Football has left us great milestones in its more than 150 years of history. Unforgettable moments starring players who are now legends. Memories that are already part of the collective memory of those of us who love this sport. And records that have been surpassed over the years, especially by those two players who came to “break down” the door of football history: Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. But there is one record in World Cup history that is unlikely to ever be broken: Just Fontaine’s 13 goals in six games at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. A feat worth remembering. In Pele’s early days, Just Fontaine was synonymous with goals.
The story of Just Fontaine, the goal man begins in Marrakech on August 18, 1933. Born to a Spanish mother and a French father, Just was born in a Morocco divided between the protectorates of France and Spain in Africa. Like many other historic French players, his story was born hundreds of miles away from Gaul. But his passion for football ended up leading him to play in the French league, in the best team in the country at that time, the Stade de Reims and in his national team where he left his mark in gold in the history of world football in that 1958 World Cup.
Fontaine began his love affair with the goal at Union Sportive Marocaine, the team from the city of Casablanca. Marocaine, which disappeared in 1958, was one of the most important football clubs in initiating the football movement in Morocco and had Just as one of its main assets for three seasons. The records don’t make it clear how many goals Fontaine scored in Casablanca, but they do tell us one thing: they were wellabove average.
In one of those matches, while Fontaine was doing what he did best – scoring goals – Mario Zatelli, then coach of Nice, was in the stands. Zatelli was impressed with Just’s performance, and after the game he contacted his club and said: “We have to sign this player. A year later, Just, at the age of 23, made the leap to the French league.
He spent three years at Nice, scoring 51 goals and winning a French Cup and a Ligue 1 title. This catapulted him to the legendary Stade De Reims in 1956, the best team in France at the time. Where he would end up scoring goals and would open the doors of the French national team. There he would coincide with the brilliant Raymond Kopa, his main partner in that 1958 World Cup.
He spent six seasons at Reims and broke all the goalscoring records at the time, scoring 136 goals in 136 games in four years. At one goal per game. And despite suffering a number of injuries that would cut short his career years later. He went on to glory there, winning Ligue 1 three more times and being the tournament’s top scorer in two editions. They also reached the final of the European Cup in 1959 against the almighty Real Madrid of Di Stefano and an old acquaintance and friend, Raymond Kopa. There Fontaine, who finished the tournament as top scorer with ten goals, saw the title slip from his grasp as Madrid lifted it for the fourth successive time. Fontaine went into that final with the star billing of what she had achieved just a year earlier in Sweden.
Just Fontaine: The striker of 13 World Cup goals
You can’t separate Just from the goal and Fontaine from the World Cup. The history of the World Cup has engraved the French striker in golden letters in the history of the tournament. A competition that Just almost didn’t play. He was not a regular in his national team and suffered an injury that almost thwarted one of the greatest achievements in history. Fontaine underwent knee surgery on 7 December 1957. In February, he returned to play for Reims and, as he put it years later,“walked on water“. Rather, Fontaine’s goals began to fall out of his pocket and he arrived at the world finals totally unstuck.
There he met his friend, and who would be his executioner a year later Raymond Kopa or as Just called him“Napoleon“. And they formed an unstoppable partnership at that World Cup. They shared a room, friendship and the ambition to win. Raymond dribbled, shot and Just finished. A partnership for the history of France that had the misfortune to cross paths with the unstoppable Brazil of Pele.
Just was not a first-choice starter, but the injury to Reims team-mate Rene Bliard opened the door for him. In addition, he arrived in Sweden with boots in poor condition that would end up breaking in the first training sessions, so he ended up playing with the boots of a teammate who happened to have the same foot size. Despite all these mishaps, France began their World Cup campaign on 8 June 1958 with Just as their first-choice striker.
In his World Cup debut Just Fontaine scored three goals in a 7-2 win for the French against Paraguay. In the second match Just continued his goal-scoring form and scored twice but surprisingly Yugoslavia came from behind to beat France 3-2. The Blues were playing for a place in the quarter-finals on the last day against Scotland with an eye on what happened in the Paraguay-Yugoslavia game. France beat Scotland with another Fontaine goal and went through as group winners after Yugoslavia’s draw. France were in the quarter-finals and in three games Fontaine had already scored six goals. The best was yet to come.
In the quarterfinals came Northern Ireland, who were coming off the back of eliminating Argentina, looked a tough task but France produced one of their most complete games of the tournament to sweep aside the Irish. 4-0 and another two goals from Just Fontaine. The World Cup final was already in sight but in the semi-finals a fearsome enemy loomed: the Brazil of a very young Pele, who had not conceded a single goal in the entire tournament.
It took Fontaine nine minutes to break that unbeaten run and equalise a game that had already been in the lead for the Canarinha since the second minute. The match ended 5-2 to the Brazilians but was marked by a first-half injury to a French centre-back – there were no substitutions in that World Cup – which forced the French to play with a numerical disadvantage for more than an hour of the match. Brazil eventually overcame French resistance with a second-half Pele hat-trick to advance to the Final. Fontaine already had nine.
Fontaine still had one last bullet left to make history. The consolation final against West Germany. In a match where little was at stake, the two teams left a match for history (6-3) and Just an unforgettable legacy: Fontaine scored four goals in that match, giving France the third place in that World Cup. A poker to close a dream World Cup.
That was 13 goals in six games. He scored in each of the matches he played. None of them were penalties. He debuted with a hat-trick and finished the competition with four goals. Right-footed, left-footed, opportunistic, finisher, header or individual play, Just Fontaine scored them the way he came to the national team: quietly. But leaving a mark that will be very difficult to overcome. And that’s because in today’s World Cups there is one more game played.
The end of a legend
Fontaine did not have the farewell to football that his career deserved. His career was weighed down by a chronic knee injury that prevented him from having a continuity that would allow him to exploit the football he had in his boots. In 1960, at the age of 27, he began an ordeal from which he could not recover. In a match for Reims, Just Fontaine suffered a double knee fracture in his left leg in a match against Sochaux. The Gallic striker tried to return to the game but in his last two seasons could barely pass the 20 games played. Even though he was weakened, he continued to do what he did best: score goals. He made 9 in the 18 games he was able to play before retiring prematurely at the age of 29.
Fontaine began and ended his football career scoring goals. And he is still scoring as long as we remember this feat worthy of another era but which has in Fontaine, 70 years later, the only player capable of achieving it.
“Two Egyptologists find an intact mummy. They look at her and notice that she is moving under the bandages. They rush to release her and when she can finally speak, she asks: ‘Excuse me, does Just Fontaine still hold the record for goals scored?‘”.Just Fontaine, joking decades later about his record.
Yes Just, another 70 years will pass and your record will still be intact.