French soccer legend Just Fontaine, known for his lightning pace and finishing ability, died Wednesday, March 1, at age 89. Fontaine won four French league titles and developed into a dangerous scorer, logging 200 goals in 213 career games. He scored 30 times in 21 matches for the French national team, and went on to coach the squad for two games in 1967.
Aside from those impressive accomplishments, Fontaine, born in Marrakesh, Morocco, is best known for his transcendent performance at the 1958 World Cup. He set the event scoring record and helped lead France to a third-place finish. When looking at the World Cup—and soccer as a whole—through a modern lens, some of the details of Fontaine’s six-match run in Sweden are still remarkable.
What Is Just Fontaine’s World Cup Record?
Fontaine scored 13 goals at the 1958 World Cup, a mark that hasn’t been topped in the 16 tournaments held since.
For more recent context, the entire Argentine team scored 23 goals over its nine matches at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Fontaine began the tournament with a hat trick, leading the French team from behind to a 7-3 win over Paraguay. In the next group game, he scored twice—including an equalizer in the 85th minute—in a 3-2 loss to Yugoslavia.
He also scored in each of France’s three knockout round matchups, including four goals in a 6-3 win over West Germany in the third-place match. His game-worn jersey is on display at the FIFA Museum in Zurich, Switzerland.
In a 2016 interview with FIFA, Fontaine said a knee operation in December 1957 and the subsequent recovery time provided an advantage for the summer tournament.
“That gave me a little winter break which meant that, in June, I was fresh and the others weren’t,” Fontaine said.
Fontaine also played in the tournament with a pair of borrowed boots. After his own boots wore out, teammate and reserve Stephane Bruey shared his cleats because they were the same size.
The top scorer at the World Cup now receives the Golden Boot award, but FIFA didn’t present a similar individual honor at the time of Fontaine’s feat.
Has Anyone Threatened Fontaine’s World Cup Record?
In short, no.
The only player to score 10 times in a World Cup after Fontaine was Germany’s Gerd Muller in 1970, and it took another 32 years until anyone challenged that mark. Ronaldo netted eight goals for Brazil in 2002.
Current France star Kylian Mbappe scored eight times at the most recent Cup in Qatar, including a memorable hat trick in the final against Lionel Messi and champion Argentina, to earn the Golden Boot.
“Beating my record? I don’t think it can ever be done,” Fontaine told the Associated Press in a 2006 interview. “The person who wants to beat me has a massive task, doesn’t he?”
American Michelle Akers has the highest mark in Women’s World Cup history with 10 at the inaugural tournament in 1991.
What Happened After Fontaine’s World Cup Record?
Fontaine never played in the World Cup again. He suffered a double leg fracture because of a mistimed tackle during a 1960 match, and he was forced to retire in 1962 at age 28.
He went on to coach Paris Saint-Germain, leading the club into France’s top playing division in 1974. He also helmed Toulouse and the Moroccan national team, leading the latter to a third-place finish at the Africa Cup of Nations in 1980.
Fontaine also became the first president of the French players union in 1961.
The legacy of Fontaine and his record is evident in the tributes that poured in after his death. One of Fontaine’s former teams, Reims, sent condolences to his family and loved ones on Wednesday in a tweet calling the striker an eternal legend.
FIFA listed his 1958 performance among its top 100 moments in World Cup history last year. The governing body’s headquarters shared a photo of its flags flying at half-mast on Wednesday to honor Fontaine.
The Union of European Football Associations, or UEFA, simply said, “Rest in peace, ‘Justo.’”
Tyler Piccotti joined the Biography.com staff in 2023, and before that had worked almost eight years as a newspaper reporter and copy editor. He is a graduate of Syracuse University, an avid sports fan, a frequent moviegoer, and trivia buff.