Saturday, January 14, 2017

Group 13. Asia. Asia... if anybody deserved more spots at the finals, it would be Africa – for nothing else, but just to, perhaps, elevate the continent from chaos to some more serious stage of development. Asia was not even on African level yet... and there was also the lowest of the low – Oceania. On the football map Oceania was only three countries at that time, so they probably did not complain at all and very likely were happy to have a chance at least to play against  more and various teams. Asia was further weakened by the expulsion of Israel and the withdrawal of Iran, due to the political change in the country. 19 countries entered elaborate tournament, going through stages – the vast continent and the inclusion of Oceania made travel difficult, so the preliminary stages were organized geographically, perhaps  taking into account the wealth of the countries too, for it was not possible to follow geographic lines entirely. At the end, only Zone A was played in the usual manner – that is, teams travle from to place to visit opponents. Zones B and C were staged as round-robin tournaments, hosted, correspondingly, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Al-Kuwait, Kuwait. Group D was entirely differently organized – there was preliminary stage at first, at which countries visited each other. After that there were 2 sub-groups, played in one place – Hong Kong. This round-robin sub-groups were followed by semi-finals and a final. The winner joined the winners of the other three groups to a final tournament, played, however, traditionally – teams hosting at home and traveling to visit opponents. This last stage brought troubles, perhaps kept under lid so far, in the open. The program was typical for the times – a clever team was able to get convenient schedule, giving a strong chance. Kuwait not only played 3 of the last 4 games, but hosted all of them. Having a good start with 2 away wins, they made the best of home turf and high moral – won twice and tied one match, thus, one match before the end of the qualifications, Kuwait was unreachable and qualified for the first time to World Cup finals. Saudi Arabia, the outsiders at this stage, hosted the last match against New Zealand. However, New Zealand was outraged the previous game, when they felt the hosts, Kuwait, were blatantly helped by the referees and New Zealand was cheated big time. The accusations were ignored by the Asian football body, which further enraged New Zealand. May be rage motivated them to utter destruction of Saudi Arabia – 5-0. With which New Zealand equalized not only points, but also the goal-different of China.  And now salt was put on the wound: New Zealand outscored China by 2 goals – usually, when goal-difference is a factor, in case of equal record, the team scoring more goals gets the higher place. The other possible way is considering the record of the direct games played: if that, New Zealand also must have been placed ahead of China, because they won one match and tied the other. But... New Zealand was 3rd in the final table. Which led, who knows why, to a play-off in Singapur – only now   New Zealand managed to get ahead, beating China 2-1. As a final note to the mess, perhaps to show just how big was the mess, a famous referee was invited for this match: the Brazilian Filho. Local referees were not trusted at this point. 
1.Kuwait^  6   9  4  1  1   8- 6
2.China>  6   7  3  1  2   9- 4
3.New Zealand>  6   7  2  3  1  11- 6
4.Saudi Arabia   6   1  0  1  5   4-16
This is the controversial final table of Asia. After that the play-off between New Zealand and |China was played and New Zealand became the second representative of the continent. It was also the last team to qualify for the World Cup finals. 
Kuwait – unheard of team, but, if anything, oil-dollars were aplenty. Asia had nothing to show yet, so why not they?
Back row (left to right): Adrian Elrick, Duncan Cole, Mark Armstrong, Grant Turner, Allan Boath, Dave Bright, Clive Campbell
Middle row: Kevin Fallon (assistant coach), Ricki Herbert, Brian Turner, Barry Pickering, Richard Wilson, Frank van Hattum, Glen Adam, Sam Malcolmson, John Adshead (coach)
Front row: Steve Wooddin, Keith Mackay, Steve Sumner (captain), Charlie Dempsey (New Zealand World Cup director), Bobby Almond, John Hill, Glenn Dods .
New Zealand at the beginning of its qualifying campaign. Entirely unknown team, not expected to do anything impressive at the finals. But brave boys, going to the World Cup.