Saturday, April 6, 2013

n the grand scheme of FIFA South America was called Group 10. In reality it was competition of two stages – initial 3 groups of 3 teams each, playing twice against each other, and after that – a final group of the three winners, playing a round-robin tournament on neutral ground. Two team going directly to the finals, and a third potentially going to the finals, if winning the play-off with the European Group 9 winner. South America frequently changed qualification formats, due to the small number of participants, lack of money, and great distances to travel. This time it was decided to be two-staged competition, which benefited obvious favourites.

Group A consisted of Brazil, Paraguay, and Colombia. No doubt about the winners. What may be difficult to understand was Colombia – it was very weak, despite the fact it was the magnet for South American professional players. So money was not enough, but this is trivia. The outcome was boringly clear:

1.Brazil 4 2 2 0 8- 1 6

2.Paraguay 4 1 2 1 3- 3 4

3.Colombia 4 0 2 2 1- 8 2

Group B was clear too at first – who else, but Uruguay. Bolivia and Venezuela were not an opposition. Actually, such were the realities at the time, that Venezuela did not even count: Bolivia and Ecuador 'competed' for the dubious distinction of lowliest South American nation. But.. Uruguay was in the worst ever situation – political troubles, inevitably plunging the country in dire economic straights. The military Junta did not care for football and nobody else did either, given the circumstances. Uruguay failed miserably and in the vacuum stepped in lowly Bolivia. Which won easily the group without losing a single match.

1.Bolivia 4 3 1 0 8- 3 7

2.Uruguay 4 1 2 1 5- 4 4

3.Venezuela 4 0 1 3 2- 8 1

Group C was the only competitive group – Ecuador did not count, but Chile and Peru fought for the first place. Peru prevailed by a point, largely thanks to the 1-1 tie in Santiago. Small difference, but still important: Peru was still riding high on the shoulders of the great generation of the 1970 World Cup. To it some new highly talented players were added. Chile on the other hand was improving thanks to better economy bringing money to her football, but the stage was still early to produce results, new bunch of talented players in particular. So Peru had the edge, if not obvious supremacy.

1.Peru 4 2 2 0 8- 2 6

2.Chile 4 2 1 1 5- 3 5

3.Ecuador 4 0 1 3 1- 9 1

And the winners of the preliminary groups pretty much precluded the whole qualification – Bolivia was too weak to offer resistance, let alone to produce a surprise. In Cali, Colombia, the final stage was a formality – it did not even matter who finished 1st or 2nd – the bottom place was 'reserved', and the others qualified. Bazil won their both games, beating Bolivia 8-0. Peru settled for 5-0 against Bolivia. Important or not, the opening match between Peru and Brazil was still contested – if nothing else, at least honour demanded serious play. Brazil was not all that great – Peru lost 0-1.

1.BRAZIL 2 2 0 0 9- 0 4

2.PERU 2 1 0 1 5- 1 2

3.Bolivia 2 0 0 2 0-13 0

And so in July 1977 Brazil and Peru qualified for the World Cup finals. It was not over yet for Bolivia, which had still a chance to reach the finals too. Tiny chance... more or less in the realm of pure theory, given the strength of Bolivian football. In October and November everything settled: Hungary thrashed Bolivia 6-0 in Budapest. The second match in La Paz hardly mattered any more, but Bolivia lost it as well – 2-3. Hungary qualified; Bolivia did not make a miracle.
Same old, same old – Brazil to the finals. This is one of the often changing Brazilian formations of the time. Still unsettled, searching, and trying to find its way after the 1974 disaster, but clearly too strong in South America to be in risk of missing World Cup finals. One thing was getting clear – the new Brazil was to be based on Zico. So far Rivelino was the key figure, but his age already suggested that the team will be organized around Zico. The only question was which players were best suited for playing with the White Pele.
Peru in Cali, Colombia, 1977: a good team, which did not even have to worry about qualifying. Rather, getting more experience and confidence. Sotil, Cubillas, Chumpitaz, Velasquez – the core well remembered from the 1970 World Cup – shaped the team. Well rounded squad, with Oblitas rapidly becoming big star.