L has been learning some new social skills at pre-school. These centre around threatening to no longer be someone's friend if they don't do what L wants. This has been extended at home to threatening J that she will no longer be his sister.

A few days later it finally happened. Despite over three years of faithful service, hundreds of stories before bedtime, etc. etc. I am disowned. For requiring L to eat her vegetables, she has relinquished me. "I'm not your daughter any more." The unkindest cut of all.

BTW, I'm sure this is a girl thing. J never did this.

Brazil vs Australia

After spending a few unexpected days on top of our group table, anything seems possible. I elect to drive into our club pub to watch this match against one of the tournament favourites (although not in my view). Driving in, the news comes through that Croatia and Japan have played a 0-0 draw. This is awesome as a draw with Brazil would mean Croatia would have to beat us by a couple of goals to stop us progressing to the round of 16.

U.S.A. 1994

Let's look back at the fifteenth World Cup, held in the USA in 1994 and won by Brazil - their fourth win, the first nation to win it four times.

Football fans and critics were mostly united in their criticism of FIFA awarding the tournament to the USA, hardly a footballing nation. However, the football turned out okay and it's generally agreed it was a pretty good tournament. The attendance record is yet to be beaten.

Two things book-end the tournament - the opening ceremony and the Final. At the opening ceremony, Latino singer Jon Secada was supposed to be elevated to the stage on a rising trapdoor. Unfortunately it jammed, he stumbled, dislocated a shoulder and sang the national anthem with just his head and shoulders visible on stage. Oprah followed up by falling full-length as she dismounted the stage.

Top billing though went to Diana Ross. She was supposed to score from a penalty. Incredibly, despite a funnel-shaped guard of honour to guide her shot, she missed. The keeper still dived as choreographed and the goals still split asunder (supposedly parted by the ferocity of the shot).

At the other end of the tournament, Baggio shot high over the bar to gift Brazil the game in the first ever Final decided by a penalty shoot-out. To quote a British journalist: "The 15th World Cup ended exactly as it began - with a risible penalty miss by a highly paid and vastly overrated superstar."

Pakistan failed to qualify, but Farooq Aziz, once he obtained permission from his school's headmaster, became the youngest World Cup debutant at the age of 15 years, 4 months and 28 days. France and England also both failed to qualify.

80,000 fans turned up to watch a dead rubber between the USSR and Cameroon. They were rewarded with three records. Russia's Oleg Salenko became the first player to score five in a finals game. Cameroon's Roger Milla came on as a substitute and scored a consolation goal to claim two records: the oldest player ever to appear in a finals game and the obvious follow-up, the oldest player to score in a finals game.

This Little Piggy

Tinkerbell has modernised this nursery rhyme to begin:

This little piggy went to the super-market ...

Australia vs Japan

For many of us, our first ever finals match, as we weren't alive or don't remember 1974. Jamie and I had tickets to a special event at IMAX to watch the match on the big screen. And what a match it turned out to be.

We'd long known that we had to get off to a good start, ie. win this match, to have any chance of progressing to the Round of 16. Japan were our weakest opponents. We had to expect to lose to Brazil. And we didn't want to go into a match against Croatia needing a win.

Italy 1990

Let's look back at the fourteenth World Cup, held in Italy in 1990 and won by West Germany - their third win, the third nation to win it thrice.

Chile required a win against Brazil in their final qualifying game at the Maracana. Unfortunately for them Brazil scored in the 50th minute. As the Brazilian crowd began to celebrate, 24-year-old secretary, Rosemary de Mello, threw a flare onto the field. Chilean goalkeeper and captain Roberto Rojas fell dramatically to the ground clutching his face. Chilean players and officials surrounded him. He was soon taken off the field with blood pouring down his face.

Things looked grim for Brazil. Serious crowd disorder could result in an automatic forfeit. FIFA delegates went to the Chilean dressing room. Rojas couldn't carry on and the match was abandoned. But some Brazilians were suspicious. They flare hadn't landed that close to Rojas and the blood only arrived after a trainer attended to Rojas. A full FIFA investigation followed.

Rojas had cut himself deliberately with a scalpel to produce the blood. A false medical certificate had been issued by the team doctor. Rojas' jersey and gloves were destroyed to evade a forensic examination. Brazil were fined $30,000 for crowd disorder but awarded the game 2-0. Chile were fined $100,000, missed out on Italia 90 and were banned from USA 94 for good measure. Rosemary de Mello became a celebrity, worked as a PR agent for Brazil at Italia 90 and went on to appear in Playboy.

1990 marked Ireland's first appearance at the finals. They had appointed an Englishman, Big Jack Charlton, as their manager for the qualifiers. This was scandal enough, but when he started stretching the eligibility rules to the limit and scouring the English league for recruits it was too much for some. But when they won their last four qualifiers, Big Jack (now O'Charlton) became a national hero.

Ireland's first group game was against England. They held England for a comfortable 1-1 draw with Welsh-born Kevin Sheedy getting Ireland's goal. A 0-0 draw against Egypt followed. Then a late goal to snatch a draw against Holland saw Ireland qualify for the second round. Incredibly, they did so without winning a game. (Scottish fans looked on aghast.) They then beat Romania on penalties to earn a quarter-final against Italy, still not having won a game in regulation time. Eventually they went out to Italy 1-0.

They played five games, scored two goals and conceded three. Their captain, Mick McCarthy won the unofficial "dirtiest player of the tournament" award for 23 fouls in five games. A bronze status of Big Jack adorns the arrival lounge at Cork Airport. And not one of their 22-man squad that went to Italy was born in Ireland.

World Cup Finals 2006 - Almost

I gave a presentation on the World Cup today. It was very well attended and I received lots of good feedback. I spoke for about 90 minutes and included slides and video. Great fun.

With the World Cup due to kick-off tomorrow, I thought I should make a few predictions:

Mexico 1986

Let's look back at the thirteenth World Cup, held in Mexico in 1986 and won by Argentina - their second win, the fifth nation to win it twice.

In 1966 the Jules Rimet trophy was stolen (remember Pickles). At the time, the Brazilians loudly condemned the English, saying such a thing could never happen in Brazil as Brazilian thieves would never stoop so low. You know where this is going don't you. After securing the trophy forever with their third win in 1970, the trophy was on permanent display at the Brazilian FA in Rio de Janeiro. That is, until December 23, 1983 when it was stolen. Pele appealed for it to be returned for the sake of the soul of Brazilian football. It never was. No-one knows if it remains in someone's private collection or if was melted down for the gold. The Brazilians now only have a replica.

FIFA's reaction was to improve security. World Cup winners must hand the trophy back and are given a replica to keep. Three-time winners are no longer allowed to keep it for good. FIFA often substitutes copies at a whim.

A carelessly discarded cigarette lead to the only World Cup Final replay ever. On May 11, 1985 Bradford City's stadium was burned to the ground after a fire started from a tossed cigarette butt. A large crowd was in to celebrate Bradford's success in winning the Third Division. 56 people died.

The Bradford City Disaster Fund was quickly established. Leeds United lent Bradford the use of Elland Road while their stadium was closed. To raise funds England and Germany staged a replay of the 1966 Final on July 28, 1985. The players were 20 years older but still very recognisable. They raised £46,000 for the Disaster Fund.

And the score? England improved on their 1966 effort by winning 6-4. Geoff Hurst, still the only man with a World Cup Final hat-trick, again put away three. When quizzed about it: "Showing the Germans the action replay was all in a good cause".

Club vs Country has long been a dilemma for the elite player. But Danish striker, Soren Lerby has a unique record in this regard. He played for Denmark against Ireland in a must-win game for Denmark to ensure they finished top of their qualifying group. With the Danes up 3-1 at half-time he was substituted, boarded a private jet laid on by his German club Bayern Munich. He arrived home just in time to come on a substitute at half-time in a 1-1 draw in a third-round cup tie. Bayern won the replay and went on to win the cup. Lerby is the only player to play in a World Cup match for his country and a club match in two different countries on the same day.

It's impossible to cover WC 1986 without mentioning the quarter-final between England and Argentina. Bearing in mind the "animals" of the 1966 quarter-final and the fact this was the first time the two countries had met since the Falklands war, this was always going to be a special game. Diego Maradona scored two goals in five minutes that have gone down in history. The first was the infamous Hand of God goal, the second a mazing run that culminated in what has been voted the greatest WC Finals goal of all time. And doesn't that just sum up Argentina? Incredible ability mixed with the deceit and win-at-all-costs mentality.

Spain 1982

Let's look back at the twelfth World Cup, held in Spain in 1982 and won by Italy - their third win, the second nation to win it thrice.

For the first time FIFA increased the number of teams at the finals from 16 to 24. Round one became six groups of four. Round two was four groups of three. The winners of each group progressed to the semi-finals.

Some titbits:

  • Bryan Robson scored for England against France after just 27 seconds, the then fastest goal at the finals.
  • Norman Whiteside played for Northern Ireland at age 17 years and 41 days, still the youngest player ever to play at the finals.
  • England were eliminated without losing a game.
  • Scotland were eliminated on goal difference for the third finals in a row.

The game between El Salvador and Hungary, won by Hungary 10-1 (HT 3-0) produced several records:

  • This is the only time double figures have been reached in a finals match.
  • This is the equal largest winning margin (nine).
  • Hungary are the only team to score seven goals in a half.
  • Laslo Kiss came on for Hungary in the second half and scored a hat-trick in just seven minutes. This remains the fastest hat-trick at the finals AND Kiss remains the only substitute to have scored a hat-trick.

When Kuwait played France they were down 0-3 at half-time. An early second half goal gave them a sniff at 1-3. However France replied almost immediately and the referee awarded the goal. But. The Kuwaitis hesitated at the final pass. They surrounded the referee and insisted they'd heard a whistle in the crowd and pleaded for a reprieve. No chance you'd think.

Well with a wave of his hand, a robed Sheik called his team from the field. For 10 minutes play was delayed. The Sheik entered the field. No-one knows what was discussed but eventually order was restored. Everyone was gob smacked when the goal was cancelled and play resumed with a drop-ball. The Sheik was fined £8,000. The referee never refereed another finals game. France still won.

Group 2 consisted of Algeria, Chile, West Germany and Austria with the latter two expected to progress. However, when Algeria shocked Germany 2-1 anything was possible. Once again FIFA played its part by continuing to play group games on different days. The last game of Group 2 was between West Germany and Austria, the day after Algeria played Chile in the penultimate game. A draw or win for Austria would eliminate West Germany and Austria and Algeria would go though. A win for West Germany by three, would eliminate Austria and West Germany and Algeria would go through. But a 1-0 or 2-0 win for West Germany would eliminate Algeria and Austria and West Germany would go through.

West Germany started at fever pitch and scored after just ten minutes, with Pierre Littbarski (yes the former Sydney FC coach) laying on the final pass. And that was it - both teams effectively stopped playing. For the remaining 80 minutes the ball was passed around, often at walking pace, with no side making any genuine attempt to score. Algerian supporters at the game howled and waved bank-notes implying the fix was in. The Algerians went out on goal difference.

Algeria protested furiously of course, but FIFA could do nothing: "There is no FIFA rule saying that teams cannot play as they wish." Thankfully, FIFA finally did see the light though, and all "related" games are now played simultaneously at the finals.

The semi-final between France and West Germany is long remembered for one man: Harald Schumacher. At this point 644 finals matches had been played and some 13,000 fouls recorded, but Schumacher is remembered for what is often described as the World Cup's worst foul.

French substitute Patrick Battiston raced clear onto Michel Plattini's through ball. Schumacher raced out wildly and took out Battiston in a sickening collision. Incredibly not only did Schumacher remain on the field, but no foul was awarded. Schumacher went on to save two penalties in the shootout as West Germany progressed to the final.

As for Battiston, he lost two teeth and suffered a fractured vertebrae. He was stretchered off unconscious. Several spectators actually believed he was dead. As it was, he spent several weeks in hospital. In a French newspaper poll, Schumacher was voted the most unpopular man in history. Hitler came second.

There was some justice though. Schumacher played in both the 1982 and 1986 finals, lost both and was widely blamed for the 1986 loss.

Argentina 1978

Let's look back at the eleventh World Cup, held in Argentina in 1978 and won by Argentina - their first win, making them the sixth nation to win.

For the first time more than 100 nations chose to enter. FIFA though, stuck with 16 teams at the final, the same number as the first World Cup when qualifiers were yet to be thought of.

This made the qualifiers more important than ever, and while it is sad, it is perhaps not surprising that eight people died at two highly-charged qualifiers. As a direct result the number of qualifiers was increased to 24 in 1982. But to some extent this had the wrong effect as it increased the expectations of the lesser nations.

Scotland looked forward to a big performance at WC 1978. They'd qualified and England hadn't and they believed they had a good squad. Further, with a supposedly weak first round group, they seemed almost certain to proceed into the second round. Ladbrokes actually had Scotland at 8-1 to win the whole thing.

Being Scotland, they were eliminated in the first round and managed to break the hearts of their fans. They lost to Peru and drew with Iran meaning they had to beat Holland by three goals to proceed. No-one gave them a chance. But with the pressure off they turned a 0-1 deficit into a 3-1 lead capped by an amazing goal to Archie Gemmill in the 68th minute. The fans went mad. Another strike and they were through. Sadly for them Holland scored another and it was all over.

The whole roller-coaster saga passed into folklore. Thousands of words were written. Two plays opened at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival featuring the tournament. Archie Gemmill's great (but meaningless) goal featured in the movie Trainspotting and formed the centrepiece for a ballet called The Nutmeg Suite. Only in Scotland.

Argentina was run by a military junta in 1978. The dictatorship came to power in a coup in 1976. They invested heavily in the World Cup as a means of legitimacy and popularity among their own people. Argentina's success is, at the very least, tainted by accusations of bribery and match-fixing by the junta.

While several of Argentina's games brought complaints of favouritism from the referees, no game epitomises the corruption more than Argentina's final group game in the second round. FIFA still managed to play its part though with some typical mis-management.

The tournament structure was the usual four groups in round one. The top two from each group went into the second round, also a group stage. The winners of each of the second round groups went into the final, the runners-up played off for 3rd/4th.

FIFA gave the final two games in Argentina's group different kick-off times. So by the time Argentina came to play the last game, they knew they had to beat Peru by four goals to pip Brazil for the top spot. So far, Argentina had scored six goals in five games. It didn't seem likely.

Extraordinarily the leader of Argentina's junta visited the Peruvian dressing-room before the game. Argentina went on to win 6-0 to progress to the final. Shortly after the World Cup Argentina shipped 35,000 tonnes of free grain to Peru as a humanitarian gesture. Arms are believed to have followed. The Argentine bank unfroze $50m in credits for Peru's own junta to use. Many Peruvian generals retired to particularly impressive homes. I believe the legal term for all of this is circumstantial evidence.


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