The sight and sound of thousands of men, women and children flocking to the Champs-Élysées soon after full time in the final was a snapshot of the colour, the passion and the joy that the 1984 UEFA European Championship had served up.
'L'Europe en habit bleu' – Europe dressed in blue – was the headline in L'Équipe on 12 July 1984, the opening day of France's second EURO as hosts. "EURO '84 kicks off tonight in our country," read the front page. "Les Bleus, following outstanding preparation, are the favourites on paper, but they have no margin for error against Denmark." Two weeks later, hopes had been realised.
The UEFA European Championship was the brainchild of Frenchman Henri Delaunay, secretary of the French Football Federation (FFF), so it was fitting that the trophy named in his honour was finally held aloft by his fellow countrymen that balmy Wednesday night in the capital. It was even more apt that the first man to get his hands on it was captain Michel Platini, a talismanic, virtuoso presence throughout.
The future UEFA President had opened his nation's account with a late winner in their 1-0 victory against Denmark. That, though, was little more than an amuse-bouche. Platini struck hat-tricks against Belgium (5-0) and Yugoslavia (3-2) to ensure his side reached the semi-finals with the wind in their sails.
Expectations were mounting. "
We had to win, we were the favourites and France was hoping that the French football team would be the first to win a big international sporting trophy," recalls midfielder Luis Fernandez, one-quarter of 'Le Carré Magique' – The Magic Square – alongside Platini, Alain Giresse and Jean Tigana. "One of the great merits of Michel Hidalgo was finding a way to fit several No10s into midfield," said Platini.
It was Les Bleus' No8 who once again came to the fore in the semis, Platini striking deep into extra time to earn Hidalgo's team a 3-2 defeat of Potugal, thus avoiding a shoot-out. "We got into the last seven minutes of extra time and we had tremendous will to win; especially as Jean Tigana told us he had never won a penalty shoot-out! We knew we had to avoid going to penalties!"
Comparatively light work was made of Spain in the decider, goals from Platini and Bruno Bellone ensuring a 2-0 victory in front of French President François Mitterrand. "You feel the soul of this team," said Mitterrand after the game at Parc des Princes.
Platini's free-kick in the decider took his tournament tally to nine, a finals record that stands to this day. Handed his top scorer trophy, he vowed to offer a replica to each of his-team mates. "The French team surprised me at the toughest moments," said the Juventus midfielder. "We were strong mentally and this team is not one or several players, it's 20."
Tentative favourites from the off and incomparable for much of the tournament, France had nevertheless been keen not to tempt fate. "There is absolutely nothing planned," said Hidalgo after the final. "We'll gather the players, spouses and families for a simple dinner at the FA's headquarters. After that, everyone will leave for home or join their club."
The celebrations of the capital, a nation, were even more impromptu. Those who gathered in central Paris were draped in Tricolores, otherwise often scantily glad due to the summer heat, and chanted endlessly: "On a gagné!" – We have won it. L'Equipe was equally succinct the following day: 'Ils l'ont fait' – They did it! – was the headline; "EURO '84 delivered the result a whole nation was expecting," read the opening lines of the front page. "Les Bleus deserved their crown."
Two days later, on 29 July, the Tour de France was to start in the Parisian suburb of Montreuil. For now, though, for those two weeks, for that unforgettable evening, there was barely a yellow jersey in sight; as L'Équipe had predicted, Europe was dressed in blue.
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