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Friday, 29 March, 2002, 13:13 GMT

The unluckiest team

8 July 1982: West Germany 3-3 France
West Germany win 5-4 on penalties

When France added Euro 2000 to the world crown they won on home soil two years before, they established themselves as one of the great sides.

Unrivalled at the top of the world standings and one of the favourites going into the 2002 finals, their superiority could well extend for another four years.

All of which is a dramatic turnaround in fortunes for a national team that had, until 1998, always been considered underachievers on the world stage.

There are many who believe that the France team of the 1980s, led by the peerless Michel Platini, was the best side never to win the World Cup.

They were certainly one on the unluckiest, losing out at the semi-final stage to far less talented Germany sides in both 1982 and 1986.

Certainly, few teams outside of Brazil have ever enjoyed the kind of popularity and widespread sympathy given to the French team that lost in Seville 20 years ago.

Michel Hidalgo's side had made a stuttering start to the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain with a 3-1 defeat to England.

But from that moment on, France swept through tournament and looked on course for a final showdown with Italy in Madrid.

With a midfield that could boast Platini, Jean Tigana and Alain Giresse playing behind a strikeforce of Dominique Rocheteau and Didier Six, it was no surprise that France prospered.

But the dramatic events that took place at the Estadio Sanchez Pizjuan became, until four years ago, the defining moment in France's World Cup history.

The lasting image of the match came in the 65th minute when, with the score at 1-1, French defender Patrick Battiston was put clean through.

Germany keeper Harald Schumacher came charging off his line and made no attempt to play the ball, crashing into Battiston who was carried off and required oxygen in the dressing room before heading to hospital.

That Schumacher did not receive so much as a yellow card remains one of the great World Cup mysteries, but even worse for France was that he became the hero of the penalty shootout.

First-half goals from Pierre Littbarski and Michel Platini left the score at 1-1 after 90 minutes, before the French threw away a two-goal lead in extra time.

Marius Tresor and Giresse struck in the space of 10 minutes to put France within sight of a first World Cup final.

But substitute Karl-Heinz Rummenigge immediately cut the deficit and, 13 minutes from time, a Horst Hrubesch header in the box fell perfectly for Fischer to hook home the equaliser.

For the first time at the World Cup finals, a match would be decided by penalties.

Again France took the initiative as Stielike saw Germany's third penalty saved by Ettori, but seconds later Six drove straight at Schumacher.

With eight penalties taken it became sudden death, and time for Schumacher to complete France's misery.

He dived early and parried Maxime Bossis' effort, leaving Hrubesch to smash home the winner and send Germany off to the Bernabeu.

Few neutrals were disappointed when they were comfortably beaten by Italy, and the talented French went on to win the European Championship two years later.

But the ultimate prize escaped them again in 1986 when they ran out of steam after superb performances against Italy and Brazil in Mexico.

This time there were no penalties or dramatic comebacks as Germany ran out 2-0 winners in a disappointing game, but one thing remained the same.

The best efforts of Platini and co were thwarted by 'Toni' Schumacher.

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