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While Just Fontaine's thirteen goals took the headlines in the 1958 World Cup, France's undoubted star of the tournament was Raymond Kopa, his brilliant striking partner, the "Napoleon of football", and the first in a line of creative French playmakers continued by the likes of Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane.

The son of Polish immigrants, Raymond Kopaszewski was born on 13 October 1931 into a mining community in the North of France. As a young boy he followed his father and his brother into the mines, before a hand injury curtailed his subterranean career.

Having been interested in football throughout his early childhood, Kopa had signed for US Noeux-les-Mines in 1941, at the age of ten. Now he was able to truly focus on his football. After 8 years at Nouex-le-Mines, Kopa signed for SCO d'Angers, a French second division side, at the age of 19, staying for two seasons before being sold for 1800000 to Stade de Reims, the club where he would spend the majority of his career.

As part of a team playing what he describes as "Champagne football", at first Kopa received his fair share of criticism from journalists, who felt he was playing too much for himself and not for the team. His manager, Albert Batteaux, warned him he would be left out of the team if he didn't change the way he played.

While dribbling was one of his most potent weapons, Kopa adapted his game according to Batteaux's words of wisdom, and moved from wide on the right to playing as a creative centre forward, in a deep-lying position. With Kopa's magic in the side, Reims won the French League title in 1953 and 1955. In 1956, Reims reached the final of the inaugural European Cup, losing to the great Real Madrid side of Ference Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano. Kopa signed for Real before the start of the next season. At Real, he won three European Cup titles in as many years.

Kopa's second season at Real Madrid was the pinnacle of his career. Having been released by his club for the World Cup in Sweden at the end of the season, Kopa joined his French team-mates, and helped turn a team no-one considered as challengers into a side that finished third in the World Cup Finals.

Along the way, France topped Group B, scoring 7 goals against Paraguay in their opening game. A 4-0 win over Northern Ireland in their quarter-final paved the way for a semi-final against Brazil. A hat-trick from Pele helped eventual champions Brazil to a 5-2 win, but France bounced back to trounce Germany 6-3 in the semi-final, with Kopa scoring his third goal of the tournament, a 27th minute penalty, and supplying the passes for Fontaine to score the last four of his 13 goals in the competition. Kopa's vision, flair and brilliance had created most of Fontaine's chances in the tournament, and he was rightly given the Player of the Tournament. An impressive feat, given Fontaine's remarkable goal-spree.

Kopa was also awarded the European Footballer of the Year title in 1958, beating his team-mate Di Stefano, who won in 1957 and 1959, to the title.

Returning to Reims after the 1959 season, Kopa teamed up with Fontaine again, but injuries to both players restricting their magical partnership. By the time he retired, Kopa had played 45 times for France, scoring 18 goals, and won the French league four times with Reims (in 1953, 1955, 1960, 1962).

In 1970 he became the first French Footballer to receive the Légion d'Honneur, and in 2000 a poll in France Football magazine ranked Kopa the third greatest French player of the century, behind Platini and Zidane.


Sources:

www.rsssf.com/nersssf.html - The Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation
www.raymondkopa.com
msn.skysports.planetfootball.com/worldcup2002

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