The 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico ™ quarter-final between France and Brazil was always going to be one to savour - the recently crowned kings of Europe against the undisputed champions of romantic football. It had been 16 years since Pelé, Tostao and co. last raised the Jules Rimet cup. And back home in Rio, big questions were arising about Brazil's once vaunted status in world football. After cruelly falling to Italy four years before at the same quarter-final stage, Socrates and Junior were back to reclaim their heritage. Iconic Zico was there too, but starting on the bench not fully fit.
France, with their sublime midfield pairing of Michel Platini and Alain Giresse, were also back looking for revenge after the crushing loss to Germany four years earlier in the semi-final in Seville.
The match began as the stifling 45+ centigrade degree conditions demanded. Bypassing midfield, both sides poured forward as if to appease the old Aztec sun god, Quetzalcoatl. Junior raced forward for Brazil, age showing only for the grey flecks in his hair. Socrates, unhurried, bearded - the benevolent general orchestrating from a withdrawn midfield role. And up front, the danger man is Careca. Heir to Jairzinho, he is feared by the French defence. However, he surely doesn't scare Manuel Amoros; the barrel-chested fullback later named defender of the finals is all coiled menace and always up for a fight.
Early questions asked of both sides
Brazil know that they will have to get around Amoros to win, but ironically the first shot of the match is the Frenchman's. Platini and Giresse wall pass delicately and the ball falls to Amoros some 23 yards from goal. His searing drive slips just wide and is met by a shriek of unparalleled volume from the crowd of 65,000. Head in hands, he soldiers back at a proud trot, there is work to do yet.
But for all of Brazil's flare and slight-of-foot, the joie-de-vivre of France's midfield begins to tell. Gentle, passing whispers from tiny giant Giresse to Platini and back again have Brazil chasing shadows under the unbearable sun. There is a jubilant perfection to the flicked touches from impossibly minute Giresse to languid, imperious Platini with shirt, as always, irreverently out. The two bicker constantly, like brothers or an old married couple. The gestures are genuine, the impatience palpable. The demand on genius is great, but they still manage to draw their little magic triangles all over the vivid green pitch despite the arguing and the heat.
But, Brazil make their intentions clear with the match's first real chance. Careca, impatient with his lack of service, drops back, gathers the ball and lays a quick flick with the outside of his boot onto long-legged Socrates, who is in on goal. But Joel Bats begins his night of proud defiance in the French net, diving away the lanky "doctor's" snapshot.
Suddenly Brazil are in control. Theirs is a game of style and momentum, poetic and impetuous. They wait for their moment with menacing calm, in anticipation of the mood to strike. And when they claim first blood, it is an epiphany.
Brazilget in the mood
Full-back Josimar, who had been wowing the Mexican crowds with his rousing long range drives, looks up on the right side near midfield and sees the feisty Muller checking back. A 20-yard pass lands on his toe. Three French defenders are cut to ribbons -- even Amoros for once. A quick flick from Muller to Junior, gambling lazily forward, then a 'give and go,' and no one knows Careca has raced in from the left. Except for the wily old Junior, who taps nonchalantly to the foraging striker. His rocket to the far post makes no mistake and the stadium erupts in a deafening roar. With only 17 minutes gone, Brazil are dreaming of renewed glory after a long hard winter.
The match goes on and all-out attack remains the hallmark with every pass back to the goalkeeper jeered relentlessly by the Jalisco. The French seem to be fading, somehow suddenly awed. Platini has become a rare irrelevance and is complaining more than usual. But the battling Amoros takes up the baton. Racing up the right he crosses for striding Dominique Rocheteau -- preferred by Henri Michel to Jean-Pierre Papin for his experience. The chance comes to nothing as the French continue their struggle.
A rare errant pass from Platini catches the French out. No one tracks back, and Tigana is left stranded, screaming an appeal. A long through ball from Socrates, smelling blood, frees Careca. He rounds Maxime Bossis and pulls across the face of goal for Muller. Beating his man for pace, he fires. Bats is beaten again, but this time the post comes mercifully to his aid.
Reprieve for France, from the right
With half-time fast approaching, France open up Brazil's left flank -- an Achilles heel for the South Americans. Amoros finds Giresse, who frees Rocheteau. His cross finds bustling striker Yannick Stopyra who dives courageously with the rage of youth, headfirst at Oscar. The two collide and the ball slips kindly to Monsieur Platini at the back post. The goal is yawning, and he strokes home calmly. All level now, the French captain celebrates quietly as all of Brazil protests the goal for one reason or another.
The second half is defined by a profound exhaustion. There is an intoxication to the game that raises it to the heavens in a joyous communion of nature and man. It is football at its purest -- somehow more elemental. Chances come, but goals are absent. Fatigue begins to tell, and little plastic bags full of water are thrown onto the pitch at every opportunity behind the referee's back.
A series of attacks at both ends, leads to a glorious chance. Tigana, prancing gazelle-like, gets forward and gathers a quick flick from Rocheteau. He is in alone on Oscar, but one touch too many allows the goalkeeper to smother. The crescendo continues though, as Junior's wicked drive at the other end nearly lands Bats in the back of his own net. It is end-to-end in sapping heat.
Chance after chance, enter Zico
Again Brazil pile on the pressure, but led ably by the steely Amoros, France's rearguard holds firm. Alongside him, Bossis is like a man possessed, perhaps remembering his missed penalty against Germany in the semi-final four years earlier. For once Careca rises higher than him though, and the woodwork again saves Bats.
Suddenly, a saviour appears, hopping madly on the touchline. His image distorted from the heat rising off the crowned pitch, Zico roars into the fray to set things right. Almost at once the number 10 sends Branco clean through on goal with a telepathic pass from deep in midfield - his first touch of the ball. Bats races off his line and hauls the man down. Romanian referee Ioan Igna points to the spot as the Brazilians celebrate prematurely. And after a quick consultation with stand-in captain Edinho, Zico waves the rest away with a regal flourish. He will be the hero ... or the goat.
Bats guesses right, and dives right to deny a sure winner. As France's brash defenders pile on their keeper, Platini ambles by and rubs Zico's neck in a tender moment of consolation from one great number 10 to another.
In the last quarter-hour, exhaustion sets in and both sides are desperate to avoid extra-time. It is a matter of survival now. Zico is doing his all to atone for his sin from the spot, but his touch has left him. Visibly shaken, he wears a haunted look. Bats denies Careca once more, and the inevitable happens -- extra time.
The first extra-time period sees the attacking continue. The French look to be melting away. Bossis in desperation begs for cover at the back. But miraculously, the first 15 minutes come and go without incident.
One last roll of the dice, penalties
Both sides have chances in the second period of extra time, but France end with a contentious blare. They march up field for one last try. Platini emerges again, and his perfect through ball sends substitute Bruno Bellone, on for gallant Giresse, in clean. It's odds-on a goal. But Oscar races from his box in a fit of sheer madness and grabs the substitute with both hands. He rights himself, refusing to go down, but too late as the chance has gone. An enraged Platini chases the referee back toward the other end shouting in justifiable hysterics.
With seconds to go, Luis Fernandez tries a laughable volley from distance. It requires an immediate apology to his despairing teammates. And the whistle goes. Time only for football's version of Russian Roulette - cruelly one must fall under the ceaseless Guadalajara sun.
Socrates steps up first. He takes a short approach, stutter steps as always, but Bats manages to stab it away contemptuously. The 32-year-old Brazilian great, aware that this could be his last FIFA World Cup match, then makes that long, lonely walk back to the centre circle where both teams sit together as one group.
Heroes and villains
Stopyra's shot roars right up the middle, and he pumps his fist defiantly as the net bulges. The brilliant Bats guesses right on Alemao's chance for Brazil, but it's too hot to handle. Now Amoros - the burly little bastion at the French back - he hesitates and buries it. Up steps Zico, and he hits it with rage and anger. Mercifully Bats guesses wrong.
Bellone, hauled down by Oscar he could have been the hero, but his penalty comes off the post...hits Oscar's head and goes in. Justice? Edinho protests the penalty, but Igna lets it stand and it's 3-2 to France after three rounds.
Branco scores, and up steps Platini to keep les bleus in control of the shootout. And, who better than the European player of the year? Stunningly, he stabs well over the bar. His head in hands, must France lose on penalties again? But, immediately Julio Cesar splatters his shot off the post.
Up steps Fernandez with the penalty score 3-3, hoping surely his penalty is better than the woeful volley that ended extra-time. He drags his feet, socks around his ankles, a man to the gallows. Oscar takes his time to his line, making the shooter wait, stamping in front of the ball in a scoundrel's desperation. Oscar guesses left, Fernandez goes right.
The final image is Platini and unlikely hero Fernandez embracing on their knees. The captain will not let his young apprentice go, knowing that he owes his team-mate an unpayable debt. And then there is the brutal counterpoint as Zico swaps his shirt and trudges alone to the showers, where his tears will be kindly camouflaged.