When the dust settled on the 1958 FIFA World Cup™, the first to be broadcast on televisions around the world, two players had etched their names into tournament folklore forever. The younger of the duo, Edson Arantes do Nascimento was aged just 17 and 235 days when he first dazzled Swedish crowds, but he already looked to have the world at his feet. And while the newcomer better known as Pele helped Brazil clinch their maiden title, France's Just Fontaine went about leaving his own mark on the competition. Called up at the last minute to replace his Reims colleague Rene Bliard, the prolific forward seized his chance to write tournament history.
The competition itself kicked off with West Germany as the reigning champions. Talented and ambitious, the holders travelled to Sweden eager to repeat their remarkable success four years earlier, when they had overcome Hungary 3-2 in the final after losing 8-3 to the same opponents during the group stage.
France, meanwhile, headed north with an array of fishing rods and pétanque balls, "to kill time" according to Fontaine. It was a shrewd move as Les Bleus ended up enjoying a prolonged stay, and they eventually crossed paths with West Germany in the match for third place on 28 June. What followed was an epic contest that added one of the most spellbinding chapters to the teams' proud rivalry. FIFA.com now takes a step back in time to relive their Gothenburg goal-fest.
West Germany began their defence in style by seeing off Argentina 3-1 thanks to a double from Helmut Rahn – hero of the 1954 showpiece – and an effort by Uwe Seeler, who was appearing in the first of his four World Cups. The German juggernaut quickly lost momentum, however, with a 2-2 draw against Czechoslovakia followed by an identical result against Northern Ireland, despite a goal from Rahn in both games. It was enough to seal their progress though and, as in Switzerland four years previously, West Germany overcame Yugoslavia in the last eight, a fifth strike for Rahn deciding a 1-0 win that nonetheless sapped the victors of energy. Five days later, on 24 June, they paid for their exertions at Gothenburg's Ullevi Stadium, where the determined hosts triumphed 3-1 courtesy of two goals in the last nine minutes.
France's campaign also kicked off with a win, Les Bleus sweeping aside Group B rivals Paraguay 7-3 as Fontaine weighed in with a hat-trick. The margin of that success later determined the final standings too, with France losing 3-2 to Yugoslavia in their second outing. "Despite the loss, that game was undoubtedly one of our best at that World Cup as we were up against a great Yugoslavia team with top-quality players," noted Fontaine, who fired both of France's goals. His team subsequently saw off Scotland 2-1 to top the section with four points.
Fontaine contributed another two strikes as France made light work of Northern Ireland in the quarter-finals, a 4-0 result setting up a last-four meeting with Brazil. Their South American opponents then made the best of starts, Vava finding the net after just two minutes, but Fontaine responded seven minutes later with the first goal Brazil custodian Gilmar had conceded all tournament. The game was poised fascinatingly, yet disaster struck for Les Bleus when captain Robert Jonquet suffered a broken fibula close to the interval. With substitutions not allowed at the time, the defender tried to soldier on, but Didi put Brazil back in front before the break and Pele rattled in a 25-minute hat-trick to seal a 5-2 victory. The teenage prodigy then added two more goals to become the youngest World Cup winner ever as Sweden were beaten 5-2 in the final.
As for France and West Germany, they faced off in the play-off for third place on the eve of the tournament decider…
Both teams fielded their brightest talents in Gothenburg, with Fontaine going into the match on nine goals. Just two behind then record-holder Sandor Kocsis of Hungary, the Frenchman stood on the verge of a superb feat, and his team-mates made him the focal point of their forays forward. It was an approach that began to pay off with 16 minutes gone, the Reims marksman opening the scoring before Hans Cieslarczyk levelled the scores two minutes later. The 33,000 fans packed into Ullevi looked on in awe as the two sides served up a festival of attacking football, which swung back in France's favour courtesy of a Raymond Kopa penalty, an 11th goal for Fontaine and a first of the tournament for Yvon Douis.
Rahn's sixth strike in Sweden did little to change the pattern of the game, and the last word belonged to Fontaine as he conjured up two more efforts to cap a 6-3 victory. With 13 strikes overall, he not only finished top scorer but set a new benchmark for goals scored in a single World Cup, a tally that no-one has been able to surpass since. Fontaine also lies fourth on the all-time World Cup scorers list behind Ronaldo, Miroslav Klose and Gerd Muller, despite only ever contesting one edition. Germany, meanwhile, had to settle for fourth spot, the same fate that had befallen 1950 winners Uruguay in 1954.
Just Fontaine fired at least one goal per game in Sweden, an incredible achievement matched by Jairzinho at Mexico 1970. "You know, nobody cared much about the goalscoring charts back then," the Frenchman later recalled. "I scored goals because my understanding with Kopa was good right from the start. We were happy together and the team was playing attacking football. In six matches, we managed to score 23 times. And in six games, I must have hit 17 shots: 13 were goals, one hit a post, another hit the bar and two were saved by the keeper. As you can see, I didn't put too many wide – maybe just one or two that I'm forgetting. I also played 213 games at club level and scored 200 goals. If you work out the average, it's not bad, is it?"
Curiously, Fontaine was not even wearing his own boots when he plundered his 13 goals on Swedish soil. The French players had left home with just two pairs each and, having worn his out, Fontaine borrowed a pair from back-up player Stephane Bruey, who wore the same size. "I like to tell people that some of my goals were inspired by combining two spirits inside the same shoe," joked Fontaine.
What they said
"I scored 30 goals in 21 international appearances during my career – and none of them were penalties. That's also a world record," Just Fontaine, France forward.
"We'll never know what the result would have been in the match against Brazil if we'd played with 11 men. But, that said, the two best teams Brazil have ever had were the 1958 and 1970 sides," Roger Piantoni, France forward.
What happened next
Fontaine's stunning World Cup exploits sadly proved a one-off. The high-scoring Reims and France striker suffered a double leg break in March 1960 and a second fracture in January 1961, and he was forced to end his career at the age of 28 on 5 July 1962.
Four years after finishing third in Sweden, France failed to qualify for the 1962 World Cup in Chile. West Germany made the trip, in contrast, and topped their group to set up a third consecutive quarter-final meeting with Yugoslavia. Having come out on top in 1954 and 1958, this time they succumbed 1-0.