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WORLD CUP USA '94 : The Penultimate Game : Looking for the Best Semifinal of All Time? Go Back to Seville, Spain, on July 8, 1982: West Germany vs. France

July 13, 1994|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — It's the sort of question that can lead to endless argument: Which was the best ever World Cup semifinal?

Those who were in Italy four years ago will claim the England-West Germany game in Milan and the Argentina-Italy game in Naples, both of which went to overtime and then to penalty kicks, deserve the honor.

They will be wrong.

Those who were in Mexico in 1970 will have a much better case if they argue that the Italy-West Germany match in front of 80,000 disbelieving fans at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City is the all-time greatest semifinal.

They, too, will be wrong, but not by much.

The Italians and Germans played an enthralling game. Italy led, 1-0, at the half and appeared to have the game won. But West Germany tied it in injury time, and the 30-minute overtime that followed produced an astonishing five goals. The lead alternated before Italy finally emerged with a 4-3 victory.

It was a game that remains among the classics, but there was an even better semifinal.

It was played at Sanchez Pizuan Stadium in Seville, Spain, on July 8, 1982. No one in the crowd of 63,000 or the worldwide television audience will forget it.

On one side there was West Germany, powerful and confident as ever after winning the European Championship in 1980. On the other side there was France, just beginning to blossom into the team that two years later would win a European Championship.

The Germans had solid, capable players such as Paul Breitner, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Horst Hrubesch and Pierre Litbarski. The French countered with the creativity and elegance of Michel Platini, Jean Tigana, Alain Giresse and Dominique Rocheteau.

It was to be a game of contrasting personalities and contrasting styles, muscle against mind, force against flair.

The Germans took the lead on a shot by Littbarski in the 18th minute, but the French tied the score on a penalty kick by Platini nine minutes later after Rocheteau had been held back by Bernd Foerster.

The score remained 1-1 for the rest of the half and, indeed, the rest of regulation time. But the game was hardly a dull affair. The turning point occurred in the 57th minute when West German goalkeeper Harald (Toni) Schumacher committed one of the worst World Cup fouls ever.

Brian Glanville, in his authoritative "History of the World Cup," described the incident best:

"Patrick Battiston, who had just come on as a substitute, raced through the middle on to a beautifully executed pass, which turned the defense. Out of his goal raced the burly Schumacher. Battiston beat him to the ball, but Schumacher thundered into him, brutally smashing him to the ground with a blow of the forearm, and callously leaving him, minus two teeth, so badly hurt that there were fears he would die; fears compounded by the idiocy of the Seville police who had banned the Red Cross from the pitch.

"Battiston had to lie there for three long minutes before he could be treated. It was this incident, above all, which would make most neutral observers supporters of Italy in the World Cup final. No penalty was given.

"Schumacher undoubtedly should have been sent off, which would almost surely have condemned the Germans to defeat, but (Charles) Corver, the Dutch referee, had not seen the incident and his linesmen, incomprehensibly, did not enlighten him."

Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the French multiplied their efforts. They gained the lead for the first time in the match a scant two minutes into overtime when Marius Tresor drove home a free kick by Giresse to make it 2-1.

Giresse increased the French lead to 3-1 six minutes later when he hammered in a shot off the post. With only 22 minutes to play and a two-goal lead, France appeared to have earned a ticket to the final.

But the Germans were not giving up that easily. Rummenige, Europe's player of the year who had not started because of a nagging injury, came on as a substitute and, within six minutes, had scored to make it 3-2.

In the 17th minute of overtime, with the French tiring and not having another substitution left because of the Battiston incident, West Germany tied the score. A cross from Littbarski found Klaus Fischer and his overhead kick leveled the score at 3-3.

Overtime ended and the drama of penalty kicks began.

France scored. West Germany did likewise.

France scored again. West Germany again tied it.

France added a third goal. West Germany saw Uli Stielike's shot saved by Jean-Luc Ettori.

French hopes soared.

Then dropped.

Didier Six missed for France. Littbarski tied it up for West Germany.

Platini and Rummenigge each scored and it was 4-4, going into sudden death.

Devastatingly, Maxime Bossis had his shot saved by Schumacher, and when Hrubesch scored it was all over.

After 120 dramatic minutes and the agony of the penalty kicks, West Germany had found a way through to the final. France had failed on the field, but won the hearts of fans worldwide.

It was, without question, the best semifinal of all time.

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