Cometh the hour…

France may not have a reliable striker going into their own World Cup, but Cris Freddi indicates how history suggests that they need not worry yet

Just like old times. As in the days of Platini & Co, France score their share of goals from midfield (Djorkaeff 15 at a rate of one every two games) but can’t find someone to do the job up front. Christophe Dugarry’s scored twice in twenty matches, Patrice Loko’s suffered his second nervous breakdown in three years, and the search seems to be getting desperate. Stéphane Guivarc’h scored an equaliser on his debut but that was back in October; Bernard Diomède’s a surprise choice, David Trezeguet only twenty, Everton’s Mickael Madar good in parts. There’s even been talk of recalling Papin, who’s 34.

If the problem’s going to be solved, it’ll probably have to be done during the finals themselves. It’s happened before. It’s even been enough to win the whole thing, sometimes for the host country.

In their first match of the 1958 tournament, Brazil fielded the 19-year-old Altafini, who scored twice in a 3-0 win but was dropped after the goalless draw with England. In came Garrincha on the wing and the 17-year-old Pelé, who hit the post in the second minute and scored six goals in the competition, including three in the semi and two in the final. Brazil didn’t look back.

Four years later Pelé scored a breathtaking goal in the opening game but was injured in the second. Brazil still retained the trophy, mainly because Garrincha took over the great man’s mantle but also because Pelé’s replacement Amarildo scored his first international goals in the vital group match against Spain and shot a quick equaliser in the final.

By 1966 Jimmy Greaves seemed to have fully recovered from illness, scoring four times in one of England’s warm-up matches. But no one’s really the same again after a bout of jaundice (ask Lineker), and Greaves failed to score in the first three matches of the World Cup, picking up an injury in the third, England looking stodgy throughout. Enter Geoff Hurst, whose previous international, four days after Greaves scored those four goals, had been “probably the worst match of my life”. The rest we know: the header that won Rattin’s Match, the three goals in the final.

For the 1978 finals held at home, Argentina’s coach César Luis Menotti recalled only one player from Europe, Mario Kempes, who’d been only 19 when he scored two goals against England at Wembley in 1974 but then disappeared without trace in the World Cup a month later. In 1978 he played well enough but didn’t score in the first three matches. His superb header against Poland in the second round was his first in a finals match. He eventually played in 18 of them, scoring in only three – but that was enough to make him top scorer in the 1978 tournament and win it for Argentina.

Four years later Italy didn’t so much discover a goalscorer as reprieve one. Paolo Rossi had been one of the finds of the 1978 finals, scoring three times and looking a nimble all-round forward. But then he got himself involved in a major match-fixing scandal, as if he needed the money.

Like Eric Gerets later, he served a suspension that was short enough (less than two years) to let him play in the next World Cup. Like Kempes, he made a slow start, failing to score in the first four games, leaving Italy visibly short on firepower: they qualified because they managed two goals to Cameroon’s one. Denis Law wasn’t the only one to think “You can’t be out of the game for two years and come back in a tournament like the World Cup.”

Rossi scored Italy’s next six goals, including that famous hat-trick against Brazil, both goals in the semi and the first in the final. A two-year sentence for cheating then a World Cup medal and European Footballer of the Year trophy. Nice work if you can get it.

Some historical comfort there for today’s French side – but of course it hasn’t always been like that. Most eventual winners had their strike force already in place: Piola in 1938, Morlock and Rahn in 1954, Gerd Müller in 1974, Klinsmann and Völler in 1990, Romário in 1994. And finding a goalscoring saviour isn’t always enough (Schillaci in 1990). Sometimes they get injured after scoring three goals in two games (Anselmo 1930).

Even so, the French can take heart from one last example, and it’s one of their own. After scoring 19 goals in their four qualifying matches for the 1958 finals, they lost René Bliard to an injury that ended his international career just before the tournament. His strike partner in the previous match, a goalless draw at home to Switzerland, had to play as a lone striker in the finals. He began them with a hat-trick against Paraguay and finished with four goals in the third-place match: 13 in all, a record that’s likely to survive for the foreseeable future. Even a fraction of Just Fontaine’s total will put the name of Guivarc’h up in lights. With the right spelling too.

From WSC 135 May 1998. What was happening this month