people who want to know about what happened that night. That game has remained stuck in people’s minds,” he said.

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