PARIS (AP) — No one could beat Just Fontaine’s World Cup scoring record during his lifetime.
His 13 goals in a single tournament was set with France in 1958 and has withstood 16 World Cups since.
Fontaine’s death was confirmed Wednesday by his former club Reims and the French soccer federation. He was 89.
The closest anyone has come to Fontaine’s tally was Gerd Müller, who scored 10 for West Germany in 1970. Kylian Mbappé scored eight at last year’s World Cup.
Fontaine took six games to achieve his feat at the World Cup in Sweden, shortly after winning a French league and French Cup double with Reims and leading the league with 34 goals.
“Justo is, and will remain a legend of the French team,” France coach Didier Deschamps said.
Entering the World Cup tournament, the Moroccan-born Fontaine was a little-known forward outside of the French league. Yet he tormented opponents with his lightning speed and finishing touch — and even with someone else’s boots. He had to borrow a pair of cleats after damaging his own in practice.
Fontaine scored four goals in the third-place game against West Germany but could have had five if he had taken the penalty kick.
Fontaine set the record when FIFA did not present a specific award for the tournament’s top scorer — now called the Golden Boot.
Fontaine was modestly but symbolically rewarded.
“All I got was a rifle from a Swedish newspaper for being top marksman,” Fontaine told The Associated Press in a 2006 interview.
In addition to his feats with the national team, Fontaine won the French league title four times, the French Cup and reached the final of the 1959 European Cup during his club career with USM Casablanca, Nice and Reims.
After he retired, Fontaine co-founded France’s players’ union and served as chairman for a few years. He also briefly coached France’s national team before stints with Luchon, Paris Saint-Germain, Toulouse and the Moroccan national team.
“A French football icon has passed, and Paris Saint-Germain would like to pay tribute to the man who led them to the first division some 50 years ago,” PSG said in a statement, referring to Fontaine guiding the club to the top league after a playoff win in 1974.
The French soccer federation said tributes to Fontaine will take place across France this weekend with a “minute of homage” that will also be observed Wednesday before French Cup games at Toulouse, Marseille and Nantes.
“The death of Just Fontaine plunges French soccer into deep emotion and immense sadness,” said Philippe Diallo, the French federation’s interim president. “He wrote one of the most beautiful pages in the history of the French national team.”
Fontaine considered his World Cup record to be out of reach in modern soccer.
“I don’t think it can ever be done,” Fontaine told The AP in 2006. “The person who wants to beat me has a massive task, doesn’t he? He has to score two goals per game over seven games.”
Playing in the days when no substitutions were allowed, France lost 5-2 in the semifinals against a Brazil team featuring 17-year-old Pelé.
“As soon as Pelé touched the ball you knew he was wonderful,” Fontaine said in 2006. “He scored three against us. But it was only when I watched the final (vs. Sweden) that I realized just how good he was.”
Fontaine, who scored in every match, gave France an early lead with the first goal Brazil allowed in the tournament. But at 1-1, France defender Robert Jonquet broke his leg. Amazingly, he played on against the genius of Pelé, but the French defense was considerably weakened.
The men’s record for most goals scored in a World Cup career is 16 by Germany striker Miroslav Klose, who played in four tournaments. Fontaine, who broke the record of 11 goals scored by Hungary striker Sándor Kocsis set at the 1954 tournament, only played at one World Cup.
Brazil striker Marta has scored 17 goals at the Women’s World Cup, playing in five tournaments.
Fontaine’s meteoric rise as a scorer saw him get 200 goals in 213 games. He scored 30 goals in 21 games for France, where he formed a superb partnership with playmaker Raymond Kopa.
He described Kopa, who played for Real Madrid and then alongside him for Reims, as having “a magical left foot” and “a final pass that was pure genius.” Kopa died in 2017.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday praised the pair’s impact on French soccer, and Reims Mayor Arnaud Robinet said he wants a statue of Fontaine to be built to stand alongside Kopa’s outside Reims’ stadium. Reims hosts Ajaccio in the French league on Sunday.
Fontaine’s career at the top was effectively ended when he suffered a horrendous leg fracture after a mistimed tackle in March 1960.
The sound of Fontaine’s snapping bones was so brutally loud, France goalkeeper Dominique Colonna claimed he heard it from the other end of the pitch.
Fontaine came back from that, but his speed was gone and he retired just short of his 29th birthday.
The injury robbed him of playing at his peak — a frightening prospect — and cost him a dream move to Spain.
During his AP interview in 2006, Fontaine was asked who was the best finisher of all time.
“Fontaine,” he replied, as swiftly as he once ran.
Petrequin reported from Brussels.
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