Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Group 3 was an 'iron' one, difficult to predict, yet, all teams were more or less problematic. Brazil, Spain, Sweden, and Austria. Austria on the rise, Sweden – never an outsider, Spain finally reaching the finals, and Brazil, the eternal favourite. More or less, Austria was seen as potential last, Spain and Sweden fighting for one qualifying spot and Brazil, either first or second in the group, but surely going ahead. Brazil, with wounded pride in 1974, naturally was ambitious, but also under heavy scrutiny. Reputation demanded success, everybody in Brazil demanded success, but in Brazil everybody is also competent critic and the team was, is, and never will be just right, but always imperfect and wrong. And nobody was blind: Brazil failed in 1974 and continued to be miserable in the following years. Osvaldo Brandao was sacked in 1977, replaced by Claudio Coutinho, a prominent figure in Brazilian football and very controversial too.
Coutinho, born in 1939, was one of the young coaches characterizing the 1978 World Cup. Unlike most of the others, he was already well known name, although not exactly as a coach, but as theoretician and journalist. Coutinho had unusual background, especially for Brazilian coach – he came from the military and was specialist in fitness and physical training. He was also the most vocal critic of traditional Brazilian football and perhaps the biggest advocate of 'Europeanisation'. He supported total football, but his version was based on physical condition, tactics, and discipline. Not surprising at all, considering his military education. He was a huge supporter of the 'Cooper Test', very popular during the 1970s, which was based largely on running and purely athletic measurements – players everywhere hated the test, so one can imagine what Brazilian players thought about it: there was no ball and hardly any football elements in the test. Coutinho was criticized from the moment he was appointed – and among his critics was Mario Zagallo, who introduced the dreadful 'European' football in 1974. Of course, Coutinho was heavy critic of Zagallo a few years back, so it is interesting to see how the two differed – not much, really. Both wanted disciplined play, strong defense, and following a tactical plan .

Both wanted players in perfect physical condition. Coutinho just went a step further than Zagallo, but it was also strange to see him compared to Osvaldo Brandao – the former coach was especially criticized for using defensive-minded 4-4-2 scheme, emphasizing tactical discipline, and based his team on Rivelino. Which was pretty much the concept used by Zagallo in 1974. And Coutinho did not change that – his team was based on Rivelino. Since Rivelino and Zico practically duplicated each other, there was a problem already seen: neither star was very effective and they even clashed with each other. Rivelino himself gave a thoughtful and very intelligent interview early in 1977, saying that he is not centre-forward and not at all a Pele-type of player. He pretty much articulated the best way for using his talent – something like a striker coming from the back, not at the edge of attack. Which more or less demanded imaginative playmaker, controlling the flow of the game and giving sharp passes in the right moment. Perhaps Zico was the best option, but seemingly Rivelino was placed as playmaker and Zico – as something approximating centre-forward. Coutinho kept that – which was not at all a change from Brandao's days. Coutinho did not get much sympathy, although not everything was his fault: intellectual coaches are hardly loved in generally unintellectual football world, so his long tactical and theoretical lectures were held against him, but the traditional European tour before the World Cup finals was not his fault at all. Brazil did it for many years – to test its team against the greatest opponents. Suddenly it was decided the tour was weird and counter-productive: since the finals were in South America, there was nothing to benefit from European tour, it was argued. The players would only get tired and perhaps – if the results were negative – demoralized. The critics thought Coutinho should have canceled the tour. The tour itself was almost a carbon copy of the tour before the 1974 World Cup, culminating with a friendly against West Germany. It was tough fight, which Brazil once again won 1-0 . Not a trace of artistry, just like the match few years back when Zagallo coached. Critics slowed down a bit; Coutinho theorized a bit, but generally cautioned that there is a lot of work to be done yet. Then the draw for the finals came, then the squad was announced, then Coutinho came under new volley of critiques – he announced his starting eleven for the first official match on May 19! Zagallo was the first to criticize such weird move, forgetting his own words from 1970, when he said that the starting team should be known about 4 months before the beginning the World Cup. It all depends on the momentary standpoint... Coutinho's selection was not at all to everybody's liking. Just as ever...
1    GK  Leão                                 11 July 1949 (aged 28)            50  Palmeiras
2    DF   Toninho                             7 June 1948 (aged 29)            4    Flamengo
3    DF   Oscar                                20 June 1954 (aged 23)          4    Ponte Preta
4    DF   Amaral                              25 December 1954 (aged 23) 22  Corinthians
5    MF  Toninho Cerezo                 21 April 1955 (aged 23)         16   Atlético Mineiro
6    DF   Edinho                               5 June 1955 (aged 22)            12  Fluminense
7    FW  Zé Sérgio                          8 March 1957 (aged 21)          2    São Paulo
8    MF  Zico                                   3 March 1953 (aged 25)         21  Flamengo
9    FW  Reinaldo                            11 January 1957 (aged 21)      12  Atlético Mineiro
10  FW  Rivelino                             1 January 1946 (aged 32)        88  Fluminense
11  MF  Dirceu                               15 June 1952 (aged 25)           14  Vasco da Gama
12  GK  Carlos                                4 March 1956 (aged 22)         0    Ponte Preta
13  DF   Nelinho                              26 July 1950 (aged 27)           13  Cruzeiro
14  DF   Abel                                  1 September 1952 (aged 25)   1    Vasco da Gama
15  F     Polozzi                               1 October 1955 (aged 22)        0   Ponte Preta
16  DF  Rodrígues Neto                   6 December 1949 (aged 28)    7   Botafogo
17  MF  Batista                                8 March 1955 (aged 23)          4   Internacional
18  FW  Gil                                      24 December 1950 (aged 27)  22 Botafogo
19  FW  Jorge Mendonça                 6 June 1954 (aged 23)             0   Palmeiras
20  FW  Roberto Dinamite                13 April 1954 (aged 24)          20 Vasco da Gama
21  MF  Chicão                                 30 January 1949 (aged 29)     5    São Paulo
22  GK  Valdir Peres                         2 February 1951 (aged 27)     5    São Paulo

This was an young squad – only Rivelino was over 30 years old. Young squads have few friends – even those who demanded radical changes usually change their minds before important tournaments and see young players as a liability: they lack experience. And Coutinho's selection clearly had little experience - 11 players with less than 10 matches for the national team; 3 of them not having even a single game for Brazil. A single player from the strong Cruzeiro, no matter their domestic and international success in the last 2 years, but 3 players from insignificant Ponte Preta. Only 6 survivors from the 1974 squad, which probably was lesser problem, since these team left bitter memories. Some new big stars – Zico, Roberto Dinamite – some rising players of recent fame – Gil, Reinaldo, Amaral, Jorge Mendonca – but also few players, who appeared questionable – Chicao, Abel, Polozzi. The strangest part of the team was the defense, given Coutinho's demands on 'European' kind of football, tough defense, and disciplined 'realistic' approach – just a few months back, in 1977, Carlos Alberto, Francisco Marinho, and Luis Pereira still played for Brazil. All of them seemingly were suitable exactly for Coutinho's concept, but none was selected for the finals. Curiously, Luis Pereira was a key option as late as the beginning of 1978 – and perhaps the quintessential Coutinho's type of player: tough, no-nonsense player, with vast experience, playing in Europe for years. The 'European' Brazilian... but he was out. Francisco Marinho was most likely discarded because of his conflict with Nelinho, yet, Rivelino and Zico were in the team, although they were in conflict with each other as well. Ze Maria was also out, although he was, like Luis Pereira, almost sure member of the squad. The defense was complately changed – not exactly remade, for there was uncertainty about the final line: when Coutinho announced his starting eleven at May 19, Ze Maria was among them. Nelinho was reserve – just like before 1974 campaign. Rivelino was the central player, but Dirceu was a reserve. And so was Roberto Dinamite – a player with higher profile than Gil and Reinaldo. Zico was firmly placed among the strikers. Coutinho's team was open for massive criticism and God help coach and players – Brazil had to made up for the 1974 disaster; in Brazil only World Cup victory counts. Outside Brazil the team was seen as favourite – after all, Brazil is always considered a favourite – but somewhat enigmatic and not so great. Many little known players, but then if Brazil doesn't have talent, who does.
No matter what version, always a favourite – Coutinho's Brazil against West Germany. Ze Maria was out of the final squad, but the rest were charged to restore the country's reputation. As a bit of trivia: Leao, difficult,quarrelsome, and often unruly, seemingly had no problem playing for disciplinarian coach. And the former military man Coutinho had no problem with the rebel. May be the meeting point for them was the emphasis on defense. Despite such departure from traditional Brazilian football, Coutinho's team was named favourite by Pele – along with Argentina, Italy, and West Germany.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The opening match of Mexico was also their easiest – against Tunisia. At least by the end of the first half – Mexico was not very good, but it looked like they were taking it easy, perhaps neglecting whatever feeble opposition the outsiders had to offer. In the very last minute of the first half Mexico got a penalty and Ayala scored. With some difficulty, but normal nevertheless – the goal very likely likely was to clip Tunisian enthusiasm and Mexico surely was going to control the second half and win the match.

Did not happen – the second half was Tunisian, they scored three unanswered goals and won 3-1.
Leonardo Cuellar seemingly in control, leaving behind awkward looking Ali Kaabi.

The second match was the toughest for the Mexicans – against West Germany they had no chance, according to general consensus, yet, they were not expected to be utterly destroyed. If there was a surprise, it was only the result: Mexico was expected to lose, but not by 0-6.
Even Russmann, far at the left, appeared to be scoring a goal against entirely clueless, helpless, and hopeless Mexicans. Well, he did not, but look at the Mexican goalkeeper – is he doing anything at all, save for watching? So desperate the situation was, Mexico used two goalkeepers – after receiving 3 goals by the 37th minute, Pilar Reyes was replaced by Soto. Who also received three goals. Instead of 'hidden favourites' and the big surprise of the tournament, Mexico was already eliminated.

Their last match mattered only for Poland, needing a tie, which was hardly set-up for entertaining game. It was a match leaving no trace, hardly even a photo. Boniek scored for Poland in the 42nd minute, then Rangel equalized in the 51st, then Poland scored two more goals and won 3-1. Mexico was entirely demotivated and Poland, struggling with its own from and shape, won almost by default. Critics of coach Roca and his selection had a field day and rightly so: instead of winning the World Cup, Mexico finished last in the unofficial final table without a single point. Immediately the team was proclaimed the worst ever Mexican team,which is probably unfair judgment, but losers are never treated 'fairly' – after all, who lost every match they played?

At the end, Mexico left two bits of trivial memory: the very unusual kit the West Germans used against Mexico:
Berti Vogts leaving the field after destroying Mexico: white jersey, black shorts, green socks – a mix of first and reserve kit, hardly ever used by West Germany, so worth mentioning.

And the Mexican second kit, used against Tunisia:
A rare design for a national team kit, unusual colour combination for Mexico, and, in my opinion, one of the prettiest kits ever used at World Cup finals.

Yet, with surprises and disappointments, Group 2 finished exactly as predicted:

1. Poland 2 1 0 4-1 5

2. West Germany 1 2 0 6-0 4

3. Tunisia 1 1 1 3-2 3

4. Mexico 0 0 3 2-12 0

It was also the least satisfying group – West Germany and Poland obviously had problems and did not play well. Mexico was a big disappointment, and quite a few were sorry Tunisia did not advance, yet, it was more of sympathy for the underdog than thinking that Tunisia was stronger option.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Mexico – one of the steadiest participants in the World Cup finals, but also a constant enigma. Even more so in 1978, for the country failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup. Never a favourite, yet never an outsider either, as a rule Mexico was expected to reach the second stage of the finals and die there. That was the traditional maximum, still possible, with some luck, in 1978. So much for general predictions. There was little, if any, information about the team and its coach.

Jose Antonio Roca, 50 years old, was the coach for the campaign. Unknown outside Mexico, but well known as a player at home: Roca played at three World Cup finals (1950, 1954, and 1958), not a small achievement by any standard. At fifty, he was at arguably the perfect coaching age – experienced, yet not old enough to be unresponsive to new ideas. Most likely he was appointed precisely to bring the Mexican team up to date after the bitter failure four years back. And he delivered – not only qualified Mexico, but also presented new and modern squad. Which immediately unleashed the wrath of many – Roca selected young squad, leaving out many local stars. As ever and everywhere in the football universe, the coach was criticized for doing precisely what the critics asked him to do – building young , modern squad. Which immediately was considered inexperienced and risky. Not everybody thought so of course, so the views were polarized, but Roca stuck to his guns.
1   GK  José Pilar Reyes               12 October 1955 (aged 22)    UANL Tigres
2   DF  Manuel Nájera                  20 December 1952 (aged 25) Leones Negros
3   DF  Alfredo Tena                     21 November 1956 (aged 21) CF América
4   DF  Eduardo Ramos                 8 November 1949 (aged 28)  CD Guadalajara
5   DF  Arturo Vázquez Ayala        26 June 1949 (aged 28)         Club UNAM
6   MF Guillermo Mendizábal         8 October 1954 (aged 23)     Cruz Azul
7   MF  Antonio de la Torre           21 September 1951 (aged 26) Club América
8   FW  Enrique López Zarza         25 October 1957 (aged 20)    Club UNAM
9   FW  Víctor Rangel                    11 March 1957 (aged 21)       CD Guadalajara
10 MF  Cristóbal Ortega                25 July 1956 (aged 21)           CF América
11 FW  Hugo Sánchez                   11 July 1958 (aged 19)           Club UNAM
12 DF   Jesús Martínez                   7 June 1952 (aged 25)            CF América
13 DF   Rigoberto Cisneros            15 August 1953 (aged 24)      CD Toluca
14 DF  Carlos Gómez                     16 August 1952 (aged 25)      CSD León
15 DF  Ignacio Flores Ocaranza      31 July 1953 (aged 24)           Cruz Azul
16 MF Javier Cárdenas                   8 December 1952 (aged 25)   CD Toluca
17 MF Leonardo Cuéllar                 14 January 1952 (aged 26)     Club UNAM
18 MF Gerardo Lugo                      13 March 1955 (aged 23)       Atlante F.C.
19 FW Hugo René Rodríguez          14 March 1959 (aged 19)       Santos Laguna
20 FW Mario Medina                      2 September 1952 (aged 25)   CD Toluca
21 FW Raúl Isiordia                         22 December 1952 (aged 25)  Atlético Español
22 GK Pedro Soto                           22 October 1952 (aged 25)    CF América
Remarkably young squad – the oldest players: 28-years old defenders Ramos and Ayala. Very promising strikers – Rangel, Zarza, and 19-years old Hugo Sanchez, already appearing at his second major international tournament after the 1976 Olympic games. However, the brightest star was the midfielder Leonardo Cuellar. As a whole, the team appeared well balanced and having the wildest haircuts – rather, the lack of them – among the finalists. Some players also had a reputation for unusual behavior - the goalkeeper Pilar Reyes, for instance. Unknown team really, but when information was 'discovered' some commentators considered Mexico the hidden surprise at the finals, possibly going not only ahead, but may be even potential world champion. Young, talented squad, wild enough to play without brakes. And as far as hair fashion was suggestive during the 1970s, the wildest and longest hairs belonged to winners... Mexico was the team to watch.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tunisia played her first match against Mexico – the only match where, if extremely lucky, the Africans would hope for a point. A miniscule possibility, possible only if the Mexicans terribly underperformed. That was the opinion before the game. But contrary to expectations Tunisia started the match with confidence, played surprisingly well and kept Mexico at bay for whole first half. Yet, the inevitable happened – in the last minute Mexico got a penalty and scored. All those fretting over Tunisian names were breathing easier: nice effort by the outsiders, but now everything was back to normal. 'Normal' was not to be – in the second half Tunisia destroyed the Aztecs, scoring 3 goals.

Spectacular moment, fitting the pre-game predictions: Mexico attacking; Tunisia desperately defending. Rangel, however, is effectively denied by the unknown Tunisian keeper Naimi. The situation looks awkward, for the net seems to be in front – not behind – the goalkeeper, but nevetheless the picture tells the real story: Tunisia had the ball, not Mexico. Naimi played heroically and his inspired performance made him the player of the game.

Surpisingly, the outsiders won 3-1 and their coach Chetali was free to shave his beard: his vow was fulfilled. It was truly historic moment: the very first African victory at World Cup finals. After the opening round Tunisia was leading the group – another unthinkable moment. This guy Chetali apparently did not make an empty gesture, when he vowed to not to shave until first win, but still observers were skeptical: Mexico seemingly underperformed, Tunisia won on the wings of enthusiasm, but now the time to face mighty European arrived – and with that, the end of the mavericks. Good play, enjoy the win, shave the beard – and good bye.

The Polish assault confirmed precisely that – in the first few minutes. Tunisia coolly survived the initial barrage and equalized the game. Poland played predictable and not at all inventive football, which the Tunisians deciphered quickly and although the Poles were more active and physically supreme, the African team was not broken down at all. With time, Polish frustrations showed themselves – the team was not effective at all. Eventually, Lato scored in the 42nd minute. Once again Tunisia received a goal at the end of the first half, and once again the goal was interpreted as the end of the Africans.

And once again Tunisia proved predictions wrong: they were much fresher than Poland in the second half, got the initiative, and dominated to the end. But unlucky... twice the goalposts denied Tunisia from scoring. Then a Polish defender managed to clear the ball practically from the goal line. Poland was clearly outplayed, but managed to preserve her fragile lead. Tunisia did not score and lost.
Equal to the Poles? Actually, better than the Poles – Tunisia in attack again, and Polish defender Gorgon desperately trying to clear the ball – or to take down the Tunisian striker.

Tunisia was praised after the match – no longer the weak outsider, but the pleasant surprise, which was just unlucky. Double unlucky, for surely they had no chance against West Germany. Theoretically, Tunisia still had a chance of advancing: if they win against the world champions. Even with a tie, if Poland lost to Mexico. Nobody expected such results, no matter how badly both European teams played so far. And for a third time the underdogs surprised everybody: they played again as equals.
Naimi saves Klaus Fischer's shot. Tunisia played strong defense, strong midfield, strong attack. True, West Germany was happy with a tie, but Tunisia proved to be dangerous opponent. At the end it was scoreless tie – Tunisia was eliminated, but with great difficulty and not at all beaten down.

Much later it was said that 'African football was discovered' in 1978 – a stupid and laughable view, concocted years after the championship. A minority of specialists predicted African explosion for years – finally, it happened. Tunisia was not just enthusiastic team, surviving mostly because others were too slow to take them seriously, like the case of North Korea in 1966. The team was competent, well versed in modern football, showed tactical discipline, no fear, and considerable confidence. Unlike most African and Asian teams appearing at World Cup finals so far, Tunisia was very fit and up to the physical demands of modern football. And their play brought results – the first African win in history; the tie against the reigning world champions. Obviously the coach knew his job too. The team was young enough to last and develop further. Naimi played very well, but previously suspect Tarak Dhiab proved to be really excellent player – a modern midfielder equal to the best in Europe. As a whole, Tunisia was praised – perhaps they lacked a bit of experience, but they were a team for the future. They got valuable experience in 1978, almost reached the second stage, so they were to become only better in the next few years. It was team seemingly ready to stay among the best.

Curiously, no European clubs appeared interested in Tunisian players and specialist were not very excited about Chetali – the Tunisians remained unknown, in part because they were considered still immature. But they returned home as heroes and internationally were well liked.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Tunisia were the absolute outsiders. After the disastrous performance by Zaire in 1974 no African team was expected to get even single points at World Cup finals. Tunisia was unknown team, with no foreign based players. They looked even more hopeless than Zaire, for they did not reach the final of the African Championship in the early 1978 – Zaire did much better 4 years earlier. The team attracted no interest, a team to provide points to everybody else in their group and to go home early. The only news was in the realm of trivia and concerned their coach. Normally, African teams were coached by foreigners – mostly Europeans and sometimes South Americans – a tradition still followed in 21st century. Tunisia differed by appointing and keeping for the finals domestic coach. This was interesting as a news, but also contributed to the general low opinion of the team: if European coaches were unable to shape a half-decent African team, imagine what a native coach would do! Worse, surely.
Abdulmejid Chetali was not only native, but also young – 39 years old in 1978. If young coaches of other nations were praised, in the case of Tunisia it was seen as another weakness: naïve, inexperienced local coach was just another handicap. Chetali was Tunisian legend – as a player, he played astonishing 70 matches for the national team in the 1960s, but everything was possible in Africa. If it was true at all, for African records were notoriously suspect. But Chetali never played outside Tunisia, so he was entirely unknown. And remained so when appointed to coach the national team in 1974. His name surfaced only when Tunisia presented her squad for the finals. Then Chetali 'made' his name known: he vowed not to shave his beard until Tunisia wins a match at the finals. This was the biggest news about Tunisian team, practically the only news, and it was interesting only as a joke – no African team ever won a match at World Cup finals. Forget about getting even a point against West Germany and Poland – Mexico alone was too much for an African team. Chetali perhaps was thinking about some distant future... since no African team was able to appear more than once at the finals, it was to be growing a beard forever. Most likely poor Chetali was going to die unshaved. How long was to be his beard 20, 30, may be 40 years later? Laughable vow, worthy a cartoon or two. And that was all about the Tunisian team before the championship started.

1   GK  Sadok Sassi             15 November 1945 (aged 32)    Club Africain 2   DF   Mokhtar Dhouib       23 March 1952 (aged 26)          CS Sfaxien
3   DF   Ali Kaabi                 15 November 1953 (aged 24)    COT Tunis
4   MF  Khaled Gasmi           8 April 1953 (aged 25)              Club Bizerta
5   DF   Mohsen Labidi         15 January 1954 (aged 24)         Stade Tunis
6   MF  Néjib Ghommidh      12 March 1953 (aged 25)          Club Africain
7   FW  Témime Lahzami      1 January 1949 (aged 29)           Al-Ittihad
8   MF  Mohamed Ben Rehaiem  20 March 1951 (aged 27)   CS Sfaxien
9   FW  Mohamed Akid        5 July 1949 (aged 28)                CS Sfaxien
10 MF  Tarak Dhiab             15 July 1954 (aged 23)              Espérance
11 FW  Abderraouf Ben Aziza  23 September 1953 (aged 24) Étoile Sportive du Sahel
12 MF  Khemais Labidi         30 August 1950 (aged 27)         JS Kairouan
13 FW  Néjib Liman              12 June 1953 (aged 24)            Stade Tunis
14 FW  Slah Karoui               11 September 1951 (aged 26)  Étoile Sportive du Sahel
15 FW  Mohamed Ben Mouza  5 April 1954 (aged 24)          Club Africain
16 FW  Ohman Chehaibi        23 December 1954 (aged 23)   JS Kairouan
17 DF   Ridha El Louze          27 April 1953 (aged 25)           Sfax Railways Sports
18 DF   Kamel Chebli            9 March 1954 (aged 24)           Club Africain
19 FW  Mokhtar Hasni          19 March 1952 (aged 26)         La Louviére
20 DF   Amor Jebali               24 December 1956 (aged 21)   AS Marsa
21 GK  Lamine Ben Aziza      10 November 1952 (aged 25)   Étoile Sportive du Sahel
22 GK  Mokhtar Naili            3 September 1953 (aged 24)     Club Africain

The only thing about the Tunisians was sorting out their names – trying to get them, at least relatively, right in spelling and perhaps figuring out the ever confusing problem of players listed officially with names not matching previous information and actual match lines. Point in case: whatever pictures of team Tunisia emerged before the finals, they showed a goalkeeper named Attouga as a captain. There was no such player in the official Tunisian World Cup squad. May be the captain just of few months before was dropped? If so, why? Yet, there was a player looking similar to this Attouga – Sadok Sassi. It was the same player, officially Sassi, but known at home as Attouga. Apart from this traditional confusion, leading to spelling errors and constant uncertainty who was who, there was little to say about the squad – two foreign based players, seemingly the stars of the unknown team: the new captain Temime Lahzami, playing in Saudi Arabia for Al-Ittihad, and another striker, Mokhtar Hasni, playing for La Louviere in Belgium. Neither club suggested real class, though. The rest were playing for Tunisian clubs and the best known was the 1977 African player of the year Tarak Dhiab. Modest team, at best. Whatever close investigation was possible, made it even weaker: Lahzami, apparently the star of the team, since he was the new captain, debuted in 1977. He was 29 years old in 1978... how really good could be such a player? And how good would be a team captained by such star?  
Enigmatic Tunisia – the team for the match against Mexico. The Russian list of players only illustrates the eternal confusion with names of African players: standing from left: the Russian transcription of the first name does not match any of the official team list. In English, it may be something like Jendoubi. The name does not exist at all in other Russian sources. Mohsen Labidi was known as Jendoubi. Next to the mystery – Naili, next – Agrebi, with another name given in parenthesis: Ben Rehaiem; next – another doubled name: Dhouib or may be Dhouieb; Kaabi, and Gasmi.
Crouching: Lahzami, Abderraouf Ben Aziza, Akid, Dhiab, Ghommidh.

Clear enough? If still confused, you are not alone... this is supposed to be the line-up facing Mexico. Just look at other lists of the same match – and Jebali appears among the players. And mysterious Chaib... well, good luck with the puzzle.

At the end, the best hope of solving the name mystery was early elimination – no team, no problem – which was exactly the fate envisioned for the absolute outsiders.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Predictions were fulfilled quickly – Poland opened the tournament against West Germany and played boring football against equally boring reigning world champions to a scoreless tie.

Hansi Muller fighting with Adam Nawalka for the ball. The young players did not excite and did not invigorate their teams – they fought well and that was all. So far, everything was going as envisioned... Poland got a point, but also displayed problems – starting with five defenders worked well against struggling West Germany – but in defense. The midfield was not effective and Kasperczak replaced Nawalka in the hope of bringing some order. Attack was bigger trouble – the Lato – Szarmach – Lubanski trio obviosly did not work well together. Boniek made his World Cup debut, substituting tired Lubanski in the 78th minute. Not enough time really to make impression – and he made none.

The match against Tunisia was not to be a heavy task, or so was expected before the match started. Gmoch made only one change – Kasperczak was starter and Masztaler benched. Theoretically, this was to be the easiest match for Poland. Instead, it was nightmare – Poland launched steady speedy assault on Tunisian defense from the start, obviously wanting to overwhelm and crash the opposition. But the attacks were monotonous, unimaginative, and the Tunisian team quickly deciphered the limited Polish strategy, too simple to be really effective. Eventually, Poland scored.
Using Tunisian mistake in defense, Lato scores in the 42nd minute. A powerful picture, which also summarizes the Polish approach: assault driven more by will than skill. It did not brake Tunisia, but still brought result, however small.

The second half was different: Tunisia got the initiative and outplayed the Poles. There was one team on the pitch, but Poland was incredibly lucky: two shots met the goalposts. Another shot was desperately cleared from the goal line. Poland only tried to keep the result, unable for anything else. The strikers were particularly bad and Gmoch replaced both Lubanski and Szarmach, bringing Boniek and Iwan instead. Nothing good happened, except Poland managed to preserve the fragile lead to the end and clinched undeserved victory. Disappointed and worried Gmoch did not mince words after the match: 'We played badly. I am not accusing anybody personally – the whole team played poorly'.

Things were not going well – and Gmoch made few changes for the third match.

Against Mexico Rudy came instead of Maculewicz, Masztaler was back, and Szarmach and Lubanski were benched in favour of Boniek and Iwan. The attack was the biggest problem and Gmoch attempted radical reshaping, hoping that the youngsters may bring life to stagnated line. Alas, no real improvement. Luckily, Mexico was too weak against physically stronger opponents – parity was preserved to the end of the first half, when Boniek scored his first goal in the 42nd minute. In the second half the Mexicans equalized, but eventually Deyna and Boniek again scored two goals and Poland won 3-1.
Only on static photography Poland looked supreme – in reality, it was more or less equal match. Poland was just a little stronger, a little more efficient and experienced than Mexico. And may be Mexico, already eliminated, was not fully motivated. Tiny differences, enough to win the match, but fooling no one. Poland qualified to the next stage, but Gmoch had big problems at his hands.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Polish miracle pretty much ended in 1974 and the old suspicion of Polish 'bubble' returned. With a slight change – a solid team, but without future. Some players reached their peak in 1974 and were either getting too old, or not improving. Another factor was players allowed to play abroad – so far the official end of their national team career. And, as it was well known in 1974, there was hardly enough talent to replace the great generation. The team remained basically the same – except for the gaps opened by departing players. Jacek Gmoch, the assistant coach of wonderful 'Druzina Polska' also left – a very unusual departure too: he went to USA to pursue scientific academic career. In 1976 Kazimierz Gorski left and went to coach in Greece. Slowly, key pieces of the national team were falling and the team was becoming what traditionally was known to be: not bad, not great, good enough to fight back and may be disrupt somebody else's plans, but nothing else. Gorski was replaced by Jacek Gmoch in 1976 – quite a desperate move, given the reasons for which Gmoch quit football less than two years ago. On the other hand, he was to ensure continuity – familiar with the players, familiar with and very likely entirely sharing Gorski's vision of football, Gmoch was perfect choice. But continuity has nothing to do with radical change and here objective problems painfully emerged: Gadocha was gone abroad, so was Domarski. The attacking line became the biggest problem – it was practically reduced to Szarmach and Lato. Lesser, yet similar problems, were in evidence in the other lines as well. Not a single great new player emerged meantime and the group of the key national team players shrunk. Gmoch, however, managed to qualify Poland to the 1978 finals. His team was no longer exciting one, but still played energetic attacking football.
At the time, the biggest asset of Gmoch was his age – not even 40 years old, he had plenty of experience, but more importantly he was young enough to be open minded to new developments in the game. At least so it looked like from aside – in reality, whatever ideas Gmoch had was immaterial. He simply had very small pool of quality players. This limitation produced a revolution of different kind: Vlodzimierz Lubanski was recalled. For the first time foreign based professional player was included in the national team of Poland – and it was only the second professional player to appear in Communist national team (except Yugoslavia) so far. A new gate was opened by that, but it was not so much brave revolt against the system, but an act of desperation: Lubanski deserved to be called both because he was in excellent form and because he contributed so much to Polish football, yet, his injury left him out of the glorious 1974 squad. But neither gratitude, nor current form would include him again in 'Druzina Polska', if there were local strikers of similar class at hand. Since Lubanski was a key member of the original team made by Gorski, at the end Gmoch depended largely on the old, familiar names: 9 players from the 1974 squad were selected. Ten, if Lubanski is counted. Same team... only with shorter hairs for some reason. The wild look of 1974 Tomaszewski, Gorgon, Lato was gone – as if to hint that their wild free football was also gone.



Jan Tomaszewski

9 January 1948 (aged 30)

ŁKS Łódź



Włodzimierz Mazur

18 April 1954 (aged 24)

Zagłębie Sosnowiec



Henryk Maculewicz

24 April 1950 (aged 28)

Wisła Kraków



Antoni Szymanowski

13 January 1951 (aged 27)

Wisła Kraków



Adam Nawałka

23 October 1957 (aged 20)

Wisła Kraków



Jerzy Gorgoń

18 July 1949 (aged 28)

Górnik Zabrze



Andrzej Iwan

10 November 1959 (aged 18)

Wisła Kraków



Henryk Kasperczak

10 July 1946 (aged 31)

Stal Mielec



Władysław Żmuda

6 June 1954 (aged 23)

Śląsk Wrocław



Wojciech Rudy

24 October 1952 (aged 25)

Zagłębie Sosnowiec



Bohdan Masztaler

19 September 1949 (aged 28)

ŁKS Łódź



Kazimierz Deyna

23 October 1947 (aged 30)

Legia Warszawa



Janusz Kupcewicz

9 December 1955 (aged 22)

Arka Gdynia



Mirosław Justek

23 September 1948 (aged 29)

Lech Poznań



Marek Kusto

29 April 1954 (aged 24)

Legia Warszawa



Grzegorz Lato

8 April 1950 (aged 28)

Stal Mielec



Andrzej Szarmach

3 October 1950 (aged 27)

Stal Mielec



Zbigniew Boniek

3 March 1956 (aged 22)

Widzew Łódź



Włodzimierz Lubański

28 February 1947 (aged 31)

KSC Lokeren



Roman Wójcicki

8 January 1958 (aged 20)

Odra Opole



Zygmunt Kukla

21 January 1948 (aged 30)

Stal Mielec



Zdzisław Kostrzewa

26 October 1955 (aged 22)

Zagłębie Sosnowiec
Not a team expected to match the success of 1974, but still following the original concept. The core was familiar – Tomaszewski between the goalposts, Gorgon, Szymanowski, and Zmuda in defense, Kasperczak and Deyna in midfield, Lato and Szarmach in attack. The rest were support players... There were detectable problems – Tomaszewski was not in great form. Yet, he was the top Polish goalkeeper by far, practically without competition. His back-ups from 1974 were still active, but none of them was needed for national team duty. For a while another keeper – Mowlik – was tried, but he was selected for the World Cup team. Kukla was stable for years, but rarely called – practically, he became national team player in 1977-78, already 30 years old. Three players competed for two spots in the middle of defense: Szymanowski, Gorgon, and the young and increasingly playing better and better Zmuda. Unless somebody was moved to the flanks – Szymanowski the only really capable of changing position – one defender was to sit on the bench, but in the same time there were no really strong candidates for left and right full backs. Deyna was getting old and a bit over the hill, but he and Kasperczak were still solid. However, a third midfielder of similar class was nowhere to be found. And the very limited pool of strikers was huge problem for a team conceptually depending on speedy attacking football – Lubanski and Szarmach were both centre-forwards. Lato had no competition on the right wing, but there was nobody on the left side since Gadocha left to play abroad. At the end, the more versatile Szarmach was moved on the left wing – the only possible solution. The rest of the team was filled up by players like Masztaler, Maculewicz, Rudy – they were not new players at all, called now and then to the national team even before 1974, but never really convincing and becoming regulars. There were other quite clearly second stringers for years, like Justek, making the numbers more or less thanks to momentary good form. There was the enigmatic midfielder Marek Kusto – at 24, he was coming to his second World Cup as a reserve. Somehow he never became a real starter, played occasionally for years, and managed to appear on three World Cup finals in total, yet, playing little or not at all, just making the numbers. Since most of the 1974 team were still relatively young and playing in Poland, some choices looked strange – apparently neither the old heroes, nor the second stringers were better, but rather equal and choice depended on momentary form. Nobody developed into solid star, like Kasperczak did. Lastly, promising youngsters completed the squad – nothing wrong with that, and Gorski did the same in 1974 too – but now desperation was seemingly the driving force. Nawalka, Kupcewicz, and Wojcicki were promising, no doubt about it, but there inclusion was seemingly motivated by the lack of solid regulars at their positions – all things more or less equal, Gmoch seemingly gambled with younger talent. If not better, at least no worse than others, and may be younger players would be hungrier. Finally, Boniek and Iwan – both showed talent and were seen as future stars, but not quite ready for the national team. Iwan was brought straight from the Polish Under-20 Junior team. Neither was expected to play – both Boniek and Iwan were mostly brought to make the numbers and just in case. And in case of some starter's misfortune, neither replacement was expected to be at the same level. There was little discussion about Boniek and Iwan – they were included prematurely, only because there was nobody else, but neither was expected to play. May be in 3-4 years, but not now.

At the end, the interesting trivia was the numbers of the players – in 1974 the team was given numbers by their posts, from goalkeepers to strikers. Not in 1978 – instead, some players clearly chose their own numbers. Thus, some kept their numbers from 1974 – Gorgon, Zmuda, Deyna, Lato, Szymanowski. Others changed numbers – Tomaszewski was no longer playing with number 2, but with traditional goalie's number 1. Kasperczak and Kusto also changed numbers. But Lubanski? Was he given a choice? It is hard to tell – the Polish revered superstar used either 9 or 10, yet other players – much younger than him, and in the case of Rudy – hardly famous – got these numbers. Lubanski got number 19, which looked like a reserve number. Strange.

Poland was expected to qualify to the second stage – the group was easy, the team was solid and experienced enough to overcome Mexico and Tunisia. Second place – the team was no longer capable of surprise performances and it was no match of the Germans. Advancing a bit, thanks to the lucky draw, and then – sure elimination in the second stage. The exciting bronze medalists of 1974 were just run of the mill by now, nobody considered them favourites, nobody expected miracles from the Poles.

Monday, May 13, 2013

West Germany played the opening match of the finals, an honour reserved for the current holders of the title. A match against Poland – extremely promising fixture: world champions vs the bronze medalists, two of the brightest teams in 1974. 75 000 attended, expecting great show. The match was a disappointment – tough, but cautious physical struggle, not pleasant to the eye and displaying a host of problems both teams had. Neither looked like 1974, Poland somewhat more problematic than the Germans. A record – not a plausible one – was set: for 4th consecutive time the opening match ended in scoreless tie. 0-0 was firmly established as the result of the first match – cautious, not yet at their peak teams, still trying to find their best eleven.
A struggle, not the great match fans were hoping for. Old and new heroes – Gorgon and Zmuda (Poland) vs Fischer and Russmann (West Germany) – fighting for the ball. A very different sight: in the times of Gerd Muller such pictures rarely occurred. Now, it was energetic jumping for high balls – with Fischer new era of West German centreforwards started. Not very pretty, unfortunately.

West Germany started with unusual team: Vogts, Russmann, Kaltz, and Zimmermann in defense; Bonhof, Flohe, and Hansi Muller in midfield; and Abramczik, Fischer, Beer in attack. Initially it looked like like dangerous surprise – the young trio Zimmermann, H. Muller, and Abramczik the secret weapon, but nothing materialized. It was the same as the beginning of 1974 campaign: the team did not play well and repairs had to be done immediately. After the game it was 1974 again for sure: clearly Schon had to improvise and experiment, especially in the attacking line.

Abramczik, Beer, and Zimmermann were replaced by Dietz, Dieter Muller, and Rummenigge for the second match and the change seemed to work – Mexico was destroyed 6-0. Rummenigge scored 2 goals. Flohe too.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge makes it 3-0. The pose of the helpless Mexican keeper Reies summarizes the match – Mexico pummeled down. Two minutes after this goal Reies was substituted by Sotto, who was to receive the same number of goals too. West Germany seemingly came back to the familiar well-oiled machine – they scored with precise regularity: 14th, 29th, 37th, 44th, 71st, and 89th minutes – from start to the very end. Interesting tactics were observed: it appeared that Schon returned to the ancient by now W-M system. It worked fine... Helmut Schon said after the match that he was sure his team cannot play two poor games in a row. Hardly a revelation.

Before the third match there was little intrigue – West Germany needed only a tie to qualify and they had to play against the initial outsider Tunisia. The Africans played well so far, even surprisingly well, but nobody expected them to be serious opponents to the Germans. For all practical purposes, the 'quiet' Group 2 continued to be quiet: without anything exceptional, the favourites were going ahead. Seemingly, Schon discovered his perfect team earlier than in 1974 – he fielded the same players who annihilated Mexico. It looked like the Germans were going to play something close to a training match, mostly working on some fine points.

Tunisia had only theoretical chance of advancing – they had to beat the world champions and even a victory was not to qualify them immediately, but depended on the result of Poland-Mexico too. Practically, Tunisia had no chance at all – but still they decided to put a fight. And surprised not only the Germans, but almost all observers. The fans at the stadium witnessed strange spectacle – the world champions played badly again, but the outsiders were aggressive and competent. Curiously, it was well attended match – 43 000 went to see initially meaningless match, a higher number equal than the combined public of Poland-Mexico and Poland-Tunisia. No doubt, people went to be entertained by the champions of the world, but were entertained by the lowly African team instead. Yet, Tunisia was still not the team able to crash a German squad: the match ended 0-0.
Once again West Germany disappointed and this time there were no excuses – West Germany had big problems. Sep Maier was the biggest German star by now – and not only because he kept clean sheet in three games already: he was by far the best player by now. And when the best German player is the goalkeeper it means deep crisis. Now critics – especially German ones – unleashed their wrath, backed by solid evidence. Opinions changed: for the first time it looked like West Germany was no longer favourite and unable to defend the title. It was massive change: a quick return to the end of 1977 shows entirely different picture – in February 1977 the West German magazine 'Sport Kurier' asked leading coaches who they thought will be favourites at the 1978 World Cup. Milan Miljanic, Ladislao Cuballa, Don Revie, Willie Ormond, Stefan Kovacs, Jacek Gmoch, Lajos Baroti, and Michel Hidalgo placed West Germany first. Four coaches were at the finals with their teams... to eat their words. These guys were entirely wrong in their predictions, for they included among the favourites also USSR (Kovacs), Yugoslavia (Baroti and Gmoch), Czechoslovakia (Gmoch, Kovacs, Ormond, and Revie), Belgium (Revie), and DDR (Hidalgo) – countries, which did not even reach the finals.

But West Germany advanced to the next stage. The Germans did not allow a single goal – the best defensive record in the first stage. Still favourites... they did not shine in the first stage in 1974 either, but delivered much better football later. Yes, they had problems... but just wait until 'real' games start.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Group 2. The easiest group, thanks to the draw. No controversies, no objections, no scheming. West Germany, Poland, Mexico, and Tunisia. There was no need even to watch – the European teams were going to advance, Mexico was to put some fight, but inevitably ending third, and the only question about Tunisia was how many goals the others will score in the African net. So it was at first.

West Germany declined after 1974, struggled to qualify for the European championship, but suddenly recovered form and almost won the continental championship in 1976. It was not a superior team anymore, but still very strong. That was the last competitive football the Germans played – as a reigning world champions they did not have to participate in qualifications. Which was good and bad. By 1978 the changes were profound and worrisome – the stars of 1972-74 started quitting the national team right after winning the World Cup. Inevitably, some retired from football and others were getting too old. Grabowski, Netzer, Breitner, Overath, Hottgess, Gerd Muller were gone already. And now – Beckenbauer. Hoeness, plagued with injuries, was practically at the end of his short career. Heynckes was coming to the end of his. The dark prophecy of Beckenbauer, ignored in 1974, was fulfilled – West Germany struggled to replace the big stars. Helmut Schon tried many players, tinkered with selections, but it was becoming painfully obvious that the new German versions were of lower quality. Or inconsistent and not really up to expectations – like Dieter Muller, the bright new hope of German football, promising smooth transition in 1976. By 1978 he was no longer the leader of German attack. Schon was not a man embracing radical changes either – he followed long established tradition of succession: a core of experienced veterans combined with young talent and whoever was in consistently good form. In part, he had no choice – West Germany still had vast pool of talent, but the players were increasingly similar on one hand and the old stars were still much better than the younger competition. Some positions were particularly troublesome, for after the giants left there was hardly anyone at similar level to replace them. The biggest problems were replacing Beckenbauer, Overtath, Netzer, and Gerd Muller. That is, the most creative players, who shaped the German play, and the fantastic goalscorer. The only player capable of imaginative and influential playmaking was Breitner – but there was no way to convince him to play again for the national team, for he quit in bitterness. The other possible choice was Uli Hoeness, but his injuries were becoming permanent, cutting short his career. Kaiser Franz was called again and he declined – the hopes of convincing him to come back remained until the last minute, but he was firm. Yet, there was no such big fuss as the similar problem Holland faced with Cruyff – perhaps his patriotism was called into question, but it was clear that he contributed a lot to the German success already, and he was over 30, so replacing him was inevitable – and soon. To a point, asking him to come back was a rather desperate attempt to patch problematic squad. Temporary measure at best – not a real remedy. The problems were permanent. But that was mostly a German problem and not even terribly big one: West Germany was widely considered a favourite and possible winner of the World Cup. Everybody knew the fantastic ability of the Germans to rise up to the occasion – no matter how they played recently, at the World Cup they were to be something entirely different. They did it already in 1976 and now the stakes were even higher, for they not only had to defend their title, but make up for losing the European title. And they were in the easiest group, so it was not only sure thing they were going to advance, but also to do some fine tuning of their team and wet their appetite.

1   GK  Sepp Maier                   28 February 1944 (aged 34)    Bayern Munich
2   DF   Berti Vogts                   30 December 1946 (aged 31)  Borussia Mönchengladbach
3   DF   Bernard Dietz               22 March 1948 (aged 30)        MSV Duisburg
4   DF   Rolf Rüssmann              13 October 1950 (aged 27)     Schalke 04
5   DF   Manfred Kaltz               6 January 1953 (aged 25)        Hamburger SV
6   MF  Rainer Bonhof                29 March 1952 (aged 26)       Borussia Mönchengladbach
7   FW  Rüdiger Abramczik        18 February 1956 (aged 22)    Schalke 04
8   DF   Herbert Zimmermann     1 July 1954 (aged 23)              FC Köln
9   FW  Klaus Fischer                 27 December 1949 (aged 28)  Schalke 04
10 MF  Heinz Flohe                    28 January 1948 (aged 30)      FC Köln
11 FW  Karl-Heinz Rummenigge  25 September 1955 (aged 22) Bayern Munich
12 DF  Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck 3 April 1948 (aged 30)      Bayern Munich
13 DF  Harald Konopka               18 November 1952 (aged 25) FC Köln
14 FW Dieter Müller                     1 April 1954 (aged 24)           FC Köln
15 MF Erich Beer                         9 December 1946 (aged 31)   Hertha Berlin
16 MF Bernhard Cullmann            1 November 1949 (aged 28)  FC Köln
17 FW Bernd Hölzenbein              9 March 1946 (aged 32)        Eintracht Frankfurt
18 MF Gerd Zewe                        13 June 1950 (aged 27)         Fortuna Düsseldorf
19 FW Ronald Worm                    7 October 1953 (aged 24)     MSV Duisburg
20 MF Hansi Müller                       27 July 1957 (aged 20)          VfB Stuttgart
21 GK Rudolf Kargus                    15 August 1952 (aged 25)      Hamburger SV
22 GK Dieter Burdenski                 26 November 1950 (aged 27) Werder Bremen
The 1978 World Cup West German squad.

Helmut Schon eventually distilled the starting eleven to the line which played a friendly against USSR. It was a bit strange team. Seven players from the 1974 team remained – Maier, Vogts, Schwarzenbeck, Bonhof, Holzenbein, Cullman, and Flohe. It was painfully clear: former reserves and generally support players, and except Bonhof – all getting old. It was a team of second stringers somewhat – Vogts was the captain by now and one could not help but recall the nagging words of Cruyff during the 1974 final: 'Berti, you are not Beckenbauer, no matter how hard you try.' Many problems were plain – Vogts and Kaltz duplicated each other on the right side of defense. Schwarzenbeck without Beckenbauer was useless. Dietz, as stable, tough, and reliable he was, was nothing like Breitner – more like Hottgess. Bonhof apparently was to be the key midfield player, but he was defensive midfielder, not real playmaker, and thus poor substitute for Overath, Netzer, and even Hoeness. The major hope was versatality – Vogts by now was often used in midfield by Borussia Moenchengladbach; Kaltz was capable of playing in the middle of defense; Bonhof – useful at any midfield position; Cullmann – able to play either midfield or defense; and the young star Rummenigge – at any position in attack. Yet, it was not so great – Kaltz inevitably was moved to the centre of defense, paired with Russmann – a good pair, but not equal to Beckenbauer-Schwarzenbeck duo. Kaltz had no playmaking ability – he was rather adventurous stopper, contributing to attack, scoring often, but also often late to come back. To a point, Kaltz doubled Bonhof - long runs ahead, deadly long shots, good fighter, but with limited creativity. Rummenigge had no permanent place, rather filling up at the wings, and not because he was still young member of the team giving way to veterans, but because he was the only one able to change position – the rest of the German strikers were typical centreforwards, entirely useless in any other position – Beer, Fischer, Worm, even Dieter Muller. Russmann and Fischer suffered from the old bribery scandal, when they were suspended – like the whole Schalke 04 team of that time, their development was somewhat halted – somewhat they never developed into the stars they promised to become in 1971. They were banned from the national team for awhile, but something else was more important: the whole team was disrupted back then and never became really great after that. The very inclusion of Russmann and Fischer in 1978 was more a sign of desperation than recognition of their qualities – there were no better options. Schwarzenebeck without Beckenbauer was clearly a reserve player – and God forbid his services to be needed. Culmann and Flohe were precisely in the same position they were in 1974 – back ups. Holzenbein was more or less desperate option in 1974 – and just like 1974, he went to Argentina as a reserve. It was weaker team, depending on physicality, determination, discipline, energy, but creatively – very poor squad. Hansi Muller was just emerging and not yet thought a key player. No wonder Schon was criticized heavily long before the World Cup – mainly for the absence of Beckenbauer, Breitner, and Stielike. Criticism was unfair – Beckenbauer did not want to play, neither Breitner, who was still firmly against joining the national team. As for Uli Stielike, already the best option in midfield and perhaps the only one able to conduct and control the game similarly to Beckenbauer, Overath, and Netzer, his absence was not Schon's fault – the German Football Association foolishly decided not to include foreign based players in 1978. A very strange decision, for apart from Stielike, who moved to Real Madrid in 1977, there was not other German star playing outside the Bundesliga. Paul Breitner returned in 1977, joining Eintracht Braunschweig, so even he was no longer outside. Given the problems of the German national team, it was weird to leave out Stielike, but the GFA stubbornly enforced its decision, curiously applicable only to the most needed German player.

It was obvious in Germany that the team was weak – perhaps that was the real reason for Beckenbauer to decline playing for it, although the excuse more or less went into the convenient line of opposing the military regime in Argentina. The Kaiser was accused for preferring to play for Cosmos (for the money) instead for the national team (for patriotism and glory), but not much – after all, NASL season coincided with the world cup finals. Helmut Schon was the target of the bulk of criticism. Another thing – really noticeable from a time distance – was the aging of the team: the beginning of older and older teams, just because there was not enough younger talent, started in 1978. Nothing drastic yet, but 7 players were in their early 30s. Thirteen players were over 25. Almost the whole squad were known players during the glory of 1972-74 – and back then nobody argued in favour of Beer, Zewe, Russmann, Fischer, Dietz. They were second and even third stringers. Even Kaltz was not a potential option – he played for the Olympic team in 1972, along with Breitner and Hoeness, but they were already starters in the national team. Kaltz was not even considered.

But who could dismiss West Germany? The reigning world champion arrived in Argentina as one of the favourites and possible winner.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

And he did – highly motivated Hungarian squad opposed Argentina. The hosts were under heavy pressure not only to win, but to show supremacy. Hungary was obviously fit and well adapted by now to the demands of total football, at least the defensive aspects of it – cover the whole field, pressure the opposition early, take the ball and start a counterattack. The Hungarian team was not intimidated at all and went fiercely into attack – and scored. Karoly Csapo, practically unknown striker and surprise starter scored in the 10th minute. Luque equalized five minutes later, but Hungary was at least at par with Argentina and fought to the end. Argentina managed to score a second goal 6 minutes before the end, but it was equal match. Perhaps not even equal, for Hungary was dangerous to the very end and – to many observers – the hosts had to be helped by the referee. Nyilasi was redcarded in the 88th minute and in the next the same happened to Torocsik. True, their were confrontations between the two teams. True, both Hungarians did not behave. True, two minutes to the end may be it did not matter anymore. But it was very suspicious expelling exactly the two most dangerous and influential Hungarian players and not a single Argentine, although the home team was not innocent at all – Passarella was yellow carded and his offense was hardly lesser than those of the Hungarian stars.

Hungary lost 1-2, but was never outplayed. It was an equal match, perhaps a tie would have been the just result of it. It certainly was for the Hungarians, who were convinced they were robed – in their view, the expulsion of Nyilasi and Torocsik was deliberate, unfair, and designed to help uncapable of winning Argentina. To a point, it was unfair – Nyilasi and Torocsik were to miss the next match and thus Hungary was severely handicapped, for the whole strength of the team depended on these two.
Sandor Pinter fighting for the ball with Daniel Bertoni. Bertoni, coming as a substitute, eventually scored the winning goal, but Hungary was the team deserving at least a tie.

And without the suspended stars Hungary was no match for high flying Italian team in the next fixture. Italy scored three goals by the 60th minute. Hungary saved grace in the 80th , when Andras Toth scored from a penalty, but it was over by now. Second loss – Italy clearly deserved to win, but the Hungarians were bitter: the outcome may have been different, if Nyilasi and Torocsik played. It was not only this particular match – Argentina won against France, thus Hungary was eliminated.
Dino Zoff cannot stop Andras Toth from scoring the penalty, but it was just a consolation goal.

The third match with France was meaningless. Nyilasi and Torocsik were back, but it did not matter. France fielded everybody who did not play so far, but Hungary used the regular starters. Fazekas was on the bench again – he played only 45 minutes against Italy in the tournament. Why he was not a starter is hard to tell now: most likely Baroti wanted to utilize best Nyilasi-Torocsik duo. Anyway, Hungary played well again, contrary to expectations. France was better though and won 3-1.

Zombori scored the sole Hungarian goal in the 40th minute.

Joszef Toth trying to stop French attack. France did not outplay Hungary, yet was the classier team. To a point, the last match established the reality: Hungary did not have really strong team. They were not outsiders, but still were a bit bellow the rest. The played bravely and probably deserved at least a point. In any case Hungary was not a disappointment. Were they treated unfairly and robed from a chance depends on standpoint. The most important thing was that Hungary did not give up after elimination – in the eyes of fans, it was great. Yet, unlike France, Hungary was not seen as potential force in the future.

Group 1 – final table.

1. Italy 3 0 0 6-2 6

2. Argentina 2 0 1 4-3 4

3. France 1 0 2 5-5 2

4. Hungary 0 0 3 3-8 0

Controversial, but entertaining and dramatic 'iron group'. No outsider here, susrpisingly delightful performances, a team clearly deserving to go ahead – France, and even a bit of restored justice. Argentina was favoured long before the beginning of the tournament: there was the scandal about the draw. Joao Havelange already made clear what FIFA will be under his rule – an economic enterprise. Italy instead of Holland was placed among the favourites in the top urn. And not only that, but according to Havelange Italy was to be – some draw! - in final group 4, playing in Mendoza. Why? Because Mendoza was populated largely by people with Italian roots and thus it was important financially to have Italy where supporters will buy tickets. Holland protested, of course, and restored its leading position. That is, leader of Group 4. Now Italy was unhappy and protested, greatly supported by Artemio Franchi, the UEFA President. And Italy was offered to chose the group they want to play. The Italians chose Group 1 – it appears weird to chose the group where the hosts play, but Italian officials most likely calculated the vast Italian presence in Argentina: on one hand, the team was to be supported. On the other – in the direct clash with Argentina, it may be not so nasty, thanks to divided loyalties of both Argentine fans and players. Were the Italian schemers right or wrong is irrelevant – the group was very tough, and difficult. Argentinian fans were hardly inclined to support Italy, especially when playing against Argentina. Same with the Argentine players. It was not scheming, but the surprisingly great football Italy performed, bringing them to the next stage. Three wins – a perfect record. And on top of it, Italy broke another scheme – Argentina was expected to win the group and to play in Buenos Aires in the next round. Now it was Italy to play in Buenos Aires, and Argentina – in front of smaller crowds in provincial Rosario. Some revenge, however small, for the injustices committed already to Hungary, France, the whole design of the finals.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Like France, Hungary did not qualified for the World Cup finals since 1966. The last Hungarian success, if such word could be used, was in 1972, when the country ended 4th in the European championship. Hungary suffered long decline and it was a miracle that the team qualified for the 1978 World Cup. Nobody expected that and not even because of the relative strength or weakness of the national team, but because Hungary was in a group together with USSR – it was understood they were not going to offer resistance to 'big brother'. But they did. It was not like revival of great Hungarian football was taking place – a decent team, but not exceptional or ranking high. The draw – or the manipulation of it – placed them in fantastic group of similar teams: all with wounded pride, years of decline and disappointments, and eager to rise again. Group 1 was perhaps the toughest group at the World Cup – no clear outsider and since none has been any good in recent years everything was possible. Like the others, Hungary depended on young rising players, not very well known yet. Unlike Argentina, Italy, and France, Hungary had well known coach.

Lajos Baroti was 64-years old veteran in 1978 with vast experience – he started coaching in 1948 and not obscure teams at that. He coached the national team of Peru in 1971-72, then returned to Hungary to take the reigns of Vasas (Budapest), starting the revival of the club. In 1975 he was appointed coach of the national team, which was his second spell as national coach – he already coached it for 8 years (1957-66), the last successful period of Hungarian football. And he was the last coach to qualify Hungary to World Cup finals. Old fox, Baroti, and he did it again.

It was not an easy road – Baroti was too old to be a revolutionary, but even if he was, he was limited by the pool of available players. It was obvious that a whole generation had to be discarded – getting old in every sense. Total football demanded different players and there were not many up to modern demands at hand. Baroti experimented, called new players, then others, tried this and that, mostly depending on solid Ujpesti Dosza team, rising Ferencvaros, and Vasas, the team he developed. Slowly, something better emerged, at least as a skeleton. The best thing happening was the rising of two young stars – midfielder Tibor Nyilasi and striker Andras Torocsik. Both were 23-years old in 1978, but already with considerable international experience. The real difficulty was selecting 22 players capable of playing modern football – Baroti was unable to select a great squad because of the small pool of players, but he resisted the temptation to include aging veterans with big names and old habits. The biggest name out of the team was arguably the greatest Hungarian star since 1966 – Ferenc Bene.

1  GK Sándor Gujdár       8 November 1951 (aged 26)   19  Budapest Honvéd FC
2  DF  Péter Török           18 April 1951 (aged 27)          29 Vasas SC
3  DF  István Kocsis         6 October 1949 (aged 28)       6   Budapest Honvéd FC
4  DF  József Tóth            2 December 1951 (aged 26)    25 Újpesti Dózsa FC
5  MF Sándor Zombori    31 October 1951 (aged 26)     16  Vasas SC
6  DF  Zoltán Kereki        13 July 1953 (aged 24)            24  Haladás VSE
7  FW László Fazekas      15 October 1947 (aged 30)     71  Újpesti Dózsa FC
8  MF Tibor Nyilasi          18 January 1955 (aged 23)      26  Ferencvárosi TC
9  FW András Törőcsik    1 May 1955 (aged 23)            11  Újpesti Dózsa FC
10 MF Sándor Pintér        18 July 1950 (aged 27)            32  Budapest Honvéd FC
11 FW Béla Várady         12 April 1953 (aged 25)           28  Vasas SC
12 DF  Győző Martos      15 December 1949 (aged 28)   11  Ferencvárosi TC
13 MF  Károly Csapó      23 February 1952 (aged 26)     5    Tatabányai BSK
14 DF  László Bálint         1 February 1948 (aged 30)       54  Ferencvárosi TC
15 DF  Tibor Rab             2 October 1955 (aged 22)        11  Ferencvárosi TC
16 MF István Halász         12 October 1951 (aged 26)      3   Tatabányai BSK
17 FW László Pusztai       1 March 1946 (aged 32)           22  Ferencvárosi TC
18 MF László Nagy          21 October 1949 (aged 28)      21  Újpesti Dózsa FC
19 FW András Tóth          5 September 1949 (aged 28)    14  Újpesti Dózsa FC
20 MF Ferenc Fülöp         22 February 1955 (aged 23)     0    MTK FC
21 GK Ferenc Mészáros   11 April 1950 (aged 28)           13  Vasas SC
22 GK László Kovács       24 April 1951 (aged 27)           12  Videoton FCF
On the surface, the Hungarian squad appeared at the best age – not young and 'promising', but largely made of players over 25 years old. Players at their peak, as the common wisdom goes. Not a veteran squad, but rather a squad for this and only this particular championship – with the bulk nearing 30, it was hardly a team for the future. May be at their prime, but most of them were not all that great and certainly supportive players, not leaders. There was some uncertainty about the goalkeeper – Ferenc Meszaros was the best goalkeeper at the time, but somehow caught between generations: when he was younger, he was mostly a promising back-up for older and more experienced keepers; then suddenly he was a bit old and preference was given to others. At the end, Meszaros was still second choice and curiously with less matches for the national team than otherwise lesser known Gujdar. And thanks to rotations and experiments, the third goalie, Laszlo Kovacs, already had the same record as Meszaros in the national team. The defense was shaped largely around Laszlo Balint, already 30-year old veteran, with vast experience and influence. Reliable player, who was just unlucky to be part of mostly mediocre squads so far. Balint was outstanding defender, but there was hardly another Hungarian at his level, so Baroti surrounded him with experienced teammates – Martos, Torok, and Kereki. Similarly, the midfield was shaped around Nyilasi – Pinter and Pusztai were the usual starters. The attack was a bit of headache: Torocsik in the centre and Laszlo Fazekas at the right wing were excellent. But having rather standard centre-forward and classic right winger automatically required an old-fashioned left winger. There was none available, practically forcing Baroti to use 4-4-2 schemes. The team tended to lean on the right side in attack, thus limited and easy to read. At the end, Hungary depended largely on the skeleton of Meszaros-Balint-Nyilasi-Fazekas-Torocsik, supported by journeymen, who changed often, for none was exceptional – they were rather similar, especially in their limitations. On the bright side, the duo Nyilasi-Toroczik was deadly and the whole team was quite enthusiastic. It was not a bad squad and capable of surprises. Hungary, with some luck, was able to go even beyond the first stage of the finals. Baroti was no fool – as the picture above suggests, his options were limited to about 16 players, but the coach knew how to use them best. He also knew the problems the other teams were facing and certainly was going to use them to his advantage.