Revisiting Just Fontaine’s incredible World Cup record

While wearing the iconic blue of France, Just Fontaine was simply untouchable, an attacking force whose goals-to-game ratio is among the best football has ever seen.

The likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo dominate the headlines when the game’s greatest is debated, but for many of a certain vintage, Fontaine, who passed away at the age of 89 years old on March 1, was a true goalscoring genius. And his exploits at the 1958 World Cup, a tournament won by teenage sensation Pele’s Brazil, will most likely never be matched.

Held in Sweden, the 1958 edition of the World Cup is synonymous with Pele’s breakthrough as a leader in global football. Aged just 17, the Brazilian forward plundered in six goals as the Seleção Canarinha won their first title.

But while Pele was making a name for himself, Fontaine was breaking records – including scoring a stunning 13 goals in just six matches, a record that still stands today.

Fontaine made his debut for Les Bleus on December 17, 1953, scoring a hattrick as France netted eight against European minnows Luxembourg. By the time his international career ended in 1960, he’d amassed 30 goals in just 21 matches.

Astonishingly, nearly half of them were scored in that single World Cup 65 years ago.

At the tournament, France was drawn into Group 2, alongside Paraguay, Yugoslavia and Scotland. Unsurprisingly, after each team had faced each other, the group became a World Cup record-breaker in its own right, with more goals scored than any other in the tournament’s history.

In total, 31 goals were scored across the six matches, with Fontaine netting six of his 13 goals, meaning he headed into the quarter-final stage as the World Cup’s leading scorer.

In France’s first match, Les Bleus defeated Paraguay 7-3. Fontaine, who was born in the Moroccan city of Marrakech, collected the match ball, before scoring two more in the French 3-2 loss to Yugoslavia.

The final group game saw France needing a victory to move into the next phase of the tournament, and again they relied on Fontaine, who scored the decisive second goal in his side’s 2-1 win over Scotland.

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That victory, coupled with a surprise Yugoslavia draw against Paraguay, endured France moved on as group winners, and were drawn against Northern Ireland in the quarter-final stage.

More goals duly followed for the rampant Fontaine.

France would run out 4-0 winners over Northern Ireland, with Fontaine scoring twice. Next up was the tournament’s favourites Brazil. Fontain equalised for Les Bleus in the ninth minute, but sadly for him and his side, they wouldn’t be able to crush their South American rivals, eventually losing 5-2.

But there was still one more match for Fontaine and France to secure their spot in the history books. But standing in their way of securing third spot were their much fancied European counterparts West Germany, the defending champions.

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Another match ball duly followed for Fontaine as he scored four, with France running out 6-3 winners, and securing the Frenchman as the tournament’s Golden Boot winner.

Despite only playing in one World Cup, Fontaine’s goalscoring feats remain and he is the fourth-highest goalscorer in the tournament’s history, behind Gerd Müller (14 goals), Brazil’s Ronaldo (15 goals) and Miroslav Klose (16 goals).

He is currently tied with Messi.

Fontaine, who played for USM Casablanca, Nice and Reims, was forced to retire early at the age of 28 years old as a result of a recurring injury.

His involvement in football continued, though, and he had a spell as France manager – an ill-fated spell that ended after only two games.

But he had better joy while coach of Morocco, leading the Atlas Lions to third place at the 1980 edition of the African Cup of Nations, and then reaching the final stage of the 1982 World Cup qualifying.

His former club sides were among those to pay tribute, including Reims who Fontaine helped steer towards European Cup glory in 1959, with his side just missing out to Real Madrid in the final.

They hailed him a “star of French football, an outstanding striker, a legendary Reims player,” while Paris St-Germain, where he was a director, added: “A thought for Just Fontaine. An icon of French football who has left us.”

The French Football Federation’s interim president, Philippe Diallo, said: “The death of Just Fontaine plunges French football into deep emotion and immense sadness.

“He wrote one of the most beautiful pages in the history of the French team.”

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