Monday, November 29, 2010

Sweden started their campaign modestly as well – a 0-0 tie in the opening match against Bulgaria. My impression was that Sweden overestimated Bulgaria and played with unnecessary caution. Predictions about the ‘iron group’ were becoming true… and although Sweden looked better team than both Bulgaria and Uruguay, this tie may cost them dearly.
The second match was again mighty Holland and ended with surprising result: 0-0. Some observers, especially in Bulgaria, where always outside factors are blamed for Bulgarian failures, saw some kind of North-Western conspiracy – the Dutch giving a generous point to their ‘Capitalist brothers’.
A photo supporting conspiracy theory: Krol helping Edstrom to get off the ground, both smiling to each other.
There was no conspiracy, for suspecting minds omitted few important details: if Dutch football was familiar to anybody, it was to Sweden – Holland was traditional professional destination for Swedish footballers. Presently, Nordqvist and Edstrom played for PSV Eindhoven, rapidly becoming a more exciting and a stronger club than Ajax and Feyenoord. They knew the Dutch stars inside and out, for the famed Dutch were either teammates or opponents week after week. There was also pride – it was sweet to rub the noses of the often obnoxious Dutch. There was tradition too – Holland struggled against Scandinavian teams. And finally, Sweden, whether winning or losing, always played with great motivation, giving their best. The match was not some lame performance, but a fight, often going beyond ‘good manners’.
Mighty Cruiff was hardly respected by the Swedes: here Bo Larsson fouls him, with Nordqvist ready to give him a kick as well. Some friendship and backroom agreement…
Sweden got an unexpected point, but it was nothing yet. Before their third match they had 2 points. Bulgaria also had 2 points and Uruguay – one. It was unlikely that Bulgaria will get even one point against Holland, but football is unpredictable, so playing for a tie against Uruguay would not do. Besides, Uruguay still had a chance to go to the second round – it was to be a cruel match.
It was not – Sweden was flying. Uruguay was immediately outplayed and Sweden won 3-0. They really played good, every next game better than the previous. It was pleasure to watch them. Nobody considered them potential candidates for the title, but they were admired. One of the most attractive teams so far. They finished second in Group 3 and went to the next stage deservingly. The ‘sluggish’ Swedish defence did not allow a single goal in the round robin stage. The only other team preserving clean sheet was Brazil.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

For Sweden it was 6th participation in World Cup finals, making them one of the most consistent teams since 1930. But there was little fuss over the Scandinavians – as ever, they were not among the favourites and not among the outsiders. A really modest team, reliable, without internal scandals, yet, without flashy news either. It was noticed that Sweden tried to adjust to total football, but more generally they were thought followers of the English brand of football – straightforward attacks, with long crosses from the wings. This view was mostly due to Ralf Edstrom, the tall and very mobile centreforward, who was considered the best in the world when it came to duels high in the air and headers. As a whole, Sweden depended on lethal attack with Conny Torstensson on the right wing, Roland Sandberg on the left, and predatory Edstrom in front. Torstensson was also flexible player, often switching to midfield position, if there was a need of extra man. The defense was the second best line of the team, led by experienced Bjorn Nordqvist. Between the goalposts Ronnie Hellstrom was rapidly his name well known around Europe, and although still 25 years old, this was his second World Cup. Midfield was seen as the weakest line – reliable, but without capable, imaginative playmaker. Because of that, combined with relatively oldish defense, Sweden was seen as predictable and a bit slow team. One thing nobody doubted: their spirit. No matter what kind of team they had, the Swedes always played well at World Cup finals – they may never have been favourites, but they never disapointed anybody.
The tradition of quieteness around the team continued during the preparatory months before the finals. The first eleven was already established during the qualification rounds before 1974. Foreign based players joined the national team without fuss – there were no scandals, no refusals, no arguments over money. No news really. The team was estimated with a slightly better chance than Uruguay and Bulgaria for reaching second place in Group 3 – that was all.
There was one news, however: Bjorn Nordqvist was one of the very few back then players with 100 or more games for the national team in the world. And he was the only player with 100 caps to play at 1974 World Cup. Ironically, the record worked against Sweden: observers considered Swedish defense even slower, because a player with so many caps must be really old… and, therefore, hardly mobile. Nordqvist was only 32 years old.
Unlike most national teams, the Swedish squad was not based on 2-3 strong clubs – there were no such in Sweden. Players from 15 different clubs, from four different countries, made the selection. They trained quitely, arrived quitely in West Germany, and made no bombastic statements. This was not a team with huge ego.
Head coach: Georg Ericson
No. Pos.Player DoB/Age Caps Club

1GK Ronnie Hellström 21 February 1949 (aged 25)Hammarby
2DF Jan Olsson 30 March 1942 (aged 32) Åtvidaberg
3 DF Kent Karlsson 25 November 1945 (aged 28) Åtvidaberg
4 DF Björn Nordqvist 6 October 1942 (aged 31) PSV Eindhoven
5 DF Björn Andersson 20 July 1951 (aged 22) Östers
6 MF Ove Grahn 9 May 1943 (aged 31) Grasshoppers
7 MF Bo Larsson 5 May 1944 (aged 30) Malmö
8 MF Conny Torstensson 28 August 1949 (aged 24) Bayern München
9 FW Ove Kindvall 16 May 1943 (aged 31) IFK Norrköping
10 FW Ralf Edström 7 October 1952 (aged 21) PSV Eindhoven
11 FW Roland Sandberg 16 December 1946 (aged 27) Kaiserslautern
12 GK Sven-Gunnar Larsson 10 May 1940 (aged 34) Örebro
13 DF Roland Grip 1 January 1941 (aged 33) AIK
14 DF Staffan Tapper 10 July 1948 (aged 25) Malmö
15 MF Benno Magnusson 4 February 1953 (aged 21) Kaiserslautern
16 MF Inge Ejderstedt 24 December 1946 (aged 27) Östers
17 GK Göran Hagberg 8 November 1947 (aged 26) Östers
18 DF Jörgen Augustsson 28 October 1952 (aged 21) Åtvidaberg
19 MF Claes Cronqvist 15 October 1944 (aged 29) Djurgården
20 MF Sven Lindman 19 April 1942 (aged 32) Djurgården
21 MF Örjan Persson 27 August 1942 (aged 31) Örgryte
22 MF Thomas Ahlström 17 July 1952 (aged 21) Elfsborg
Modest guys… Top, left to right: Roland Sandberg, Svensson, Staffan Tapper, Ralf Edstrom, Conny Torstensson, Bo Larsson.
Bottom: Jan Olsson, Bjorn Nordqvist, Ronnie Hellstrom, Kent Karlsson, Bjorn Andersson.
Svensson did not make the final selection; the others did. A total of 6 foreign based players were in the team – one of the highest numbers at this World Cup. Another three or four players did play abroad as well, of which Ove Kindvall was perhaps the most famous: he won the 1970 European Champions Cup with Feyenoord (Rotterdam). Plenty of experinece, but no high expectations.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bulgaria opened their glorious display of ‘socialist morality’ against Sweden. It was a strange line-up to say the least: nominally 4-3-3, but in reality 5 midfielders and only one pure striker – the right winger Voynov. Supposedly, Pavel Panov was to be the centre forward and Georgy Denev the left winger. What was to play Asparoukh Nikodimov was impossible to tell… in fact, there was crowding of some positions, when there was nobody at others: Nikodimov was a playmaker, thus duplicating Bonev. Panov and Denev played the same position at their clubs – attacking midfielders, preffering to play at the left side of the field. It was clear that Bulgarian attack was impoverished and there were little options, but also the chosen tactic was more than questionable. Since this was seen as the easiest match for Bulgaria, it was supposed to be attack oriented team – but it was not. Nothing good happened on the pitch and the 0-0 tie was more due to Swedish overestimating Bulgarian strenght. Bulgaria showed dangerous signs, including shaky performance of the primery goalie Roumen Goranov. Substitutes begged some questions as well: Atanas Mikhailov replaced Voinov, the only real attacker, and later Mladen Vasilev, the second right winger replaced Pavel Panov.
After a match showing largely defficiencies coaches usually make changes, hoping for better, but against Uruguay the very same team came on the pitch. There is nothing to say about this match, so boring and meaningless it was, except for the bright moment when Voinov made a good run on the right wing and crossed the ball in front of Mazurkiewicz. Bonev scored with spectacular header, but later the Uruguayans managed to equalize. Once again Mikhailov came in the second half, replacing the useless Nikodimov. If there was anything else, it was more trouble: it was clear that Goranov lost his nerves and menatlly collapsed, something not unusual for young goalkeepers. By now, it was more than déjà vu, but a full repeat of 1970 World Cup – weird squad, misjudgement of opponents, lame game, showing complete lack of ideas and even spirit.
Before the third match against Holland Bulgaria still had theoretical chance of reaching the second stage – they only had to win over the Dutch. Which was purely in the realm of theory… how is to motivate a team for playing above their level, if the match is written off months earlier? May be fielding different players? Lamely and halfheartedly, slightly different footballers started the game: Stefan Staykov came instead of Goranov, a change a match too late, and Ivan Stoyanov instead of Nikodimov, another very questionable change, for Stoyanov was a defensive midfielder, doubling the position occupied already by Bozhil Kolev. It was obvious that the idea was defending, not attacking – and what chances were there for a must win then? Naturally, the mighty Dutch dominated the match, winning easily 4-1. They scored all the goals, for Krol scored in his own net. Once again Mikhailov came in the second half, substituting the redundand Stoyanov and later Krasimir Borisov replaced Panov, with which the tendency of doubling positions was stubornly continued. Borisov, like Denev, Panov, and Mikhailov was an attacking midfielder, operating mostly on the left flank. This match perhaps should be remembered mostly for the absurd rules, or the lack of such, reguarding kits at this tournament: Holland played in their usual orange and Bulgaria – with their second red kit. Whethet live, or on black-and-white TV, or colour TV, the only way to distinguish both teams was by their shorts.
Neeskens scoring one of the two penalties against helpless Staykov.
The stupid clash of colours… watch for the shorts. And may be for who has the ball… Cruiff leaves behind Stoyanov in the first half.
In the second Stoyanov’s replacement Atanas Mikhailov (right) suffered the same faith – Cruiff, surrounded by three Bulgarian players just runs away with the ball.
The Bulgarians were so bad, no wonder nobody cared to get their names right – here it is said that Rep wins over the goalie Ivkov. Well, the goalie was Staykov. As for central defenseman Ivkov…
he mostly watched Rep and his teammates play and score. Hmm, the text on the photo says Rep, but this is Theo de Jong, scoring the 4th Dutch goal in the 88th minute.
And after plenty of Dutch scoring it was time for the Bulgarians to go home. They were not to be missed… and deservingly so. In the aftermath there were some questions… naturally, coach and players were blamed. To my mind, there were mistakes and outright injustice – although the team was not great and choises very limited, there were at least some options. Why Simeonov was not made first goalie? Especially after Goranov’s collapse. True, Simeonov collapsed at 1970 World Cup and was severely blamed for everything. And mostly because of that he did not play even club football between 1970 and the spring of 1974. But he had splendid form in that spring, was eager to clear his name from unjust accusations, and most imporatntly – he was vastly experienced keeper. I think defense would have been more secure of itself with him between the goalposts. Why Kiril Milanov was kept on the bench? Although not a prolific goalscorer, Milanov was an Englsih type centreforward – strong in the air, constantly in the penalty area, keeping defensemen on tiptoes, and very able to keep his own ground in the typical pushing and shoving of 1970s. And finally, an ethical, rather than purely tactical question: only handfull of footballers in 1974 (and even now they are few) appeared in four World Cups. To be recognized, they had to appear in some games, even for a few minutes. It was forth World Cup for Dobromir Zhechev, by now, not a starter. I think it was decent to field him for a few minutes against the Dutch – the match was lost anyway, so why not honoring the player? But no… meaninglessly, from every point of view, Borisov came on the pitch, and Zhechev is not on the list of players participating in four World Cups. To my mind, it was very mean to deprive him from this rare honour.
Years later the truth was spurted out: once again Communist Party functioneries decided who to play… which explains why Milanov was never on the pitch and may be why Zhechev and Simeonov were not fielded too. But, since the Party was always right and blameless, the vitriol was chanelled against the team. The coach was sacked and the players were accused of lack of patriotism, and, in general, everybody was guilty and now was time for new team. Bulgaria ended with most points earned at World Cups so far – 2 - but yet without a single win and very low scoring (just one goal, for the second was Krol’s own goal). Pathetic.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bulgaria qualified for their 4th in a row World Cup, and the first reaction at home was cautious: more or less, just happy to be at the finals. The 1970 fiasco was well remembered – back then it was proclaimed that the country had her best ever team and 1/8 finals were sure thing. Collapse followed… so in 1974 there was no undue optimism, which went almost to pesimism when the draw placed the team into 3rd Group. But after the initial scare, optimism emerged – repeating the attitude of 1970. Four years ago it was calculations: the match against West Germany was written off in advance and the rest were beatable teams. Now the match against Holland was written off. The other two teams in the group were considered beatable, if Lady Luck is on ‘our side’. Curiously, Sweden was thought the easier opponent – an illusion, which still persists in the Bulgarian mind. It is based on some ancient win in the 1960s, which is the last time Bulgaria won against the Scandinavians. If Sweden was underestimated, Uruguay was overestimated – it was considered more difficult opponent. Based on what else than ignorance is hard to tell – since Bulgarians tend to see themselves of practitioners of technical football, Uruguay was imagined stronger because of South American technical superiority. After building some kind of optimism, the Bulgarian team went into preparations. There was already no doubt that the team was in trouble: this generation, unlike the one of 1970, was not golden. The pool of players was smaller; a bunch of notable players were getting too old, and there was much more to fret about. The coach Christo Mladenov was good and experienced – he was already assistant coach of the national team during 1966 World Cup. More recently he built the strong Beroe (Stara Zagora) team – perhaps the best ever squad of this provincial club. But it was a smaller club and no matter how good they were, they were good only for third place in the league. None of its players managed to secure a place in the national team coached by their former coach! Meantime CSKA had dangerously aging squad, some members of which were no longer good enough for international football. Levski-Spartak was another problem: the team had fantastic Autumn in 1973, ending with 14 wins and 1 tie at midseason. The spring they fell out of form… thanks to 7 points lead from the fall, the club finished first, but it was clear that the blue boys would not be great hope for the national team. The national selection itself was far from good shape – their best football was in 1972 and was based largely on the lethal duo Christo Bonev – Georgy Denev. By 1974 the magic was gone.
The greatest problem was the attack: with very limited choice of players, it was settled originally on playmaker Bonev and left winger Denev. When it worked, it was stong combination, yet, predictable for intelligent opponents. The rest of the attacking line played little more role than just making the required eleven… But the biggest problem was the qualities of the players: eventually the trio of Denev- Atanas Mikhailov-Voin Voinov was chosen as the most stable variation. Only the right winger Voinov was typical attacker – the other too were attacking midfielders, naturally tending to stay back and attack from deeper zones of the field. Denev and Mikhailov were selfish players, both rarely passing the ball to anybody else and preffering endless solo runs. As a result, Bulgarian attack was slow – at the time a soloist eliminates a player after player, the opposition had great opportunity to people their half of the pitch. Voinov contributed to slowness too – his manner of finting was circular, so he always wasted time spinning around himself. Lame attack plus other deeply imbedded habits: almost instinctive dependence on defensive game – the team routinely used 5 defensemen even against weak opposition. Lack of speed – many a player was simply slow. Lazy lines – midfield and especially strikers tended to just watch the efforts of the defenders, rarely coming back to help. Fear of introducing younger players on time and radical sacking of old horses after a major fiasco. Undiscipline – the team often played rough game, lapsing into just stupid collecting of yellow and red cards and suspencions. And finally – the meddling of Communist Party officials with the team. By 1974, it was long established tradition – Party oficials travelling for no good reason with the national team to World Cup finals never failed to overrule the coach and order who was to play. The result was always negative, but the interfearences usually surfaced years later: at the actual time the coach was blamed and sacked. Then the players followed him in fantastic inconsistancy – suddenly someone was expelled ‘for good’ only to be called again a year later. Such mess left little for proper tactics and as rule Bulgarian squads were urged to win games fueld by ‘patriotic spirit’ rather than following some tactical scheme.
No wonder Bulgaria was placed among the outsiders at the draw for the finals – the outside world judged better Bulgarian football than Bulgarians. The reason why the team was considered having some chance was not because of strenght, but because both Sweden and Uruguay were estimated having weaknesses. At home the mood was not very optimistic, although officially the propaganda machine presented cheery picture. Everything would be fine, if the boys behave as proper patriots on the pitch.

Coach: Hristo Mladenov
No. Pos. Player DoB/Age Caps Club
1 GK Rumen Goranov 17 March 1950 (aged 24) Lokomotiv Sofia
2 DF Ivan Zafirov 30 December 1947 (aged 26) CSKA Sofia
3 DF Dobromir Zhechev 12 November 1942 (aged 31) Levski Sofia
4 DF Stefan Velichkov 15 February 1949 (aged 25) Etar Veliko Tarnovo
5 MF Bozhil Kolev 20 May 1949 (aged 25) CSKA Sofia
6 DF Dimitar Penev 12 July 1945 (aged 28) CSKA Sofia
7 DF Voyn Voynov 7 September 1952 (aged 21) Levski Sofia
8 MF Hristo Bonev 3 February 1947 (aged 27) Lokomotiv Plovdiv
9 FW Atanas Mihailov 4 July 1949 (aged 24) Lokomotiv Sofia
10 MF Ivan Stoyanov 20 January 1949 (aged 25) Levski Sofia
11 MF Georgi Denev 18 April 1950 (aged 24) CSKA Sofia
12 DF Stefan Aladzhov 18 October 1947 (aged 26) Levski Sofia
13 FW Mladen Vasilev 29 July 1947 (aged 26) Akademik Sofia
14 FW Kiril Milanov 17 October 1948 (aged 25) Levski Sofia
15 FW Pavel Panov 14 September 1950 (aged 23) Levski Sofia
16 FW Bozhidar Grigorov 27 July 1945 (aged 28) Slavia Sofia
17 MF Asparuh Nikodimov 21 August 1945 (aged 28) CSKA Sofia
18 DF Tsonyo Vasilev 7 January 1952 (aged 22) CSKA Sofia
19 DF Kiril Ivkov 21 June 1946 (aged 27) Levski Sofia
20 FW Krasimir Borisov 8 April 1950 (aged 24) Levski Sofia
21 GK Stefan Staykov 3 October 1949 (aged 24) Levski Sofia
22 GK Simeon Simeonov 26 April 1946 (aged 28) Slavia Sofia
Getting ready for the World Cup:
Top, left to right: G. Dimitrov-assistant coach, St. Staykov, Iv. Zafirov, B. Kolev, K. Ivkov, D. Zhechev, St. Aladzhov, Iv. Stoyanov, Tz. Vasilev, R. Goranov, Chr. Mladenov-coach.
Bottom: P. Petkov, V. Voynov, P. Panov, Chr. Bonev, G. Denev, D. Dimitrov, K. Milanov.
The strikers Petko Petkov and Dimitar Dimitrov, both from Beroe (Stara Zagora) were left out of the final selection, which was based – as ever – on CSKA and Levski players. Some trivia – Dobromir Zhechev was to appear at his 4th World Cup finals and Dimitar Penevq who (kind of) coached Bulgaria to 4th palce at 1994 World Cup, was going to his 3rd World Cup. Quite a few were approaching their 2nd World Cup as well, but trivia aside, there was a fundamental problem with the squad – there were weak players for some positions and at the same time there were redundant players at others. Unbalanaced team, making clear that performance will be based on defensive ‘heroics’, hoping on Christo Bonev, the only player with European reputation, to score from ocasional free kick. Personally, I was glad that Simeon Simeonov was included in the squad – true, as a third goalie, but he played only half a season since the 1970 World Cup, in the spring of 1974. And how he played! But, personal preferences apart, Bulgaria was going to the finals not that much to awe the world, but… hoping a miracle to happen, thanks to display of ‘the morality of the Socialist men’, whatever that meant.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Uruguay played their opening match againt Holland and the mystery was ‘solved’: there wasn’t any. The Celeste had no argument on the pitch. They were too slow even for brutality – the Dutch were far too quick to be reached by lethal tackles, and the match was really one-team show. Uruguay was clearly outdated team. They lost 0-2 and it is fair to say that the result was mostly due to the Dutch – if they did play to the full of their ability, it could have been much bigger humiliation for Celeste.
Perhaps a symbolic picture: Baudilio Jauregui hopelessly trailing Johan Cruiff. The Celeste were totally behind the total football of the Oranje.
The second match against Bulgaria was Uruguay’s ‘best’. It was their cup of tea… which made for perhaps the slowest and most boring game of the World Cup. Neither team had any idea what to do with this foreign object called ‘ball’. Clueless performance in walking tempo. The only miracle was that both teams scored at all, but if there is fairness in football – this ugly match ended fairly in 1-1 tie, for any other result would have been a mockery of the sport.
Before the third match Uruguay still had a chance to go ahead, although having only one point so far. Theoretically, if they won the match with Sweden, they were to go ahead, for Bulgaria standed no chance of extracting even one point from Holland. But reality has nothing to do with theory: once again the Europeans were too fast for Uruguay. The boys in sky blue shirts were entirely outplayed. 0-3 and the end.
It is still 0-0, but there was no doubt who was better: the Uruguayan defenseman is too slow in his effort to kick Sandberg. The Swede already axcelerated and left the South American in the dust.
Uruguay exited after pathetic playing. It was a team clearly stuck in the 1960s football and therefore easy prey for the new total football. It was a sad end for players like Mazurkiewicz, Cubilla, Rocha – major stars once upon a time, nobody noticed them in 1974. It was not only that their best days were somewhere in the 1960s – older players are rarely capable of adjusting to new kind of game – but more of a conceptual failure. The Uruguayan understanding of football did not take into acount the changes of the game, the new standards. Old boys were selected to play old style game… so old, that they became a laughing stock. Perhaps one can be sorry for Ladislao Mazurkiewicz – a great goalkeeper, voted among the 100 best keepers of 20th century – he deserved a better team at his last World Cup. As it was, Mazurkiewicz was not even noticed. The Celeste went home and nobody regretted that.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Group 3 was quickly called ‘the iron group’, a rather pompous name, since it was not based on quality, but on the comparative weaknesses of the teams. Holland was undisputed favorite and the rest were to fight for the second spot. This was the only group without an obvious outsider. Sweden, Bulgaria, and Uruguay were judged more or less equal.
Uruguay was a bit of mistery outside South America. Little was heard of the Uruguyans after World Cup 1970, where they finished 4th. However, the country plumetted into economic and political troubles after 1970. Leftist terrorists appeared, pretty much like everywhere in South America, trigerring the usual military response. There was a twist, though: the Uruguayan military effectively took the reigns of the country, banned all political parties, and delivered their own kind of violence and terror. But it was not the usual junta – nominally, civilian government was appointed by the army – a puppet government. Uruguay was rarely in the international news partly because there were much bigger offenders taking the headlines, but still it was one of the many undemocratic states to appear at the World Cup 1974. Unlike their Brazilian brethren, the Uruguayan officers did not care about football. The army supported Penarol, ‘the peoples club’, for populist reasons, but even that was half-heartedly. Penarol was not made into superclub for the glory of the regime – it was kept slightly better than the rest, good enough to win domestic titles. And that was that – the international scene was not a military concern.
So uninterested in football were the Uruguayan officers that football became domain of political activities – politicians of every colour became club presidents and conducted their fight against the regime under cover. The current President of Uruguay was president of Racing, for instance.
Political and economic chaos never helps football and Uruguayan football was shrply declining. The stars were rapidly moving to play abroad and no new talent emerged. By 1974 there were more or less only two younger players showing big star potential – Fernando Morena and Walter Olivera. Thus, Uruguay included foreign based player in the national team for the first time in 1972 – Elbio Ricardo Pavoni, the captain of the Argentine Independiente. The issue was still hotly debated by 1974 between the familiar camps of supporters vs opositioners of ‘foreigners’. The supporters won by default: there was simply not enough talent in the country to make a team. Walter Olivera got heavy injury on top of everything and there was no other option, but to call the ‘foreigners’. The oposition comforted themselve with ‘historic resolution’: 24 players were declared untransferable until the end of World Cup 1974.
I have no idea what were the Uruguayan expectations for the World Cup, internationally there was little faith in the ‘Celeste’. As the third strongest South American football nation, qualifying for the finals was taken for granted. It was not noticed that the team struggled. It was noticed that it is an aging squad. Yet, it was a team with huge reputation – twice world champions and most recently reaching the semi-finals in 1970. Who knows, they may pull themselves together in West Germany – the guys were getting long in the tooth, but… some were big names in the 1960s and may have some last legs. Then Uruguay played a friendly in Australia in the beginning of 1974 and lost. The final opinion settled on that: Uruguay ceratinly was not to be among the best teams, but most lokely will follow the infamous South American tradition – when the team is weak, bring the violence. Wasting time, simulating, and kicking everyone in sight was predicted to be the ‘Celeste’ contribution to the World Cup, which would make them particularly difficult to beat, and therefore the second spot in Group 3 was open for grabs. Weak as they were, the Uruguayans were thought having a chance.
Head coach: Roberto Porta
No. Pos. Player DoB/Age Caps Club
1 GK Ladislao Mazurkiewicz 14 February 1945 (aged 29) Atlético Mineiro
2 DF Baudilio Jáuregui 9 July 1945 (aged 28) River Plate
3 DF Juan Carlos Masnik 2 March 1943 (aged 31) Nacional
4 DF Pablo Forlán 14 July 1945 (aged 28) São Paulo
5 DF Julio Montero Castillo 25 April 1944 (aged 30) Nacional
6 DF Ricardo Pavoni 8 July 1943 (aged 30) Independiente
7 MF Luis Cubilla 28 March 1940 (aged 34) Nacional
8 MF Víctor Espárrago 6 October 1944 (aged 29) Sevilla
9 FW Fernando Morena 2 February 1952 (aged 22) Peñarol
10 MF Pedro Rocha 3 December 1942 (aged 31) São Paulo
11 FW Rubén Corbo 20 January 1952 (aged 22) Peñarol
12 GK Héctor Santos 29 October 1944 (aged 29) Alianza Lima
13 DF Gustavo de Simone 23 April 1948 (aged 26) Defensor Sporting
14 DF Luis Garisto 3 December 1945 (aged 28) Peñarol
15 DF Mario González 27 May 1950 (aged 24) Peñarol
16 MF Alberto Cardaccio 26 August 1949 (aged 24) Danubio
17 MF Julio César Jiménez 27 August 1954 (aged 19) Peñarol
18 MF Walter Mantegazza 17 June 1952 (aged 21) Nacional
19 FW Denis Milar 20 June 1952 (aged 21) Liverpool
20 FW Juan Silva 30 August 1948 (aged 25) Peñarol
21 FW José Gómez 23 October 1949 (aged 24) Cerro
22 GK Gustavo Fernández 16 February 1952 (aged 22) Rentistas

One formation lacking foreign based players yet. Top, left to right: Santos, Ubina, Masnik, Cardaccio, De Simone, Soria.
Bottom: Cubilla, Esparrago, Morena, Bertocchi, Milar.
Soria and Bertocchi did not make the final squad and by the summer of 1974 Santos and Esparrago already were playing abroad – the goalie in Peru and the midfielder in Spain. A total of 6 ‘foreighers’ were included in the World Cup selection – the same as Argentina and Sweden. Only Scotland had more foreign based players – if we consider England a foreign country. Ten players were 25 years old or younger, but practically all of them were deep reserves.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The first match opposed the ‘Brazilians of Europe’ to the real Brazilians – and the fakes did not disappoint. The Plavi played better and the world champions were lucky to survive. 0-0 tie, but entertaining fixture thanks to Yugoslav – not Brazilian – magic.
Contrary to the depicted here, Yugoslavia was hardly playing desperate defense. But when it did, Enver Maric was solid goalkeeper, and Ivan Buljan (#2) knew his job to perfection.
The second match was no brainer – Zaire already proved that they were complete strangers to the game. Yugoslavia was more than confident winner – they were flying, taking full advantage of their superiority. 9-0. Many suspected that the match was fixed, but the possibility was unlikely: the Yugoslavs were inspired by their opening game with Brazil and, facing no opposition, just scored and scored. This is not a match to really talk about, except for one thing: Scotlnad, failing to score plenty against Zaire, was a bitter lesson of underestimating the importance of thrashing midgets.
Oblak scores one more in Kazadi’s net.
The third match – as predicted before the start of the tournament – was to decide who will to the second round, but with slight difference: Yugoslavia needed a tie. Scotland had to win and nothing else worked for them. It was a critical moment for the fragile Balkan mentality – if they were to collapse, it was right now. Well, not this time… the Yugoslavs played strong, attacking football without a trace of calculations. Scotland, of course, attacked too, and the match was highly entertaining. A 1-1 tie at the end, but not a boring tie. The only sad thing about it was that Scotland was out, but Yugoslavia finished first in the group. A surprize.

Dalglish (left) and Acimovic in equal struggle. Worthy teams, alas one had to exit…
Yugoslavia qualifying for the second round was not a big surprize, but their game and spirit was. The team demonstrated contemporary total football and clearly was the best team in Group 2 – not by results, for three teams ended with equal points and their matches with Zaire decided the final table, but by the football they displayed. Yugoslavian players impressed fans and specialists. Were they to make a run for the title? Well… nobody thought them that strong. But one thing was sure – Yugoslavia presented various strong players of: well known stars like Dzajic; solid, but not fully recognized in Europe yet, ‘lesser’ stars like Oblak; and brand knew and previously unknown talent like Surjak.
Dzajic (left) and Oblak – never disappointing.
Ivica Surjak took the opportunity to introduce himself to the world.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Yugoslavia qualified in the last minute for the World Cup – after extra match with Spain, since both teams were tied at the end of their qualification group. The ‘Plavi’ (the Blues) got the upper hand, but, in general, it was not a surprise – they were always among the strong European teams and frequant participants in the World Cup finals. However, they missed 1970 World Cup, so at home expectations were higher than abroad. The Yugoslav team was coached by Miljan Miljanic, a well respected coach across Europe. He was also a curiousity of a kind: not only a Communist, but a former guerilla – he fought against Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia during the World War II. Naturally, among the Communist partizans, not among the Nationalists. After liberation he returned to football and eventually coached successfully Crvena zvezda before asked to take the national team. A discilplinarian and rather heavy handed, Miljanic was very good coach and respected by his players. He was also blessed with talented candidates for the blue jersey. His selection was largely based on Crvena zvezda (Belgrade) and Hajduk (Split), the best clubs of the country at the time, and was a mixture of experienced stars (mostly from Belgrade) and young Croatians bursting with talent. It may be not the best ever First XI Yugoslavia had, but surely was the most overall balanced squad, with pretty much equal candidates for every position (the only relatively weaker player was the third goallie Rizah Meskovic, who was not expected to play anyway). In terms of balancing, Yugoslavia was the only other team than West Germany to have such luxury at the finals and not to worry about injuries of the starters. In fact, the only trouble for Miljanic was who to leave out of the squad, for there were more candidates than FIFA allowed to be included.
With so much talent at home, Miljanic did not have to look for foreign based players even in jest – which corresponded with traditional Yugoslav rules only ‘amateurs’ to play for the national team. Yet, there was an intrigue, reguarding this rule – the first crack appeared in 1972, when Scoblar and Takac offered their services. The issue was hotly disputed, but at the end the ‘professionals’ were not invited. In 1974 - another crack: the right winger Ilija Petkovic, already at the age permitting transfer abroad, signed a contract with Troyes (France). This happened in the late spring, before the World Cup, but also months before the beginning of the French championship. His signing created controversy, most difficult for football statisticians: to which club Petkovic belonged during the World Cup. His contract was announced in Eastern Europe, but there Petkovic was listed as OFK Beograd player, his last club with which he just finished the Yugoslavian 1973-74 season. Thus, the rule banning foreign based players was observed in words. In the West opinions were divided: some media (West German Kicker, for instance) listed Petkovic as Troyes’ player; others – as OFK Beograd’s player. The problem is not suficiently solved even now, largely because apart from having a contract, Petkovic was not yet registered in France; he did not play a single minute for Troyes; and, hell, he did not even train yet with his new club. On the other hand… he finished the season with OFK Beograd, but he was no longer a player of the club. The only sure thing is that he became the very first foreign based player in the Yugoslavian national team – by default surely, but still the old rule was crumbling. For the time been, no fuss was made over that, but the Yugoslav media loved drama and sensations and quickly discovered one to fret about.
The drama was the military service Dragan Dzajic and, if I am not mistaken, Ivica Surjak had to go through. Surjak was small problem – he was at the right age for the army, but more imporatntly, he was not yet a big star. Dzajic was another matter – he is the all-time best Yugoslavian player, a big star, recognized abroad for years. And because of his imporatnce his army service was postponed year after year – three different interests united in his case: the interests of the national team; those of his club Crvena zvezda; with additional one – the great hatred between Crvena zvezda and Partizan, the Army club. The fear was that Dzajic would be playing for the ‘enemy’… But he was getting old and the Army got him finally. The journalists photographed the players in uniform and asked the heart-stopping question: ‘will be the stars ready for the World Cup, since they are distarcted and out of the game?’ It was a storm in a water glass really: apart from walking around in uniform, Dzajic and Surjak saw little of the short anyway Yugoslav military life. Nominally soldiers, both spent their time in the national team training camp, probably not even sleeping in Army baracks.
And such were the news about the Yugoslav national team before the finals. Abroad the views were soberer: Yugoslavia was recognized as a strong team, but not a likely favorite in their round robin group. It was pointed out that the Yugoslavs are traditionally moody team – they may play fantastic football, but they can easily collapse into mediocrity too. Unpredictable. Nobody questioned the quality of their game, but their character was a liability, and because of that Yugoslavia was seen as a potential candidate for a second place in Group 2, with slightly better chances than Scotland. Both teams were to fight for one spot; the other reserved for Brazil. If there was some advantage, it was in the fact that Yugoslavia will have massive support – not only the country allowed travel to ‘Capitalist’ countires, but Yugoslavs were permitted to work in the West. There were thousands in West Germany and with them, coming to the staidums directly after finishing their shifts in the factories, team Yugoslavia was expected to be playing practically at home.
coach: Miljan Miljanić
No. Pos. Player DoB/Age Caps Club
1 GK Enver Marić 23 April 1948 (aged 26) Velež Mostar
2 DF Ivan Buljan 11 December 1949 (aged 24) Hajduk Split
3 DF Enver Hadžiabdić 6 November 1945 (aged 28) FK Željezničar
4 MF Dražen Mužinić 25 January 1953 (aged 21) Hajduk Split
5 DF Josip Katalinski 12 May 1948 (aged 26) FK Željezničar
6 DF Vladislav Bogićević 7 November 1950 (aged 23) Red Star Belgrade
7 FW Ilija Petković 22 September 1945 (aged 28) Troyes
8 MF Branko Oblak 27 May 1947 (aged 27) Hajduk Split
9 FW Ivica Šurjak 23 March 1953 (aged 21) Hajduk Split
10 MF Jovan Aćimović 21 June 1948 (aged 25) Red Star Belgrade
11 FW Dragan Džajić 30 May 1946 (aged 28) Red Star Belgrade
12 MF Jurica Jerković 25 February 1950 (aged 24) Hajduk Split
13 MF Miroslav Pavlović 23 October 1942 (aged 31) Red Star Belgrade
14 DF Luka Peruzović 26 February 1952 (aged 22) Hajduk Split
15 DF Kiril Dojčinovski 17 October 1943 (aged 30) Red Star Belgrade
16 MF Franjo Vladić 19 October 1951 (aged 22) Velež Mostar
17 FW Danilo Popivoda 1 May 1947 (aged 27) Olimpija Ljubljana
18 FW Stanislav Karasi 8 November 1946 (aged 27) Red Star Belgrade
19 FW Dušan Bajević 10 December 1948 (aged 25) Velež Mostar
20 FW Vladimir Petrović 1 July 1955 (aged 18) Red Star Belgrade
21 GK Ognjen Petrović 2 January 1948 (aged 26) Red Star Belgrade
22 GK Rizah Mešković 10 August 1947 (aged 26) Hajduk Split

The Plavi left to right: Petkovic, Karasi, Hadziabdic, Oblak, Katalinski, Buljan, Bogicevic, Surjak, Maric, Dzajic. Apart from their captain Dragan Dzajic, hardly anybody felt secure for his place – the reserves were equally good. And pity those, who were left out and had to watch television.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Some hopes are unshakeable – Brazil started badly and yet everybody believed it is ‘just the first match, you will see real Brazil in the next’. Yugoslavia played well; Brazil was slow, unimaginative and spakless. A 0-0 tie, a surprize, a disappointment… and Brazil was still considered the unquestionable favorite in Group 2.
Doubts emerged during the second match against Scotland: the Scots played better, Brazil was a pale shadow of itself. The team was particularly bland in attack – Rivelino and Jairzinho were to be the biggest stars of the torunament, right? They were invisible… sluggish… useless… There was a strong sense of players been straight-jacketed by tactics. Either that, or the stars were plainly not on form. It was unbelievable. Another 0-0 tie… this team can’t vene score a goal.
Jordan high above Luis Pereira – Brazil was dwarfed by the Scots and were lucky to escape a loss. World champions? Football magicians? The picture truly represents the actual level of Brazil…
But aura of Brazil was still holding… against lowly Zaire the magicians would find their true game. And then you will see… To be sure of jumping to the second round Brazil needed to win with more than 2 goals difference. A joke… Zaire just lost 0-9 to Yugoslavia, so what’s the problem? A big one, it turned out… Brazil was frustrated, continued to struggle – and this time it was not against decent European team, but against guys obviously ignorant of the game. Brazil won 3-0, but it was painful match wothout a trace of joy – and without joy, without a trace of magical football.
Rivelino scores against Zaire and nobody is even happy. Frustration ruled the day… Brazil had a good chance of missing the second round. There was something fundamentally wrong with the team.
At the end Brazil finished second in the group on better goal difference. The team was utter disappointment and barely qualified for the second round. And yet expectations did not die – still it was pontificated that we were going to see ‘the real Brazil’. In the next match. After all, not everybody was a mediocrity: Mario Marinho Peres, Francisco Marinho Chagas, and Paulo Cesar Carpegiani catched the eye. Particularly the left full back Francisco Marinho, who played energetically and entirely in the modern way. None of those players was heard of before. The doubters pointed out that two of the three were defensemen and the team was focused on Rivelino, not on Carpegiani…
Francisco Marinho Peres – perhaps the best player of Brazil and one of the stars of the finals. And perhaps the most unlucky one…

Monday, November 8, 2010

Brazil, as reigning world champions, did not have to go though the trials of qualifying for the 1974 World Cup. This was comfortable feeling until 1973, when increasingly panic took hold: without official games, are ‘we’ good enough? The tour of Europe only increased the panic – the team displeased almost everybody in Brazil and severy criticism started. No surprise – in Brazil everybody is football authority and likes entertainting ang artistic football. The national team was just the opposite… it was winning, but not beautifully. Yet, Mario Zagallo was not sacked and his vision was different from the dominant Brazilian understanding of the game: he wanted ‘European’ kind of football – physical, disciplined, with strong defence. Therefore, he ignored the opposing voices, even the the heaviest among those – the voice of the President of the country. Pele was not called – he did not want to, but he was not pressed by Zagallo either. Carlos Alberto was not called as well. In general, Zagallo used the team he was building since 1972, based on players from Palmeiras and Internacional. True, both clubs were very strong at that time, but both were disliked by the fans – they played physical and disciplined football, but not beatiful one. However, it was the kind of football Zagallo was preaching… In retrospect it is strange that Brazil did not select different squad – after all, it is the only country in the world always having massive number of increadibly talented players. It is also strange that Sao Paulo was ignored – they had strong season, eventually winning the Brazilian championship, but only Mirandinha and Valdir Peres were included in the national team. Valdir Peres was deep reserve on top of it – the third goallie (obviously, only death of the other keepers suggests fielding a third goallie). But all of this is only retrospective and therefore – meaningless (Sao Paulo was not Brazil’s champion at the time of the World Cup, for instance). Zagallo was primerily concerned with goalkeepers and tried a few – it was the ‘weakest’ post, and there was some reason for that: Brazilian goalies were traditionally weak. The only ‘giant’ was the no longer playing - Gilmar. However, he created another stigma – as a measuring stick, he was too high… in comparisment any goallie was no good… Now, goallies were of little concern when Brazil was playing her trademark attacking – and scoring – football. But when the emphasize was placed on defense goallie suddenly became a problem. Or so Zagallo thought. It was his team and his vision… at the end, only 5 players of 1970 World champions were included in the team 1974: Piazza, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Paulo Cesar Lima – Caju, and Edu. Edu was not a starter in 1970 and was not considered a starter in 1974 either. So, four… According to Zagallo, Jairzinho, Rivelino, and Caju were better than anybody else in the world and with them – no problems in attack.
It was not only Zagallo – non-Brazilian pundits thought the trio lethal and Brazil – a heavy favorite for another title. After all, it was Brazil! The misery of their 1973 performance was viewed as temporary slip – it will be entirely different at the World Cup! Well, if there is a team with constant special aura in the world, it is Brazil – everybody always expects magic from Brazil. You just watch for the beginning of the real match.

Head coach: Mário Zagallo
No. Pos. Player DoB/Age Caps Club
1 GK Leão 11 July 1949 (aged 24) 19 Palmeiras
2 DF Luís Pereira 21 June 1949 (aged 24) 15 Palmeiras
3 DF Marinho Peres 19 March 1947 (aged 27) 5 Santos FC
4 DF Zé Maria 18 May 1949 (aged 25) 28 Corinthians
5 MF Piazza 25 February 1943 (aged 31) 44 Cruzeiro
6 DF Marinho Chagas 8 February 1953 (aged 21) 9 Botafogo
7 FW Jairzinho 25 December 1944 (aged 29) 73 Botafogo
8 FW Leivinha 11 September 1949 (aged 24) 18 Palmeiras
9 FW César 17 May 1945 (aged 29) 8 Palmeiras
10 MF Rivelino 1 January 1946 (aged 28) 55 Corinthians
11 MF Paulo César 16 June 1949 (aged 24) 42 Flamengo
12 GK Renato 5 December 1944 (aged 29) 2 Flamengo
13 FW Valdomiro 17 February 1946 (aged 28) 9 Internacional
14 DF Nelinho 26 July 1950 (aged 23) 2 Cruzeiro
15 DF Alfredo 18 October 1946 (aged 27) 1 Palmeiras
16 DF Marco Antônio 6 February 1951 (aged 23) 27 Fluminense
17 MF Carpegiani 7 February 1949 (aged 25) 5 Internacional
18 MF Ademir da Guia 3 April 1942 (aged 32) 8 Palmeiras
19 FW Mirandinha 26 February 1952 (aged 22) 3 São Paulo FC
20 FW Edú 6 August 1949 (aged 24) 41 Santos FC
21 FW Dirceu 15 June 1952 (aged 21) 4 Botafogo
22 GK Valdir Peres 2 February 1951 (aged 23) 0 São Paulo FC

The squad playing against Italy in 1973 - the only match Brazil lost during their European tour.
Top, left to right: Ze Maria, Wendel, Luis Pereira, Piazza, Clodoaldo, Marco Antonio, Pereira – assistant coach.
Bottom: Americo – the legendary masseur, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Leivinha, Paulo Cesar Lima – Caju, Edu, Da Silva – the team’s superintendant.
The photo lists wrong goalie – it is Leao, not Wendel, who was one of the tried goalies, but did not make the final squad. Clodoaldo also was discarted in 1974, reducing the surviving 1970 World champions to only five.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The first match of the Scots attraced little attnetion – it was taken for granted they will beat Zaire. Of course, they won – 2-0. Commentaries were minimal: Zaire was hopeless. It was detected that Scotland may be stronger then initially estimated and there were warnings that they may pay heavy price for low scoring in their opening match.
Lorimer scores against Zaire.
The second match was to be the real test of tartan strenght – against World champions Brazil. The Scots delivered spirited performance charming everybody.
Scotland flying in high altitudes: Joe Jordan way above Mirandinha. But the match ended scorless – a 0-0 tie.
Since Yugoslavia thrashed Zaire 9-0 and there was no doubt that Brazil will win their last match against the outsiders, arithmetics came into consideration. Scotland, having inferior goal difference, needed to win their last round robin match in order to continue. Yugoslavia, on the other hand, needed only a tie. Psychologically, such situations are always risky: often when a team must win it is so nervous, it underperforms. But equally difficult is playing for a tie. There was a high probability of mean, defensive minded, and may be brutal meeting of Scots and Yugoslavs, both scheming. But it happened otherwise: it was entertaing, attacking match, pleasant to watch. The Scots attacked, but Yugoslavs did not play defensevily either. With both teams determined to win, the match ended in a tie… 1-1. Meantime Brazil won 3-0 and Scotland was out on goal difference without losing a single match.
Yugoslavs on their knees, alas, only ocasionally… and they protested angrily – here Enver Hadziabdic instructs the refferree about usage of yellow (or may be red) cards.
Scotland was a team mourned. They endeared everybody with their play. Many fans and specialists felt and said that Scotland deserved to go to the semi-finals and the rules are unfair. But rules are rules… three teams ended with same points and goal difference decided who goes where. It was the games against lowly Zaire deciding the fate… At the end, Scotland felt victim of themselves: like every other team from the British isles, Scotland struggled to score against lowly opponents. Was it arrogance? Partly… but it is British arrogance combined with tradition – British teams tend to play better against strong opponents and have difficulties scoring aplenty to this very day. It was sad to see Scotland exiting nevertheless.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

If Zaire were the expected outsiders in Group 2, Scotland was entirely different matter. Faviourites they were not… so far, Scotland played only twice at the World Cup finals, both times failing to go beyond the round robin phase. Universally, the Scots were considered the second best among the British teams, and with England unable to qualify for the finals, what good the tartan boys could be? True, the team had a good number of well known players, particularly the bunch from Leeds United. But there was a ‘but’ – some stars were considered already too old (Dennis Law) and some – too young. Promissing players, yet, not ‘fully developed’ (Joe Jordan, Kenny Dalglish). The team depended on three Manchester United players – Holton, Buchan, and Morgan – and with the club freshly finishing at the bottom and relegated to the Second Division… well, what hope could be in players plumetting to lower division? Suspect team… evaluated tough enough to fight for second place in the group with Yugoslavia, but the Yugoslavs were deemed the better team. At the end, the Scots were ranked modestly and not expected neither to fail, nor to become a sensation. To my mind, the selection was good – a better one than the team of 1978, for instance – and I rooted for them without hoping much, considering the chances of Yugoslavia better in comformity with the prevalent opinion.
As trivia goes, Peter Lorimer was the players with the strongest kick in the world – the ball was flying with almost 100 km per hour after his kick. So proved the little contest which took place during the early days of the World Cup.
Head coach: Willie Ormond
No. Pos. Player DoB/Age Caps Club
1 GK David Harvey 7 February 1948 (aged 26) 7 Leeds United
2 DF Sandy Jardine 31 December 1948 (aged 25) 16 Rangers
3 DF Danny McGrain 1 May 1950 (aged 24) 12 Celtic
4 MF Billy Bremner 9 December 1942 (aged 31) 48 Leeds United
5 DF Jim Holton 11 April 1951 (aged 23) 11 Manchester United
6 DF John Blackley 12 May 1948 (aged 26) 3 Hibernian
7 MF Jimmy Johnstone 30 September 1944 (aged 29) 21 Celtic
8 FW Kenny Dalglish 4 March 1951 (aged 23) 19 Celtic
9 FW Joe Jordan 15 December 1951 (aged 22) 11 Leeds United
10 MF David Hay 29 January 1948 (aged 26) 24 Celtic
11 FW Peter Lorimer 14 December 1946 (aged 27) 14 Leeds United
12 GK Thomson Allan 5 October 1946 (aged 27) 2 Dundee
13 GK Jim Stewart 9 March 1954 (aged 20) 0 Kilmarnock
14 DF Martin Buchan 6 March 1949 (aged 25) 13 Manchester United
15 MF Peter Cormack 17 July 1946 (aged 27) 9 Liverpool
16 DF Willie Donachie 5 October 1951 (aged 22) 11 Manchester City
17 MF Donald Ford 25 October 1944 (aged 29) 3 Hearts
18 MF Tommy Hutchison 22 September 1947 (aged 26) 8 Coventry City
19 FW Denis Law 24 February 1940 (aged 34) 54 Manchester City
20 FW Willie Morgan 2 October 1944 (aged 29) 19 Manchester United
21 DF Gordon McQueen 26 June 1952 (aged 21) 1 Leeds United
22 DF Erich Schaedler 6 August 1949 (aged 24) 1 Hibernian

Against West Germany in 1973, left to right: Bremner – captain, Harvey, Jardine, Smith, Connely, Dalglish, Hutchinson, Law, Morgan, Holton, Jordan.
Smith and Connely did not make the final squad, the others did. At the end, Scotland featured the most ‘foreign based’ players – 12 played for Englsih clubs. If England is considered foreign country in this case…

Monday, November 1, 2010

Whatever Mobutu dreamed, reality was something else: Zaire proved utter incompetence. It was perhaps the worst team ever to play at the World Cup. And there was nothing to talk about – they lost their first match 0-2 to Scotland. This eventually was their best result.
One of the nine Yugoslavian goals.
The second match may not be called a match at all – 0-9 loss to Yugoslavia. The only ‘memorable’ thing about this ‘confrontation’ was that it immediately raised suspicions: many speculated – and accused – Vidinic of helping his Yugoslav compatriots. The ‘prove’ was in his replacement of goalie Kazadi with even more incompetent goalie. Vidinic protesetd the accusations, but nobody believed him. As for the substitution… it happened when the Yugoslavs already scored three goals. Zaire were so bad that the whole team should have been substituted, except there was no better players…
They lost their third match as well – 0-3 to Brazil.
Rivelino shoots, Brazil wins, Zaireian defence is… late at best.
Clumsy defence (here against Brazil) – the keeper is seemingly unable to jump high enough. Mwamba Kazadi was the replaced goalie in the Yugoslavian fiasco, but really – was he good? Note that he plays wothout gloves – perhaps the only outdated keeper at the tournament. Money is not the issue here – plainly, Zaire’s players had no idea of contemporary football.
As a whole, Zaire had no ability to play the game. It was the only team which players did not attract any interest – no club wanted Zaire’s players. The boys came out of the bush and quickly returned to it. To the darkness… Nobody heart of them before and nobody heart of them later. Stories slowly started to emerge after 1980 and most of them – after 2000. Something bitter protruded from the heart of darkness, quite difficult to confirm and often contardictive, but sinister nevertheless.
More or less, the following was established: first of all, Vidinic was sacked and blamed for everyhing on and off the pitch. Nothing strange in that: it is well established and sti;; massively practiced African tradition to hire European ‘white’ coach and sack him ruthlessly. He gets all the blame, dressed in accusation of racism. The ‘white’ coach is the scapegoat… Vidinic told different story: Zaireian oficials meddled in his work and made decisions who to play. During the ‘suspect’ match with Yugoslavia, he was ordered to replace Kazadi with the reserve goalie. After that – he was blamed of incompetence and fixing the match. His former players confirmed the story, adding that before the match with Yugoslavia they learned the money ‘dissapeared’ in the pockets of oficials. The team decided not to play in protest. After losing the match, the players were threatened by oficials and Mobutu himself – they were told that something very bad will happen to them, if they lose with more than 4 goals to Brazil. They lost only 0-3, but angry Mobutu waited them at home. They were stripped from houses, money, and cars. They were stripped from earlier promisses of many women. Tragedy followed – it may not be true, that they tortured by Mobutu’s regime, but certainly suffered. One of the best players was attcked by thugs on the street and cripled – the tugs were late and ignorant: Mobutu already robbed the player of everything he had. It looks like most of the team was banned from playing – at least for awhile. The players practically disappeared – as far as I know, only two players reemerged: Mafuila Mavuba Ku Mbungu eventually went to play in Angola (hardly a noticeable career) and much later Emmanuel Kakoko Etepe, perhaps the best player of this vintage, arrived in Europe – he played 1(!) match for VfB Stuttgart in 1981-82 and then for 1.FC Saarbrucken in 1983-84. His Second Bundesliga stint was better – he played 27 matches and scored 9 goals. No matter how dark the fate was at home, the sad truth is that Zaire was simply incompetent team and the players – inferior.
In the recent years some other complaints surfaced: Europeans are acused of racism, particularly the Scots. Billy Bremner is pointed as the worst offender, hardly a surprise since he was never a model of behaviour (in 1974 he, along with Kevin Keegan, became the first ever players sent off at the English Cup final – for fighting.) The other story is recycled: Euroepans were so ignorant and prejudiced, that even didn’t try to distinguish one Zaireian player from another and innocent man was sent off as a result. However right or wrong the complaints, they cannot mask that Zairean national team was largely victim of its own unability to play football, aggravated by the weird demands and practices of Mobutu and his regime.