2014 FIFA World Cup™
Hidalgo: Just playing well isn't enough
02 Jul 2014
Few who watched it will ever forget the thrilling Sevilla showdown between France and Germany at Spain 1982. Meeting for the second time at a FIFA World Cup™, the European titans served up a classic for the ages, and a game seared into the memories of all who saw it – not least Michel Hidalgo, France's coach that fateful day.
First appointed in 1976, Hidalgo took over the reins when Les Bleus were in the doldrums but gradually crafted an entertaining team built for success. Placing his faith in a golden generation spearheaded by Michel Platini, Alain Giresse and Maxime Bossis, Hidalgo built a side that shone brightly on Spanish soil and two years later won the UEFA European Championship.
With France now preparing to meet Germany in the quarter-finals at Brazil 2014, FIFA.com asked Hidalgo for his thoughts on the current form of the two rivals, as well as his recollections of that epic semi-final in 1982, when* his charges exited on penalties to a *Nationalmannschaft line-up featuring Manfred Kaltz, Pierre Littbarski and goalkeeper Harald Schumacher.
FIFA.com: What do you remember from that semi-final against West Germany on 8 July 1982? Michel Hidalgo: Naturally, we have bad memories of that game. We were happy to have had a high-quality campaign, and Germany were fearsome opponents. Plus, it was a good match from every way of looking at it: enjoyable to watch and fiercely contested. Unfortunately, there was the issue of the German goalkeeper hitting [Patrick] Battiston with full force. Platini accompanied him as he was stretchered off the pitch, holding his hand. You can see in the footage that [Battiston's] arm was trembling, and he couldn't help it. Unfortunately, that affected our team. But despite that, the German goalkeeper didn't get punished and didn't even go over to see the injured player. He just stood there, as if he hadn't done anything, as if he wasn't responsible. We couldn't understand how, after a challenge like that, the referee didn't punish it.
*How did the match unfold after that? *It was 1-1, but that took the wind out of our sails, even if we ended up leading 3-1 in extra time before the Germans came back. Unfortunately, we lost on penalties and missed out on the final we were all hoping for – the World Cup Final. It was very tough to accept. I've never seen a men's team become like a team of youth players after a game like that. There were a lot of tears, but also a feeling of indignation because of what had happened, particularly from Michel Platini. He was right. The Germans did what they had to do and went all the way. It wasn't them who deserved blame – other than their goalkeeper, who hit Battiston very hard. He broke several teeth and went straight to hospital.
Do you remember what you said in the dressing room?Oh, when it's a semi-final as important as that one against the Germans, there's no need to say much before the game. We were up against a top-quality side and the stakes were huge. But even if we acknowledged the quality of our opponents, it wasn't easy to accept defeat because we thought we had what it took to reach the Final.
Do you see similarities between the build-up to that match and France's tie against Germany on Friday?No, because back then both teams were well known and had big names – both the Germans and the French. Back in the present, Germany have been getting results and we know all about their quality, whereas this is a France team with a lot of youngsters. We don't yet know what they're capable of, but they have a lot of talent.
That said, France's coach has a lot of experience.Yes, they're led by Didier Deschamps, who's had a great career and knows how to oversee these young players very well. He doesn't tell them: "You're the greatest and the strongest." If some of them start saying that they're going all the way to the Final, he's there to remind them you have to win one match at a time. In short, he handles them very well.
*What can this young team hope for in their quarter-final? *Not long ago, you'd have said we couldn't do anything against Germany because of their experience and great players. However, in this World Cup, that hasn't looked true. Germany seem tired, and they have weaknesses. Our players aren't tired because they haven't had any really tough games yet. And, in addition to their qualities, they're hungry to go all the way. You can understand that, because they've done everything right so far. They still have that freshness on their side, and that'll be important in this match.
*How optimistic are you? *When you look at it, you have to ask yourself: why can't France reach the Final? Just like in 1998… They're strong physically and can disrupt teams better than them technically. True, Germany remain top-class opponents, but so far our World Cup has been close to perfect and our young players are in superb form. We're not crazy: we know things can still fall apart, but personally I don't see that happening. I think we're up for winning the match, not just playing well, which isn't enough when you want to win a title.
Which France players have impressed you above all?
I know some better than others. I've seen Mathieu Valbuena a lot at Marseille, and he's one of the more experienced players. He didn't have a great season at club level, but oddly enough he's very good with the France team. He has a style of play that helps out all the youngsters around him, so he's a very important player. I don't want to talk too much about the others, but I think they'll show their worth on the pitch. What's interesting is that this team has two experienced players who aren't there. Franck Ribery is a player in a different class given all that he's done in his career, and he's just had another great season in Germany. The second is Steve Mandanda. Neither of them is out there, but nobody's talking about them. That means the youngsters have been able to do what it takes to make sure they're not missed. When it comes to France against Germany, no one – and I mean no one – can predict who will win, but it's undoubtedly going to be a great match.