Monday, October 31, 2011

Third place still mattered in those days, although for the Yugoslavs it was not exactly something to look forward. From the first minute against Holland it was detectable that Yugoslavia was not firm and determined. The boys in blue attacked, wanted to win, but… there was also something dead in their spirit. Yet, there were no changes in the starting eleven – Yugoslavia was seemingly willing to fight for the third place. But so was Holland, and it was exciting match at the end. Unlike Yugoslavia, the Dutch made changes – Neeskens and van Hanegem were unable to play because of their expulsions against CSSR. Johnny Rep was also absent – he had mediocre match with the Czechs and that seemed the apparent reason. But may be it was not the real reason – players refusing to play were old news about the Dutch. Cruyff was also not on the pitch – the biggest ‘change’, if coach Knobel was permitted to make changes – the mouthy superstar was suspended for two yellow cards. Rene van de Kerkhof and Ruud Geels finally got their chance along with entirely unknown Peters and Arntz. Holland looked more crippled than improved and Yugoslavia once again had the edge in Zagreb.
At least in the first minute. In the 39th minute the result was 2-0 for Holland – the substitutes proved their worth. May be it was time to forget about Cruyff ? May be not… Holland was not so supreme as two years before; with van de Kerkhof twins it was grittier team, lacking finesse and creativity. Holland looked tougher than usual, but Yugoslavia was not waving the white flag and in the absence of Cruyff and Neeskens – the advantage of technical skills and imagination. The regular time ended 2-2.
Holland managed to win in the extra time – Ruud Geels scored his second and this time winning goal in the 107th minute. Once again extra time was the nemesis of the Yugoslavs – unlike their West European opponents, the Yugoslav players did not manage well overtime, neither physically, nor psychologically.
Holland got bronze and perhaps impromptu introduced its own future - Cruyff-less team, with Willy and Rene van de Kerkhof commandeering the game. It was unlikely concocted by George Knobel – he was sacked right away. Indeed, it is very questionable what exactly Knobel did with team Holland – old problems remained without even an attempt for solution. Goalkeeping was a liability – Schrijvers was hardly a good keeper, yet he was first choice. Jan Ruiter, who played splendidly for Anderlecht, was mere reserve – and actually played only once for Holland during his long career. Van Kraay, not exactly newcomer, but hardly a regular before, was rather conservative addition to the defense line, but Rijsbergen and Jansen – Michels’ improvisation in 1974 – were kept precisely where Michels put them. Ruud Geels played well and finally looked like firm starter. Somewhat Holland failed short of the expected.
Zagreb, June 19, Maksimir Stadion
Netherlands 3-2 Yugoslavia [aet]
[Geels 27, 107, W.van de Kerkhof 39; Katalisnki 43, Dzajic 82]
[ref: Hungerbühler (Switzerland); att: 7,000]
Netherlands: Schrijvers, Suurbier, Van Kraay, Krol, Jansen (46 Meutstege), Peters, Arntz (71 Kist), W.van de Kerkhof, R.van de Kerkhof, Geels, Rensenbrink
Yugoslavia: Petrovic, Buljan, Muzinic, Oblak, Katalinski, Zungul (46 Halilhodzic),Jerkovic, Popivoda, Surjak, Acimovic (46 Vladic), Dzajic
Yugoslavia finishing forth. This team was seen as better than the one from 1974 and potential European champion. Plenty of talent, plenty of experience, plenty of motivation. At the end – a disappointment. May be harshly judged by the fans and the media. May be justly so – they failed to win on home turf. This is the line up from the home match against Sweden in the qualifying group, played in Zagreb and confidently won 3-0. Same team lost both final games… true, in extra time, but great teams do not lose. Before the match with Holland Dragan Dzajic announced that the ‘little final’ will be his last appearance for the national team A great player stepped down.
The ‘forgotten’ Holland of 1976. Nobody knew that this will be the last big international tournament for Cruyff. Apart from that, it looks like Dutch practical whimsicality was in good health: remember Cruyff playing with different kit than the rest of the team in 1974? Five more players joined him in 1976 and Holland was really mixed on the pitch. Some with two stripes, others with Adidas’ three.

Standing from left to right: Piet Schrijvers, Ruud Krol, Wim Meutstege, George Knobel, Wim Suurbier, Johan Neeskens, Johan Cruijff, Wim van Hanegem and Jan Ruiter.
Sitting left to right: Adri van Kraay, Wim Rijsbergen, Johnny Rep, Rob Rensenbrink, Willy van de Kerkhof, Jan Peters, René van de Kerkhof and Ruud Geels.
As a whole, a good, strong squad. Perhaps everybody was seeing them as gods, and when gods fail… in fact, it was a winning team: a silver and a bronze so far. What’s wrong with that? Except of deserving better coach.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The draw for the ½ finals put host Yugoslavia against West Germany, and the Dutch were lucky – facing Czechoslovakia. Predictions? Holland and… it was equally possible to be either the Yugoslavs, or the Germans. The World champions were favoured a bit higher possibility – and replay of the 1974 World Cup final was very likely.
The final tournament opened in Zagreb on June 16, 1975: the first ½ final was between Holland and Czechoslovakia. Both teams came out with their best elevens, Holland practically not different from the squad, who played the final in 1974. Experience, toughness, and above everything – Cruyff, who this year was wearing not the famous number 14, but plain 9. It was the day for CSSR to learn her own place in football, and if nothing bad happened in the first minutes, no worry – it just a matter of time. The Czechoslovakians were somewhat slow to get it… they showed no fear and ignorantly attacked. The punishment came in the 20th minute… but it was punishment for the mighty Dutch – Anton Ondrus, the sweeper, scored: 1-0 for CSSR.
Ondrus scores against Holland.
Holland came back into thegood things ended in the back - midfield and attack were mess, and to this very moment Schon was experimenting without a hint of success. But Germans were Germans and very dangerous just because of that.
Yugoslavia was perhaps the only team in Europe managing painless transition – few aging players from 1974 were out (and playing abroad), but the well of talent was deep – former reserves were now starters; players left behind in 1974 were now donning the blue jersey. Ognjan Petrovic, Danilo Popivoda, Vladic, Peruzovic easily replaced Maric, Petkovic, Pavlovic. There was a brand new hero – Slavisa Zungul. Perhaps the only not crowded position was that of the playmaker – Karasi was gone and there was no new star at home. But there was one playing abroad – Branko Oblak, for Schalke 04 – and this was a player to comnly line without difficulties and having more than enough players to chose from – Kaltz was simply sitting on the bench, for instance. Maier was in superb form – and voted German player of the year for 1975. However, good things ended in the back - midfield and attack were mess, and to this very moment Schon was experimenting without a hint of success. But Germans were Germans and very dangerous just because of that. game in the 77th minute, when Ondrus scored his second goal – unfortunately, in his own net this time. The unthinkable happened in the overtime: CSSR scored 2 more goals, the last by Frantisek Vessely, the substitute veteran, who quite surprisingly was recalled to the national team when everybody thought he was gone forever. Holland scored a total of zero goals – and as the match progressed, it became increasingly clear the Oranje were not the well-oiled machine of two years ago. Three players were sent off, two of them Dutch – frustration governed Holland.
Zagreb, June 16, Maksimir Stadion
Czechoslovakia 3-1 Netherlands [aet]
[Ondrus 20, Nehoda 114, Vesely 119; Ondrus 77og]
[ref: Thomas (Wales); att: 31,000]
[sent off: Pollák 60, Neeskens 76, Van Hanegem 115]
Czechoslovakia: Viktor, Pivarník, Capkovic (106 Jurkemik), Pollak, Gögh, Ondrus, Masny, Panenka, Móder (96 Vesely), Nehoda, Dobiás
Netherlands: Schrijvers, Suurbier, Van Kraay, Rijsbergen (37 Van Hanegem), Krol, Neeskens, Jansen, W.van de Kerkhof, Rep (65 Geels), Cruijff, Rensenbrink.
Next day – the big match in Belgrade! There was not much to say about the Germans – they were disgusting so far, clearly had many troubles, and were not even a shadow of the 1974 team, let alone the one of 1972. They were solid only at the rear: Dietz was the able, if plainer, substitute of departed Breitner, and the rest were very, very familiar. It was the only line without difficulties and having more than enough players to chose from – Kaltz was simply sitting on the bench, for instance. Maier was in superb form – and voted German player of the year for 1975. However, good things ended in the back - midfield and attack were mess, and to this very moment Schon was experimenting without a hint of success. But Germans were Germans and very dangerous just because of that.
Yugoslavia was perhaps the only team in Europe managing painless transition – few aging players from 1974 were out (and playing abroad), but the well of talent was deep – former reserves were now starters; players left behind in 1974 were now donning the blue jersey. Ognjan Petrovic, Danilo Popivoda, Vladic, Peruzovic easily replaced Maric, Petkovic, Pavlovic. There was a brand new hero – Slavisa Zungul. Perhaps the only not crowded position was that of the playmaker – Karasi was gone and there was no new star at home. But there was one playing abroad – Branko Oblak, for Schalke 04 – and this was a player to compensate for any apparent talent in Yugoslavia. He became the first properly foreign based footballer to play for the national team – and to captain it as well. Yugoslavia 1976 was considered much stronger than Yugoslavia 1974, had a splendid qualifying rounds, experience and gift. Motivation was extremely strong, and was playing at home, in front of frantic crowds – Yugoslavia had the edge. On the negative side – as ever, moodiness was recalled as potential weakness. The Yugoslavs were capable of playing fantastic football and beat anybody, but… if were easily given to frustration when the match was not going their way and under pressure the team traditionally was known to quickly collapse.
This time collapse was seemingly not in the cards – by the 33rd minute it was 2-0 for the Plavi. West Germany was practically gone, for the hosts were playing very fast attacking football – too fast for the Germans! There was drama – it was the end of the world champions, who displayed fully their own troubles and limitations. Goners. Finally, a punishment for the lame performance at the (most) of the 1974 World Cup tournament.
The second half started without a sign of improvement – Flohe replaced Danner, which was more a gesture of helplessness… at least at the beginning of the second half. Flohe managed to score in the 65th minute and gradually, almost invisibly, the scales tipped the other way. In the 79th minute Muller came on the pitch, replacing Wimmer – and 3 minutes later he scored the equalizer. Muller is Muller… although it was not Gerd, but brand new Dieter Muller. The old fox Schon seemingly – just like in 1974 – shaped his winning squad in the last minute, yet, exactly when really mattered. The extra time was predictable… it was visible that the Yugoslavs were running out of steam and the Germans getting stronger. Muller scored two more goals – West Germany won 4-2 and found her new Muller in the bargain. Now it was easy to say who will win the championship – for the first time the same country was to be European champion twice and consecutively at that. West German football continued to be the best in the world!
Beograd, June 17, Crvena zvezda
West Germany 4-2 Yugoslavia [aet]
[Flohe 65, D.Müller 82, 115, 199; Popivoda 19, Dzajic 32]
[ref: Delcourt (Belgium); att: 70,000]
West Germany: Maier, Dietz, Schwarzenbeck, Beckenbauer, Vogts, Danner (46 Flohe),Bonhof, Beer, Wimmer (79 D.Müller), Hölzenbein, U.Hoeneß
Yugoslavia: Petrovic, Buljan, Muzinic, Oblak (106 Vladic), Katalinski, Zungul,Jerkovic, Popivoda, Surjak, Acimovic (106 Peruzovic), Dzajic
Too bad for delightful Yugoslavs, but here was the lesson – nobody was able to rise to the occasion as Germans did, and that was the true display of class.
Heartbroken Branko Oblak leaves the pitch, although, playing in West Germany, he should have known who was really best.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Before the crown there was the crawl. The European quarterfinals proceeded unspectacularly, in the sense of ending with the expected winners.
Wales, despite of having the ‘best team ever’ – the old staple player Mike England was reduced to a substitute – was no match for Yugoslavia. It was considered the easiest ¼ final draw and it was – Yugoslavia won 2-0 in Belgrade and finished whatever uncertainty survived until the second leg by opening the result in Cardiff in the 18th minute. The match ended 1-1, which hardly mattered anymore – Yugoslavia got the hosting of the finals.
Holland was to meet their archenemy Belgium, traditionally, their toughest opponent. It also looked like eternal couple – the two countries competed in the preliminary group for a 1974 World Cup spot and back then both matches ended in scoreless ties. Not this time: Holland annihilated Belgium in the first leg – 5-0 in Rotterdam. Rensenbrink scored a hat-trick against a squad filled with his Anderlecht teammates. It was over already and in Brussels the Dutch allowed Belgium to score first and after that Rep and Cruyff provided second victory.
West Germany and Spain were seen as the most difficult pair, with odds tipping to the Germans. The opening in Madrid supported predictions: 1-1, which gave the edge to the Germans. In Munich Hoeness and Topmoller scored a goal each in the first half and it was over. By now, Spain was accepted as eternal loser anyway. The Germans continued to struggle, but their willpower was intact and more obviously the key ingredient of German football.
Lastly, Czechoslovakia and USSR. Hardly the toughest draw in purely football terms and of little interest, for by habit whenever the Soviets were playing against another East European team, it was expected the opponent to be ordered to lose. It was not to be that way – Czechoslovakia won 2-0 at home and tying the second leg at Moscow 2-2.
Moder scores the first goals in Bratislava. It was commented in a weird way by the Soviets: a second earlier Pollak was fouled, but since the Czech attack was not interrupted, the Turkish referee Ok did not stop the game. Soviet players, though, were caught by surprise and practically did not react, expecting a free kick. The goal was much commented – as both blunder of the defense and blunder of the referee. The confused reaction was also due to the simple fact CSSR clearly outplayed USSR and there was little reason for complaints.
The second leg in Kiev brought some changes in the Soviet squad and was fought in earnest, but the Czechoslovakians still played better. Here J. Pivarnik clears ahead of V. Veremeev.
I. Viktor wins the air battle with V. Troshkin and clears the ball.
O. Blokhin equalizes and saves the day. Looks ferocious and Viktor, the goalie, entirely helpless – but it was only 2-2 and the Soviet team was out.
In fact, it was the Soviets tying, for the ‘lesser brothers’ lead 1-0 and then 2-1 until Blokhin prevented full-blown disgrace in the 88th minute. Yet, it was a ¼ final worth a comment: there was very little outcry in USSR. It was somewhat strange quarterfinal – before that a friendly was played between the opponents, which was unusual, but very likely arranged way before the UEFA draw was known. The friendly ended 2-2, and although both teams used some deep reserves in it, most players were regulars.
Frantisek Kozinka (playing here for his club Bohemians Prague) appeared in the friendly – the only complete unknown in the Czechoslovakian squad.
Muddy affair – the friendly was played on very tough pitch, but it was not the only mud in the Soviet football.
Some troubles were detected in the Soviet selection and the way they played, and it was considered that Czechoslovakia were particularly difficult opponent. Yet, no visible measures were taken for the real games. It was difficult to figure out what the Soviets were up to – for the first time they had separate Olympic team, coached by its own coach – Konstantin Beskov. The national team was in the hands of Lobanovsky – or more accurately in the hands of the duo Lobanovsky-Bazilevich. Oleg Bazilevich is rarely spoken of today, but at the time it was not Valery Lobanovsky, the great coach – it was Lobanovsky-Bazilevich, equal to each other in both Dinamo Kiev and the national team. They used mostly players from their own club – so many, that even the reserves were from Kiev, and even players, who were substitutes in Dynamo were included – and played – in the national team (Zuev, for instance). This practice came under fire after the day when USSR was represented entirely by Dynamo’s players and slight adjustments were done, but it was mainly Dynamo on the pitch – Zvyagintzev was included in the national team in 1975, as one of the non-Dynamo players, but in 1976 he was no longer captaining Shakter (Donetzk) – he was in Kiev, fighting for a spot in the team with another national player, Reshko. About all that there were complains from Lobanovsky as well – he was unhappy his boys were playing so many matches: national championship and cup; European club tournaments; and in the national team on top of everything. But what was so unfair? It was Lobanovsky using the same 12 players at every possible occasion. And the results vastly differed: Dynamo was the ‘revelation’ in 1975, conquering Europe. The very same team was struggling and shallow with the red USSR shirts – the national team was not winning.
Which immediately brings back the so-called Olympic team. Was it really a separate team? Lobanovsky-Bazilevich took players from it whenever they wanted to do so. However, Beskov had different vision of football, so it was not very clear what was the benefit of taking his players. Besides, Beskov was not shrinking violet and very likely he and Lobanovsky were not at good terms. As a result, neither selection performed well and various players very likely were not happy at all. Typically, nothing appeared in the press – there was suspect silence instead. Small and seemingly casual and unconcerned reports of matches, giving the impression that the Soviets did not really care what was going – this itself was very unusual, for traditionally it was the A-national team which mattered. May be they were counting on the Olympic team? This did not appear true either – Beskov’s team was seemingly of lesser importance: it was players taken from it for the national team, not the other way around (until later, when a bunch of national team players were included for the Olympic Games in Montreal). It is a speculation, but it looked like the Soviets decided the European Champions Cup to be their priority in 1975-76. At least larger and more in depth coverage was done on the progress of Dinamo Kiev in Europe. Whatever was kept in secret, it did not matter in the open – USSR was eliminated after two not particularly great games and Czechoslovakia went to the finals. So far quietly – among the last four teams, CSSR was considered the weakest.

Monday, October 24, 2011


1975 was so bleak, one couldn’t wait 1976 to begin – it was not possible to be worse and future in football is always full of hopes. And the new year materialized them: European Championship, Olympic games, the Intercontinental Coup was played again, new exciting teams emerged. By 1976 total football was no longer something played by few and desired by many – it was the established brand of football. However, it evolved in a unforeseen way: becoming tougher and increasingly lacking imagination. There was embedded contradiction in total football – ideally, it was to be a game in which everyone was capable to play at any position. Curiously, the most creative position – the playmaker (or the dispatcher, or the conductor – different names were used) – suffered from it. Soviet commentators – strangely, for the Soviets were late comers struggling to adapt to total football – proclaimed the end of the playmaker: it was outdated and slowing the game, since traditionally every ball was to go to him in order of developing attack. The new football required whoever had the ball to be able to act as a playmaker of the moment. Sounded good, yet, the observation was made after shallow Soviet performance and in the same article the absence of typical playmaker (Muntyan, in the particular case) was lamented. Was the playmaker obsolete or was he still important? Sure, teams full of stars were able to use them as passers – Holland with Neeskens and van Hanegem; West Germany with Overath, Netzer, Breitner, Hoeness. Yet, it was Cruyff and Beckenbauer who generally ‘made the flow of the game’. Especially Cruyff, who by 1976 was playing far back, hardly on the tip of the attack, but rather in midfield – as a traditional playmaker, in other words. It was hardly automatic – it depended on available players and those lacking skills and vision were able just to run endlessly. Which was becoming the modified brand of total football, endorsed by the West Germans and, increasingly, by the Dutch. Anyway, the year was fun and the crowing moment was the European Championship finals.
It was the 5th continental championship and the last in ‘traditional’ format: qualifying round-robin groups, followed by 2-legged ¼ finals of direct elimination, and 1-leg ½ finals and finals, played in one country. The host of the finals was to qualify, though – no direct participation of the organizers, who were not even organizers yet – it was a host country, decided pretty much after the ¼ finals were played. Yugoslavia hosted the finals – two cities were involved: Belgrade and Zagreb, with the final played in Belgrade at the Crvena zvezda stadium, commonly known as ‘Mala (Small) Maracana’.
It was much more interesting tournament than the one in 1972, although there was no clearly supreme team as West Germany was four years ago. The finals stand unique: not a single match was decided in regular time. The four games run into overtime and penalty shoot-out, which speaks volumes for the level of competition. For the fans, it was great delight – and also big agony, for the drama was huge and tense.
Everything else paled, compared to the European Championship, but still there was plenty of excitement – Saint Etienne and Anderlecht enlarged the number of great playing clubs. And, increasingly, Liverpool was becoming truly great. Italy showed signs of recovery as well. A good year, crowned by the European Championship.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The picture of the year? No matter how good or bad football is, it always provides plenty of moments to chose from. But the spirit of 1975 was bad, so let’s go to the circus. NASL, of course. The North American league had to sell fast the sport to ignorant public, so any kind of publicity stunt was employed.
Pele and Joe Namath with unfamiliar balls, designed for different limbs of the body. Who can capture the minds and the wallets of the New Yorkers? The King? Numbers tell the true story: how much was $450 000 a year in football? A whole lot… but that’s silly ‘soccer’. Namath was getting $ 5 000 000 and ‘football’ remained the word for the ‘real’ game. And ‘pigskin’ was the real ball. The circus started in earnest across the Atlantic – for the joy of countless football veterans from Europe and South America: not very demanding and rather funny game, generously paid. Something like Sunday kickabout made old legs wealthy. Real money stayed on the gridiron… and in New York Namath was the King.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Czechoslovakia was visiting Portugal first and the match ended as the English hoped – 1-1 tie. However, the result still preserved the chances of the other competitors too and as far as the Czechoslovakians were concerned – it was convenient result.
After the tough match in Porto, Czechoslvakia had a qualification match for the 1976 Olympics with East Germany. Since the Communist countries used their ‘amateur’ players, same players participated in every possible tournament – at the moment, though, it was inconvenient for CSSR and may be benefiting England: too many games at the same time. Injuries and tiredness were surely to take their tall on the Czechoslvakians.
From left: Pivarnik (5), Viktor (1), Ondrus (4), Gallis (8), Masny (10), Jurkemik (3), Pollak (9), Gogh (2), Moder (6), Nehoda (11), Bicovsky (7).
Almost the same team as against England, but good enough only for 1-1 tie against DDR.
Portugal and England tried their best to keep themselves alive, and, therefore, neither won. They ended 1-1 and Portugal was effectively out – they had one more match, but had no chance to end first. England still had hopes – it was small and desperate one, in the hands – or rather the feet – of lowly Cyprus. The outsiders had to prevent CSSR from winning – a tie was qualifying England on better goal difference, the match was in Nicosia, where Cyprus almost won a point against England… keep fingers cross… England reduced to the mercy of outsiders.
Czechoslovakia won with confidence: 3-0.

CSSR aginst Cyprus at home months ago: from left – Bicovsky, Nehoda, Gaidusek, Panenka, Svehlik, Koubek, J. Capcovic, Masny, Ondrus, Viktor, Pivarnik. Slightly different squad it was than the one beating England, but against Cyprus there was no real need to field the best players. A relative term ‘best’ – CSSR was developing and changes were normal. The home match ended 4-0 and brought the first points for CSSR.
Cyprus was there just to improve others goal difference – CSSR had no problem at their home match. Panenka (above) scored 3 goals and Masny (bellow) one more.
The away match in Nicosia produced one goal less and the last 2 points, catapulting Czechoslovakia to the ¼ finals.
1.CZECHOSLOVAKIA 6 4 1 1 15- 5 9
2.England 6 3 2 1 11- 3 8
3.Portugal 6 2 3 1 5- 7 7
4.Cyprus 6 0 0 6 0-16 0
The bomb dropped: England was failing to reach the final stages of big international tournament for a second time. Once again it was underestimated Eastern European country to eliminate England. Poland was the sensation of the 1974 World Cup, after outwitting England. Was Czechoslovakia to repeat Poland? A new sensation?
At the end of 1975 France Football published its annual classification of national teams – CSSR was number 1 (followed by USSR and Yugoslavia). The state Czechoslovakian information agency CTK also placed the team at first place. The skeptics were not convinced – sure, the Czechoslovaks made a stir, eliminated England, and generally played good football, but did not look like great team. Besides, it was particularly bleak year, with practically everybody underperforming. The truth will be uncovered in 1976, when the real games begin – then the Germans and the Dutch will be in shape and just wait and see: nobody will remember CSSR in a month or two.
The surprise winners of Group 1: Czechoslovakia in quite a different version, fielded in a friendly with Sweden on October 13, 1974. Back then, they won 4-0, but it was just a friendly. Top, left to right: Karol Dobias, Ivan Pekarik, Jozef Capkovic, Jozef Adamec, Anton Ondrus.
Bottom: Marian Masny, Jan Svehlik, Alexander Vencel, Premysl Bicovsky, Pavel Stratil, Vojtech Varadin.
This team did not look very strong in 1974 – a mixture of aging players (Adamec, Stratil, Dobias, J. Capkovic), second-stringers (Vencel, Pekarik), and various young unknowns (Ondrus, Masny, Svehlik, Bicovsky, Varadin). When journalists voted for the Czechoslovakian Player of the Year at the end of 1974 only 4 of the those above made it in the top 10. Dobias was 34th! And most of those guys were still members of the national team at the end of 1975 – true, some were relegated to the substitute bench, but national players nevertheless. How good a team with such players could be in a long run? Not really… Czechoslovakia was expected to exit the European championship at the ¼ finals. Lucky to advance that far, no matter the surprise of winning Group 1 at the expense of England.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A small tremor was felt when England visited Cyprus – it should have been relaxed, almost tourist trip, and between tanning and beers, the mighty guests were to score 5,6,7,8… whatever number they fancied, goals. Instead England struggled and barely won 1-0. Still, they got 2 points and continued to lead, but now the program of the remaining games was an obstacle as well: England was left with two away matches against Czechoslovakia and Portugal. CSSR, after hosting England, was visiting Portugal and lastly Cyprus. Portugal was not out of the race either with three home games. Heavy calculation replaced confidence: suddenly England depended on the results of the opponents and, ideally, had to win both matches on hostile turfs.
England getting ready. Somehow the picture seems prophetic: Don Revie shows the way, the team looks at the opposite direction.
Did not look like terrible when England and Czechoslovakia came on the pitch.
New scipper – Gerry Francis instead of Emelyn Hudges. Dangerous team nevertheless.
CSSR hardly introduced changes. Gogh is listed with wrong number here by mistake –he played with number 2.
Apart from squad photos, nothing went right at first – on October 25, 1975 the match started.
Colin Todd blocking Zdenek Nehoda – or may be not. Hard to see…
From left – Keegan, Pivarnik, McFarland, Masny, Bicovsky, Clarke. Who kicked the ball? Where were these players – in front of the Czechoslovakian net? In front of the English one? Somewhere else? May be in England? The British fog was so thick, the match was abandoned at the 17th minute.
Replay on October 30 in better visability.
And everything goes normal… in the 26th minute Keegan made a cross, Knapp was late, Viktor kind of uncertain, Channon volleyed and the Albion Lions were leading 1-0.
Followed by typically English goal with powerful header… except it was scored by a player with dark shirt. Colin Todd was late and Nehoda equalized – 1-1 in the 45th minute.
The equalizer from another angle – how British a goal can be?
Until Gallis scored another English looking goal 2 minutes later and Clemence was helpless.
Same goal from another angle: Clemence had no chance, Madeley seems a step behind Nehoda, but it was Gallis, hidden behind, to score with a header. 47th minute of the game.
If the Wembley match between England and CSSR was symbolized by the picture of punching Dobson and missing Viktor, now it was different: Francis trying hard, but Viktor trying even harder and winning the ball. And the match at the end.
Final triumph – the happiness of little known Peter Gallis says it all.
Suddenly the ghost of 1973 came alive – was England repeating itself? Nothing was lost yet, but the future was not entirely in English hands either – they had to win their last match in Lisbon. Portugal and CSSR had to end in a tie… which was not up to Don Revie and his players to arrange at all. But winning their last match was up to them.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Then Portugal was scheduled to pay a visit to CSSR. With a point at Wembley, where Czechoslovakia miserably lost 0-3, a tie was expected in Prague.
The new Portugal: front, left to right: Martins, Octavio, Alves, Coelho, Chico.
Standing: Artur, Alhinho, Humberto, Damas, Teixeira, Osvaldinho.
Not a team equal to old Portugal with Eusebio, yet dangerous enough with Humberto and Artur in defense and Alves in midfield. May be not a danger to the English, but to the Czechoslovakians – surely.
Led by Barros and Ondrus the opponents came out on the pitch in Prague. The Portuguese looked fierce, too fierce. Remember, in the 70s the longer the hair and the beard – the classier the player. Ondrus paled next to Barros, the outcome of the match was crystal clear.
CSSR lining up before the home game against Portugal started: left to right: Bicovsky, Nehoda, Gajdusek, Petras, Knapp, Koubek, Jozef Capkovic, Masny, Ondrus, Viktor, Pivarnik – captain. Hardly a great team, with some unknown players like Knapp and Koubek, and some remembered for their fiasco at the 1970 World Cup like Petras. Jumping ahead, the substitutes, replacing Koubek and Knapp during the match were also quite unknown – J. Svoboda and Medvid. Perhaps when these guys grew their hair longer then now, they were to start winning, but not yet…
Five goals later the burly Portuguese, not the Czechoslovakians, were completely destroyed.
Damas winning the air battle with Petras, who once upon a time made the sign of the cross after scoring against Brazil at 1970 World Cup. Back then few players were crossing themselves and surely not those from Communist countries. Now Petras was losing a cross and the representative of a Catholic country was getting the upper hand. But no goalie is a hero after 5 goals in his net:
Petras scoring the 5th.
This picture summarizes the match – supreme Nehoda, desperate Barros and Damas, the ball missed and going in the net, Pivarnik at the back ready to lift hands in triumph and Alhinho looking gloomy next to him.
Alarming victory of CSSR? Well, not really – there was no panic: everything was fulfilling predictions – CSSR and Portugal were to fight among themselves for the second place, neither particularly great, and England having an easier life. May be Portugal was even out of the race already – but England had a confident victory over Czechoslovakia already.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Seven qualifying groups ended as predicted. Even Wales was hardly a surprise, for the group was weak anyway. If anything, qualifications were dull – but, as ever, criticism was shunned – just watch out, in few months everything will be different when the boys start playing for real. The only bomb dropped from Group1. At first it was considered tough group, but the favourite was more or less clear: England. Portugal and Czechoslovakia were able to give a fight, but nothing else. Cyprus did not count of course. Portugal was still rebuilding and judged to be in transition, therefore not ready for a real challenge. Czechoslovakia was under the radar since 1970 – after miserable performance at the 1970 World Cup, CSSR was in a crisis – a whole generation stepped down and there were no strong replacements in sight, at least not to European eye. The country failed to do much in the European Championship 1972, failed to qualify for the World Cup 1974, and on club level the Czechoslovakians were still pleasant to watch – but only to ¼ finals at best, when they were inevitably outclassed. It was expected Czechoslovakia and Portugal to compete for the second place in the group – may be giving trouble to England, but at the end everything would be ‘normal’. England was the likeliest winner – the failure of 1973 was not to be repeated: it appeared that England managed to learn a lesson or two since then, and, most importantly, managed to change generations and build new strong team. One thing was ‘certain’ - England was not going to underestimate the opposition as they did in 1973. And predictions were kind of fulfilled – England played three games at home, before anybody else, and collected 5 points easily: 3-0 with CSSR; 0-0 with Portugal; and 5-0 with Cyprus. The tie with Portugal produced some grumbling, but not real concern – after all, it was expected the opposition to steal a point or two. But look at the record – 8 goals scored and none received! No way England would fail.
Malcolm MacDonald celebrating one of his 5 goals against Cyprus: he was the top scorer of the English 1974-75 season with 27 goals and looked like England found a scoring machine.
Portugal, looking desperate against constant assaults, extracted a point at Wembley – 0-0. Their keeper Damas, sandwiched between menacing Watson and Channon clears the ball, but… Portugal was clearly not able to do more than that. A slip of the English perhaps… but then look at the weather. Excusable mischance, to be amply compensated later – the team was just too strong.
In a way, the picture was telling what was to be: the opponents missing a punch, but not the English, who were to knock down the rest. In reality – the Czechoslovakian goalie Ivo Viktor clears the ball from Dobson. But symbolism so far represented the true situation: Viktor appears desperate, Dobson too strong… England won with confidence 3-0.
So good so far! Clear supremacy, strong team, rich on choices and variations: MacDonald and Dobson were not even real starters, so imagine the wealth of the English pool! They had Kevin Keegan after all!
For many, Keegan was already the best European player. With him England was unstoppable. May be the best was just to cancel the remaining games – what was the point when England was so strong?

Monday, October 10, 2011

The steelier among the iron groups was Group 5: Holland, Poland, and Italy. Finland completed the group, her sole purpose was to donate points and provide comfortable goal differences to the aces. The most exciting teams at the World Cup in 1974, correspondingly finishing with silver and bronze medals. The Italian fiasco at the World Cup did not diminish the aura of the national team – Italians were thought determined to wipe clean the tarnish, but even without the sting from 1974 they were always a predatory team and a favourite. As it turned out, Italy suffered more than a sting – a massive change of mentality was needed, on every level of Italian football. Unfortunately, defensive football proved very difficult to shake – Italian mind was so conditioned by defensive schemes by now, that it was instinctive. And this instinct was never sufficiently erased – Italy plays primarily defensive football to this very day. But it was painfully clear in 1974 that catenaccio was outdated and the brand of losers. Naturally, the first to go was the old coach Feruccio Valcareggi. He was at the helm since 1966, therefore, incapable of atuning his views to the 70s. He was replaced by Fulvio Bernardini and it was under his guidance Italy hit rock bottom. In retrospect it looks like Bernardini was chosen not to rebuilt the national team into modern squad, but rather appointed as the person most suitable to swallow all possible blame: Bernardini was good 15 years older than Valcareggi. Born in 1905, he was 70 years old when accepting to coach the national team. His record was even more alarming than his age – he made both Fiorentina and Bologna champions of Italy, but long ago – Fiorentina in 1956 and Bologna in 1964. The years were telling… those were exactly the times when catenaccio was taking shape and was ‘the modern way to play’. Bernardini was hardly the coach to change anything and he also had plenty of players with mega-reputations and deeply embedded old habits, who were difficult to replace even if the coach wanted to. Unlike West Germans stars, the Italian ones were not eager to quit the national team. The coach himself was reluctant to ignore them - it was not easy to retire Mazzola, Rivera, Fascetti, Riva, even for a coach willing to do so, but Bernardini was not very willing to begin with. Yet, there were constant attempts to refresh the squad, to introduce new players, in the hope that some less known and younger players would be naturally inclined to play more open game, if not genuine total football. New players were constant failure – everybody in Italy was conditioned to defensive game and the new boys were just paler copies of the big old stars. Experiments led to nothing and Italy finished measly 3rd in the group, scoring astonishing number of goals – a whole lot of three in six games! They were tough to beat as ever, but proved to be only that. Italy was not even able to win over Finland at home – the 0-0 tie provided the outsiders their only point.
This left only Holland and Poland as real contenders, providing they were able to break the Italian walls, and the Dutch had the edge, despite the fact they had new coach. Like Holland, Poland depended on limited number of great players. Similarly, both countries essentially preserved the same squads and same tactics after the World Cup. And at that similarities ended – unlike Holland, Polish stars were not concentrated in 3 clubs, but scattered in many. Unlike the Dutch, who were playing together weak after weak and thus were able to maintain strong form, Polish stars were most often surrounded with weaker teammates and lacking collective boost, they had difficulty to stay in top condition. Dutch coaches had it easier, for the main starters hardly needed a lot of training – the concern was rather tactical: which combination of players was best for a specific opponent. Everybody was familiar with everybody else and there was hardly any problem with execution. In Poland the national team had to be trained and shaped, especially when new players were included. But Kazimierz Gorski was working with the national team for a long time and made it more like a club squad already – the trouble was aging on one hand and players allowed to play abroad. So far, Polish football was officially ‘amateur’ and on top of that export was done in almost clandestine manner, so foreign based professionals were automatically out of the national team. In 1975 this became a bit of a problem, for Lubanski was permitted to play in Belgium and Gadocha nd Marks – in France. Given the limited pool, this was severe loss – three strikers were difficult to replace. On the brighter side Polish players were more than willing for the national team, if only to get a chance to go abroad, and under Communist conditions scandals and open rebellions were impossible. The Dutch had no problem calling foreign-based stars like Cruyff, Neeskens, Rensenbrink, but there was problem with stubbornly opinionated and pig-headed players. Frequently Dutch stars refused to play because of disagreements, or boycotting the coach, or teammates. Frequently there was no reason at all – a player just did not think important certain match or preferred to stay home instead of going to a national team camp. Private matters played a large role – Cruyff disliked van Beveren and for this reason alone Holland had no decent goalkeeper for years. Coaching itself was becoming laughable: Rinus Michels returned to Barcelona after the World Cup ended and new coach was hired. It was amusing choice – George Knobel. George, or Georges Knobel was freshly fired from Ajax, where he effectively managed to destroy a great team in less than an year. This dubious achievement was awarded with appointment to coach the national team – where the largest bulk was Ajax players, not to mention Cruyff and his long memory. It was Knobel, who asked Ajax players to vote for a captain of the team – and they voted for Keiser, not for Cruyff (he was still there at the time). And what kinf of coach was Knobel anyway? He came to Ajax from nowhere and sunk it. Leaping a bit ahead, Knobel’s career was practically one year in Ajax and two years with the national team. After 1976 he disappeared, coaching in Hong Kong and Malaysia. Hardly a gifted specialist, judging by his career… and his contribution to Holland was more than suspect. He inherited an improvised by Michels squad and changed absolutely nothing. For instance, Hulshof and Gerrit Muhren, who missed the World Cup because of injuries, were healthy now, but neither was ever called back. Van Beveren was not recalled either, although Knobel got rid of pathetic goalie Youngbloed and Schrijvers, reduced to substitute by Michels, was first choice again.
It was goalkeeping and central defense in need of shaping, but Knobel simply kept whatever Muchels concocted out of sheer lack of players. A good deal of players was aging too and here the small pool of talent made the final decisions: youngsters were constantly tried, but old legs were better at the end. Apart from bigger number of PSV Eindhoven players, no changes were made by Knobel neither tactical, nor in selection. And it was the familiar names from Ajax and Feyenoord at the end, for apart from the van der Kerkhof twins no PSV players really gained regular spot in the team. The brothers were rather ominous addition, though – they were not artistic, but rather German kind of players, and they were eventually to shape Holland into a lesser copy of West Germany circa 1978: physical fighters with lots of strength and very short of improvisation, invention, and beauty.
At the end of the day, Holland had slightly larger and better core of stars than Poland and also the real edge – Cruyff. He was often ‘unavailable’ – meaning, he decided which games to play and which to skip, but having even the possibility of Cruyff playing was an advantage – guessing was a trouble for the opposition.
1.NETHERLANDS 6 4 0 2 14- 8 8
2.Poland 6 3 2 1 9- 5 8
3.Italy 6 2 3 1 3- 3 7
4.Finland 6 0 1 5 3-13 1
At the end Holland advance on better goal difference, which was not much to say for the team, given the mediocrity of Italy and relatively weaker than 1974 Poland.
George Knobel destroyed burly looking Ajax before joining the same players in the national team. Perhaps the luckiest mediocrity he was – and double lucky, for Holland managed to qualify. What was his contribution, though?
Johann Cruyff against Finland in Helsinki. Holland won 3-1 and probably more than ever Cruyff was the real maker and shaker of the Dutch. Still using number 14 and surely having the last word.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

So far, five easy qualifying groups, the easiest of them all almost ending with surpise elimination of the world champions. Three groups were taugh, however, and therefore – unpredictable. Group 4 was the least interesting among them – Spain, Scotland, Romania, and Denmark. The Danes were the outsider, no problem – they were envisioned to finish last and they did not disappoint. The rest were seen more or less equal – not really great and with many troubles. The Scots pleased everybody at the World Cup in 1974, but they had scoring difficulties and tended to underperform against weaker opponents. Spain and Romania both missed the World Cup finals and were deep in their own crisis – Romania in transformation; Spain routinely by now failing to advance. It was to be a Russian roulette – much depending on chance, on momentary form, on matches with Denmark, and very likely on goal difference. It was expected to be nasty, unexciting fight for the first spot. And it was – most matches ended tied. Wins were collected from the fixtures with Denmark and nobody shined. Spain and Romania did not lose a single game, but Romania finished 5 of their 6 group matches in draws. Scoring was not the forte of any team. The decisive match was probably played in Glasgow, where Spain clinched 2-1 win over Scotland. The rest of the games between the favourites were ties and Denmark collected their single point at home against Romania. Which at the end moved Spain to ¼ finals. Scotland was true to predictions – even if they did not lose at home to Spain, the Scots were not going to progress for they scored as low as expected. Only a home win against Spain would have qualify them.
1.SPAIN 6 3 3 0 10- 6 9
2.Romania 6 1 5 0 11- 6 7
3.Scotland 6 2 3 1 8- 6 7
4.Denmark 6 0 1 5 3-14 1
Spain, visiting Romania on 16 October, 1975: top, left to right: Sol, Benito, Miguel Angel, Pirri, Camacho, Migueli.
Bottom: Quini, Villar, Santillana, Del Bosque, Rojo I (or Chechu Rojo – he was listed by either name).
Looking grim and determined fighters – exactly what they were. A mean squad, capable of extracting a point in Bucharest – 2-2. Not exciting at all – Santillana excepted. Pirri, Camacho, and Del Bosque were surely top guns, but as a whole a game-killing squad and it was difficult to imagine another, more playful one. Villar, Rojo, Benito, Miguel Angel were perhaps the best representation of Spanish football – tough players, not at all great, and easily replaceable with countless others of the same mold. Which at the end was liability, for seemingly Spain was lacking enough truly outstanding players. Even the goalscoring machine Quini was largely a fighter, easily lapsing into dirty tricks and time-wasting and entirely forgetting that there was a net at the other end of the pitch. Going ahead, but unlikely very far.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

And such was the contribution of most new national players – at the end, only Dietz, Kaltz, and Stielike established themselves in the national team. However, by 1976 only the left full back Dietz was a firm national player. The other two were still questionable (in the case of Kaltz – Berti Vogts was the main obstacle). It was not only new players giving headache to Schon – out of desperation, he tried, discarded, tried again, and discarded again some players, who no longer had firm place in the team – Heynckes and Wimmer. Both were starters in the great team winning the European championship in 1972, but were relegated to the substitute bench at the World Cup in 1974. Heynckes was reintroduced in hope to improve scoring – he was the top goalscorer in Germany in 1974-75, and generally was second best the previous seasons. But he was not up to Schon’s expectations – and he was quickly replaced by another player in the next match. The replacement failed as well, Heynckes was called again… it was painful struggle.
Heynckes scoring against Greece and 1-0 for West Germany. It was not enough… Heynckes seemingly was able to score occasionally against outsiders by now, and his rare goals were not winners either – the Greeks equalized.
Similarly Wimmer: he was originally a defensive midfielder, moved to playmaker’s position in Borussia after Netzer went to Spain. In the national team Wimmer was edged by his younger teammate in Borussia – Rainer Bonhof – and firmly benched during the World Cup. In late 1974 and 1975 he was a starter again – seemingly, Schon was trying to use him as a playmaker – but Wimmer was not Netzer or Overath… At the end, Flohe and Culmann were playing more and more and the whole German team looked tough, but clueless. Capable of running, but not of playing. Frustration was obvious. I watched Bulgaria – West Germany in the drizzle of cold April day in Sofia: the match was huge disappointment – chaotic Bulgarian squad, having no idea what to do on the pitch was opposed by equally chaotic and not knowing what to do German squad. By sheer willpower, the World Champions prevented a loss. It was impossible to tell who were the world champions, except by the colour of the shirts… both teams were increadibly bad. Sign of the times to come – the bleak, artless, unimaginative German football of the 1980s, winning only by will and physicality, was already in place. There was strength and no spark. West Germany moved ahead, but without even winning against lowly opponents like Bulgaria and Greece. It could be said that Malta actually qualified West Germany – by beating Greece and losing 0-8 to the Germans.
Two 1-1 ties against… Greece. Erich Beer, one of the not-so-young new players introduced by Schon seems impessive with this flying header in front of Pallas and Kaltz. Modest players like Pallas were a big problem for the mighty Germans… for the likes of Beer. Kaltz was hardly big help yet. What a downfall – it looks like Maier needs the gloves of the Greek goalie Kelesidis. Well, at least this photo is misleading – at least Maier was in top form and distinct from his Greek colleague. Can’t say the same for the Germans on the left.
The last hope was in revoking the World Cup – back than Schon modified the team every game until finally finding the right variation. It came at the last match in the semi-final round robin group and became the squad winning the tournament. May be he will be able to find his winning team when it matters again? Old fox like Schon… in a way, he did it again. Almost did it. But by the end of 1975 there was no sign of greatness and the only reason West Germany was seen as still dangerous team was because it was West Germany. Alas, a very different one from even a year ago – West Germany of the 1980s, hateful to watch, was already taking shape. The team which banished fun from football.