Italy and Poland opened the group rounds – 8 years ago Poland won against Italy and went all the way to bronze medals. Italy meantime was eliminated at the group phase and went home in disgrace. Now the picture was different – on paper.
Also on the pitch. The match was nothing much and both teams left much to be desired, but Italy was the more active and dangerous team. They had perhaps the only chance to score, but Rossi missed. Poland played competent football, but nothing more than that. 0-0 at the end, a result which observers considered tactically beneficial to both teams.
Peru came out on the pitch as favourite and seemingly determined to win, perhaps even taking the match over-seriously, because Uribe and Leguia were among the starters. Cameroon… it was the first chance for the world to see them, that was all.
As the match progressed, kind of frustration grew – seemingly, Peru did not take this much seriously enough. Cameroon surprised with enthusiastic and competent performance. Classier – on paper – Peru did not look better, stronger, or deserving to win at all – and they did not. Nobody scored, a second 0-0 in the group, so everything had to start anew. Actually, a goal was scored and against Peru, but Roger Milla was offside. Still, Peru was expected to start playing the next match. Cameroon was considered a pleasant team, yet, nothing special. Thomas N’Kono was singled out as a potential new discovery.
The next match between Italy and Peru looked like the most important in the group – no result would have really satisfied either team, but a loss would be close to exiting. In the first half Italy was more active and scored early, thanks to Bruno Conti.
After the goal the tempo deteriorated and the match transformed into typical Italian dread – just killing time. Even the foul – unintended – on the referee did not liven up the match. In the second half Peru pushed ahead and outplayed Italy. At last they equalized in the 84th minute. After the match Tim was happy, saying that the result is fine by him. Bearzot was viciously attacked by Italian journalists, to the point of losing his cool for a moment and snapping at them, that in 1978 the team started great and quickly went home. Nobody was convinced – Italy was no good so far. 1-1.
Poland vs Cameroon was estimated with care after the opening matches and the game proved the careful wise.
Cameroon was active and dangerous, Poland was pale shadow not of the team of 1974, but the one of 1978 and only inexperience, so was felt, prevented Cameroon from winning. Cameroon deserved to win, but the match ended 0-0. Most critics singled out the Polish stars Lato, Szarmach, and Boniek.
Before the last round the group table was unique – all teams with equal points from ties, which even looked like to continue to the end. Tim certainly suggested that, by saying that Peru will be happy with a tie, for their single scored so far goal will place them above Poland. Not convincing Italy and inspired Cameroon were also seen the makers of one more tie. The scary potential future stuck out its head: this time if all matches were tied, there was still a way to make the final table. But the group so far revealed another possibility: all matches ending 0-0. Then what? Well, not this year.
Peru clearly came for a tie. Poland seemingly had no chance. But suddenly the picture was entirely different when the match began – Tim considered Poland too slow and painfully tired, and declared that his approach will be just to play at high tempo.
But it was Poland playing at high speed and as the match progressed, actually the Poles destroyed Peru. In this match they arguably played the closest football to their performance at the 1974 World Cup. It 5-0 in the 76th minute. In the 82nd La Rosa scored at last, but it was too little too late. 5-1. The spell of ties was broken, Poland qualified, Peru was down and out. It looked like Peru played a high prize for over-confidence and not getting serious enough against Cameroon, but they had to only blame themselves. And their coach Tim, of course. Poland, which considered out before the beginning of the match not only qualified for the second round, but suddenly looked a very dangerous team.
Italy was in the same situation as Peru before the starts of the match against Cameroon: they needed a tie. More than possible, for they already knew that Peru was eliminated. Bearzot made a single change – Oriali replaced Marini, which on the surface appeared to be a decision in favour of attack. It looked like Italy was aiming at winning, which may have placed them at first place in the group: Bearzot said that Italy must avoid facing Brazil in the next phase. However, winning with more than 4 goals difference looked outlandish.
Cameroon played again very well and made enough trouble for Italy, which struggled once again. Yet, Graziani managed to score in the 60th minute. Happiness lasted very short time – in the next minute Cameroon equalized and Italy had to fret to the final whistle. Everybody watching – except the Italians, of course – felt that Cameroon deserved to win, but the game ended 1-1. Italy got the second place thanks to more scored goals and was to meet Brazil, but it was preferable to going home.
Poland 3 1 2 0 5 1 +4 4
Italy 3 0 3 0 2 2 0 3
Cameroon 3 0 3 0 1 1 0 3
Peru 3 0 2 1 2 6 −4 2
match, but few expected the team to last. Italy was a big disappointment so far, even not deserving to go ahead, but there they were – to the second round, which certainly will be the end of Italy. The quicker, the better at that. Cameroon left wonderful impression – they ended their campaign unbeaten, the first African team to do so. They were unlucky, that was all – apart from that: the most competent third-world team to date. Thomas N’Kono instantly became famous and effectively was one of the best goalkeepers at this championship. Finally Africa had arrived.
Poland showed some promise at its last match, but few expected the team to last. Italy was a big disappointment so far, even not deserving to go ahead, but there they were – to the second round, which certainly will be the end of Italy. The quicker, the better at that.