On Wednesday the first of June at Wembley Stadium, Argentina and Italy will go head-to-head in the first of what UEFA and CONMEBOL hope to be three editions of the CONMEBOL-UEFA Cup of Champions, or the Finalissima, as it is more likely to be known as. Argentina, having triumphed over Brazil to win the 2021 Copa América, earned the right to face Italy, who return to the scene of their Euro 2020 triumph over England.
The cup is, however, not a new-fangled idea that the two continental federations conjured up themselves. Rather, it is a re-imagining of an event that first took place in 1985, and ultimately led the creation of the FIFA Confederations Cup, a much under-appreciated tournament which was disbanded at the end of the 2017 edition. Then known as the Artemio Franchi Trophy, the tournament ran for two editions before being discontinued to accommodate FIFA’s new competition (or the King Fahd Cup as it was before 1997).
Today, we take a look at the two previous matches which officially class as the precursors to Wednesday’s big event; the 1985 edition in which France took on Uruguay, and the second edition eight years later in which Argentina faced Denmark.
Organised in memory of the late UEFA President Artemio Franchi, who was killed tragically in a road accident in 1983, the first edition of the competition baring his name took place on the 21st of August 1985 at the Parc de Princes in Paris. France hosted the event having cruised to victory at Euro ‘84, while Uruguay came in as the winners of the 1983 Copa América. The South Americans had already qualified for the next year’s World Cup in Mexico, while France were still yet to qualify, having slightly underwhelmed since their Euros victory.
The French still went in as the favourites, and lined up in their usual 4-4-2 diamond formation that had served them so well previously. The Carré Magique (‘Magic Square’) in the midfield was the key to their success. Luis Fernandez sat deep, Jean Tigana worked as a box-to-box midfielder, Alain Giresse orchestrated creative play from the centre, whilst Michel Platini, captain and lynchpin of the team who scored nine goals in just six games during their Euros triumph, played in the no.10 role. All four started except for the injured Tigana, who was replaced by Thierry Tusseau.
Uruguay didn’t quite have the same star power as their French opponents, nor their South American rivals Brazil and Argentina for that matter. They did, however, have Enzo Francescoli in their ranks. A (then) twenty-three year-old attacking midfielder, Francescoli was named as the best player at the 1983 Copa América, was the reigning South American footballer of the year, and had scored a ridiculous 29 goals from 49 games as River Plate finished second in the 1984 Primera División. He would later have a spell in France with free-spending RC Paris, but is best remembered for his performances in Argentina.
The match itself was far from spectacular, but if nothing else it served as a stage for Platini and Giresse to showcase their talents. I must say this was the first time I had seen Platini outside of Euro ‘84 and the first time I had seen Giresse play a full match in any capacity, so to watch them conduct the play for 90 minutes alongside each other was a treat.
France scored their first goal after only four minutes, as Platini played in Dominique Rocheteau with a lofted pass over the Uruguay defence, with the striker promptly rounding goalkeeper Rodolfo Rodriguez to slot home. That was pretty much the only notable action of the first half, with the French defence keeping Uruguay’s attack at bay while Platini and Giresse delighted with their range of dribbling and passing.
It was much the same story in the second half, as France got their second goal in similar fashion to their first. It was Giresse this time who played a pass over the defence for José Touré, who had started the move with a wonderful bit of skill in the midfield, and France’s other striker took it in his stride before knocking the ball in past the goalkeeper. A few minutes later Platini struck the post from a free kick, while Joël Bats in the French goal saved well from a Venacio Ramos free kick. In the 79th minute, Rocheteau tapped in for his second after another beautiful pass over the top from Giresse to Touré who laid it square, but the latter was judged to have been offside. Platini also had a couple of decent chances at the end of the game, while Rocheteau nodded another chance wide.
It was, in the end, a comfortable win for the French as captain Platini lifted the inaugural Artemio Franchi Cup in front of 20,000 spectators.
It would be another eight years until the second edition of the Artemio Franchi Trophy. Uruguay, having won the Copa América again in 1987, were due to face Euro ‘88 winners the Netherlands in 1989, but neither side could agree on a date to play the fixture. The previous year also saw the inaugural King Fahd Cup, now often seen as the official precursor to the Confederations Cup. Argentina won the tournament containing the USA, the Côte d’Ivoire, and hosts Saudi Arabia, whose ruler King Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud founded and sponsored the tournament, hence its name.
Denmark had declined to participate in the King Fahd Cup as European champions, but accepted the invitation to Argentina the following year. The story of their triumph at Euro ‘92 has been widely told as one of the great upsets of international football, having only been included in the tournament shortly before its kick-off, due to Yugoslavia’s expulsion because of the ongoing conflict in the Balkans. They negotiated their way out of a group containing England, France, and hosts Sweden before knocking out the Netherlands in the semi-finals and defeating reigning world champions West Germany 2-0 in the final.
Their achievement was all the more astonishing considering their star player Michael Laudrup had boycotted the national team due to a falling out with coach Richard Møller Nielsen. His boycott continued despite the Euros triumph, but the Danes could still boast Laudrup’s brother Brian in their ranks, as well as Kim Vilfort, Henrik Larsen, and Manchester United’s Peter Schmeichel in goal.
The big story for Argentina going into the match was the inclusion of the late, great Diego Maradona. Their talismanic captain had only returned from a drugs ban at the start of the 1992/93 season, in which he had played for Sevilla, and was still being re-integrated to the national side. Maradona may have been on the decline but remained an iconic figure in the no.10 role, and the Argentines could also boast the likes of Diego Simeone, Claudio Caniggia, and Gabriel Batistuta in their starting XI.
Despite a near sell-out crowd of 34,683 at the Estadio José María Minella (a marked improvement from 1985), the game was sadly devoid of any real quality. Both goals came in the first half. Denmark took the lead on twelve minutes when Argentina right-back Néstor Craviotto comically headed into his own net from a free-kick. The South Americans equalized on the half-hour mark as Maradona fed Simeone, who slipped a ball through for Batistuta, and his cross-cum-shot was tapped in at the back post by Caniggia.
Neither side could find a winner in 120 minutes, and there were very few chances of note after Argentina’s equalizer. Schmeichel saved a diving header from Dario Franco, and also managed to save a quick free-kick from Maradona. I use the term ‘save’ very loosely, as it struck him on the side of the head almost oblivious to what was going on. I should also mention that although the Maradona in this match was past his best and lacking fitness, his talent in possession, his dribbling, skill and passing, were all there in this match, which served as a rare highlight.
The tie would be settled by a penalty shoot-out. The first six were all expertly dispatched before Sergio Goycochea saved from Vilfort. Caniggia had the chance to win the tie with his penalty, but Schmeichel denied him. The Danish redemption was short-lived, however, as Goycochea, living up to his reputation as a penalty expert, saved from Bjarne Goldbæk, and substitute Julio Saldaña won the cup for Argentina.
And so Maradona lifted his final piece of international silverware with Argentina, who had now claimed two intercontinental trophies within a year. They were noticeably short of their best in the absence of Oscar Ruggeri in defence and Fernando Redondo in midfield, but were still able to grind their way to a victory. Denmark would have their revenge two years later however, winning 2-0 in the final of the 1995 King Fahd Cup.
And so that leads us to the present. After an absence of twenty-nine years with nine Confederations Cups (including one King Fahd Cup) the Artemio Franchi Trophy returns on Wednesday night for what should be an absolutely cracking game. Lionel Messi will (hopefully) lead Argentina out onto the pitch with the likes of Paulo Dybala, Lautaro Martínez, and Ángel di María in tow. Italy meanwhile will say a fond farewell to Giorgio Chiellini, retiring from international football after the match. Although Federico Chiesa and Ciro Immobile will both miss the match through injury, there’ll be a welcome return for Leonardo Spinazzola, whilst the likes of Niccolo Zaniolo, Lorenzo Pellegrini, and Jorginho all hopefully get to grace the Wembley pitch at some point. If anything, I’m hoping it’ll be worth the £40 I spent on buying a ticket.
Thanks for reading comrades, and have an awesome day.