Under legendary manager Michel Hidalgo, France had mesmerised an entire footballing world through their displays in the 1982 World Cup and the 1984 European Championships. They had indeed won the latter, on home soil, beating Spain soundly in the final. After Hidalgo had retired following that triumph, the French FA had put U21 manager Henri Michel in charge. Succeeding Hidalgo was a daunting task, but Michel had led the golden generation of French footballers to bronze medals in the 1986 World Cup. For a second successive global tournament had they bowed out to West Germany in the semi-finals, but with world star Michel Platini among their ranks, they had again won a lot of neutrals over.
France’ decline following the 1986 tournament had happened rapidly. They had lost the backbone of the side which had done so well earlier in the decade, as neither of defender Maxime Bossis nor ace midfielders Alain Giresse and said Platini would feature much since. Only the latter had played some part in the qualification for the 1988 European Championships, where France had failed miserably, finishing well beaten by both the Soviet Union and East Germany. A single win from eight matches, with an abysmal four goals scored, had been their undoing. Manager Michel had some rebuilding to do, but time was not on his side. France came into the 1990 qualification as outsiders, despite the fact that they were first seeds.
Still available to the manager were fine players such as goalkeeper Joël Bats and full-back Manuel Amoros. 24 year old Marseille striker Jean-Pierre Papin, who had scored twice during the 1986 World Cup, was also there. However, they seemed to be desperately short of midfield creativity. Midfield had been France’ greatest level of exuberance earlier. Now, they could need to look to players such as Toulouse’s Gérald Passi (24) and Marseille’s Franck Sauzée (22), both fine prospects, but with considerably less creative guile than some of their predecessors. And who would accompany Papin up front? Stéphane Paille (23) had notched in the 1-1 friendly at home to Czechoslovakia in August, just ahead of the qualification start. Would the Sochaux striker be playing his part now that Yannick Stopyra had retired at international level after a 0-0 friendly in Belfast in spring?
The French were looking to participate in their fourth successive World Cup, but no doubt did manager Michel have plenty of work ahead of him if he were to build a team strong enough to compete. Yugoslavia and Scotland appeared to be the biggest threat to French World Cup participation.
Friendly: France 1-1 Czechoslovakia
Line-up: Bats – Sonor, Kastendeuch, Casoni, Amoros (c) – Despeyroux, Sauzée, Passi (Vercruysse 65), Pardo – Papin, Paille
According to reports, this had been a miserable game from a French point of view. They had included three players described as ‘the hopes of French football’ in midfielders Despeyroux and Sauzée (debutant), as well as forward Paille (who’d strike the opening goal), and seen the debut of Pardo, but the fall from grace had apparently hit French football media hard: This team had so much to live up to. They’d failed against a Czechoslovakian team which were without, for the first time since they’d defected, Kubík and Knoflíček. “We’ll need a miracle against Norway”, sounded the cry.
Qualifier 1: France 1-0 Norway
28.09.1988, Parc des Princes (Paris)
Goal: Papin (pen.)
Line-up (4-3-3): Bats – Sonor, Boli (Kastendeuch 64), Casoni, Amoros (c) – Dib, Passi (Paille 77), Sauzée – Bravo, Papin, Xuereb
The French get their win courtesy of a late Papin penalty. They had faced strong resistance from a defensive opponent, which had their minds set on defending their way to a scoreless draw. France had improved after the break, when they created a few openings, and in particular wide forward Xuereb had impressed. They’d gone 4-2-4 late on with the introduction of Paille, something which ultimately paid off: He won a header in the Norwegian area to set Bravo up for a challenge against Giske to win the penalty. Deserved win, although the performance was hardly vintage.
Qualifier 2: Cyprus 1-1 France
22.10.1988, Makáreio Stádio (Nicosia)
Line-up (4-4-2): Bats – Sonor, Boli, Casoni, Amoros (c) – Bravo, Sauzée, Dib, Passi (Vercruysse 71) – Papin, Xuereb (Paille 80)
Having defeated Norway, France were looking to get off to a sound, albeit expected, start to their World Cup qualification. Michel had picked the same eleven as last time out, although he’d opted for a somewhat more restricted tactical approach. Bravo had moved back into a right-sided midfield position, rendering this a 4-4-2 as opposed to the 4-3-3 last time around. Disappointing throughout, France were left stunned as they conceded a late penalty to their plucky hosts, who until then had not been able to test Bats. Xuereb’s headed opener just before the break would still only mean a single point, and the French players trotted off the pitch in shame upon the full-time whistle.
Res. Friendly: France B 1-0 Yugoslavia B
16. 11.1988, Stade Abbe-Deschamps (Auxerre)
Line-up (4-4-2): Rousset – Ayache (Silvestre h-t), Sonor, Casoni, Di Meco – Passi (Guérin 74), Laurey, Blanc, Vercruysse (Micciche h-t) – Xuereb, Touré.
The French B team is reintroduced under Roger Lemerre after more than six years since their last friendly. Some experienced names here, but also newcomers in Rousset, Di Meco, Laurey and Blanc in the XI.
Qualifier 3: Yugoslavia 3-2 France
19.11.1988, Stadion JNA (Belgrade)
Goals: Perez, Sauzée
Line-up (4-3-3): Bats – Boli, Kastendeuch, Roche, Amoros (c) – Sauzée, Tigana, Dib – Ferreri (Papin 78), Paille, Perez (Bravo 69)
Michel Platini is new head coach for France after Henri Michel, who is sacked in the wake of the draw against Cyprus. Platini lures back Tigana from international retirement, and opts for a 4-3-3 spearheaded by Paille. It is an improved display by the French, who twice leads before conceding two late goals to lose the game. It feels like more points wasted in their campaign for Italia’90, but positives taken from the performance, not least attacking-wise.
Friendly: Republic of Ireland 0-0 France
Line-up (5-3-2): Bats – Kastendeuch, Sonor, Battiston, Silvestre (Roche 74), Amoros (c) – Blanc (Vercruysse 68), Sauzée, Durand – Paille (Touré h-t), Papin
Unoff. friendly: Arsenal 2-0 France
14.02.1989, Highbury (London)
Line-up: Bats – Prunier, Bonalair, Silvestre, Kastendeuch, Sauzée, Durand (Vercruysse), Blanc, Paille (Dib), Papin, Perez (Bravo).
Unused subs: Martini, Le Roux.
France continue their preparations against Scotland in March with an unofficial friendly against Arsenal. The eventual English league champions prove too strong for Platini’s side, who succumb to two goals in the 2nd half (Hayes and Smith). The direct and aggressive style of George Graham’s side will have been a good foretaste of what les Bleus could expect one month later in Glasgow.
Qualifier 4: Scotland 2-0 France
08.03.1989, Hampden Park (Glasgow)
Line-up (5-3-2): Bats – Sauzée, Silvestre, Battiston, Sonor, Amoros (c) – Blanc, Laurey, Durand (Paille 59) – Xuereb (Perez 73), Papin.
Mo Johnston scores twice for Scotland, and the French defence is at times ran ragged by the Scottish forwards. But France are not without their chances, and they are able to dominate play in the midfield area. The trio Blanc, Laurey and Durand is inexperienced at this level, but makes their numerous advantage count. Leighton enjoys one of his best performances in the qualification, however, and denies the French on several occasions.
Qualifier 5: France 0-0 Yugoslavia
29.04.1989, Parc des Princes (Paris)
Line-up (4-3-3): Bats – Sonor, Boli; Battiston, Amoros (c) – Blanc, Durand (Cocard HT), Sauzée – Xuereb (Deschamps 77′), Paille, Perez.
France finally record their first point under Platini, but the performance is well below expectations. France were struggling in the 1st half as they failed to provide much support for their three forwards, with their midfield effectively canceled out by a compact Yugoslavian side. Direct passes to Paille fail, but intelligent movement from Perez and Xuereb still caused some openings. The change to 4-4-2 in the 2nd half was catastrophic, and France only managed to exert some pressure late on after reverting to 4-3-3 and introducing Deschamps.
Friendly: Sweden 2-4 France
Goals: Cantona 2, Papin 2
Line-up (4-4-2): Bats – Amoros (c), Sauzée, Le Roux, Di Meco – Ferreri (Blanc 69), Pardo, Deschamps, Perez – Cantona, Papin
Qualifier 6: Norway 1-1 France
05.09.1989, Ullevaal Stadion (Oslo)
Goal: Papin (pen.)
Line-up (4-4-2): Bats – Amoros (c), Sauzée, Le Roux (Silvestre 56), Di Meco – Ferreri (Blanc 76), Pardo, Deschamps, Perez – Cantona, Papin
Arriving on the back of that win in Sweden, France looked confident and composed during a sound first half display in which they were the better side. They’d get their breakthrough from Papin’s late penalty, and should have had a second thereafter when Ferreri had rounded the ‘keeper, only to see his shot booted away. Second half France looked to sit deep and counter, though they would fail in precision, and this ultimately cost them as they saw Bats fail to claim Berg’s corner for Bratseth to head home a late leveller. Some fine individual performances, and all in all it had been a decent French performance.
Qualifier 7: France 3-0 Scotland
11.10.1989, Parc des Princes (Paris)
Goals: Deschamps, Cantona, Durand
Line-up (4-3-3): Bats (c) – Silvestre, Sauzée, Le Roux (Casoni h-t), Di Meco – Pardo, Deschamps, Durand – Perez (Bravo 82), Cantona, Ferreri
Despite being without a couple of key players in Amoros and Papin, a highly combative French select put their Scottish visitors to the sword. Interestingly, France allow the visitors plenty of possession, but catching Scotland on the break worked well. Durand had been brought in to reinforce midfield, and this laid the foundation for a solid defensive display. Di Meco’s sending off for two bookable offences did no real damage. France still with a (small) chance of qualifying.
Qualifier 8: France 2-0 Cyprus
18.11.1989, Parc des Princes (Paris)
Goals: Deschamps, Blanc
Line-up (4-4-2): Bats – Silvestre, Sauzée, Casoni, Amoros (c) – Ferreri, Pardo, Deschamps, Perez (Blanc 17) – Cantona, Papin
Since Scotland had secured second spot three days earlier, this game became largely unimportant. Still, France wanted to keep up their promising form in order to round off their qualification campaign with a solid win. Amoros and Papin were back in the starting eleven, and Casoni kept his place after coming on halfway through for Le Roux, who was still out injured. Bats had announced his international retirement after this game. The French overpowered Cyprus, and were in control throughout, but some efforts from distance apart, they struggled to create clear cut openings against a very defensive opponent. Deschamps struck well first time for his first France goal, and Blanc capitalized on a goalkeeping error to prod into an empty net for the second.
France were bronze medalists from the 1986 World Cup and top seeded in group 5, but fail to qualify for Italia’90 after a horrible start to their campaign.
Final position: 3 (out of 5)
Total record: 8 3 3 2 10-7 9
Home record: 4 3 1 0 6-0 7
Away record: 4 0 2 2 4-7 2
Number of players used: 29
Number of players including unused substitutes: 35
Ever-presents (720 mins): 2 (Bats and Sauzée)
Leading goalscorer: 2 (Papin (2 pens), Deschamps)
Yellow/red cards: 7/1
|Papin||6||5||1||462||2 (2 pens)||1/0|
– game by game
|Player||Nor (h)||Cyp (a)||Yug (a)||Sco (a)||Yug (h)||Nor (a)||Sco (h)||Cyp (h)||Played||Minutes|
|Di Meco||90||57 (s.o.)||2||147|
|Pos||Player||Average rating||Number of rated games|
21.01.1990 Kuwait 0-1 France
24.01.1990 France 3-0 East Germany (in Kuwait City)
28.02.1990 France 2-1 West Germany
28.03.1990 Hungary 1-3 France