Group 3. Compared to group 2 – nothing really. It even looked unfair to have 4 strong fighting teams in one group and hardly any at their level in the next group. USSR and Czechoslovakia were sure favourites here, but there was bit of bitter taste: USSR had a dreadful decade, arguably reaching rock bottom at the qualifications for the 1978 World Cup. New generation and club success came recently, but the young players were yet unknown. Czechoslovakia was rather unpredictable, following a wild cycle of ups and down. Their last team was unimpressive at the 1980 European championship and the general feel was that the previous generation, now getting too old and stepping down, was much better than the current one. But there was not much opposition in the group and although shaky, especially Czechoslovakia, both teams qualified. Wales suddenly had a chance to go ahead, but to a point USSR qualified the Czechoslovaks instead – in the last tow group games USSR first won against Wales 2-0 and then tied Czechoslavakia 1-1. The last results equaled the points of Wales and Czechoslavia and worse goal-difference eliminated Wales.
1.USSR^ 8 14 6 2 0 20- 2
2.Czechoslovakia^ 8 10 4 2 2 15- 6
3.Wales 8 10 4 2 2 12- 7
4.Island 8 6 2 2 4 10-21
5.Turkey 8 0 0 0 8 1-22
The new USSR team taking shape. One of the most talked about teams in the 1980s was still too new and unfamiliar – even friendly nations, like Czechoslovakia, were not sure of the proper spelling of the names, as is shown here.
Like USSR, going to the World Cup finals for the first time since 1970. Unlike USSR, Czechoslovakia enjoyed success during the 1970s, becoming European champion in 1976. The winning team inevitable became the measure for any other squad and by this measure, the new version was found lacking quite a lot: it was a precarious mix of European champions, who were younger back in 1976, thus still in shape, and those, who came after them. Unfortunately, a good number of the newer crop were actually active in 1976, but playing second fiddle to the champions at best. Hence, the doubt how good they could be now – but they were not challenged by sufficient numbers of young talent and there were problems with some positions.
Group 4. Naturally, England was seen as the big favourite and Hungary, Romania, and maybe Switzerland fighting for the second place. Reality was different: England struggled during the whole campaign and Norway popped-up from nowhere, as a pleasant surprise and the only improving team in the group: they even beat England. As a result, the group produced the tightest race possible, with all five teams participating and having hopes for the finals. The last 6 games decided the winners and losers: Romania lost steam when mattered most, Hungary qualified first, thanks to home wins over Switzerland and Norway, and England fretted to the end – before the last group match, they were trailing Romania by the point and hosting Hungary proved once again difficult task – England won minimally, 1-0, against a team which nothing to play for at this point and was not great anyway.
1.Hungary^ 8 10 4 2 2 13- 8
2.England^ 8 9 4 1 3 13- 8
3.Romania 8 8 2 4 2 5- 5
4.Switzerland 8 7 2 3 3 9-12
5.Norway 8 6 2 2 4 8-15
Hungary before the home game with Norway, which qualified them to the finals. Some lovely players, led by Nyilasi, but it was largely the same team as in 1978 and by now it looked like they reached the limits of their potential already.
England, looking formidable and struggling on the pitch. At least Keegan & Co. managed to reach the finals – for the first time since 1970.