Saturday, April 13, 2013

The last FIFA group 13 consisted of not one, but two continents – the lowest of the low, Oceania, did not have – and so far doesn't have – reserved spot at the finals. It was placed in Group 13, which was difficult and bizarre group, at par with Africa. Great distances called for geographical divisions. Politics were overwhelming problem, with countries refusing to play against others and calling for expulsions. Israel was not expelled, but Muslim states boycotted it – and because of that Israel was placed in the Far East Subgroup 2 – with Japan and both Korean states. Which was the next problem – North Korea withdraw, obviously because it had to play against South Korea, and it was either them or us: expel them, or we are not playing. China did not participate at all - most likely because Taiwan was allowed to play. Many countries did not participate – India, Pakistan, Vietnam – and almost every refusal can be traced to political tensions. At the end, politics and geography led to strangely looking preliminary subgroups: 6 countries in Subgroup 1, but only 5 actual played – Sri Lanka withdrew. Subgroup 4 was made of 4 teams, but United Arab Emirates withdrew. Subgroup 3 also had 4 teams at first, but Iraq withdrew. The remaining 2 subgroups consisted of three teams each. Major crisis was avoided thanks to the early elimination of Israel – they finished surprisingly 2nd, behind South Korea. Neither South Korea, nor Japan had more than laughable amateur football at the time – that was why the failure of Israel was surprising. Hong Kong won Subgroup 1, Kuwait – Subgroup 4, the most confident winner, not losing even a point, and Australia – Subgroup 5. Subgroup 3 displayed the usual problem in the undeveloped world: Syria decided not to play their last match, probably because they had no real chance to advance. Iran benefited immediately – the awarded victory made them winners of the group and the last match against Saudi Arabia was meaningless. Just like in Africa, it was not exactly necessary to play football to advance.

With the major obstacles gone by now, the final round proceeded just fine: five finalists playing twice against each other. The ordeal took half an year – from June to 4th of December 1977. Travel was tantamount – from Iran to Australia and from Kuwait to South Korea, which made clear that practically no fans were able to support visitors. The key match was perhaps Australia – Iran, played in Melbourne. Iran clinched important away victory – 1-0. Australia, thanks to her European emigrants and to the spirited performance in 1974, was seen as the favourite, but actually the Aussies were not good even in terms of weak Asian football. They lost half of their matches. Hong Kong was the obvious outsider, unable to get even a single point. Iran was best by far.

1.IRAN 8 6 2 0 12- 3 14

2.South Korea 8 3 4 1 12- 8 10

3.Kuwait 8 4 1 3 13- 8 9

4.Australia 8 3 1 4 11- 8 7

5.Hongkong 8 0 0 8 5-26 0

Smart looking 1977 Iranian squad: Standing from right: Mohammad Reza Adelkhani, Nasrollah Abdollahi, Ghafour Jahani, Nasser Hejazi, Hossein Kazerouni.

Sitting from right: Ebrahim Qassem-pour, Andranik Eskandarian, Mohammad Sadeqi, Ali Parvin, Hassan Roshan, Hassan Nazari.

The names meant nothing outside Iran, and Iran was thought an obvious outsider. Perhaps better than the African finalist, but points donor nevertheless.