Monday, May 31, 2010

Since football geography consists largely of Europe and South America, the rest of the real world is blank. Little, if anything, comes from the vast unknown periphery. Asia and the southern islands in the Pacific ocean have to be skipped – the lowest of the low were not of interest even as amusement. Africa merited higher – by 1974 there were few scattered and solitary voices prophesizing that Africa will be the next Brazil. Some day. Nobody really believed it, but tiny stream of news trickled to the centre. The strongest football in Africa was in the Arabic North, where at least football developed fairly early and was more or less organized in regular championships. Therefore, from European perspective, the North was the measuring stick, working both ways – northerners were expected to supply exotic outsiders to the World Cup finals, and if they failed, then either African football was improving or was sinking. All depending on the view of the occasional jaded European observer. Objectively, there was no doubt that African football was at best underdeveloped, but the continent was trying. The African Chamipions Cup was won by CARA (Brazzaville) for the first time in 1974.
The full name is Club Athletique Renaissance Aiglons and the club is nicknamed ‘the Eagles’. It hails from Republic of the Congo, also known as Congo Brazzaville, to faintly distinguish it from the bigger and more often newsworthy (if constant troubles are newsworthy) neighbour Congo Kinshasa, a country of many names through the years, and Zaire in 1974. Zaire won the African spot for the World Cup 1974, and CARA – the African club title. Wise men said that African football finally was rising – see the achievements deep down in the jungles! Now, any minute the vast talent will burst out. Of course, skeptics were quick to point out that Ghana was technically a giant in African football for many years and never managed to crawl to the World Cup. To this optimists argued that Ghana is precisely the example of African development – others were catching up and surpassing… which triggered objections, and so on, and on, circularly and fruitlessly. Never mind that – those were good years for equatorial Africa, if one uses local point of view. Apart from that – nothing, for there exists another measure: no European club hurried to sign African players. But champions are champions:
Front, left to right: Dibantsa, Mamounoubola, Mbemba, Poaty, Lakou, Moukila.
Second row: Amoyen – assistant coach, Mhoungou, Ngassaki, Yangat, Manoleche – coach, Nganga, Dengaky, Bakekolo, Mafimba, Mbouta, Tandou.A typical African team in every respect: absolutely unknown local players, may be paid, may be not, coached by European – more likely Eastern than Western one – coach, himself little known or entirely unknown. In this case – the coach is Romanian, and not very likely to ring any bells even at home.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

1974. Naturally, the World Cup was the highlight. After the success of 1970 World Cup it was hard to imagine a better tournament, yet it somehow was. New trophy – and not because of some wicked commercial scheme, but by old rules. When the World Cup was established it was written down that whoever wins three titles will keep the Golden Nike forever. Brazil did that in 1970 and new cup had to be made.
Good bye old cup and welcome new cup!
Football changed between 1970 and 1974 and the expectations were high. So was the thrill of arguing who will be better – Europeans playing total football or the South Americans with their superior skills and improvisation. The tournament had new format too – no longer direct elimination after the round robin stage, but another round robin. The best 8 teams were to be divided in 2 new groups and the winners were to play the final. The idea was to provide more games and thus to extend the excitement. There were business interests lurking at the bottom of that – longer competition = bigger profit for TV and sponsors – but the fans were thrilled to be able to see more matches. West Germany was without saying the perfect host – everybody expected impeccable organization, great stadiums, and crystal clear TV broadcasting.
And West Germany did not disappoint. The tournament did not disappoint either – there were surprises shuttering prediction; there were fulfilled predictions; the football was great and diverse, but largely it was the best teams reaching the final. The truly best, unlike many other World Cups. To me this World Cup is the best ever played – and not only to me, because of the quality of football, the drama, and the surprises.
World Cup finals tend to eclipse everything else, but there were other interesting and memorable events in 1974 – or rather during 1973-74 season. The biggest one was the collapse of mighty Ajax. And with it – the change, or the corruption, or the distortion, or the stunting of total football. And more… It is tempting to begin with the pinnacle of the year, but let’s start with trifles and other stuff, which affected the World Cup. 1974 was the year total football triumphed completely. So much was proclaimed at the time, but… was it total football anymore? And if it was not – what triumphed in 1974?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

And that was the ‘big’ football… how about the ‘small’ one, the very bottom of amateurism? Let say this is the ‘bottom’, which also had its triumphs:

Zvezda (Star) from the city of Novosibirsk won the Cup designated for ‘Sport Collectives’ in USSR. These guys passed for real amateurs, so they have no names. Only their coach – A. Slepchenko - is mentioned. Who is this Slepchenko? The fat man in military or police uniform. Wait a minute… Soviet football players and clubs were amateur, so why these guys? Well, there were amateurs and amateurs – Zvezda were to be the real ones… Wait a second minute… genuine voluntary organizations did not exist in USSR. These guys were ‘organized’ – most likely a factory team. Every ‘collective’ was attached to something. Which means money was involved one way or another. At the end the point is that: at least these guys were not full time players, not only players. And by 1973 – amateurs were no longer 100% amateurs in the West too. Football was getting expensive adventure in any organized form, no matter how called. Happy winners, getting their photo in the papers – and good for them!

And with them 1973 ends. As for the best of moment of the year – chose either these happy nobodies or Jan Tomaszewski’s save in the earlier posting covering the elimination of England.

Monday, May 24, 2010

There may had been certain illusions playing a role as well – typically, the English paid little attention to foreign football and its developments, but with total football the problem may had been different. Attacking football was prime characteristic of total football, but also traditionally English game. Ramsey’s innovation in 1966 – replacing winger with fake wingers involved defenders and midfielders in attack, which was faintly similar to the requirements of total football. And similar was the tough tackling without the merciless brutality of the Italians and the Spanish. And similar was the great mobility of the field players, covering the whole field. Similar characteristics, but no identity. By 1973 it was analyzed even by the Soviets that Ramsey calls same type of players again and again – tall, strong in the air, but somewhat slow and heavy on the ground. Solid and dedicated, but lacking imagination and surprise. It is not that the alarms were off and Ramsey was unaware – it was more a case of inability to really change. After the fiasco in 1972 entirely new national team was made:
Top, left to right: Hunter, Blockley, Summerbee, Clarke, Hughes, Clemence, Parkes, Shilton, Bell, McFarland, Moore, Peters, Chivers, Harold Shepherdson – assistant coach since 1966. Bottom: Madeley, MacDonald, Storey, Ball, Channon, Richards, Nish, Keegan, Currie. The ‘new’ England was not really new, but a mix – the last remains of 1966 - Bobby Moore, Alan Ball, and Martin Peters; strong players, getting a bit long in the tooth – Storey, Summerbee, Chivers; established stars in their prime – Hunter, Clarke, Hughes, Bell; and young talent like Keegan, MacDonald, Nish, Richards. Nothing radical really – rather smooth replacement of one generation with another. By names alone – strong selection. By characters – a lot of fighters. But… the very same type of players as before. And many question marks.
Ray Clemence looked like first choice between the goalposts, but somehow never satisfied when playing for England. Peter Shilton was very suspect at the time, although Stoke City bought him from Leicester City to replace Gordon Banks. In 1973 Shilton was the regular keeper, later benched. Phil Parkes never made it in the national team. Meantime established keepers were not called – Peter Bonetti (Chelsea), Alex Stepney (Manchester United), Joe Corrigan (Manchester City). Were they worse than the three above? Seemingly, after Banks there was no stable goalkeeper for very long time.
The defense looks tough and experienced, yet no libero around. Not even a potential one. Jeff Blockley soon disappeared. So David Nish. As for McFarland - after Bobby Moore retired, he had stiff competition – Dave Watson and Colin Todd. All of them similar to each other, no variety.
Full backs – same thing. At the right Paul Madeley seemed sure choice with Peter Storey for back-up at the moment. But Madeley was eventually replaced by Mick Mills, very similar player to the one replaced. At the left – only David Nish here, suggesting a deficit. And he did not last. Sure, Madeley was capable playing either left or right… how comforting! Between 1972 and 1974 various players were involved: Madeley, Todd, Mills, Storey, Nish, and Hughes were used as right fullbacks. On the left – Hughes, Storey, Pejic, Todd, Lindsay, Lampard, Watson. Depending on opinion… either English players were comfortable in any position, for most were really central defensemen, or the situation was desperate and nobody had enough class and stability.
Midfield – fighters all, but with limited creativity. No imaginative playmaker, so whether Allan Ball played or Colin Bell, or Alan Clarke, there were no big difference.
Plenty of centre forwards, all of the same mold – Martin Peters, Martin Chivers, Malcolm MacDonald, John Richards… supported by right wingers or at least strikers preferring the right side of the pitch – Tony Currie, Mick Channon, Mike Summerbee, and even Kevin Keegan. At the left? Nobody. Soon Summerbee was gone, Peters and Chivers were gone (all aging), and Currie, Richards, MacDonald never established themselves. Keegan played for the first time in 1974, which seems weird retrospectively.
As a whole, the squad is just a younger version of England 1966 and 1970, and clearly not intended to capitalize on the talent of the only versatile player – Kevin Keegan. True, he was young and therefore unknown quality, but even ten years later England hardly used Keegan creatively. And apart from him nobody here was up to the challenge of total football – able to play different post, if necessary. Defensemen were only defensemen; midfielders – midfielders; and strikers – only strikers. They moved back and forth, but just that – never sideways or diagonally. Long balls, crosses, and headers.
No wonder the ‘new’ England was not satisfying and soon more players were called:

Alas, old habits perpetuated… still problems with goalkeeping – Alan Stevenson called. Still problems in defense – Dave Watson called. Still problems in midfield – Trevor Brooking and Stan Bowles called. Still problems in attack – X, Y, Z called. And they were called by Don Revie, who finally replaced Alf Ramsey. Names changed, nothing else. There were more boys involved in the period 1972-74 – R. Marsh, K. Hector, P. Osgood, M. Pejic, J. Royle, F. Lampard, L. Lloyd, F. Worthington, A. Lindsay, D. Thomas, G. Francis. Young, old, new, experienced, debutants, recalled veterans, erratic, stable, you name it. If one looks at the squad from 1970 or 1966, the similarity is striking: English football played the same game, changing nothing, and England paid dearly for that – missing 1974 and 1978 World Cups; disgusting performance at the European Championship 1980 and World Cup 1982, and so on and on to this very day. The great club football produced boring (at best) national squads year after year. Thus, England displayed the most acute football crisis, lasting from 1973 until… well, still lasting. As the years pile up, it is more and more obvious that there were no alternatives – the English school of football did not produce any other kind of player. May be – but only may be – the only missed chance was Brian Clough. Stiff and conservative administration chose not to appoint him, to the peril of English football. Perhaps the sharp-nosed Clough would had been able to organize more up to date playing scheme. Perhaps not… after all, he was great in forging winning teams from ordinary players playing very disciplined, but hardly inspired football. He took some not very memorable players from Derby County to Nottingham Forest to get another title. McFarland, Todd, Hector played for his Derby squad; Shilton – for his Nottingham squad. And Shilton is perhaps the best example of the twisted struggle for change without change – he played his first match for England in 1969, but became a certainty after 1982…
Inflexible and arrogant conservatism made the English blind – foreign ‘continentals’ were anathema for very long time and yet the key players of the leading English clubs were not English, clearly suggesting that England was starved of talent. Leeds United is a prime example – it depended on Bremner, Lorimer, Yorath, Giles, Jordan, Harvey, Eddie and Frank Gray, McQueen. Shall I mention where played Dobson, Stevenson, Watson, Nish, MacDonald at that time? The point is that increasingly the national team of England was selected from players not employed by leading clubs – a sure sign of crisis. The moment for awakening was lost – England learned exactly nothing from eliminations in 1972 and 1973, preferring the comfort of the arrogant excuse ‘Tomaszewski is a clown’; the excuse of a momentary slip; the excuse of losing to ‘noble opponent’; the excuse of late change of generations. England had to change its mind, its approach to footbfootball, its tactical and training systems – these were not even contemplated. The result: peril.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Unlike Holland, Poland did not become a true world power. The contrast with England was striking, though – Poland never had strong domestic clubs and exciting championship, but managed to produce sound national team not only in 1972-73. England, with the best domestic league in the world, missed not just World Cup 1974. A long decline started, which never stopped. Occasional spark now and then, but nothing really great, memorable, and, most importantly, winning. Today it is very hard to imagine England as potential European or World champion – a sad result of fundamental mistakes in the early 1970s. To my mind, the decline really started in 1973.
It is not that England was entirely oblivious: alarming shortcomings were pointed out in 1972, when West Germany eliminated England in the ¼ finals of the European Championship. Some measures were taken, yet, without changing fundamental attitudes perhaps best described as gentlemanly arrogance. For instance, Alf Ramsey said after the unfortunate pairing with the Germans that he was happy and let the best team win. Gentlemanly – yes. Arrogant? That too – the English continued to see themselves the best and therefore it was worthy to play only against the best. Sure… if it was a final… which England did not reach. After elimination reform was proposed and kind of attempted. However, it was in stubbornly traditional lines.
It was obvious that the world champions of 1966 were to be replaced – some already retired, others were getting old. Normal change, but football itself changed considerably since 1966. By 1973 Bobby Charlton retired as well Gordon Banks, after terrible car accident leaving him with one eye. England did not have reliable goalkeeper for a long time after the exit of Banks. The other very weak spot was the playmaker – the 70s clearly required a ‘conductor’, someone to organize the game, to change the tempo, to provide deadly passes in attack. Either midfielder like Netzer, or libero like Beckenbauer. Or like Cruiff – free striker, who operates everywhere surprising the opposition. England had no such player and was not inclined to produce one, preferring fixed strikers and long balls in attack – something increasingly expected by opposing teams and easily neutralized. England lacked variety, surprise, and control of the game’s flow. In defense tactical suicide remained the norm – England played in line, the only team to use such tactic as late as mid-80s, thus becoming easy pray to speedy, highly mobile wingers, used to the off-side trap (England curiously did not use often the off-side trap – the best weapon for their kind of defense, and was easy victim of the same trap when attacking. Everybody knew that the English play with long passes, so at the moment of the pass the opposing defense simply moved ahead, leaving English strikers in off-side.) Thus, England was tactically impoverished.
Alf Ramsey continued coaching England.
Alf Ramsey, a likable man, remained a national team coach. Nowadays it is rightly – but too late - pointed out, that English football was governed by the ‘old boys’, who always preferred to keep the job among themselves – radicalism was not to their taste and Ramsey remained, although his last tactical contribution was made in 1966. England continued to play 4-4-2 scheme, with false wingers. True, Ramsey had not much of a choice – when he was asked why he continues to play without wingers, he snapped ‘if George Best was English, I’ll play him.’ It was not only Best, though – the best wingers playing in English clubs were not English, like Peter Lorimer. And not only wingers. England produced identical football players and used identical tactics, no matter which league or club.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Group 5. The bomb fell down and annihilated… England. This was the only real surprise, yet it was a huge one: the elimination of England. Nobody suspected such thing at first – it looked like easy group for the English, with Poland, never considered a real opponent, and Wales, which was familiar and however tough – beatable. If anything, Wales was more likely to give problems to the Poles, not to England. Poland did not stand a chance against two teams from the British Isles. Predictions worked smoothly at first – Wales beat Poland at Cardiff, where England won. And with these two early matches everything predicted ended. Wales managed 1-1 draw at London – a bit of a nuisance, yet England was confident. Then the mighty English lost 0-2 away in Poland. No big deal either… must have been the hostile industrial stadium in Chorzow. The bomb dropped on Wembley: the Poles scored first and after that their entirely unknown goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski performed miracles. England equalized and finished second.
1. Poland 2 1 1 6-3 5
2. England 1 2 1 3-4 4
3. Wales 1 1 2 3-5 3
It was telling that Brian Clough, the rebel and the maverick of English football, called Tomaszewski ‘a clown’ after the match – Clough was supposed to be the innovator in English football… who was obviously blind to the new Continental football, as every ‘old school’ British coach. Well… Clough was never appointed to coach England and the clown played World Cup finals and had a very successful career both in Poland and abroad. So, who was the clown? Arrogantly, the English did not pay any attention to the Olympic title Poland won in 1972. True, nobody else paid much attention, but this is not an excuse for underestimating an opponent – Poland was building good team and played increasingly modern football.

Mick Channon leaping for a header, but the ball ends in Tomaszewski’s hands. Jerzi Gorgon (#3) watching.
Another English attack and another Tomaszewski’s save.

Jan Tomaszewski after the final whistle. The unknown goalkeeper eliminated England. Not bad for a ‘clown’. And contrary to Clough’s dismissive opinion, neither Poland, nor the clown were done yet. Unlike England.It was a sad shock and many thought it freak accident. Including me, big fan of England as I was. Collective blindness continued – Poland was expected to be an outsider at the World Cup finals. From the distance of time it is really amazing: so much talk about total football in the early 70s; so much analyses; so much criticism of old fashion teams; and yet when something new appeared very few grasped it. The talk was how sad England was out, not how good Poland was.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Group 3: Holland qualified, winning a group with only one real opponent.
1. Holland 4 2 0 24-2 10
2. Belgium 4 2 0 12-0 10
3. Norway 2 0 4 9-16 4
4. Iceland 0 0 6 2-29 0
Not long ago Holland was mentioned mostly as a provider of comic relief:

A moment from a match between Holland and Finland, where a Fin rides on top of a Dutch in the mud. Having the best clubs and a pool of world stars, Holland hardly had a competitive national team until 1972 and even then it was suspect: most Dutch stars, Cruiff probably the worst offender, refused to play for the national team. In part, it was money. Partly, the coach. Until 1974 it was considered mostly a duty or a honor to play for country; money been scarce if any. But the Dutch pointed out that they are professional players and if playing for the national team, they were risking their careers – an injury would prevent them from doing their paying job, so why playing for Holland? More or less, the Dutch were the leaders of the change – since 1974 the sums paid to national players constantly increased. But there was something else: Dr. Frantisek Fadrhonc was the national team coach. Very little is known about him: born in Czechoslovakia, likely an early defector, he settled in Holland and led Willem II (Tilburg) to two titles in 1952 and 1955. He was appointed national team coach in 1970, but most key players did not like him much – perhaps because he was not inventive at time when total football was the Dutch game. The man was obviously old school – something clear even from the year of his last success. He did not risk including young players (Neeskens, for instance, was more likely to play for the Under-23 team than for the A-team). Cruiff preferred to be ‘injured’ when international match was approaching, but some other stars were more open, flatly refusing invitations. Apparently, some kind of agreement was achieved during 1972 and the best players participated more or less regularly during the qualifications for the World Cup.

Dr. Frantisek Fadrhonc – the coach relegated to assistant coach for qualifying Holland to the World Cup finals. Dutch-fashion ‘gratitude’ or realization that the coach was not good? Holland qualified, but Fadrhonc was not to be – he was quickly replaced by Rinus Michels before the World Cup, Fadrhonc becoming assistant coach. In 1975 he went to coach AEK (Athens). Cruiff & Co had their way at the end, but how successful were the Dutch?Belgium was their traditional arch-rival, which made for tough games. Both legs ended scoreless – 0-0. Belgium finished the group without allowing a single goal in their net! Holland was first thanks to better goal difference. Holland were not really hot news - it was predicted that Holland will be weak with stars refusing to play at the finals. Well, Fadrhonc was still coaching… The qualification of Holland was partly expected – or pretended to be expected – because of Ajax and Feyenoord dominating club football. But it was pointed out that Belgium was in decline and yet the Dutch were unable to beat the neighbours. Goal difference was a suspect way of qualifying. Nobody envisioned that Holland will be a world cup contender – not until the spring of 1974, when Michels took the rains, and public opinion immediately changed. And nobody forecasted that Holland would be world football power for long… As it turned out, this campaign was only the beginning of an ascent – Holland moved from the rank of ‘also run’ to the rank of the mighty few. For the moment, it was bringing total football really to the world stage and thus not a fad, despite criticism from Pele (he said that Ajax did not have defense at all and therefore were not really great team.)

Crujff (right) tackled by van den Daele – may be best in the world, but not best against Belgians.

Goalless draws, with van Himst going down and Muhren still going up (contrary to their poses here). Once again, a battle between the 60s – where aging van Himst belongs – and the 70s – with young turks Gerrie Muhren tackling and Barry Hulshoff ready to tackle the status quo. Nobody won head to head, but the edge was the attack and scoring – the new football professed by Holland reached the finals. The football of the 60s was still great in defense, but unable to score goals.
Holland at their last match against Belgium at Amsterdam.Top, left to right: Barry Hulshoff (Ajax), Piet Schrijvers (Twente), Aad Mansfeld (ADO Den Haag), Wim Suurbier (Ajax), Johan Neeskens (Ajax), Rudi Krol (Ajax).Bottom: Arie Haan (Ajax), Johan Cruiff – captain (Ajax), Gerrie Muhren (Ajax), Johnny Rep (Ajax), Rob Rensenbrink (Anderlecht, Belgium).
Holland was almost eliminated:
Schrijvers watches Semmeling (left) scoring. Luckily, the linesman flagged offside. The future was orange by chance.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Group 6. Theoretically, Portugal had the edge, but Bulgarians were quite confident that they had very good chances too. Portugal was aging and clearly not the great team of 1966, was the argument, which proved to be the correct one. Cyprus were the obvious outsiders – proven by the following photo:
Pampoulis, Stylianou (top, left to right), Charalambous, Kavazis, and Stefanos – any recognizable name?
Yet, from Bulgarian perspective the matches with Northern Ireland were important and they approached them with caution: the Northern Irish were not real challengers, but they were capable of spoiling somebody else’s fun. They had George Best…
Since 1971 Best was spending most of his time in disciplinary hearings and
on the Mallorca beach. Hardly the best anymore, George is perhaps the greatest player never to play at World Cup finals.
Leaving nothing to chance, the Bulgarians provoked Best at the first leg in Sofia and George was red-carded. According to the most popular legend, Bonev, the captain and the star of Bulgaria inserted his finger into the Irish anus to get the result. I don’t remember details – on TV it looked like just a constant verbal abuse until Best lost his cool. Bulgaria won 3-0.
Bonev scores from penalty. Jennings dives, trying to catch the ball. Far right – George Best, still on the pitch.
Pat Jennings, the other big Irish name, on his knees – Bulgarians score again.
With Best out of the picture, the battle focused on the two remaining stars:
Eusebio and Bonev – who deserved to go to the finals?
At the end, Bulgaria managed to win 2-1 in Sofia and clinched a 2-2 tie in Lisbon.
Mladen Vasilev and Georgy Denev celebrate a goal against Portugal.
The decline of Portugal showed clearly against Northern Ireland – two 1-1 ties. Bulgaria played defensively the second leg with the Irish and extracted a point from 0-0 tie.
1. Bulgaria 4 2 0 13-3 10
2. Portugal 2 3 1 10-6 7
3. Northern Ireland 1 3 2 5-6 5
4. Cyprus 1 0 5 1-14 2
Bulgaria reached their 4th consecutive World Cup, but how good was the team? Well, the 1970 squad was considered the best Bulgaria ever had, which proved to be fluff. The new team was not that great, played tough, but outdated football, and depended on defense. The concept was to win at home and avoid losing away. However, a great duo carried on the campaign – Hristo Bonev and Georgy Denev.
Bonev (in the middle, playing for Lokomotiv Plovdiv against Lokomotiv Sofia, tackled by Christakiev) was in his prime and perhaps played his best season in 1972-73. Great playmaker and goal scorer, perhaps the best ever Bulgarian midfielder.
Denev of CSKA (right, playing one of his pretty much always lost battles against fellow teammate in the national team Ivan Stoynov during the Levski – CSKA derby of the season) was still young, but already severely criticized for his egoistic manner of playing. Usually he played midfield, but was moved as left-winger in the national team and he and Bonev combined into a deadly pair, inspiring each other. Because of their sparkling performances, little attention was paid to the real deficiencies, particularly in attack, where the right wing and the centre forward were more or less out of the game. Bulgaria depended on her left wing, becoming dangerously predictable – and thus easy to neutralize. Portugal, herself in trouble, was unable to use the shortcomings, but better teams surely would have been able to capitalize on them. The defense was sluggish and the list of available talent was short. Yet, there was euphoric mood in Bulgaria again – after eliminating Portugal, the team was good!
In reality, the group stage was normal European ‘tough’ group of equals – equal in their decay. One can’t be sorry for the Irish – they did not play great either, managing to give Cyprus a rare win. This group perhaps presented best the great divide occurring in football – teams still playing football from the 1960s and increasingly lagging behind those who embraced total football. But also this was the arch-typical European group – two fairly equal teams, no certain favourite. Much depended on a third, weaker, team – a single point denied to either candidate was crucial at the end.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Group 7. Greece was the obvious outsider, so what really mattered were the matches between Spain and Yugoslavia. They were unable to beat each other, ending in two ties. But neither was able to reach superior goal difference when beating Greece. The point is not much Yugoslavia, but the regular failure of Spain. It was no longer a question of disappointing performance at the final stages – by now Spain was unable even to qualify! Yes, they played tough football, but nothing more. They had no inventive spark and stifled by fighting spirit, the Spaniards were clueless what to do with the ball when finally having it. For a nation traditionally thought flamboyant, technical, and imaginative in football, Spain played incredibly dull and mean game. Hardly a single player impressed.
1. Spain 2 2 0 8-5 6
2. Yugoslavia 2 2 0 7-4 6
3. Greece 0 0 4 5-11 0
Play-off was scheduled for January 1974 in Frankfurt, West Germany. Yugoslavia won 1-0 with a goal of their stopper Katalinski. Not a great win, but suggestive – Yugoslavia was more oriented towards the change of the game. The Yugoslavians were approaching total football, but Spain was not even contemplating it.

Zero points!
Spain in 1971: Back, left to right: Iribar, Sol, Tonono, Gallego, Anton, Costas, Abelardo.Front: Amancio, Pirri, Arieta, Claramunt, Churuca.More or less, the core of the team for the World Cup campaign. Judging by the names, not a bad squad. Yet, only Iribar made positive impressions outside Spain. There was something very wrong with the very attitude to football in Spain and failure trumped failure.

Iribar worked hard, but was unable to qualify Spain alone – Yugoslavia, the more attacking team went to the finals.
Golden Yugoslavian goal. Triumphal Hadziabdic and Katalinski and very unhappy Garate (left).

Monday, May 10, 2010

USSR to the finals! I don’t remember anybody doubting that with Salvador Allende for President of Chile. The last qualification round was to be a joke… I think even the Soviets did not count the coming qualification with Chile – their scheduled friendlies for were clearly geared as a preparation for the finals – England, Brazil, West Germany. Confident Russians, which was unusual and not only because of the sudden change of old habit to fret and fear, at least on paper. This time they really had to fret and fear – their football was lagging behind, it was outdated and no players and coaches capable of total football were in sight. The last international results were mixed at best: second in the European championship in 1972, but absolutely outplayed by West Germany. Second at the Olympics in same 1972, but with a team which disgusted everybody at home. The following severe critique of the Olympic team reached alarming conclusions: lack of talent among the lower echelons of Soviet football. With aging key players and nobody to replace them, something drastic had to be done – but nothing was done. The first match with Chile was in Moscow and Allende was still president. Uninspired, slow, and boring game ended 0-0.

Trouble in Moscow – Olivares saves again, despite his tiny size (1.71 m tall).

Happy Chileans in Moscow.Before the second leg came, General Pinochet and the Chilean army ruled in Chile and Allende was no more. The Russians cried murder. The general political reasons are not important here, but they swallowed football as well – the Soviets refused to play on a stadium used for a concentration camp and torture. Sensitive, the Soviets… as if they never had concentration camps and never used torture. FIFA, still governed by Stanley Rose, kind of ‘inspected’ the stadium in Santiago and proclaim that politics has no place in football; the stadium is not a concentration camp; no sign of torture is visible anywhere in the stadium; and the second leg should be played precisely there and not on proposed by the Soviets neutral place. USSR stuck to her guns and refused to play in Santiago; Rose and FIFA were unmoved. At the scheduled time Chile run on the pitch, the referee whistle the beginning, their was a pass and slow run of a striker to the ‘Soviet’ net, slight kick and – goal. The referee blew the final whistle right away – it was all symbolic, there was no Soviet team present, Chile won and qualified for the finals.

The game of one team, lasting one minute.Huge noise over that was made in Eastern Europe, but doubt hold firm – was it just a convenient excuse? What if the match was played – even on neutral field – and Chile won? It was more than possible after the tie in Moscow. Now it looked like the Soviets twisted their own football situation – they were victims somewhat and therefore – moral winners – no matter how grim was the reality of Soviet football.

The declaration of the Soviet Football Federation, protesting the FIFA decision to stage the second leg in Santiago. Just about as big was the report of the first leg played in Moscow. To compare: the friendly with Brazil was covered in three issues of ‘Football-Hockey’ plus following analysis. Nevertheless the whole affair was and is murky: FIFA playing apolitical game, yet, some dictatorships were problem and others were not. Let say the expulsion of Israel and South Africa for political reasons was right – then what about Zaire, Haiti, and Chile? And many others. And what about Eastern Europe? In 1968 almost all East European clubs walked out of the European tournaments, ordered to ‘protest’ in this way the Western protest over the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Unfortunately, football cannot be separated from politics big and small. Personally, I don’t think USSR would have made the World Cup 1974 a better tournament.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Group 9: USSR was supposed to win. Ireland was an outsider and France in crisis. At the end France performed worse than expected. USSR won.
1. USSR 3 0 1 5-2 6
2. Ireland 1 1 2 4-5 3
3. France 1 1 2 3-5 3
Revelli – the French striker, who was to make name for himself… later.
Republic of Ireland was expected to play mostly desperate defense. Alan Kelly (Preston North End) and Joe Kinnear (Tottenham Hotspur, right) do just that.
France – Ireland. Revelli attacks, Kelly tries to save. Busy goalkeeper.
USSR – France: the last match of the group, played in Moscow. The French had to win; the Soviets needed only a tie. Two young unknowns – Tresor (left) and Blokhin (#11) – already in the centre of events, but both will become established stars a few years later. Blokhin scores the first Russian goal here.
According to the Soviet report, team USSR played great. Here Onishchenko – another young broom – scores the second goal for USSR. Tresor is helpless one more time and France ends instead of first last.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Europe was the real tough qualification zone. However, it looks tough only when compared with the rest of the world – practically every European group had a clear outsider (some groups more than one) and there were in general two teams in a group really competing for a final place. Well, some groups did not have real favourite and appeared relatively equal, but there was a compensation - Italy had no real opponent in her group. I am not going into details for every group and will pay bigger attention to only four groups. The ‘easy’ groups first:
Group 1: What to say? Malta obviously was a punch bag. The other three countries finished with equal points. Hungary ended third on goal difference – and they did not lose a single match! Sweden and Austria had equal goal difference and had to play a play-off match in West Germany. Sweden won 2-1 in Gelzenkirchen.
1. Sweden 3 2 1 15-8 8
2 Austria 3 2 1 14-7 8
3. Hungary 2 4 0 12-7 8
4. Malta 0 0 6 1-20 0
With Hungary in decline and Austria in long decline, it is rather surprising that Sweden was unable to get clearly the upper hand. Middle of the road group, nobody expected future world champions to come from here.

Snow was no trouble for Sweden – Bo Larsson scores a penalty against Austria. Group 2: One horse race – Turkey, Switzerland, and Luxembourg were no problem for Italy. Which cemented the illusion about the state of Italian football. Dino Zoff registered a world record (I think still unbeaten) – between September 1972 and June 1974 he kept clean sheet in the national team. Italy did not allow a single goal – for 1142 minutes.

No wonder Zoff was voted number 2 European player in 1973, perhaps his finest season.
1. Italy 4 2 0 12-0 10
2. Turkey 2 2 2 5-3 6
3. Switzerland 2 2 2 2-4 6
4. Luxembourg 1 0 5 2-14 2
Italy was considered a prime candidate for the world title. Not only the Italians were blind – the rest of the world was blind too.
Group 4: East Germany won, a mild surprise. Nobody counted Finland and Albania and rightly so. Romania was in decline and, therefore, relatively equal teams contested the final spot.
1. DDR 5 0 1 18-3 10
2. Romania 4 1 1 17-4 9
3. Finland 1 1 4 3-21 3
4. Albania 1 0 5 3-13 2
Lost point to Finland doomed Romania, but no one expected anything great from whatever winner of Group 4.
DDR to the finals, Romania stays at home.
Group 8: Lucky Scots. Czechoslovakia was considered favourite and Denmark – the hopeless outsider. Well, the Czechoslovaks underperformed; the Scots played bravely, and the Danes decided who will go to the finals by sneaking their single point from Czechoslovakia.
1. Scotland 3 0 1 8-3 6
2. Czechoslovakia 2 1 1 9-3 5
3. Denmark 0 1 3 2-13 1
Nothing special here; Czechs in decline.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Central and North America played similarly complicated scheme, ending with 6-team final tournament. Which was to be the usual easy walk over for the Mexicans… but they finished third. Haiti was first and going to the finals – a big surprise, but hardly for the better of football. Africa, considered the best among the rabble and not to be outdone by Asia and other exotic places, organized three eliminatory rounds, after which the survivors played in a final group. The original 24 teams gradually distilled a winner – Zaire. The rabble produced newcomers, never reaching World Cup finals before – which was expected result of weak football. But there was another kind of exotic fun – FIFA was notoriously apolitical. Yet, Arab countries managed to expel Israel from Asian competition and Africa did the same to South Africa. Let say for the moment, justly so. At least it was fair on one level – continental federation did that and FIFA had no instrument to overrule the decisions. Both countries were expelled for political reasons – which is really funny when one takes a look at the finalists: Zaire and Haiti. Great dictatorships both, regularly condemned by the rest of the world… or, at least parts of the world. And the circus was not to end with that.

South America was divided in three groups with three teams each. The third group – the 12th world group was to play further elimination round against the winner of the 9th European group.
Group 10 was won by Uruguay:
1. Uruguay 2 wins 1 tie 1 loss 6-2 goal difference 5 points
2.Colombia 1 3 0 3-5 (impossible!) 5
3. Ecuador 0 2 2 3-8 2

Celeste at the Minicopa in 1972: top, left to right: Alberto Carrasco, Masnik, Jauregui, Juan Carlos Blanco, Montero Castillo, Pavoni.Bottom: Julio Cesar Jimenez, Luis Villalba, Maneiro, Esparrago, Lattuada.

Hugo Bagnulo was appointed national team coach in 1973. He used pretty much the same players from 1972 – readjusting here and there, but without major changes. However, he declared 24 players untransferable abroad before the end of the World Cup campaign. Familiar measure, yet, a sign of desperation as well – talent was in short supply.

Argentina topped Group 11:
1. Argentina 3 1 0 9-2 7
2. Paraguay 2 1 1 8-5 5
3. Bolivia 0 0 4 1-11 0

One of the many Argentine formations of that time – no shortage of stars, new and old, in Argentina, but was it a strong enough team? Top, left to right: Bargas, Mastrangelo, Carnevali, Telch, Rosl, Heredia.Bottom: Boveda, Pastoriza, Mas, Avallay, Semenewicz.
Group 12 was rough fun: Venezuela withdrew and only Peru and Chile remained. Peru won 2-0 in Lima; Chile won 2-0 in Santiago. Third match was played in neutral Montevideo – Chile clinched 2-1 win. Chile qualified for the next qualification round. As for the teams going directly to the finals – the usual suspects qualified and everything looked bright and normal.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Not so fast… club football ends, but lets go to the national teams – qualifications for the World Cup finals stretched from 1972 to the end of 1973, when the finalists became known and preparations for the finals started. The best abbreviation is the final tables of course. But elimination of rabble first: the world was divided in 16 groups – 3 of them were for the rabble, for in football equality has peculiar definition. In short, one European group equals a group dedicated to a whole continent. Luckily South America has only 10 countries… if it were different, the rest of the world probably would not have a single place in the finals. Well, reality supported the system – outside Europe and South America only Mexico was somewhat competitive. Anyway, Asia and Oceania (the lowest of the low) were combined together to compete for one spot at the finals – it was complicated and relatively ill-fated staged tournament, spitting out Australia to go the World Cup at the end. Actually, it did not matter at all who were Asian winners – no country had even half-noticeable football.
1973 Cangaroos.