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Germany 2006

Let's look back at the eighteenth World Cup, held in Germany in 2006 and won by Italy - their fourth win. Once again (see 1982) a Serie A match-fixing scandal at home unified the Italian team and delivered victory.

In 2002, Cameroon wore sleeveless shirts at the African Cup of Nations. FIFA responded by forbidding the wearing of vests at the 2002 World Cup Finals, so Cameroon added some odd-looking temporary sleeves. Cameroon went further in 2004, again at the African Cup of Nations, turning out in a one-piece Lyrca outfit, in which shirts and shorts formed a single garment. FIFA pointed to Law 4: shirts and shorts is the sole acceptable attire.

After much argument, Cameroon were permitted to wear the outfits in the group stages, but not the quarter-finals of the Cup of Nations. Cameroon wore them in the QF anyway and created huge headlines (despite losing the game). FIFA decided it was time to bring them to heel. On April 16, they fined Cameroon $154,000 and deducted six points from their World Cup qualifying campaign. With only 30 points on offer in their qualifying group, this was heavy punishment.

Cameroon appealed. FIFA denied the appeal. Cameroon brought in German lawyers and threatened to go all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and sue FIFA for substantial damages. The Confederation of African Football sent in a petition of support signed by all 52 African countries. On May 21, 2004, FIFA bottled it and caved. Cameroon got their six points back. Sepp Blatter said, "Do not see this as a U-turn. It is merely a pardon."

On September 4, 2004, England drew 2-2 with Austria after a calamitous error by David James in goal. The British press got stuck in as usual. The Sun actually went and found a donkey and filmed it, after many takes, making the equivalent save that James failed to make. The donkey, named Mavis, became famous. The Sun then held a phone poll asking readers to vote on who should be goalkeeper for England's next match, Mavis or David James. 95% of Sun readers voted for Mavis. James was dropped.

Australia qualified for the finals for the second time. Both our qualifications coincide with the hosting of the Finals in Germany (strictly West Germany in 1974). Let's hope this is not the start of a pattern. Of the seven World Cup winners, six qualified for the Finals in 2006. The country that didn't, Uruguay, was eliminated by Australia. :)

Sweden failed to win their first group game at the Finals again. Despite regular appearances at the Finals, they haven't managed to win their first game since 1958 the year they hosted the finals.

Australia's Ray Richards played illegally at the Finals in 1974. He was the only player to do so until Josip Simunic achieved the feat playing for Croatia against Australia. Incredibly Simunic achieved the feat in a crucial game in the full glare of the modern media spotlight, not in a dead rubber back in the 1970s. The referee, Graham Poll of England, failed to realise that Simunic's second yellow was indeed his second, assumed it was his first and let Simunic remain on the field. This time the fourth official missed it and Simunic topped Richards by staying on until the final whistle, although there was less time to go in Simunic's case. A clear pattern has emerged too: Australia's third and final round one (or group stage) game at the Finals shall feature an illegal player.

Simunic went further though. Following the final whistle he remonstrated with Poll and received a third yellow card and was sent off. So while Simunic is now one of two illegal players, he is the only player ever to receive three yellow cards in a finals match, a record all his own.

In typical FIFA fashion the official match record shows only two yellow cards awarded to Simunic. The second card has been removed from the record. Poll announced his retirement from international refereeing shortly after the match.

Italy defeated Australia 1-0 in the round of 16 (bastards). The game was decided by a penalty in the last minute. There was no time to restart afterwards. Other than games decided by a penalty shoot-out or a golden goal, this is the only Finals game decided by the last kick of the match.

Australia's progress at the Finals attracted a lot of positive attention. Many reports naturally compared our performance very favourably to our efforts in 1974. Incredibly though, articles on FIFA's official website, on at least three separate occasions, referred to Australia not managing a single point in 1974. This is of course incorrect.

The French captain, Zinedine Zidane, was sent off in the Final. Again a pattern is emerging. Following Marcel Desailly's sending off in the 1998 Final, all French captains competing in a Final must arrange for themselves to be sent off. Clearly Zidane was running out of time and getting desperate. Hence the headbutt option. And even then the referee missed it.

Italy's win marked a further step in yet another pattern. Italy lost the Final in 1970. Twelve years later in 1982, following a match fixing scandal at home, they won. A further twelve years later in 1994 they lost the Final. And a further twelve years later in 2006, again following a match fixing scandal at home, they won.

Japan / Korea 2002

Let's look back at the seventeenth World Cup, held in Japan and South Korea in 2002 and won by Brazil - their fifth win. This is the only time the Finals have been jointly hosted.

With 195 teams attempting to qualify, the qualification tournament was extraordinarily complex. For example, both Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago played 22 games and both still failed to qualify. With every game crucial, FIFA's choice of referee was important. The referee must be absolutely neutral. The game between South Africa and the Kingdom of Lesotho was one such crucial game. FIFA went all out to find a neutral referee. Eventually they settled on Boxen Chinagu of Zambia. You can imagine FIFA's dismay and embarrassment when Zambian officials informed them that Chinagu was dead. And had been for six months.

The World Cup qualifiers for 2002 produced some very high-scoring games. New Zealand defeated Fiji 13-0 in August of 1983. This was the record score for a World Cup game and it stood for a long time. Until November 24, 2000, when Iran defeated Guam 19-0. Less than six months later Australia defeated Tonga 22-0 to set a new record, not just for World Cup games, but for all full internationals. But the Aussies weren't done yet. Two days later they defeated American Samoa 31-0.

The goals times were 10, 12, 13, 14, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 32, 33, 37, 42, 45, 50, 51, 55, 56, 58, 60, 65, 66, 78, 80, 81, 84, 85, 88 and 89. Archie Thompson finished with 13 goals beating the previous records for goals in a game of 7 for a World Cup game and 10 for a full international.

When Madagascar played Tunisia on May 5, 2001 the Madagascan starting 11 players all had surnames beginning with the letter 'R'. What's more all three substitutes used on the day did too. And so did their coach. Somewhat ironically they referred to themselves as Club M.

England's FA advised the travelling Barmy Army to try an "make an effort" to show some courtesy and sensitivity towards the culture of Japan and Korea. Good luck you may say. But one guy made a genuine effort. He went to a T-Shirt shop in Japan and asked for the words "England on Tour - I Love Japan" to be translated into Japanese and put on a shirt. No-one is sure if the message was lost in translation or the printer was having a laugh, but what he ended up with was "Gay submissive Englishman seeks muscular Japanese boy". None the wiser he wore it to England's first game against Sweden.

France 1998

Let's look back at the sixteenth World Cup, held in France in 1998 and won by France - their first win. France remain the latest country to win it for the first time.

In 1966, England won and Germany were runners-up. At the final whistle the scorer of the first goal in the final, Helmut Haller, picked up the ball and kept it. No big deal, no-one gave a second thought in those days to football memorabilia and its potential value. Haller gave the ball to his son for his fifth birthday. Over 20 years it was signed by Pele, Eusebio and other greats, but ended up languishing in Haller's cellar.

When England won the right to host the 1996 European Championships the magazine Total Football suggested the 1966 ball should 'come home'. This kicked of a massive campaign. The Sun and the Mirror battled it out for the scoop of getting the ball back. The bemused Hallers said they'd listen to offers. Eventually the Mirror, Eurostar and Richard Branson clinched a deal worth 70,000 pounds to Haller. After much subterfuge the Mirror got the money shot of Haller returning the ball to Geoff Hurst after smuggling Haller into the country. Miffed, the Sun demanded the Hallers give the money to charity, which the did - allegedly. The ball now resides at the National Football Museum at Preston North End's Deepdale ground. Sadly the precious autographs have faded because Richard Branson exposed the ball to full sunlight during the handover.

Scotland met Estonia in Estonia during the qualifying stages in a match set down for a 6:45pm kick-off. The Estonians rented floodlights from Finland. Scotland complained the lights were much shorter than normal and would dazzle the players. FIFA concurred and issued a directive at 9:00am on match day moving the kick-off forward to 3:00pm to avoid the need for lights. The Scottish fans were duly informed and arrived for the early kick-off along with their team and the referees. The Estonians failed to show. The referee awarded the match to Scotland as a forfeit. The Scottish fans were delighted.

The Estonians however had never officially accepted the new kick-off time. They were also concerned about being unable to provide security at such short notice and their fans being at work at kick-off time. So at 5:00pm the Estonian team duly arrived in their team bus along with their fans for a 6:45pm kick-off. They made their point by standing around, arms folded, waiting impatiently for Scotland to turn up.

FIFA now had a dilemma. Acting with their renowned speed and efficiency they came to a decision a month later. They decided the tie should be replayed on a neutral ground. Effectively, Scotland failed to win despite the opposition failing to turn up. The Scots eventually acceded to FIFA despite feeling they were being punished for something that was not their fault. The two sides finally did meet in Monaco a further three months later. Naturally Scotland were dire and were booed off their pitch by their fans in a 0-0 draw. Fortunately for FIFA they were spared a major backlash as Scotland eventually managed to qualify regardless.

The Maldives attempted to qualify for the first time. Given that 99.6 of the islands are officially classed as water and many children hone their football skills with a coconut, little was expected. Little was delivered as the Maldives lost all six of their qualifiers a compiled the worst ever for-and-against record of 0-59.

Princess Diana died from injuries sustained in a car-crash on August 31, 1997. The day of the funeral, Saturday September 6, was declared a national day of mourning by Prime Minister Tony Blair. All Premier League games were cancelled (along with race meetings and so on). Business closed until after the funeral, re-opening at 2:00pm. The Scottish FA however, decided it should be business as usual and that its World Cup qualifier against Belarus should go ahead. FIFA had been consulted and concurred provided the usual marks of respect (black arm bands, a minute's silence, etc) were observed. Eventually after a huge hullabaloo in the English Press the game was moved back a day to the Sunday, despite the observation that you could shop, visit themes parks, buy a Big Mac or purchase a lottery ticket, but not watch, play in or bet on a football match. Scotland won the rescheduled match 4-1.

After England's first match at the finals, an unremarkable 2-0 victory over Tunisia in Marseille, Glenn Hoddle and Alan Shearer were interviewed for TV. Curiously Hoddle was shown in full while Shearer's replies came from off camera. Turns out the producer had spotted the large Marseille sign behind Shearer. Shearer's head blocked the 'M' and the 'ille' was out of shot.

Hair-cuts featured a lot at WC 1998. There was Beckham's mohawk, Seaman's ponytail and Valderama's 'fro. Nigeria's Taribo West went for green pigtails and was rebuked by Nigeria's culture minister as promoting homosexuality for his trouble. Romania went all out though. The entire team went peroxide blond for their final group game (making life very difficult for commentators). Their goal keeper was unable to join in as he was bald and their coach shaved his head in moral support. Romania lost 0-1 and went home.

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.

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.

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.

West Germany 1974

Let's look back at the tenth World Cup, held in West Germany in 1974 and won by West Germany - their second win.

The qualifications for 1974 were the beginning of a dark period in English football (and no doubt, consequently a bright period for Scottish fans). England had lost to Poland 0-2 in Poland and drawn 1-1 with Wales at Wembley. The needed a win in their final game against Poland to qualify.

The mood in England was good - a win seemed inevitable. Poland's goalkeeper, who regularly played in white socks, red shorts and a yellow jersey was labelled "a circus clown in gloves". When Poland went 1-0 up, it was surprising but not too alarming. England dominated the first half (14 corners) and eventually netted an equaliser with 27 minutes to go. But it was the clown's night - he starred in goal with an unorthodox but very effective performance. The final score was 1-1 and England were out, despite having had 35 goals attempts to just 2.

England didn't qualify again for the finals until 1982. The loss to Poland on October 17, 1973 is still talked about as a pivotal moment in English football. It took a long time to recover. (Some would say they still haven't.)

Belgium's qualification story is one of hard luck. They were drawn in the same group as 'Total Football' Holland and only one team could qualify. Their coach's maxim was let's not concede any goals and we'll be right. And it worked very well. They kept clean sheets, defeated the weaker teams and kept the Dutch scoreless for a 0-0 draw at home.

The last game away to Holland would decide who would go through. A supreme effort again kept the Dutch scoreless. Cruelly a lineman's flag denied them what appeared an legitimate goal for offside. The game finished 0-0. Sadly for Belgium, Holland went through with a better goal difference and went on to finish runners-up. Belgium are left with the unenviable record of being the only team to miss out on qualification without having conceded a goal.

FIFA's insistence on only 16 teams at the finals from 95 entrants meant for the first time that a European team would play a South American team in a qualifier. The USSR drew 0-0 with Chile in the home leg in Moscow. Then Pinochet stormed to power in Chile. The national football stadium became the setting for torture and murder. Two months after the fanatically anti-communistic Pinochet came to power, the USSR was due to play the return leg in that very stadium. Four days before the tie, the USSR put conscience above winning and pulled out and Chile duly qualified. What makes this so remarkable though, is that the game was still actually 'played'. 40,000 fans turned up to watch Chile, in full kit, go through the motions and stage the match with no opponents.

1974 was of course the first time (and now thankfully not still the only time) Australia qualified for the finals. And we managed to enter the record books on our first attempt. And it was through Welsh referee Clive Thomas, a stickler for the rules known as 'The Book' for his fondness of taking names. He was (in)famous for issuing a yellow card to a player while said player was being stretchered off with a broken leg.

Australia's third game was against the aforementioned Chile in a game rendered meaningless by earlier results. Both sides were going home. The game was played in torrid conditions and play was actually suspended during a torrential downpour. Thomas was the fourth official.

Australia's Ray Richards picked up a yellow card in the 37th minute. Late in the second half he transgressed again. The referee reached into his pocket, but generously showed Richards a second yellow (but no red) and allowed him to play on. Naturally the Australians kept their mouths shut. But the Chileans and the linesmen got into the spirit of things and also said nothing. After all it didn't matter. But Thomas couldn't contain himself. He lasted five minutes before a quiet word with a linesman ended Richards' World Cup seven minutes early. Thomas remains the only 'spectator' to ever have a player sent off and Richards remains the only player to ever play 'illegally' at the finals. Update: until 2006 that is.

The final was between hosts West Germany and Holland, two very bitter enemies following the hostilities of WWII. Fans jeered each other. The press joined in. Tension was very high. On Sunday July 7 in front of 77,000 fans in Munich's Olympic Stadium, Franz 'The Kaiser' Beckenbauer led out his team to match up against Johan Cruyff's side. How could anyone steal the limelight.

Enter English referee Jack Taylor. Supremely focused, he delayed the kick-off when he spotted that stadium staff had forgotten to put up the corner flags. But this was trivial. After just 90 seconds, before the West Germans had even touched the ball as the Dutch taunted them with possession football, Taylor awarded a penalty, the first ever in a WC Final. Beckenbauer hissed to Taylor the worst insult he could think of, "You are an Englishman of course". The Dutch went 1-0 up with the fastest goal ever in a final.

The Dutch then sat back believing they would win. The West Germans then earnt themselves a dubious penalty. Opinions are divided over the decision - was it a dive? Taylor later said curiously the penalty was for 'intent' not 'contact'. It was 1-1 after 25 minutes. So after going 44 years without a penalty in a final we now had two. Holland, rattled, conceded another before half-time. As the players left the pitch at the break Taylor gave Cruyff a yellow card for backchat. There were no further goals; the game finished 2-1 to West Germany. Sadly such a momentous game is largely remembered for the referee.

Postscript: At a glittering FIFA bash in 1999, Jack Taylor was admitted into the FIFA International Hall of Fame. Beckenbauer said a few nice words. Cruyff actually presented the award. As Taylor approached the Dutch legend, he reached into his pocket, drew out a yellow card and held it aloft. It brought the house down and once again Taylor had stolen the show.

Mexico 1970

Let's look back at the ninth World Cup, held in Mexico in 1970 and won by Brazil. Some say this was this greatest Brazilian team ever, if not the best team ever. They clinched Brazil's third win, the first country to win it three times.

El Salvador qualified for this World Cup in a historically significant fashion. The actual history makes for fairly unsavoury reading. Suffice to say their qualifiers against Honduras were marred by riots and several deaths. The press and governments of both countries actively made things worse.

After each country won one game each, the playoff was moved to neutral territory. El Salvador triumphed 3-2 in that game. A few days later troops from both countries began assembling on border territory. On July 14 1969, war broke out. Officially it only lasted four days, but 6000 people died and the conflict dragged on for years.

There were many factors that caused this war, including a decade of tension and economic hardship. But it seems fairly clear that the World Cup qualifiers between the two countries did act as a catalyst. So perhaps George Orwell, who wrote in 1946, that "football was war minus the shooting" was not too far off the mark.

When Bulgaria played West Germany at the finals in June of 1970, Milko Gaidarski made his World Cup debut. What was remarkable about this was he was the first Bulgarian player at the World Cup finals whose surname doesn't end in a 'v'. (To date Bulgaria have played at seven finals and only one other player has matched this 'record'.)

On June 11 1970, England faced Czechoslovakia for a spot in the quarter-finals. A 2-0 loss would mean a coin toss. Anything better would put them through. Allan Clarke made his full international debut up front for England. June 11 was a red letter day for Clarke. It was his wedding anniversary, his wife's birthday and the day he transferred to Leeds for a then record transfer fee. He was so confident he volunteered to take any penalties England were awarded.

Sure enough England were awarded a penalty just before half-time with the scores 0-0. Viewers at home were expecting Bobby Charlton to step up in his record-equalling 105th appearance for England to score his 50th international goal. They were quite surprised to see Clarke step up. Needless to say, Clarke scored, England won 1-0 and June 11 is now even more special for Clarke.

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