Saturday, June 29, 2013

To a point, Peru's schedule was good – their first match was against the direct opponent, Scotland, and the last against the outsiders, Iran. Did the Scots took Peru seriously or not is immaterial – Peru was serious and well prepared. But they did not survived the initial Scottish rush and received a goal in the 14th minute. May this goal completely mislead the Tartan Army – Peru gained control of the game, did not look scared or discouraged, and shortly before halftime equalized. The turning point came in the 57th minute – Masson missed a penalty. Peru continued to attack and prevailed – Cubillas scored 2 goals between 70th and 80th minute and Scotland was down.

Cubillas delivered excellent free kick and scored – one of the outstanding goals of the finals.

Peru won their most important match, but it was only the first match. The next opponent was mightier – Holland. Holland was not overwhelming against Iran, so it was expected to play better this time. Peru was riding on the wings of enthusiasm, but prediction went for the Dutch anyway. In front of relatively small crowd of 28 000 spectators the teams clashed and the heroes were the Peruvians. A second strong match, more than equal to the Dutch.
Quiroga bravely gets the ball ahead of Rene van der Kerkhof. The goalkeeper was the hero this evening and proved to be not only brave, but really good keeper. But he was not alone – the whole team played well. The match ended in a scoreless draw.

The group became a Russian roulette – before the last leg nothing was decided: Holland and Peru had 3 points each and Scotland and Iran – one point. Given the shaky play of the Dutch, the uneven performance of the Scots, and the surprisingly competent Iranian team, everything was possible. True, Iran and Scotland needed big wins, but neither Holland, nor Peru could risk playing for a tie. Peru was strong again. Velasquez scored in the 2nd minute. Then in the 36th minute Peru got a penalty.
Cubillas scored the penalty and Peru was leading 2-0. Three minutes later the moment was repeated – another penalty for Peru and again Cubillas made it 3-0. Solid lead, Peru was the classier team, continuing to attack. But Iran was not giving up. They fought back and scored a goal in the 40th minute. 3-1 at halftime.

Peru did not lose concentration and did not try to kill the game and preserve the result in the second half. It was open, attacking match, in which only scoring was to secure victory. Eventually, Peru scored one more goal in the 78th minute. Cubillas again and 4-1. Nothing changed in the remaining time and Peru qualified for the next round. The team was one of the best in the first phase of the tournament. The midfield was particularly impressive – Cueto, Velasquez, and Cubillas. The defense was solid, led by the 'slow and over the hill' Chumpitaz. Quiroga was more than solid between the goalposts. The strikers were dangerous. Teofilo Cubillas was the leading scorer of the tournament so far with 5 goals. Peru was perhaps the most consistent team at the first stage and deserved to go ahead. And may be capable of doing more than that.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Quietly in the shadow. Peru hardly got international scrutiny – as ever. Since Argentina was no competing as host of the World Cup, Peru was considered a likelier candidate to reach the finals – after Brazil, of course. But even Peru was the current South American champion, the international interest concentrated on Argentina and Peru. Thus, Peru was able to prepare for the finals more or less without undue attention, except at home. The national team was the first to start preparation for the finals, earlier than any other country, and this provided for good journalistic opportunity to criticize. Mainly, the selection was criticized for aging – such were the observations in Mexico and Italy and Peruvian press responded in kind: the team was too old. To a point, it was true – Peru was practically depended on the players, who surprised pleasantly the world in 1970. Eight years, however, was too long a period to keep the same team. Yes, the boys won the South American championship in 1975; yes, some were well respected internationally – but they were not getting younger. In reality, Peru depended on Chumpitaz, Cubillas, and Sotil from the 1970 squad, and only Chumpitaz was over 30 by now. But... there were suspicions that the defender had forged birth date – he was thought older than his official 34 years. Few players were over 30, but somewhat the whole team was considered aging – which confronted inescapable reality: if not these players, than who? The Peruvian Federation chose a democratic and, therefore, strange approach to deliberating the 33 candidates for the final - the coaches of the entire league were asked to name their own selections and they practically named the same players. Obviously, Peru had limited resources and no other options, but criticism did not stop. The national team coach had to repeat again and again, and again, that the team is a mixture of experienced veterans and young players, and what mattered was not age, but who is in good form and blends well with others.

Marcos Calderon was the coach chosen to lead Peru and answer irritating questions. A bit of controversy surrounded not that much his personality, but the operational way of the Federation: Calderon coached Peru at the South American championship in 1975 and won it. Yet, there was another coach – without Calderon really fired – who started the World Cup qualifications, Heredia. Then Calderon became head coach again and Heredia his assistant. No clash of egos occurred and the reason for that was may be the position of Calderon in Peruvian football: he was already very respected coach, on the road to become a legend. Calderon was no newcomer to the national team – he coached Peru back in mid-1960s. He was 60 years old, vastly experienced and successfully coached various leading Peruvian team. Apparently, a coach with great understanding of the sport and new developments in it. Calderon employed different tactics for different opponents, depending on theirs and his own team strength and weaknesses. In particular, he wanted Peru to use personal defense against technical South American teams, but zonal defense against speedy and physically superior Europeans. In his estimate, there were no longer unbeatable teams – which was quite right, given the development of the game. In his view, Peru had equal chances at the finals and there was no need for panic, but for thorough preparation. Good athletic condition, collectivism, knowing opposition in detail was the key to success – and he kept special group of analysts preparing dossiers on all real and possible opponents at the finals. Not many teams had such approach – it is common today, but Calderon was a visionary in the 1970s. The man knew what he was doing, although his final selection of 22 players escaped serious international attention and still brought criticism at home.
1     GK  Ottorino Sartor                          18 September 1945 (aged 32)    Colegio Nacional de Iquitos
2     DF   Jaime Duarte                              27 February 1955 (aged 23)       Alianza Lima
3     DF   Rodolfo Manzo                          5 June 1949 (aged 28)                Deportivo Municipal
4     DF   Héctor Chumpitaz                      12 April 1944 (aged 34)              Sporting Cristal
5     DF   Rubén Toribio Díaz                    17 April 1952 (aged 26)              Sporting Cristal
6     MF  José Velásquez                           4 June 1952 (aged 25)                Alianza Lima
7     FW  Juan Muñante                             4 May 1952 (aged 26)                Club UNAM
8     MF  César Cueto                               16 June 1952 (aged 25)              Alianza Lima
9     MF  Percy Rojas                                16 September 1949 (aged 28)    Sporting Cristal
10   MF  Teófilo Cubillas                           8 March 1949 (aged 29)             Alianza Lima
11   FW  Juan Carlos Oblitas                     16 February 1951 (aged 27)       Sporting Cristal
12   FW  Roberto Mosquera                      21 June 1956 (aged 21)              Sporting Cristal
13   GK  Juan Cáceres                               27 December 1949 (aged 28)      Alianza Lima
14   DF   José Navarro                               24 September 1948 (aged 29)    Sporting Cristal
15   MF  Germán Leguía                             2 January 1954 (aged 24)           Deportivo Municipal
16   MF  Raúl Gorriti                                   10 October 1956 (aged 21)       Sporting Cristal
17   MF  Alfredo Quesada                           22 September 1949 (aged 28)   Sporting Cristal
18   MF  Ernesto Labarthe                            2 June 1956 (aged 21)              Sport Boys
19   FW  Guillermo La Rosa                         6 June 1952 (aged 25)               Alianza Lima
20   FW  Hugo Sotil                                     18 May 1948 (aged 30)             Alianza Lima
21   GK  Ramón Quiroga                              23 July 1950 (aged 27)             Sporting Cristal
22   DF   Roberto Rojas                               26 October 1955 (aged 22)       Alianza Lima
A well known squad, without surprise inclusions or omits, hardly brings lengthy commentaries. Only one foreign-based player in the team – the striker Juan Munante, playing for UNAM, Mexico. Domestic squad was handy for good preparation, especially for a team with some inescapable problems. Of course, the strength of the team was based on familiar stars – Chimpitaz, Cubillas, Sotil, Velasquez, Percy Rojas, and Oblitas. Younger talent was solid – Cueto, Munante, Duarte. The team was well balanced, but with some weaknesses in defense: one big problem was goalkeeping. Neither Sartor, nor Caceres were top class. Eventually, an Argentine was naturalized – Ramon Quiroga, playing for Sporting Cristal (Lima). Entirely unknown to the world, he was to become well known at the World Cup – and not at all for good reasons. Another problem was in the centre of defense - Chumpitaz was a bit too old and Melendes was not solid. At least in the view of the press, Leguia and Reyna were preferable, although both were stoppers. Calderon saw things differently – Reyna did not even make the final squad. The strength of the team was the attack – Cubillas, Sotil, Oblitas, Munante. All dangerous, competitive, and numerous enough to give comfortable options for variety.

As a whole, Peru was not considered neither favourite, nor outsider – not match for Holland, but fighting with Scotland for second place in the group. Perhaps a little bit weaker than Scotland, so not only good form, but also luck was needed. Critics were quick to point that Sotil was a disaster in Europe, and Cubillas apparently was no good either – both returned to play in Peru already. With fading stars, Peru needed a lot of luck to go ahead – but it was possible. They kept low profile – no complains and no joy from the draw. Calderon shrugged his shoulders: there were no outsiders nowadays, but no unbeatable teams either, so it did not matter who Peru was to play against.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The opening match of Scotland showed ignorance and arrogance: Peru was seemingly underestimated, if researched and taken seriously at all. Neither Gemmill, nor Macari were among the starters, significantly reducing the strength of the midfield line, and, inevitably, organization of attacks. McQueen was also on the bench. Scotland scored early – Jordan in the 14th minute – which probably mislead the team that they were for easy win. The rest of the game belonged to Peru – they equalized 3 minutes before the end of the first half. In the second Scotland was completely destroyed and two more goals were scored by Cubillas. Don Masson missed a penalty. McLeod tried to turn arround the situation – Gemmill and Macari replaced Rioch and Masson in the 70th minute, right after Peru scored their second goal. It was too late – Peru was flying.
The end of the Tartan Army – Rough had no way of blocking the ball after exquisite free kick. Learning Peruvian names came too late and very painfully – Cubillas scored one more, to give Peru 3-1 victory.

After the match Johnston failed the dope test and all other problems, real and imagined, of the Scots surfaced. It was time to wake up – but they did not.

Iran was supposed to be even easier opponent than Peru – evidently, no lessons from the first match were learned. Scotland started with Gemmill and Macari this time, yet, still without McQueen, but the team displayed poor football. The Scots were unable to score at all – own goal by Eskandarian gave them the lead two minutes before halftime.
Misleading picture: Jordan beats Iranian defense. In the captured moment Iran appears entirely on its knees... but they equalized in the second half and Scotland was lucky to preserve the tie to the end. 1-1. McLeod was left with only mongrell dog for a friend. Enemies counted empty Scotch bottles and the only Scottish contribution to the finals so far was trivia: playing with a kit so dark blue, it was almost black, the referees were forced to use red kits. Back in the 1970s it was highly unusual – referees were always dressed in black.

With two disappointing games behind them, the Scots still had a chance – if they won their last match by three goals difference. Easier task, if one calculates Scottish chances compared to Iran's... but Scotland was facing Holland – the mighiest opponent in the group, which also experienced troubles so far and was not qualified yet.

Finally, Scotland decided to play at earnest. McQueen was out again, Macari was back on the bench, but McLead finally fielded Graham Souness – not the famous star as yet, but steadily improving player, who should have been a regular starter already. Since the match was life or death for both teams, the clash was great. The Dutch managed to get the lead – Rensenbrink scored a penalty in the 34th minute – but finally Scotland displayed their best and equalized a minute before halftime. Then they got an early goal in the second half – Gemmill scored a penalty in the 47th minute. Scotland slightly prevailed, driving Holland into desperate defense. The finest moment came in the 68th minute:
A fantastic slalom of Archie Gemmill, leaving Dutch bodies on the ground, and tricking even Dalglish for good measure, ending with ball in the net and triumphal rising of fist. 3-1 – with 20 minutes left, there was plenty of time for one more goal. As for this one, it remains among the best ever goals scored at World Cup finals – ranked 7th.

The Dutch, however, were not giving up – one more goal was scored, but in the wrond net. Johnny Rep scored for Holland in the 70th minute and this was the end – the result was preserved, Scotlnad won 3-2 and Holland qualified on better goal difference. The match, however, saved the Scots from disgrace – it was one of the best matches of 1978 finals. At least they finished well, but it was too late – Scotland was eliminated. To a point, the Scots were a team more deserving to reach the next round than, say, Poland or even West Germany, but they paid heavy price for neglecting opponents and had nobody but themselves to blame for the earky exit. At least Scotland left pleasant memories from their last match – and some folklore, thanks to their drinking. Ally McLeod survived the immediate inquest by Scottish football authorities, but did not last long – he resigned after the next match in 1978.

The players faired better – especially Dalglish and Souness, becoming huge stars soon after the World Cup.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Scotland – neither favourite, nor outsider. There was pretty much consensus on that, but there was also consensus that the Scots were likely to reach the second stage of the World Cup finals – at second place, behind Holland. Scottish situation was – and is – unique, indeed: common wisdom does not apply to Scotland. Common sense tells simple story: strong club football makes strong national team, which was clearly not the Scottish case. Observers spoke of crisis, a deepening one, for few years – domestic championship was getting weaker, top clubs were mediocre in the European tournaments, and money were short. The league had to be reorganized and reduced drastically in numbers in and effort to stabilize the situation. Yet, the national team was quite strong. There was no secret why – the best Scottish players traditionally played for English clubs and there were always 20-25 classy players at hand. Yet.

How really strong were the Scots was another matter – always difficult to play against, they were typical representatives of the British football. Physically strong, never giving up, fast, attacking minded bunch. Dangerous. And also weak: English football, by-passing midfield and depending on long balls to the wingers, who in turn immediately passed high crosses in front of the net, was no longer efficient game – it was easy to read, predictable. Modern game depended largely on the midfield . Defensively, the British stubborn habit to play in line was another weakness – it was easily penetrated by sophisticated teams. However, unlike England, Scotland increasingly employed the off-side trap - a bit of 'Continental' modernity, compensating for the absence of either libero, or sweeper. Pros and cons pretty much equal, hence, Scotland was not in the camp of the mighty and not among the outsiders. Capable of anything... after all, Scotland eliminated the current European champions Czechoslovakia. After all, Scotland was going to the finals, and England was sulking at home. Can't dismiss the Scots.

Then, it all depends on standpoint – the view from outside is not shared by those inside. The coach of Scotland answered the question 'What do you plan to do after the World Cup?' with confident optimism – or arrogance – 'Retain it.' The same man, when asked back in early 1977 to name the favourites at the finals listed teams which failed to qualify later in the year. 25 000 people came to Hampden Park to watch the squad circle in an open-top bus prior to departure for the finals – as if they already won and were going to Argentina just to collect the trophy. At least the team discovered the right destination, for when Scotland secured their spot at the finals, newspaper headlines announced that Scotland was going to the World Cup in Brazil! Never mind geography, the silly song 'Ally's Tartan Army' reached number 6 on the UK charts.
Alistair – Ally – McLeod was appointed Scotland's coach in 1977 , replacing Willie Ormond, who qualified Scotland to the 1974 World Cup. McLeod was among the younger generation of coaches characteristic for the 1978 tournament – 47 years of age. He was chosen on strength of his success with Ayr and Aberdeen, whatever that meant. Ally started his appointment with blunt statement to the squad: ' My name is Ally MacLeod and I am a winner.' Sounded interesting – as if the new man in charge was tough disciplinarian and a revolutionary. His disciplinary methods are suspect at best; revolutionary he was not at all. He managed to qualify the team, but changed nothing – he simply continued the line of Ormond. His philosophy was simple: he announced that he was not interested in players not having regular place in their clubs. Fair enough, but this meant no changes in the already familiar squad. To a point, McLeod had limited pool to choose from.
1    GK  Alan Rough                                 25 November 1951 (aged 26)          Partick Thistle
2    DF   Sandy Jardine                             31 December 1948 (aged 29)           Rangers
3    DF   Willie Donachie                           5 October 1951 (aged 26)                Manchester City
4    DF   Martin Buchan                             6 March 1949 (aged 29)                  Manchester United
5    DF   Gordon McQueen                       26 June 1952 (aged 25)                   Manchester United
6    MF  Bruce Rioch                                 6 September 1947 (aged 30)           Derby County
7    MF  Don Masson                                26 August 1949 (aged 28)               Derby County
8    FW  Kenny Dalglish                             4 March 1951 (aged 27)                 Liverpool
9    FW  Joe Jordan                                   15 December 1951 (aged 26)          Manchester United
10  MF  Asa Hartford                                24 October 1950 (aged 27)             Manchester City
11  MF  Willie Johnston                             19 December 1946 (aged 31)          West Bromwich
12  GK  Jim Blyth                                       2 February 1955 (aged 23)              Coventry City
13  DF   Stuart Kennedy                             31 May 1953 (aged 25)                   Aberdeen
14  DF   Tom Forsyth                                 23 January 1949 (aged 29)               Rangers
15  MF   Archie Gemmill                             24 March 1947 (aged 31)                Nottingham Forest
16  FW  Lou Macari                                   7 June 1949 (aged 28)                      Manchester United
17  FW  Derek Johnstone                            4 November 1953 (aged 24)            Rangers
18  MF  Graeme Souness                            6 May 1953 (aged 25)                      Liverpool
19  FW  John Robertson                              20 January 1953 (aged 25)               Nottingham Forest
20  GK  Bobby Clark                                  26 September 1945 (aged 32)          Aberdeen
21  FW  Joe Harper                                     11 January 1948 (aged 30)               Aberdeen
22  DF   Kenny Burns                                   23 September 1953 (aged 24)         Nottingham Forest

At a glance – experienced squad, more or less consisting of players at their prime – only 3 players under 25. Six survivors from 1974, but some well known names left out by Ormond four years back were now included – Lou Macari (28 years old), Archie Gemmill (31), Tom Forsyth (29), Willie Johnston (31), Bruce Rioch (30), Asa Hartford (27). The squad appeared a bit weaker, compared to the 1974 one: by 1978 Dennis Law was retired; Billy Bremner, already at 36, was not called since 1976 and nearing retirement in Hull City; Peter Lorimer, 32, was no not called since 1976, as well as his teammate at Leeds United David Harvey (30). Willie Morgan (34), by now playing for Bolton Wanderers, was not called since 1974. Compared to the veterans, their replacements were of lower quality – after all, they were not in the team in 1974, 'second stringers' so to say. Archie Gemmill seemingly took the role of Bremner – not the position, but the spiritual leadership. Another bright side was the main core of the team – excellent Gordon McQueen in defense, and Kenny Dalglish plus Joe Jordan in attack. The missing front teeth of Jordan spoke for his fearless character and Dalglish established himself as one of the top players in the English championship. The real weakness of Scotland was far back: the full back Danny McGrain was absent due to injury and Alan Rough was suspect goalkeeper, but there was hardly anybody else available. The strength of the team was its spirit and attack-oriented football – the combination compensating for the problems in defense. The high speed preferred by the Scots eventually compensated for the predictable simplistic midfield. As the finals were coming to start, some observers saw Scotland as hidden favourite, capable of going all the way to winning the World Cup.

But some trivia also emerged – may be more than amusing trivia. Given the Scottish predicament, they were the team with most foreign based players among the finalists – 15 played in England, heavily clustered in Manchester United (4), Liverpool (2), Nottingham Forest (3), Derby County (2), and Manchester City (2). It was quickly discovered that the Scots arrived in Argentina with enormous supply of whiskey, which they used liberally, as if on they were on holiday. After the opening match complains and excuses popped up: a dispute over bonuses; the lack of water in the hotel's swimming pool, and general boredom of the players. Doping scandal loomed – Willie Johnston was found using banned substance, fencamfamin. The player argued he only too a cold pill, but had to be send home. McLead stood firmly behind his player, but evidence was undeniable. Under pressure during press-conference, McLeod saw a mongrel dog approach and said 'I think he is the only friend I have got left'. The road from praise to disgrace was very short one.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The opening match of Iran confirmed predictions – at least partially. Iran lost 0-3 to Holland. But it was not a simple walkover. Mohajerani modestly said before the finals that his team is no match to others, but they will fight. And they did quite impressively. The team was competent, fit, enthusiastic, and tough.
Iranian defender fiercely tackles mighty Rene van der Kerkhof. The Dutch really had to sweat for victory. Two of their goals came from penalty shots – Iran was not exactly outplayed and simply thrashed. Commentators realized they had to learn Iranian names.

The second match annihilated prediction – against Scotland, Iran not only played bravely, but were the better team. Scotland was unable to score to all – Eskandarian scored in his own net and Scotland was luckily leading until the 60th minute.
Scots brought to their knees by unfancied Iran. Danaiyfar was the hero, scoring the equalizer. And Iran really deserved to win.

The group matches so far were real Russian roulette and before the last round Iran had a chance of advancing – Peru and Holland had 3 points each and Scotland – 1. If Iran won over Peru and Scotland over Holland, goal difference would have been the decider. Scotland won. A major surprise was possible and memories from 1966, when North Korea reached ¼ were evoked. But it was not to be – Iran played bravely, yet, Peru was flying.
Unfortunately, Iran was unable to stop Cubillas and was losing 0-3 by the 39th minute. They managed to score a goal in the 40th minute, but that was all – Peru scored one more in the second half and Iran was eliminated.

Their final record was not great at all – one tie, two losses, and 2-8 goal difference – but the numbers are misleading. Iran impressed – they played good modern football and were quite equal to the other teams. Curiously, 4 goals against Iran were scored from penalties – a dubious record, suggesting unsophisticated roughness, but it was not quite so. Rather, Iran employed European-style no-nonsense football and did not hesitate to commit fouls when there was no other option. Naïve they were not, perhaps lacking a bit of experience, but a team with good potential. Iran was appreciated, considered one of the pleasant discoveries at the finals, some players were noted – Ali Parvin and especially Andranik Eskandarian. Like Tunisia, Iran came close to qualifying to the second round – the 'third world' was definitely improving and no longer just making the numbers. Iran was seen as more likely than Tunisia to become regular finalist and may be more than that. In the future. Near future, it was thought.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Group 4 – considered the second easiest group at the finals. Holland an absolute favourite, Scotland most likely second, but Peru had also a chance if in good form, and Iran – the clear outsider. Only at the large scheme there was a question was the Asian representative better or worse than the African – otherwise, the immediate opponents were quite happy to have an easy game. Iran was a debutant at the finals and unknown team. The country decided to elevate her football about five years ago and so far the changes brought results. Some were common for any third world country: import of foreign coaches and organizing stable regular league. Others were not common – Iran paid attention to the development of youth players and came close to professionalizing the sport. Clubs were attached to big companies, even banks, sometimes named after their sponsors. Third league was established, practically consisting only of youth teams. Better developed than most Asian and African states, having lots of oil, Iran had money to invest in the game – and results came quickly. Iran won three times the Asian championship, reached the Olympic finals in 1976, and performed relatively well in Montreal. But Iranians were well aware that those were still early steps, their football was still far behind the leading nations. Outside Asia, the team was an enigma, although not an interesting one.
Unlike many third world nations, Iran preferred domestic coach, whose name meant nothing outside Asia. Heshmet Mohajerani, however, knew his players – his selection was experienced enough, playing regularly in the last few years, including the 1976 Olympics. But this was only general knowledge – the Iranian coach was unknown and hardly anybody even asked his opinion of the draw, the chances of this or that team, anything. Even Soviet journalists, a bit more familiar with Iranian football, for the Soviet youth national team played twice in Tehran, did not interview Mohajerani in length, preferring the opinions of the star of Iranian football Ali Parvin. At the end, Mohajerani's selection attracted perhaps less interest than the Tunisian squad.
1    GK  Nasser Hejazi                                       14 December 1949 (aged 28)    Shahbaz
2    MF  Iraj Danaeifard                                      19 March 1951 (aged 27)         Taj
3    FW  Behtash Fariba                                      11 February 1955 (aged 23)      Pas
4    FW  Majid Bishkar                                       6 August 1956 (aged 21)           Rastakhiz
5    DF   Javad Allahverdi                                    16 July 1954 (aged 23)             Persepolis
6    MF   Hassan Nayebagha                               17 September 1950 (aged 27)   Homa
7    MF  Ali Parvin                                               12 October 1946 (aged 31)      Persepolis
8    MF  Ebrahim Ghasempour                             24 August 1956 (aged 21)        Shahbaz
9    MF  Mohammad Sadeghi                              17 March 1951 (aged 27)         Pas
10  FW  Hassan Roshan                                      2 June 1955 (aged 22)              Taj
11  DF   Ali Reza Ghesghayan                             27 February 1954 (aged 24)      Bargh Shiraz
12  GK  Bahram Mavaddat                                 30 January 1950 (aged 28)        Sepahan
13  FW  Hamid Majd Teymouri                           3 June 1953 (aged 24)               Shahbaz
14  DF   Hassan Nazari                                       19 August 1955 (aged 22)          Taj
15  DF  Andranik Eskandarian                             31 December 1951 (aged 26)    Taj
16  FW  Nasser Nouraei                                      9 July 1956 (aged 21)                Homa
17  FW  Ghafour Jahani                                       18 June 1950 (aged 27)             Malavan
18  FW  Hossein Faraki                                       19 April 1956 (aged 22)            Pas
19  DF   Ali Shojaei                                              23 March 1953 (aged 25)         Sepahan
20  DF   Nasrollah Abdollahi                                2 September 1951 (aged 26)     Shahbaz
21  DF   Hossein Kazerani                                    13 April 1947 (aged 31)            Pas
22  GK  Rasoul Korbekandi                                 27 January 1953 (aged 25)         Zob Ahan
Standing from right: Mahmoud Yavari, Yagodic, Hossein Kazerani, Nassrollah Abdollahi, Mahmoud Haqiqiyan, Ali Shojaie, Mahmoud Ebrahim-zadeh, Ali Parvin, Javad Allah-verdi, Mohammad Panjali, Mohsen Yousefi, Hossein faraki, Moslem Khani, Mansour Rashidi, Asghar Sharafi.

Center from right: Hassan Roshan, Mohammad Sadeqi, Abdolrazaq Khadempir, Parviz Mazloumi, Ebrahim Qassem-pour, Reza Vishgahi, Alireza Qashqaiyan, Majid Beshkar, Kamal Tabibiyan, Behtash Fariba.

Sitting from right: Nasser Hejazi, Reza Adelkhani, Hassan Nazari, Iraj Danaie-fard, Mohammad reza Karabkandi, Hamid Majd-Teymouri, Mehdi Dinvar-zadeh, Hassan Nayeb-aqa, Nasser Nouraie, Kazem Seyyed Alikhani, Andranik Eskandarian.

Naturally, no Iranian played abroad at the time, so it was anonymous, to the world, domestic selection. Nothing to brag about – the 31-years old midfielder Ali Parvin was perhaps the only barely recognizable name. As ever with third world teams, names were the problem – the official list of the team above differs from the real Iranian version. TV journalists hated such names – just try following a match in progress... until you figure out how to pronounce a mystery like 'Qashqaiyan' the ball may be at the other end of the field. And it may come to this only if one figures out who is who, for spelling differs from source to source – as you can from the two lists above. Apart from the headache with names, there was only novelty: Iran was the most bearded squad at the finals by far – eleven bearded players, not counting merely moustachioed ones. Competing with Mexico for the team with most exotic and wild appearance, Iran won. Unlike Mexico, the Iranians were not expected to get a single point, and after three losses, they were to go home and forgotten. No need to really try learning their names.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Austria started as expected: they scored first against Spain. Spain equalized in the 21st minute. The first half ended 1-1 and that was expected to be the final result: Austria looked more aggressive, but experienced Spain was tough to beat. Spain neutralized the Austrian rush already, the second half was to maintain the parity – so it looked like. But it was not – Austria was slightly better in the second half, Spain struggled not to win, but just to preserve the tie. Austria deserved to win, but it was not easy to score. Yet, it happened:
Hans Krankl, cool and precise, scored in the 79th minute. Spain had no answer to that, there was no enough time too. Austria was now completely in control and won the match 2-1.

The second match – against Sweden – was similar to the first. Austria concentrated on the battle for the midfield, trying to win the ball there and organize attacks. Opportunities were missed, but Austria was slightly better and eventually scored.
Hans Krankl was the hero again: he was fouled in the penalty area and converted the penalty. 1-0, three minutes before the end of the first half. No goals were scored in the second and Austria qualified for the next round. It was almost unnoticed advancement: most observers were paying attention to Brazil and her problems.

Austria had nothing to play for – their last group match was mere protocol. Yet, Austria played seriously against Brazil. The regulars were on the field and nobody tried to save energy for the second round. Austria was dangerous and far from giving up.
Spectacular flight of Leao, desperately trying to keep the ball out of his net. Brazil were lucky – Austria failed to score. In the 40th minute Roberto Dinamite scored and the fragile lead was preserved in the second half. Ausria lost 0-1, but played equal match, if not better than Brazil.

Curiously, Austria still stayed under the radar: it was recognized the Austrians were the most exciting team in Group 3, but nothing more than that. Their advancement was not a big surprise: the team was not an outsider and had its chances in the tough group, where luck more than skill mattered. One thing still kept Austria down – low scoring. Sweden scored a single goal. Spain and Brazil – two goals each. Austria – a 'record' three. Strong defenses? Great goalkeepers? Weak strikers? Teams too equal to be able to overcome each other? Or real favourites underperforming? Certainly Brazil was playing bellow expectations. Spain? A disappointment. Sweden – just a bit weaker than the rest. Austria, then, was may be a bit more lucky than the rest. A decent team, observers said and turned to 'real news' and concerns. To Brazil.

1. Austria 2 0 1 3-2 4

2. Brazil 1 2 0 2-1 4

3. Spain 1 1 1 2-2 3

4. Sweden 0 1 2 1-3 1

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Austria, once upon a time a major force, but also part of the general decline of Mittel Europa football after the Second World War. By 1970 Austria on every level was almost an outsider. But things started to change for better after 1975 – Austrian football was rising. Slowly and hardly as a whole – first few talented young players appeared, then the two leading clubs from Vienna – Rapid and especially Austria – made decent teams and got noticed in Europe, and finally the national team became competitive. The culmination of the rise was qualifying for the 1978 World Cup – Austria reached the finals for the first time in 20 years!

The success was due to the lucky combination of talented generation and talented coach – Helmut Senekowitsch was one of the young coaches leading national teams at the World Cup. At 45, he was not yet well known. Once upon a time he was a successful player – he played in Spain, for Real Betis (Sevilla) between 1961 and 1964. He also played for Austria the last time the country appeared at World Cup finals in 1958. After the end of his career, Senekowitsch immediately became a coach, associated mostly with the rising of modest VOEST (Linz). Domestic success, but it was fine – he was appointed to coach the national team in 1976. The appointment proved very good – the young coach was well familiar with the newest developments in the game and quickly utilized the talents of the new Austrian stars. Reaching the finals was big success for Austria and perhaps nobody expected more, but the qualities of the team were taken into account:
1     GK   Friedrich Koncilia                            25 February 1948 (aged 30)    37    SSW Innsbruck
2     DF    Robert Sara                                     9 June 1946 (aged 31)            37     Austria Wien
3     DF    Erich Obermayer                             23 January 1953 (aged 25)      10     Austria Wien
4     DF    Gerhard Breitenberger                     14 October 1954 (aged 23)     11     VÖEST Linz
5     DF    Bruno Pezzey                                   3 February 1955 (aged 23)     25     SSW Innsbruck
6     MF   Roland Hattenberger                        7 December 1948 (aged 29)    23     VfB Stuttgart
7     MF   Josef Hickersberger                          27 April 1948 (aged 30)          33     Fortuna Düsseldorf
8     MF   Herbert Prohaska                             8 August 1955 (aged 22)         27     Austria Wien
9     FW   Hans Krankl                                     14 February 1953 (aged 25)   34     Rapid Wien
10   FW   Wilhelm Kreuz                                  29 May 1949 (aged 29)          35     Feyenoord
11   MF   Kurt Jara                                          14 October 1950 (aged 27)     29     MSV Duisburg
12   MF   Eduard Krieger                                 16 December 1946 (aged 31)  20     Club Brugge
13   MF   Günther Happich                               28 January 1952 (aged 26)      4       Wiener Sportclub
14   DF    Heinrich Strasser                               26 October 1948 (aged 29)     20     Admira/Wacker
15   DF    Heribert Weber                                 28 June 1955 (aged 22)           7       SK Sturm Graz
16   DF    Peter Persidis                                    8 March 1947 (aged 31)          7       Rapid Wien
17   FW   Franz Oberacher                               24 March 1954 (aged 24)        3       SSW Innsbruck
18   FW   Walter Schachner                              1 February 1957 (aged 21)      6      DSV Alpine Donawitz
19   FW   Hans Pirkner                                      25 March 1946 (aged 32)       18    Austria Wien
20   MF   Ernst Baumeister                                22 January 1957 (aged 21)      1      Austria Wien
21   GK   Erwin Fuchsbichler                             27 March 1952 (aged 26)        2     VÖEST Linz
22   GK   Hubert Baumgartner                           25 February 1955 (aged 23)    1      Austria Wien
A well balanced squad, blending experience and row young talent – at first glance, that. Before 1975

only Kurt Jara was the big hope and internationally acknowledged star. The rest of – by 1978 measure - veterans were dependable and sturdy at best. The better Austrian players usually played abroad, mostly in West Germany, but none was a truly big name. Reliable – yes, but nothing else. But after 1975 new boys emerged – Bruno Pezzey, Herbert Prohaska, and Hans Krankl. One great new player in every line. Add the goalkeeper Friedrich Koncilia, who vastly improved after 1972, and there was a ready skeleton of a strong team. It was a question only of additional players, able to support the star. The answer was not so easy, for small Austria naturally had a limited pool of players. Senekowitsch tinkered with whatever options were at hand – the photo represents that well: Rinker, Schwarz, Cerny, Fleischmann, Haider, P. Koncilia, and Daxbacher were out of the final selection. These names hardly mean anything outside Austria, and they were replaced by players equally anonymous abroad. Five foreign-based players were included – about as many as traditional exporter Sweden had. But Senekowitsch made a team already getting recognition: his Austria was compared to West Germany at her peak – Bruno Pezzey was seen as successor of Beckenbauer. Prohaska in midfield was probably close to Overath than Netzed, but wonderful playmaker by any standard. Krankl – a goalscoring machine, just as Gerd Muller was. And Koncilia was as dependable as Maier between the goalposts. Add Robert Sara as an Austrian Berti Vogts; Kurt Jara as a double of Heynckes; Hattenberger and Hickersberger as a version of Wimmer or Flohe, and Austria came really as a copy of the great West German team. Not everybody was young, but the core of the team was – Pezzey at 23, Prohaska – 22, Krankl – 25. Koncilia was already 30 years old, but goalkeepers are better older, not younger, and Koncilia was expected to play a few more years. It was clearly a team with a future, playing total football, and still not reaching the peak of its potential. Of course, it was a lesser version of the great West Germany and nobody saw Austria as possible champion, but strong and exciting team. Since Austria was seen as a bit of immature yet, the real peak was expected in the next few years – not they were to get experience at top level. Too bad they had unlucky draw, placing them in the iron Group 3 – the Austrians were expected to fight well, but lack of experience made them the likelier candidate for the last place. They were rising and Sweden declining, and yet Sweden was seen the better team. Beating Spain and Brazil was pretty much out of the question – Austria perhaps was able to give a lot of trouble to any opponent; may be pinching a point or two in the campaign, but nothing more. Not this year, not at this tournament.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sweden started well – against Brazil, the Swedes scored first and in fairly equal match had a few more chances to score. Once the bar denied them a second goal. Brazil equalized in the last minute of the first half and had few opportunities in the second, but Hellstrom was superb.
Bearded viking Sjoberg scoring for Sweden in the 38th minute.

The drama happened in the last minute – Brazil had a corner kick after which Zico scored with a header.
It was amusing – Sweden was losing by goals scored in the last minute of both halves. But this was the day of changing luck: the referee disallowed the Brazilian goal – he ended the match just before Zico reached the ball. 'Half a second earlier' wrote journalists, emphasizing the drama, although how the referee measured half a second is a mystery. Decisions like that are always controversial and heatedly debated. The Brazilians chased the referee and protested the decision, but naturally the result stayed 1-1. Lucky Swedes, but the match was equal, so a tie was pretty much fair. Coach Ericson said his team played well. The match was important in one more aspect: Nordqvist played his 109th match for Sweden, the most capped player in the world. Bobby Moore was not second with his 108 caps.

And well they played in the second match against Austria, but luck was not on their side. Again Sweden allowed a goal near the end of the first half – Krankl scored from a penalty for a foul committed by Nordqvist. Again fairly equal match, but Austria was more aggressive and impressive, especially in attack. Sweden apparently suffered in that line – and for a second match Ralf Edstrom came in the second half, but even with him Sweden was unable to score and lost 0-1.
Sweden left few pictorial evidence of her participation in the World Cup – a post stamp from Paraguay shows the match with Austria. Krankl slips away from Swedish defenders. The whole difference, it seems.

Sweden still had a chance to advance – a victory over Spain was a must, but also Austria – Sweden had to end either with Brazilian defeat, or at least tied. This time Edstrom was a starter – a rather desperate attempt of fixing somewhat the attacking line. Scoring was a problem, and Edstrom, although not in his best form, had experience, hopefully helpful. It was not – the match against Spain was similar to the previous ones. Sweden played equal match, this time surviving the first half without receiving a late goal, but unable to score either. In the second half Spain managed to score in the 76th minute and Sweden had no answer to that. One more minimal loss.

Sweden finished last in the group – one of their lowest performances ever at the World Cup finals. They managed only a single point. The detected decline presented itself at the finals - the team was quite equal, played with good spirit, did not break down, but there was something missing. Little something... just enough to lose two of three matches, or even all three, if the weird 'half-a-second' denying second Brazilian goal is discounted. Sweden had problems in attack, was unable to score – and a good fight was hardly enough, if opposition managed to score only one goal. As it did, packing Sweden for an early trip back to Europe. Sweden practically left no memories this year, so let put one little bit here: Ronnie Hellstrom went to join the already famous, yet, helpless, mothers of the 'disappeared', marching in protest at Plaza de Mayo. He showed solidarity. Perhaps the Junta was happy to see Sweden out of the country that soon. At home – no tragedy. Ericson remained a coach, the team did its best, given the scarcity of talent at this particular time.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Typically, Sweden was subject of little news – never a favourite, but never an outsider either, it was not surprising the Swedes reached once again the finals and were expected to play well, as they ever did. A little slump was detected in their case, though – perhaps not a crisis as such, but some shortness of new talent. To speak of crisis was ridiculous anyway – Sweden depended on collective performance and never had big pool of extraordinary players. Typically, a Swedish squad was a mixture of few foreign-based stars and reliable little known home-based players, well blended team with high spirit and determination. Sweden was always to be reckoned with, for it was not a team known for underperformance – if anything, it played better than expected, making difficult life for any opponent.

Since Sweden was always kind of forgotten before the finals, her team was puzzling mystery for the opponents, further making difficulties. As for the Swedes, they had modest expectations – they only wanted to play well. And usually did. There was no hysteria at home – the team was able to work in relaxed atmosphere.
Georg 'Aby' Ericson was perhaps the coach representing the whole Swedish case best: he was nearly 70-years old, if not the oldest, certainly among the oldest coaches at 1978 World Cup. He was coaching Sweden since 1971. It was his second world cup finals at the helm of the national team and back in 1874 his team did very well. At home, nobody thought of replacing him. And there was no reason for that either, for Ericson, contrary to many aging coaches, adapted to the demands of total football effortlessly and as early as 1973. His selections quietly changed, but remained solid – and the 1978 vintage was typical blend of foreign and domestic, youth and experience:
1    GK  Ronnie Hellström                 21 February 1949 (aged 29)         1. FC Kaiserslautern
2    DF   Hasse Borg                         4 August 1953 (aged 24)               Eintracht Braunschweig
3    DF   Roy Andersson                   2 August 1949 (aged 28)               Malmö FF
4    DF   Björn Nordqvist                  6 October 1942 (aged 35)             IFK Göteborg
5    DF   Ingemar Erlandsson             16 November 1957 (aged 20)        Malmö FF
6    MF  Staffan Tapper                     10 July 1948 (aged 29)                  Malmö FF
7    MF  Anders Linderoth                 21 March 1950 (aged 28)              Olympique de Marseille
8    MF  Bo Larsson                          5 May 1944 (aged 34)                   Malmö FF
9    MF  Lennart Larsson                   9 July 1953 (aged 24)                    FC Schalke 04
10  FW  Thomas Sjöberg                  6 July 1952 (aged 25)                     Malmö FF
11  FW  Benny Wendt                       4 November 1950 (aged 27)          1. FC Kaiserslautern
12  GK  Göran Hagberg                     8 November 1947 (aged 30)          Östers IF
13  DF   Magnus Andersson               23 April 1958 (aged 20)                 Malmö FF
14  MF  Ronald Åhman                      31 January 1957 (aged 21)             Örebro SK
15  FW  Torbjörn Nilsson                   9 July 1954 (aged 23)                     IFK Göteborg
16  FW  Conny Torstensson               28 August 1949 (aged 28)               FC Zürich
17  GK  Jan Möller                             17 September 1953 (aged 24)        Malmö FF
18  MF  Olle Nordin                           23 November 1949 (aged 28)        IFK Göteborg
19  DF   Kent Karlsson                       25 November 1945 (aged 32)        IFK Eskilstuna
20  DF   Roland Andersson                 28 March 1950 (aged 28)              Malmö FF
21  FW  Sanny Åslund                         29 August 1952 (aged 25)             AIK Fotboll
22  FW  Ralf Edström                          7 October 1952 (aged 25)             IFK Göteborg
Seven survivors from the 1974 squad. Three players – Nordqvist, Hellstrom, and Bo Larsson – were going to their third World Cup. Bjorn Nordqvist was the most capped player in the world – his final tally was 115 games played for Sweden, astonishing number today, considering how fewer matches national teams used to play before 1990. Sweden had more foreign based players than all teams reviewed so far – the combined number of 4 (Tunisia – 2, Argentina – 1, and Poland – 1) vs 6 Swedes playing abroad. Youngsters were liberally included as well, but it was carefully made final selection – if one compares the slightly earlier photo with the final squad, few names are different. A slight slump was detectable, as I already mentioned: four years ago, Sweden had a bunch of young rapidly rising talent, spoken of around Europe: Ralf Edstorm, Sandberg, and Conny Torstensson. In 1978 there was only one player – Anders Linderoth – and he was already 28 years old. Meantime the great trio was in decline – Torstensson moved from Bayern to Switzerland in 1977; Edstrom – from PSV Eindhoven back to Sweden, and Sandberg was not even in the team. And the veterans were dangerously old by now: Nordqvist – 35, Bo Larsson – 33, Kent Karlsson – 32 and permanently benched. And Staffan Tapper, already 29, was no longer starter. Veterans, fading stars, and hardly any really bright young talent – Sweden appeared a bit weaker than before, but not to be dismissed. In the iron Group 3, the Swedes were likelier candidate for advancing - much likelier than Austria and capable to elbow themselves above Spain. Depending on luck, it was possible for the Swedes even to finish at the top of the group.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The opening match of Spain was supposed to be the easiest one – against Austria, theoretically, the weakest team in the group. Seemingly, Spain underestimated the opposition and thus out-tricked itself: the best strikers – Santillana, Juanito, and Quini – were missing. Austria was not going to surrender, on the contrary: they scored first in the 10th minute. Spain managed to equalize in the 21st minute, but winning the match was increasingly unlikely.

Ruben Cano denied again by Austrian goalkeeper Koncilia. It was 50 -50 at best, a gritty match, in which Spain showed determination, but lacked imagination. Quini eventually was fielded in the second half, but Austria looked more organized, fit, and a bit better. In the 79th minute Krankl scored and Spain was unable to equalize in the remaining time. It was all over again – Spain failed to win important game, failed to impress.

The next match – against Brazil – was all or nothing, but so it was for Brazil as well. Santillana and Juanito were starters this time, yet, Spain did not improve. One more tough match, fairly equal, fairly unattractive, a scoreless tie.
Fighting for the ball in midfield – the match in a nutshell. Along with problems in attack, there were defensive problems as well. Spain looked unsettled, Kubala somewhat incapable to chose the best eleven, although by now it was really objective problem: there was a limit to trying variations.

Slightly different squad started the match with Sweden. Spain was not yet eliminated, but a win was a must, and then all depended on the result between already qualified Austrians and Brazil. Unfortunately, Sweden had also a chance and the match was to be very tough. Sweden was weaker then usual, but this is a team always highly motivated and Spain had no advantage at all. Without looking better or even stronger, Spain managed to score the only goal of the game in the 76th minute.
Asensi, at the far left, scores, but there was no relief – Spain was kept on tiptoe to the end by the Swedes, and there was joy even at the final whistle: Brazil also won and Spain was eliminated.

Disappointment again and Spain left no lasting memories of her performance. None of her stars shined. None impressed. Nobody sorry seeing him going home early. Spain was clearly a team needing fundamental changes – conceptual changes of the whole Spanish football really. May be at the bottom of their hearts the Spaniards realized that – Kubala was not sacked may be because a mere change of coach was not going to change Spanish football. By 1978 Spain looked hopelessly outdated, stuck in the 1960s, perhaps the last country not embracing total football – especially when compared to Italy.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Spain finally reached World Cup finals – for the first time since 1966. The least successful among traditional big football nations, Spain experienced systematic failures and disappointments. The 1970s were particularly bad – neither national team, nor club won anything. For the national team the draw played a cruel joke – Spain had to face Yugoslavia and Romania for practically every big tournament. Finally, the East European nemesis was overcome, by luck rather than superiority. Of course, Spain was hungry for success, it was tough and difficult team to play against, and pride and ambition were never absent. As were never absent the weaknesses of the Spanish style of football – too much preoccupied with fighting, playing dirty tricks at the expense of the real game, and failing to come really close to modern total football. Yet, Spain was traditional favourite, always considered. Hardly any observers saw the Spaniards as potential World champions, but nobody dismissed them either. Nobody called them 'La Furia Roja' back then, but oousiders they were not – in their group everything was possible, three fairly equal teams, but still Spain, along with Brazil, was likely to advance to the second round.

Ladislao Kubala coached Spain – one of the greatest stars of the 1940s and 1950s, Kubala perhaps is the player who represented most countries in the history of football. He played for Slovakia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Spain. And it was because of naturalized foreigners like him Spain imposed a ban on foreign players in 1964. By then Kubala was already a coach and his coaching career was strangely checkered: not very great, interrupted by another stint as a player in the second half of the 1960s, when he played a bit in Canada together with his son Branko Kubala, his brother in law Yanko Daucik, and under his coaching father in law Ferdinand Daucik. And he returned again to Spain to coach lowly Cordoba for an year, after which was appointed to coach the national team in 1969. And he stayed at the helm of Spain until 1980 – amazingly long spell for a country known for impatience with coaches. Under Kubala Spain suffered defeats 'at the last minute', but finally clinched a spot at the finals of the 1978 World Cup. By then Kubala was already 60-years old, seen abroad as a representative of older generation and old styles, hardly an innovative or adventurous coach, but one with vast experience, well versed in the traditional Spanish trickery, and capable of fielding sturdy, tough, and difficult to play against teams. And his world cup squad was typical of the approach:
1    GK  Luis Arconada                      26 June 1954 (aged 23)           Real Sociedad
2    DF   Antonio de la Cruz                7 May 1947 (aged 31)            FC Barcelona
3    MF  Francisco Javier Uría             1 February 1950 (aged 28)     Sporting de Gijón
4    MF  Juan Manuel Asensi               23 September 1949 (aged 28) FC Barcelona
5    DF   Migueli                                  19 December 1951 (aged 26) FC Barcelona
6    DF   Antonio Biosca                      8 December 1949 (aged 28)    Real Betis
7    FW  Dani                                      28 June 1951 (aged 26)           Athletic Bilbao
8    FW  Juanito                                  10 November 1954 (aged 23)  Real Madrid
9    FW  Quini                                     23 September 1949 (aged 28) Sporting de Gijón
10  FW  Santillana                               23 August 1952 (aged 25)       Real Madrid
11  MF  Julio Cardeñosa                     27 October 1949 (aged 28)     Real Betis
12  MF  Antonio Guzmán                    2 December 1953 (aged 24)    Rayo Vallecano
13  GK  Miguel Ángel                         24 December 1947 (aged 30)   Real Madrid
14  MF  Eugenio Leal                          13 May 1953 (aged 25)           Atlético Madrid
15  FW  Marañón                                23 July 1948 (aged 29)            RCD Español
16  DF   Antonio Olmo                        18 January 1954 (aged 24)       FC Barcelona
17  DF   Marcelino                              13 August 1955 (aged 22)        Atlético Madrid
18  DF   Pirri                                        11 March 1945 (aged 33)        Real Madrid
19  FW  Carles Rexach                        13 January 1947 (aged 31)       FC Barcelona
20  FW  Rubén Cano                            5 February 1951 (aged 27)      Atlético Madrid
21  MF  Isidoro San José                      27 October 1956 (aged 21)     Real Madrid
22  GK  Urruti                                      17 February 1952 (aged 26)    RCD Español
To many observers, the Spanish selection seemed too old – the key figures were around 30-years old and relatively new starters were approaching thirty as well. The rest were young, mostly unknown outside Spain, representing smaller clubs, and clearly seen as firm reserves. The combination appeared odd: Asensi, Pirri, Rexach, the big names, were a bit over the hill and failing internationally for years, it was unlikely they would be stars at the finals. They were complimented by players of recent fame, but also near the dangerous age of thirty: Quini, Cardenoza, Cano, Uria, Biosca, even Dani. A few, also on the oldish side, were well known and hardly great, so it was curious why they and not others were chosen: Miguel Angel, Migueli, de la Cruz. Santillana was by far the most internationally recognized star in the team, which was hardly enough for success. Young players like Juanito and San Jose were seen as potential big international stars, but they were very few and some – particularly the goalkeepers Arconada and Urruti – were not expected to play at all. Yet, some big stars were missing – particularly Irribar, Camacho, and del Bosque. Irribar, regular goalkeeper for years was not called since 1976 – a bit strange, for Miguel Angel was lesser goalie than the veteran, and Arconada and Urruti were still considered too young to be regulars. The absence of Camacho, arguably the best Spanish player in 1970s, at least to the foreign eye, was clearly a handicap. And del Bosque was better than de la Cruz and Migueli. But even with them the squad would have been mostly defensive-minded one, and quite weak in attack. Hardly a potential world cup winner, but a team likely to reach the second round.

Perhaps the biggest problem was the names of the players: some were known by their real names (Asensi, Rexach), others by nicknames (Pirri, Santillana). No problem in Spain, but internationally – FIFA required real name registration and the Spanish list was a puzzle: most players were not really known abroad, leading to confusion – often TV commentators and journalists used two names for same player in the same broadcast or article. Castro and Quini, for example. Sometimes Spain looked like having more than eleven players on the pitch because of that.