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France, Germany, and one of the ugliest incidents in World Cup history

Jun 30, 2014, 8:39 PM EDT

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As Germany closed out its Round of 16 win over Algeria, we heard Jon Champion allude to 1982, only this time, the ESPN broadcaster wasn’t talking up the collusion-angle that’d been reprised ahead of Monday’s game. Instead, Champion was alluding to one of the more notorious incidents in World Cup history, one that will come to the attention of a new generation of soccer fans ahead of Germany’s meeting with France on Friday in Brazil 2014’s quarterfinals.

It was the first two straight semifinals where West Germany would face Michel Platini’s France, eventually eliminating them on penalty kicks after the 3-3 draw. In the second half, however, the match was marred when German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher collided with France’s Patrick Battiston, sending the defender to the ground as he pursued a ball at the edge of the German penalty box.

Battiston would eventually be stretchered from the field and require oxygen after a hit that knocked out two teeth, cracked three ribs, and left the French player with a damaged vertebrae. Battiston didn’t regain consciousness for 30 minutes and eventually slipped into a coma.

No foul was called on the play. From YouTube:

Perhaps Champion describing this as a near-decapitation was an exaggeration, but he’s not the only one to put the incident in such graphic terms. The play is commonly referenced among the worst challenges in the sport’s history, making it even more inexplicable Schumacher was allowed to continue.

From The Observer’s Tim Pears, published six years ago:

[...] As the German journalist Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger puts it: ‘Just prior to crashing into Battiston he [Schumacher] did a little jump and turned his upper body in order to ease the impact. Ease it for himself, that is, as the helpless Battiston was hit in the face by Schumacher’s hipbone with full force, immediately going down unconscious.’

[...] By grim chance the Seville police had, for some unknown reason, barred Red Cross officials from the sidelines. It took three minutes for a stretcher to appear, lifted up from some basement store beneath the stands. Eventually uniformed men with Red Cross armbands trotted on [...]

[French captain Michel] Platini later said that he thought his team-mate was dead. ‘He had no pulse. He looked so pale.’ Finally Battiston was carried off, accompanied on one side by a medic, on the other by Platini, who walked along bent towards Battiston’s ashen face. The unconscious player’s right arm flopped over the side of the stretcher, and Platini took Battiston’s hand. He spoke softly to him as he walked. As they neared the edge of the pitch, Platini raised Battiston’s hand and kissed it.

The whole report, posted on The Guardian’s website, is worth a read (that’s a big selection, but it’s only a small piece).

Battiston eventually forgave Schumacher, but reliving the incident remains difficult. From Goal.com:

“I have forgiven [him],” he told RTL. “But I don’t want to speak about it in these circumstances.”

Schumacher recently apologised once again for his actions but Battiston revealed that he has no interest in burying the hatchet with the German face to face.

“I do not particularly want to meet him,” the former Bordeaux man confessed. “Over time, I realise that people have forever marked him with this. But now it’s finished.

“It was [an incident] on the field of play; we’ll never know if it was deliberate or not.”

Thirty-two years ago, soccer was truly a different game. Had that foul occurred today, Schumacher likely gets dismissed, leaving his team without their starting goalkeeper for the impending penalty kick shootout (West Germany eventually lost to Italy in the final). Even back in 1982, there was outrage about how the incident was handled.

Thankfully, the sport’s changed. In addition to increased scrutiny on the field, the culture around the game is less forgiving when a player shows such blatant disregard.

Still, we’re likely to hear a more about this incident in the lead up to Friday’s quarterfinal. Though unfortunate, the play serves as a small, extreme reminder of how far the game’s hopefully come.

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