French coaching great Michel Hidalgo passes away

Perhaps no one did more to popularize French soccer in the modern era than Michel Hidalgo, who died Thursday at the age of 87 after a long illness.

Hidalgo, who scored for French club Reims in its 4-3 loss to Real Madrid in the first European Cup final in 1956, coached the French national team for eight years, retiring in 1984 after leading it to its first European Championship title.

France had struggled for almost two decades after finishing third at the 1958 World Cup. Hidalgo was named in national team coach in 1976, which coincided with the arrival of a golden generation of players led by Michel Platini. Hidalgo led France to the 1978 and 1982 World Cups and was not afraid to play attacking soccer that fit the French temperament.

Before the 1978 finals in Argentina, Hidalgo and his wife escaped a kidnapping attempt. At the tournament, France was eliminated after a tumultuous first round during which players blacked out the three stripes on their adidas shoes to protest their bonus payments and had to wear the green-and-white striped uniforms of a local Argentina team for the game against Hungary when it arrived in Mar del Plata with the wrong uniforms.

 At the 1982 finals, Hidalgo fielded one of most exciting European teams ever put together, starting three No. 10 players -- Bernard Genghini, Alain Giresse and Platini -- along with marauding midfielder Jean Tigana in what was known as the "carré magique" (magic square). France lost to West Germany in a shootout in the semifinals after blowing a 3-1 lead in overtime.

Luis Fernandez replaced Genghini in midfield at Euro 1984, where Platini scored nine goals in five matches to lead the Bleues to their first international title. Host France beat Spain, 2-0, in the final.

“The federation, our football is in mourning,” said French federation president Noel Le Graet. “Michel Hidalgo is one of the greatest names in French football ... through his footballing philosophy, his personality, his exemplary passion, he contributed to our sport shining internationally and its popularity in France.”
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