JEFF POWELL: Just Fontaine and John Charles were the two geniuses of the 1958 World Cup… France’s football icon stakes a claim to being his country’s greatest ever player, but the Gentle Giant remains the Welsh immortal
- Legendary French footballer Just Fontaine has passed away at the age of 89
- Fontaine scored a record 13 goals in six games at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden
- Wales great John Charles was another genius to have graced the tournament
The sad death of French football legend Just Fontaine, at 89, jolts the happier memory on this St David’s Day of another genius of the 1958 World Cup Finals.
Fontaine’s 13 goals in Sweden remains a record as the highest total amassed in a single World Cup tournament.
Even so that astonishing goal rush was not enough to win the Jules Rimet Trophy, with France losing their semi-final to Brazil.
That left the most profound regret in that distant summer in the lap of Wales, who had emerged as surprise favourites.
Only for their majestic John Charles to be injured in the match prior to losing 1-0 in the quarter finals to a goal by Pele, who went on lift the first of his three World Cups.
Just Fontaine, who scored 13 goals in six games at the 1958 World Cup, has died aged 89
Wales great John Charles was injured for their quarter-final loss to Brazil in the 1958 World Cup
So majestically vital was Charles that Wales manager Jimmy Murphy was moved to remark: ‘With Big John fit we might well have won the World Cup.’
Both the Moroccan-born Fontaine and Charles would be proclaimed years later as their country’s greatest ever footballer.
While Fontaine’s status might be challenged by French fans of Michel Platini, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Eric Cantona and Patrick Vieira, Charles remains to this day the Welsh immortal. Still surpassing Gareth Bale.
Fontaine’s exceptional ratio of 30 goals in only 21 international matches for France was boosted by his singular exploits in Sweden and he was a prolific scorer in the French league.
Charles was a colossus for Wales, Leeds United and Juventus during his career
But Charles was a colossus not only for Wales but for Leeds United and most tellingly for Juventus, with whom his several honours included three Italian league titles.
More remarkably, the man beloved as the Gentle Giant in both the United Kingdom and Italy was even more widely recognised as one of the world’s greatest centre-forwards and greatest centre halves.
As such King Charles, though not Monsieur Fontaine, has a place in this, my updated all-time World XI:
(3-4-3) Gordon Banks; Franz Beckenbauer, John Charles, Bobby Moore; Lionel Messi, Alfredo Di Stefano, Johann Cruyff, George Best; Garrincha, Pele, Diego Maradona.
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