Something memorable tends to happen every time France take on Brazil, two teams that share a long rivalry seeped in drama, intensity and emotion. Games between the sides have been high on passion and free of any hint of animosity, with legendary encounters littered through history and feeding the sense of anticipation whenever the continental giants prepare to meet again. As the clock ticks down on their 14th international contest later this evening, FIFA.com looks back over some of their finest tussles from years gone by.
Brazil’s more senior supporters no doubt miss the time when A Seleção tended to brush France aside with relative ease. After clinching a 3-2 friendly success the first time they met in 1930, the South Americans tackled Les Bleus in the semi-finals of the 1958 FIFA World Cup Sweden™. France boasted the likes of Raymond Kopa and Just Fontaine in their ranks, but were powerless to prevent a 5-2 reverse as Brazil moved one final step away from their maiden global crown.
With France captain Robert Jonquet having fractured his leg after 26 minutes, Les Bleus fans still like to speculate as to whether the outcome might have been different in the age of substitutions. What cannot be doubted, though, is that Brazil’s match-winner that day would have found a stage to announce his arrival whatever happened. The eventual champions possessed a line-up rippling with star names such as Didi, Zagallo, Garrincha and Vava, yet it was a fresh-faced 17-year-old who stole the show courtesy of a hat-trick.
“I saw the greatest player of all time, Pele, right at the start,” recalled Fontaine, scorer of France’s equaliser and a record 13 strikes during a single FIFA World Cup. “That was the best Brazil team of all time. It had everything: physique, pace, power and talent.”
Brazil could scarcely have predicted it at the time, but they have yet to celebrate a competitive victory over France since then. Long in awe of their rivals, the Europeans finally broke the spell during a friendly at the iconic Maracana in 1977, although at half-time the scoreline read 2-0 to a home side fully justifying their tag as favourites for the following year’s FIFA World Cup in Argentina.
“Our first half was fantastic,” explained Rivelino, the hosts’ captain that day. “But Brazil couldn’t defend too well. We felt compelled to keep attacking and were a bit guilty of failing to mark Michel Platini, who was a tremendous player.”
That oversight proved costly as France roused themselves to snatch a 2-2 draw. “All of a sudden, we understood we could match them,” said Marius Tresor, who hit the leveller for the visitors. “We respected them less. Subconsciously, we’d respected them too much until then.” A year later in Paris, Michel Hidalgo’s men built on that result by engineering their first ever victory against Brazil, Platini firing the only goal of the encounter to leave opposition ace Zico frustrated.
Those two players locked horns again at Mexico 1986, when their teams produced one of the most memorable matches in FIFA World Cup history. It was the heyday of jogo bonito (the beautiful game) as Zico linked up with the likes of Socrates and Careca to drive Brazil forward, and even if the ‘White Pele’ started the quarter-final meeting on the bench, nothing looked like stopping Tele Santana's entertainers securing their fourth world title. The searing heat in Guadalajara appeared tailor-made for the South Americans too, but both sides played their full part in an instant classic, with fabulous moments of skill mixed in with chances galore at both ends.
Careca opened the scoring for the favourites before Platini restored parity close to the interval, and it would eventually take a penalty shoot-out to separate the sides, Zico having missed a spot-kick for the first time in his career after coming on. Influential throughout the match, Platoche struck his attempt over the bar, but France goalkeeper Joel Bats had already managed to save from Socrates, and Bruno Bellone received a major slice of good fortune when his penalty rebounded off a post and in via the head of Brazil No1 Carlos. Luck was clearly on the side of the French, and Luis Fernandez happily grasped the chance to conclude what had been an epic contest.
While that match has earned a special place in the annals of the game, even friendlies between the two teams have produced more than their share of unforgettable events. Take the 1-1 draw during the Tournoi de France in June 1997, for example, when Roberto Carlos seemed to defy physics with one of the most outrageous free-kicks of the modern era. Striking the ball 35 metres out, the left-back sent his effort so far around the wall that a ball boy wide of Fabien Barthez’s goal instinctively began to duck, but a sudden change of movement then swung it back and sent it careening in off a post as the France custodian watched in horror.
“I practised all through my career so that I could hit the ball well,” said the Corinthians left-back recently. “People still ask me to this day how I did it and I can’t explain it to them.” Researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique de Paris believe they have found the secret, on the other hand, having likened the trajectory of his set-piece to “the equation of a spiral described by any rotating sphere in a fluid.”
Far easier to remember would be the equation for the next meeting between the two rivals: a simple 1+1+1=3, recalling the goals notched up by Les Bleus as they tasted glory in the 1998 FIFA World Cup on home soil. Four-time winners and reigning champions Brazil went into the Stade de France Final backed by most to prevail against a France team appearing in the deciding game for the first time, but a pair of headers from Zinedine Zidane and Emmanuel Petit’s late strike allowed the hosts to become the seventh nation to reach the global summit.
“France had a genius on their bench in Aime Jacquet and one even more talented on the pitch in Zidane,” explained A Seleção coach Mario Zagallo. The victors’ captain Didier Deschamps echoed that judgement: “Great players always make the difference in big matches. That was the case for us with Zidane.”
Few can therefore have been surprised when the gifted playmaker returned to haunt the South Americans at Germany 2006. Zidane was disputing the very last tournament of his illustrious career and, as France progressed into the knockout phase, suddenly every game they played could turn out to be his swansong.
The spectre of retirement certainly loomed large when Les Bleus were drawn against the Brazil of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka in the last eight, but Zizou chose the occasion to contest his most complete match on the international stage. Every move the French put together went through their veteran schemer, who dazzled the crowd with dribbles, stepovers, changes of pace, exquisite through-balls and the assist for the only goal of the game. The sole consolation for Brazil was knowing that they would never face him again.
Tonight’s encounter (21.00 CET) will be the first meeting between the nations since that match in Frankfurt and, if the past is anything to go by, could spark a whole new set of memories. The cast of characters may have changed, but who would bet against another page of history being written?