Europe. Group 3 and 4

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.

Europe. Group 1 and 2


Europe. Group 1. Easy group with unquestionable favourite, no matter current form – West Germany. Bulgaria and Austria were to fight for the 2nd spot, Austria slightly having the edge, because Bulgaria was in disarray and the Austrians had strong generation, already impressive at the 1978 World Cup finals. The other three teams were outsiders. At the end, the direct clashes between Bulgaria and Austria decided the second finalist: Austria prevailed with a win and tie.

1.West Germany^ 8 16 8 0 0 33- 3

2.Austria^ 8 11 5 1 2 16- 6

3.Bulgaria 8 9 4 1 3 11-10

4.Albania 8 2 1 0 7 4-22

5.Finland 8 2 1 0 7 4-27

West Germany not losing even a point in this campaign – fantastic record and going to the finals as one of the biggest favourites.

From left: Krankl, Feurer, Pezzey, Dihanich, Mirnegg, Hattenberger, Prohaska, Jara, Keglevits, Weber, Welzl. The team was perhaps at its peak.

Group 2. Arguably, the toughest one – Holland, France, and Belgium were expected to fight for 2 spots, but unexpectedly Ireland joined the leaders and the entanglement depended much on direct results. Holland lost the race first and Belgium was the first to qualify, but really the battle went to the very last group game – true, only miracle would have discarded France then, for they were hosting Cyprus, but theoretically Ireland still had a chance. But only in theory – France won 4-0. To a point, it was the schedule – France played the last three games of the group, thus, knowing precisely what they needed against opponents not able to make any corrections.

1.Belgium^ 8 11 5 1 2 12- 9

2.France^ 8 11 5 0 3 20- 8

3.Ireland 8 10 4 2 2 17-11

4.Holland 8 9 4 1 3 11- 7

5.Cyprus 8 0 0 0 8 4-29

Belgium running high – they were always taken seriously, but after their splendid European championship expectations climbed up a notch. They delivered and were to play their first World Cup since 1980.

Standing, left to right: Gerard Janvion, Phillipe Mahut, Maxime Bossis, Pierrick Hiard, Alain Moizan, Christian Lopez.

Bottom, left to right: Jean-Francois Larios, Alain Giresse, Michel Platini, Jacques Zimako, Didier Six.

Not only because of Platini many fans and pundits rooted for France – it would have been a shame this wonderful team to miss the finals.

Of course, not everybody was happy with the finals standings, but one thing was undeniable: Holland was in decline, Republic of Ireland had more enthusiasm than class, Belgium and France were bright, up and coming teams and deserved to grace the finals most of all.


World Cup Qualifications

The last important event of 1981 was the qualifications for the 1982 World Cup. By the end of the year all finalists were known. It was not a trouble-free process: the new World Cup format was not to everybody’s liking – the increase of the number of the finalists was not the problem, this was praised. The problem was the quotas. Europe got the biggest number – 13. Compared to the previous 8 spots, the Euros should have been satisfied. In any case, the best football in terms of the strength of the teams, was there. Yet, the Europeans was not very happy – Africa, Asia, and North-Central America had 100% increase and what for, grumbled the Europeans, who got much smaller percentage, not even 50%. South Americans felt entirely cheated, for they remained with 3 spots as before – true, their third spot was ensured now, whether before they sometime had to play a qualification for it, but the numbers did not change really. The Europeans pointed out that South America got 50% more,which was higher than the European percentage and that for a continent of only 10 countries. Do they really deserve to have almost half of the countries going to the World finals since the best continent never had such a chance? The weaker continents may be deserved more spots at the finals, but why a quarter of the whole? To develop the game, fine… but their appearance at the finals was really disservice ti the game. Who needs to watch the likes of Zaire from 1974? Let them develop aside and bring only real football to the finals. The ‘weak continent’ were quick to accuse Europeans and South American of being almost racists – the World Cup belonged equally to everyone and they were so far unfairly treated. Even now they got so few spots – just think of it: a whole Africa with only 2 places at the finals. Oceania, perhaps the least protesting entity, was bulked into the Asian qualifications, which was not exactly to the liking of the proper Asians, but on the other hand, the football there was so weak that nobody considered Oceania deserving a spot of its own. Politics, of course, fueled arguments, counter-arguments, whining, and accusing, but then the qualifications had to be played and everything went back to the most important issue – reaching the finals. Argentina as reigning World champions and Spain as hosts did not have to worry about qualifications. 22 spots were open when the rounds started in 1980.

Europe first, divided into 7 groups. Six groups were larger, because 2 teams qualified from each , according to the increased European spots. The 7th group had only the winner going to the finals and was made smaller because of that – of only 3 teams. Not all groups were equal in strength, as always, but big favourites at least for the first place were in every group. Some had it easier than others, but, again as ever, form and strength changed with time and there were heavy battles to the very ened, surprises, disappointments, along with easy sailing. What could be said in advance is this: the East European countries earned perhaps their biggest presence at World Cup finals – including Yugoslavia, 5 Communist countries went to the finals. More than 50% of the Communist countries. Also, the thorny problem of Israel was settled – expelled from Asia, Israel was included in Europe. And stays in UEFA to this very day. South Africa, on the other hand, remained out of world football – expelled from Africa and nobody wanted it elsewhere, because of the apartheid. Perhaps the South Africans were not concerned – after all, cricket and rugby were the important sports for them. The world was divided into 13 groups – nominally, because ‘groups’ meant different things and had different structures in different places and hardly anybody called them that.

European Player of the Year

The European Player of the Year award was interesting to think about – three West Germans were voted best. The last time there were three Germans was 1972 – so, the parallel suggested the coming of a new great West German era. But… West Germany won the European championship in 1972. This time it was in 1980, so it looked like the award was trailing events. The three of 1972 were current stars at their peak and of one generation – this time it looked like three different generations were represented and may be other great players were ignored, for when it came to current success, it was debatable whether the Germans were most deserving. However, every yearly award brought criticism and doubts, so nothing new.

Bernd Schuster was third with 39 points. By now, he was playing for Barcelona, which made his ranking suspect: Barcelona was still not at its best and unable to win even the Spanish championship, let alone conquer Europe. But memories of his play in 1980 were strong and without any doubt he was considered the great star to rule the 1980s, the next generation.

Paul Breitner was second with 64 points. His return to Bayern brought him back to the centre of attention. He was the link with the great 1972 – the last of the ‘old’ golden generation, European and World champion, a player associated closely with total football. Watch out, Schuster… the newest generation was not yet ready to take the reigns, those, who played total football were still preferred and not easy to replace.

Like in 1980, number one was voted Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. At 26, he was at his peak, no doubt about it. He was the star of the new Bayern, instrumental to its coming back on top after the lean years of the second half of the 1970s; he conquered Europe with the national team, which also came back to exciting and formidable kind of football. He was already ‘King Kalle’, the biggest West German star. To a point, Rummenigge benefited greatly from Breitner’s return to Bayern: both combined in a terrific duo, called ‘Breitnigge’, was really making Bayern successful. Alas, only at home… outside West Germany Bayern was not getting anything. Still, this was the greatest German player at the moment – strong, dangerous, goal-scoring, dominant. He lacked finesse perhaps, but he had Breitner, the genius of total football of the past. And he had Schuster for the future, the closest to total football young player. So, Rummenigge was rightly on top and surely was about to influence the game in the 1980s. To a point, he was the player of the new decade – finally, the generation of the previous decade was firmly left behind.

Or so it seemed… for Schuster was quick to say right after the voting that as long as Rummenigge and Breitner, particularly Breitner, are playing for the national team, he was not going to play for West Germany. ‘They run the national team, they decide everything, and if they don’t like one’s face, this player is out’, he accused. Rightly so, it turned out.


The Golden Shoe




The Golden Shoe was awarded to Georgy Slavkov of Trakia (Plovdiv), who scored most goals in Europe – 31.

For a second time Bulgarian player was the top scorer in Europe, but it was different this time. Petar Zhekov won the Golden Shoe in 1968-69 with 36 goals. Unlike Zhekov, Slavkov did not play for the top team in the country. Also, he was not a central-forward, constantly supplied with balls and opportunities, made for him. Slavkov was attacking midfielder, who, with time, settled for playmaking role. When Zhekov won the trophy, he was already the top scorer of Bulgaria and he was 25 years old with vast experience – Slavkov was younger, 23 this years, and although highly talented, did not have many games – he practically missed a year, when he was with CSKA (Sofia), but played only 9 games and was moved back to Trakia. At a glance, Slavkov’s achievement was of higher order: young midfielder, who missed about 1/4 of the championship games, but yet scored 31 goals in 23 appearances. His average was higher than Zhekov’s: 1.34 goals per game to 1.24. It was very exciting – young and versatile goalscorer, operating from midfield – this was new and not typical at all. Alas, this season could be judged the best one for Slavkov. He never scored that many goals, did not come even close – on the contrary, his goals were fewer and fewer every next year. One may think his achievement was accidental, but this was not the case – first, Slavkov was not genuine striker and with time his position prevented high scoring. Inevitably so – a playmaker creates opportunities for others. Second, he moved again to play for CSKA, where were many competing scorers and high records became virtually impossible. When years later he was transferred to St. Etienne (France), he was the typical playmaker and scored nothing. May be he was unable to adjust to the new country too, but goals did not come not matter what. Anyhow, he was number one in Europe for 1980-81 season.

Note: the name of his club may be confusing – today it is Botev (Plovdiv). That is the original name of the club, which was renamed in the 1960s to Trakia. The original name was restored after 1989 and records referred to Botev today, thus, at odds with records from the actual time.


Iceland was 32nd and last in the European club ranking, but there was one more country recognized by UEFA, which was not in the ranking table at all: Wales. The reason was that Wales had no official championship, but only a Cup tournament. And a strange one at that: not only the strongest Welsh clubs played in the English leagues, but English clubs traditionally participated in the Welsh Cup, often winning it too. This complicated participation in the Cup Winners Cup – if the winner was English team, it was not allowed to play, replaced by the losing finalist. If it was a Welsh club… Professional teams were almost always stronger than the genuine Welsh teams and this year was no exception: Swansea City (Welsh, playing in the Second English Division) versus Hereford United (English, 4th Division). It was weird final to the continental eye, but not so on the British Isles: the final was competitive and tough. Swansea won the first leg 1-0 and managed a 1-1 tie in the second leg.

Hereford United came very close to winning the Welsh Cup – which was a great achievement, considering who they played against. In a sense, too bad they lost, although they had no chance for playing in the Cup Winners Cup.

‘The Swans’ were no strangers to Cup winning, but this year was special: the club was rapidly climbing up the leagues and under John Toshack as playing manager, they won promotion to First Division for the first time in their history. Although winning the Cup proved to be difficult, they still won it, thus completing their best season to date. Looking back, it was arguably the best period in the club’s history and not finished yet, largely due to the Liverpool connection: Toshack at the helm and also playing, Phil Boersma coaching, and Ian Callaghan. A few good players were already making the team dangerous – Leighton James, Leighton Phillips, and Tommy Craig. And very soon reinforcements were added: Jimmy Rimer, just winning the European Champions Cup with Aston Villa, two Yugoslavian national team players – Dzemal Hadziabdic and Ante Rajkovic, and Bob Latchford from Everton. But those were still to come and play the next season. For the moment, Swansea City was gloriously swimming ahead.


The lowest of them all in 1981 was Iceland – the time,when Icelandic players started getting noticed in Europe did not translate into increasing power of the clubs. Simple: talent was quickly going abroad.

The Second Division was dominated by two teams – Keflavik won the championship with 28 points and IB Isafjördur was 2nd with 27 points. For a tiny 10-team league the dominance was enourmous – Throttur Reykjavik, 3rd, finished with 21 points. The top two were promoted, which was particularly great for IB Isafjördur – they rarely reached the top league.

First Division, also with 10 teams, had 3 outsiders. FH Hafnarfjördur was last with 7 points. KR Reykjavik and Thor Akureyri ended with 12 points each, worse goal-difference relegated Thor. KA Akureyri was 7th, but never in danger – they finished 6 points ahead of the outsiders.

The battle for the title was roughly between 4 teams – this was almost half the league, but Icelandic football never had dominant clubs. UB Kopavogur took the 4th place – not bad at all. They lost bronze medals on goal-difference and IA Akranes took the 3rd place. A point better Fram Reykjavík , settling for silver.

Vikingur Reykjavík kept the title in the capital, which was wonderful since they had too many rivals at home – Reykjavik was represented by 4 teams in the top league. Vikingur played a splendid season, mostly excelling in winning – they won 11 of their 18 championship matches. Fram lost only 2 matches – halve of the losses Vikingur suffered – but they tied halve of their total games.

The Cup final was played between ÍB Vestmannæyjar and Fram Reykjavík.

IBV prevailed 3-2 and triumphed with one more trophy.


Finland ranked 31st at the end of 1981 – of course, the Fins were among the eternal outsiders of Europe, but now they were outpaced by countries like Luxembourg and Cyprus, which have been lower. Not a good period for Finnish football, one may think.

The championship was a complicated affair by now, consisting of two stages – regular season and according to the final standings, the top 8 proceeded to the championship round with their points halved. The rear 4 moved to promotion/relegation tournament with the top 4 teams of the regular Second Division season. Sepsi-78 Seinäjoki, RoPS Rovaniemi, MP Mikkeli, and MiPK Mikkeli were the lowest 1st division teams. Kuusysi Lahti, Elo Kuopio, KPV Kokkola, and Honka Espoo were the 2nd division hopefuls. The rules stipulated that, according to final league position, every team got bonus points – the highest placed teams got 4, and the lowest placed – 1. The final tournament was 1-leg round robin and the top 4 teams at the end were going to play in the First Division the next season. This year second division outplayed the lowly first division members: Kuusysi topped the group, followed by Elo and KPV was third. Only Sepsi-78 managed to keep first division place by finishing 4th.

KPT Kuopio won the preliminary stage of First Division and their prospects looked great at this point – they lost only matches, scored freely, and kept tight defense. HJK Helsinki was 2nd with 28 points and TPS Turku – also with 28 points – was 3rd. But halved points eliminated the 3 points-lead KPT had at the end of the preliminary stage. In the Championship Group HJK stepped on the pedal and added 11 points to their starting 14. KPT managed only 7 points, which, added to their initial 16 was not enough for the title. Haka Valkeakoski benefited by the rounding rule – to the higher number – and good performance at the final stage gave them 9 more. TPS dropped 4th at this level. Haka ended with bronze medals and KPT with silver.

The new champions were HJK Helsinki – nothing surprising about that.

The Cup opposed HJK to the up and coming Kuusysi, so far in the second division. Kuusysi was just emerging, not really up to a big challenge and they lost 0-4.

HJK Helsinki triumphed with a double.


Albania. Partizani (Tirana) with one more title.

Hardly a surprise to anyone.

The Cup final was played between Besa (Kavaje) and Vllaznia (Shkoder). The first leg, predictably, decided the new holder: much stronger Vllaznia destroyed Besa 5-1. The second leg was mere protocol, but it was also a consolation for Besa in front of their home crowd – they won 2-1.

Vllaznia with the Cup – apart from local pride, Vllaznia practically represented provincial football against the clubs from Tirana and holding its ground nicely.


Luxembourg. FC Wiltz 71 won the Second Division, dominating it this season. Second finished Jeunesse Hautcharage. Both teams were promoted.

Relegated from First Division were Stade Dudelange, 12th, and Etzella Ettelbruck, 11th. Three teams competed for the title, leaving the rest the league far behind. Jeunesse Esch finished 3rd, but with the best defense in the league. Red Boys Differdange lost the title by a point, but they lost only 3 matches. The champion lost one more and what gave them the title was their wins – 17, two more than Red Boys won.

Progres Niedercorn were the happy champions, scoring 68 goals in 22 championship games – one of the best average per game in Europe.

The Cup final opposed Olympique Eischen to Jeunesse. As much as one wished the underdog to win, reality was different – Jeunesse destroyed them 5-0.

Jeunesse won its 8th Cup.