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Platini beats Zidane for many French fans

Platini captured the imagination of generations of football lovers despite the fact that they never won the World Cup.

india Updated: May 15, 2006 14:56 IST

Who was voted best French soccer player of all time?

Zinedine Zidane, one would think, because he was the inspiration behind France's only World Cup triumph, in 1998 on home soil, and is such a gifted player.

Wrong. The answer is Michel Platini.

That poll from 2001, when Zidane was at the peak of his powers, sums up just how much the great Platini side captured the imagination of generations of football lovers despite the fact that they never won the most coveted of all trophies.

Just mention Platini to any French fan of 30-something or over and he will immediately come up with two more names: Alain Giresse and Jean Tigana.

The three formed arguably the most brilliant midfield combination ever seen. Forget rugby; in those days French flair was all about football.

That team, remembered as the Brazilians of Europe, never had a Thierry Henry or a David Trezeguet, or even a decent scrambler, but who needed a striker with a Platini around?

The frail number 10 with the delicate touch scored 41 goals from 72 appearances for his country and, during his years at Juventus, ended as the top scorer in the Italian league three times - quite an achievement for a midfielder.

In those days a player without the heart of a distance runner and the muscles of a body builder could make it to the top, which Platini did, relying only on his unique skills and game intelligence.

Tigana could run and Giresse, despite his short frame, could tackle but Platini just played with the ball.

"When I was a kid, my father told me that the ball would always go faster than I might do and I listened," Platini once said.

"Instead of running, I concentrated on letting the ball do the job. I never considered myself as an athlete."

The side won the 1984 European championship in France but on the World Cup stage they never went further than the semi-finals, in 1982 and 1986, falling to West Germany each time.

In Seville on July 8 1982, France played West Germany for a place in the final in Spain at the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium.

An infamous ugly scene marred the extraordinary match when German keeper Toni Schumacher flattened French substitute Patrick Battiston with a flying tackle that left the Frenchman concussed, injured and needing hospital treatment.