‘Arconada’s goal’ still defines Spain-France rivalry

Image: UEFA

Four decades on, it remains the mistake that defines a rivalry. Spain may have had the better of their 36 contests dating back more than a century – it’s 16-13 in the head-to-head stakes – but it’s the French celebrations after winning Euro 1984 on home soil that are most remembered. ‘Arconada’s goal’ haunts a generation of Spaniards.

The final at the Parc des Princes on June 27, 1984 was goalless after nearly an hour when France were given a free-kick in a dangerous position just outside the box. A few months earlier, Michel Platini had scored from similar range against England’s Peter Shilton. With eight goals already in the competition, Spain didn’t need to be told of the threat.

The curling shot that Platini produced wasn’t one of his best. It didn’t have enough power behind it, and Luis Arconada appeared to have the ball under control as he dived to his left. But it slithered under his body and over the line. In the final minute of the game, Jean Tigana would release Bruno Bellone with a measured pass to rub salt into Spanish wounds.

Arconada had turned 30 the day before the final, and was already a Spanish legend. He won league titles with Real Sociedad, and was a hero to no less than Iker Casillas. But for all the bravery and reflexes he showed over a storied career, it’s that one catastrophic mistake that’s most associated with his name. It stirs up such strong emotions in Spain that Andres Palop, the third-choice goalkeeper, went up to receive his Euro 2008 winner’s medal wearing Arconada’s shirt. The man who handed it over? Platini.

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There have been other traumatic losses, too. At Euro 2000, Zinedine Zidane’s majestic free-kick and balletic footwork were the highlight of a game that France won 2-1 on their way to a World Cup-Euro double. At the 2006 World Cup, Zidane, who had come out of international retirement, bossed the game as France came back from conceding an early penalty – scored by David Villa – to win 3-1. Fittingly, it was Zidane who scored the final goal.

A generation on, Spain start clear favourites, having scored 11 and conceded just two goals on their way to the last four. Their match against Germany, the hosts, was one of the best in Euro history, an end-to-end affair, but France are unlikely to be anything like as open.

They may have scored only three goals, but the team coached by Didier Deschamps are superbly drilled at the back, having conceded just one goal in five matches. Apart from Spain’s Rodri, France have the best defensive midfielders in the competition. The big question is where the goals are going to come from.

Can Kylian Mbappe overcome the discomfort of the face mask that protects his broken nose and produce the sort of virtuoso display that he did in two World Cup finals? Will dropping Antoine Griezmann and starting Ousmane Dembele and Randal Kolo Muani help Mbappe find his passing and shooting rhythm?

On the other side of the pitch, France’s back four are set to have their busiest night, with Nico Williams and Lamine Yamal asking the kind of probing questions they haven’t been exposed to before in this tournament. All that Yamal is missing after five games is a goal, while Williams’ physical prowess makes him a nightmare for defenders.

Spain showed multiple facets to their game against Germany, pouring forward and also defending deep when they needed to. They’ll need that again against France. Les Bleus may not have shown their quality so far, but there is so much talent in the ranks that they’ll be hard to live with if they can turn it on.

Prediction: Spain 2 France 1