As the world's premier sporting spectacle, the FIFA World Cup™ is the pinnacle of any footballer's career. But to earn a much-coveted invitation to this quadrennial event, all nations, from the minnows to the footballing superpowers, must do battle with their regional rivals in what are often titanic matches. One such game was the meeting between France and the Netherlands on the road to Spain 1982, which FIFA.com now reflects upon.
18 November 1981, Parc des Princes, Paris
France 2-0 Netherlands
Scorers: Platini 52, Six 82
France: Jean Castaneda - Gerard Janvion , Christian Lopez, Marius Tresor, Maxime Bossis - Alain Giresse, Michel Platini (Jean Tigana, 75'), Bernard Genghini - Dominique Rocheteau, Bernard Lacombe (Jacques Zimako, 69'), Didier Six.
Netherlands: Hans van Breukelen - Ben Wijnstekers, Michel van de Korput (Tscheu La Ling, 72'), Ruud Krol, Jan Poortvliet - Johnny Metgod (Simon Tahamata, 46'), Jan Peters, Johan Neeskens, Arnold Muhren - Johnny Rep, Kees van Kooten.
The Netherlands went into the qualifying campaign on the back of impressive performances at Germany 1974 and Argentina 1978, where they finished runners-up to the hosts on both occasions. France, for their part, went out in the first round in Argentina after narrow defeats to the hosts and Italy, but showed enough talent to suggest the emergence of an exciting new crop of players. Going into the game, Les Bleus were lying second in the group behind Belgium and had to win their last two matches, against the Netherlands and Cyprus, to make the finals in Spain.
France coach Michel Hidalgo chose an attacking 4-3-3 formation, with zonal marking in defence and a midfield made up of three No10s. Alain Giresse was tasked with controlling the game from an advanced central position, while Michel Platini and Bernard Genghini were the link men on either channel who also tracked back to provide extra defensive cover.
At a packed Parc des Princes, the first half was a tense affair dominated by the two midfields. The locals were getting little change out of a defensively well-organised Dutch side, which seized on any openings to launch dangerous counter-attacks.
The breakthrough came courtesy of a free-kick seven minutes into the second half, after a foul on Platini by Johan Neeskens. When the kick, some 18 metres out and to the left of goal, had to be retaken due to a problem with the wall, Platini composed himself then hit a curler which went round the Dutch wall and scraped the post on its way past a helpless Hans van Breukelen. Sensing victory, an ecstatic Parc des Princes roared on its heroes.
But it was not until the 82nd minute that France made the game safe. After Genghini had won possession, Dominique Rocheteau bore down on the Oranje defence before shifting to the left and threading the ball through for Didier Six, who fired home an unstoppable volley.
Michel Platini scored 41 goals in 72 games for France, but it is his sumptuous strike against the Netherlands that has gone down in the annals of French football. Moreover, when people look back over the career of the current UEFA President, the iconic image of the ball curling round the Dutch wall comes immediately to mind.
It was this match that led French sports commentators to coin the expression 'Platini free-kick', as it perfectly sums up the touch and skill of the former Juventus playmaker, who made a habit of displaying such technical wizardry. It is often said that this opening goal against the Argentina 1978 runners-up was a important turning point in the history of French football, as it inspired an entire generation to express themselves freely on the pitch.
"We had actually practised free kicks on the morning of the match, with an almost 100% success rate. The players showed remarkable solidarity, even the substitutes, who couldn't sit still on the bench. They faced up to their responsibilities and didn't bow to the pressures or wilt before the enormity of what was at stake. But above all, they went out to play football in the knowledge that the win would come, rather than taking the attitude that they should resort to any means possible to win this crucial match." France coach, Michel Hidalgo
What happened next?
A week after overcoming the Dutch, France booked their passage to Spain 1982 with a routine 4-0 win over Cyprus that ensured them runners-up spot in the group. At the finals in Spain, Michel Hidalgo's Bleus grew in stature after an initial 3-1 loss to England in Bilbao. A comfortable 4-1 win over Kuwait followed by a 1-1 draw against Czechoslovakia was enough for France to progress into the second round. There, they narrowly defeated Austria 1-0 before sweeping aside Northern Ireland 4-1 to progress to the semi-finals. The last-four match against West Germany went down in history as one on the tournament's most gripping encounters. With the score level at the end of normal time, France went into a 3-1 extra-time lead before being pegged back to 3-3 in the closing stages, and finally losing 5-4 on penalties. Four years later in Mexico, the same group of players were to star in one of the all-time classic FIFA World Cup ties against Brazil.
The Dutch, on the other hand, took some time to get to grips with generational change, and failed to qualify for either the 1984 European Championship or Mexico 1986. However, their day in the sun would arrive two years later when they made a triumphant return to the international scene, winning the continental title thanks in no small part to the exploits Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit.