Wednesday 01 March 2023, 11:45

FIFA World Cup record-breaker Fontaine dies

  • Just Fontaine has passed away at the age of 89

  • The former France striker holds the record for the most goals scored at a single FIFA World Cup™

  • His achievements in world football will forever be remembered

While it is often said that records are there to be beaten, the fact remains that the one for most goals scored at a single FIFA World Cup™ has stood for fully 65 years and looks likely to remain unbeaten for some time yet.

Sadly, the man who set that record, legendary France striker Just Fontaine, passed away on Wednesday 1 March at the age of 89.

“My record is still standing,” said the former front man in 2002. “I think I’ll take it with me to my grave.”

It was a prediction that turned out to be correct. Born in 1933 in the Moroccan city of Marrakech, to a French father and a Spanish mother, Fontaine was 20 when he moved to France to play for OGC Nice. His tally of 53 goals in 82 matches with the southern club attracted the attention of Stade Reims, a powerhouse of the French game at the time, and the France team. Between 1953 and 1960, Justo scored a remarkable 31 goals in just 21 appearances for Les Bleus, an eye-catching return that owed much to a rich vein of form on the biggest stage of them all.

In representing France at the 1958 FIFA World Cup Sweden™, the front man scored an incredible 13 goals, more than any other player at a single edition of the tournament before or since. The scorer of four goals against West Germany in the match for third place, Fontaine also struck a hat-trick against Paraguay, braces against Yugoslavia and Northern Ireland, and a goal apiece against Brazil and Scotland.

Speaking in 2014, he recalled with a smile his injury-affected build-up to the World Cup: “I had an operation on my meniscus on 7 December and I was back playing again on 15 February. I did what I had to do to come back and by June I was walking on water, like Jesus.” Remarkably, he achieved his record-breaking feat in someone else’s boots, having worn out his last pair at France’s final training session before heading to Sweden. “We were given just two pairs of boots at the time, and no sponsor. I was left with nothing,” he explained.

French forward Just Fontaine is carried off the field by his teammates (from L) Yvon Douis, Andre Lerond and Jean Vincent after scoring four goals against West Germany at the 1958 FIFA World Cup

Fortunately, reserve striker Stephane Bruey was the same shoe size and came to the rescue by loaning Fontaine his. “Some of my goals were inspired by combining two spirits inside the same boot,” the Bleus legend liked to recall.

Beaten in the semis by Brazil, France had to content themselves with the bronze medal. “I quickly forgot about my personal performance,” he once said. “I prefer to focus on our third place and not me coming first. At the time, nobody cared that much about the top scorer.” While that may be true, his achievement lives on all these years later.

French forward Just Fontaine (2nd L) scores the third goal for his team past West German goalkeeper Heiner Kwiatkowski at the 1958 FIFA World Cup

In paying tribute to Fontaine, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said: “It is with great sadness that we have learned of the passing of Just Fontaine. Just was an icon of the game, and his remarkable performance in 1958 cemented his legacy as one of the greatest FIFA World Cup players of all time. To score a record 13 goals in a single FIFA World Cup – to this day – is something that has never been matched. The mark he made on world football will be forever remembered and the record, quite possibly, never bettered. My deepest condolences are with Just’s loved ones at this difficult time. Rest in Peace.”

Perhaps someone will come along and eclipse the great Fontaine’s amazing record one day. Yet even if they do, his place in the history books and the hearts of football lovers all over the world is secure.