“It was a warm Saturday night in late June and the clocks were striking Twenty Three”.

Red pyrotechnics in Olympic Marseille’s Velodrome Stadia lit up the evening sky as the clock ticked near 11 pm. Not minutes before a marauding Jean-François Domergue had brought the French team level at 2-2 smashing the ball past the previously unbeatable Bento in the Portuguese goal.

With the Portugal eleven desperately hanging onto the lottery of a penalty shoot-out it was midfield maestro Jean Tigana who proved pivotal. Blue shirt hanging out over his white shorts he picked the ball up 30 yards out. Dribbling to the right of goal he eventually crossed to the feet of Platini who would score a dramatic last minute winner that took France to its first major final.

The whole of Portugal dropped to its knees. Not only in Marseille were tears shed but down the length and breadth of the Iberian coast from Braga to Faro, the entire Atlantic facing nation cried tears of frustration.

Through the years much has been talked about as regards this great Marseille semi-final of 1984. As an event, the tournament would ultimately be remembered as man of the match game-winning performances of French captain Platini. But praise also needs to go to the classical midfield set of Jean Tigana and Alain Giresse; just two of the Carré Magique which served to make France the team of the tournament.

If not the best ever that Marseille semi-final of 1984 was most certainly the most enduring match of this tournament. Venues in Nantes, Strasbourg and Paris proved able hosts but it was in Marseille where the real passion crackled and bubbled. During the semi-final, a fiercely patriotic French crowd was sent into raptures thanks to Platini’s last gasp goal.

To this day many see that Marseille clash as the best game the UEFA European Championships has ever witnessed such was the breathless impact on watching audiences. Even the players involved say that they witnessed the most passionate atmosphere ever experienced at a France international football match. Littered with majestic skills, French tricolours, blaring horns, incredible goalkeeping and fantastic technique the memory of this semi-final has come to overshadow the more respectful Paris Final.

But while the exceptional atmosphere is remembered long in the memory this was a tournament without any British involvement. The English had lost to the Danes at Wembley departing the tournament long before the Calais channel could be negotiated. Such was the non-appearance of traditional home nations many would argue that this gave the tournament its scope for individualism. The absence of English bulldog spirit and Scottish pride allowing the likes of Platini and his independent spirit to run free along the French Mediterranean coast.

Amidst all the plaudits for France and the grainy videos now watched by millions on youtube.com, memories of that talented Portugal side of the 1984 European Championships have become somewhat lost. Distinctive for its robust defensive unit and attacking mindset this was a squad deep in contrast to the more free flowing 60’s era of Eusebio.

During the 1970’s Portugal was a transitioning nation. Despite having powerful domestic sides in the Lisbon giants and the northernly FC Porto Portugal had drifted badly under the leadership of Salazar and his autocratic regime. Eventually, by the early 1970’s a growing sense emerged amongst the armed forces, opposition parties and liberals that only a revolution could take Portugal forward.

Post the Carnation Revolution of 1974 it was a democracy that began to enforce itself on Portugal. By 1975 all the Portuguese African territories were independent and Portugal held its first elections in 50 years.

But as Portugal recovered so the national team declined. After Eusebio, the national team struggled and failed to qualify for any FIFA World Cup during the 1970’s finishing last in a qualifying group for Mexico 1970. The early 1980’s followed the same pattern with qualification for Spain 1982 seeing the Portuguese finish behind both Northern Ireland and Scotland.

But underneath the international struggles domestically Sporting, Benfica and Porto were producing a new wave of supreme talent. Qualification for France 1984 had come by way of topping Group 2; a group that included the powerful USSR and the experienced Polish side.

It was the first time the nation had qualified for a major tournament since 1966.

At the core of the squad was a side littered with talented technicians from Porto. The European Cup Winners Cup final of 1984 had been lost narrowly to Juventus but the seasons’ between the European Championships in France had seen Fernando Gomes score an astronomical amount of goals for Porto making him Europe’s most feared hitman. Moreover, the talent of Gomes was complemented by a fine blend of experience, guile and natural talent from Sporting Lisbon and Benfica.

In France, the first game ended 0-0 against Germany. For the second match against the Spanish, the Iberian neighbours both left themselves with work to do after Carlos Santillana cancelled out António Sousa’s first-half opener in Marseille and it all ended in a 1-1 draw. It was the vital third tie that took the Portuguese through to the semi-final. Portugal defeating Romania 1-0. The goal came from, Nené on his 64th appearance for the team, volleying in a late winner.

Crucially, however, the Spanish ventured through as table winners to meet the Danes by virtue of scoring one more goal. This left the Portuguese facing a clash against the hosts in a patriotic and fervent Marseille.

Led by coach Fernando Cabrita Portugal took to the field in Marseille captained by the 35-year-old Benfica keeper Manuel Bento. His saves that night are now almost of legendary proportions. Many spoke of his death in 2007 about how were it not for Platini it would have been Bento that would have lifted the trophy in Paris.

At least five times in the Marseille semi-final Bento had defended his goal as if his life depended on it; making saves with his feet, hands and even while lying prone in his box. Only the majesty of Tigana and the finishing prowess of Platini would see him beaten one last time.

In defence, João Pinto eventually earned himself a place in the team of the tournament. A legendary right-back and one-club man, he would go on to spend 16 years at Porto. Before France, he had been capped just six times but would go on to win nine league titles and four Portuguese Cups culminating in success with the 1987 European Champions Cup.

Joao Pinto was complemented in defence by his Porto club mates Lima Pereira and Eurico Gomes as well as Benfica left back Magalhães.

In midfield, Fernando Chalana would, like his teammate at right back, find a place in the team of the tournament. A key figure in 1984 UEFA European Championship qualifying Chalana was even more prominent in the finals providing two assists for Rui Jordão in the Marseille semi-final against France.

The left-footed playmaker had recovered from an injury suffered against the Romanian side to complement his man-of-the-match displays against West Germany and Spain with another sublime showing against Les Bleus.

Alongside him were another three FC Porto players in the attacking midfielder Frasco, central midfield playmaker Antonio Sousa and Jaime Pacheco. Sousa had finished the domestic season in a high scoring against Juventus in the 1984 European Cup Winners Cup final. He went further by scoring the crucial strike against the Spanish during the group stages.

Up front for Portugal in that tournament were Diamantino of Benfica and the Angolan-born Rui Jordao of Sporting Lisbon. Such were the talents and impacts of these two both Fernando Gomes and the prolific Benfica striker Nené were left on the bench.

Amidst the breathless mayhem in Marseille’s Stade Velodrome the French goalkeeper Joel Bats would also make save after save. Like the sport of cycling, this semi-final tie in Marseille was a risky game where the key participants involved went for broke. The old style cycling track in the corners with domineering British floodlights above giving only hints of cycling decoration and its racing past.

Like the city of Porto in Portugal, we tend to associate the French city of Marseille with so many products, whether this is wines, liqueurs or olive oil. Its modern development as a seaport dates from the opening of the Suez canal in 1869 but for some, the key landmark of Marseille will always be the home of the local football team – the Velodrome.

Just two days after this match on June 25th the noted French Philosopher Michel Foucault would die; the sands of time running out on his life. And while the French would go on to win the Henri Delaunay trophy and take the acclaim of a heroic gallery of La Marseillaise proportions in Paris lets take two minutes to pay tribute to this powerful Portuguese side whose hopes of semi-final victory died amidst the patriotic frenzy of French mastery as the clocked ticked onto to 11pm Three in Marseille.

UEFA France European Championships 1984, Marseille 23.06.1984

France: Joel Bats, Patrick Battiston, Maxime Bossis, Yvon Le Roux, Jean-Francois Domergue, Luis Fernandez, Jean Tigana, Michel Platini, Alain Giresse, Bernard Lacombe, Didier Six: Subs: Ferreri, Bellone Coach: Hidalgo

Portugal: Bento, Joao Pinto, Lima Pereira, Eurico Gomes, Alvaro Magalhaes, Frasco, Antonio Sousa, Jaime Pacheco, Chalana, Diamantino. Rui Jordao Sub: Fernando Gomes Coach: Fernando Cabrita

France 3 (Domergue 24,114 and Platini 119 ET) v Portugal 2 (Rui Jordeo 74, 98 ET)

Att: 54,848
Ref: Paulo Bergamo (Italy)