Retirement. The great Uruguayan striker Fernando Morena played his last game in 1985 and quit at 33.

Perhaps Nando did not get the international fame he deserved, but the 1970s – his prime years – were dark decade for Uruguayan football as a whole and little was noticed outside the country. Because of that, if only partially, Morena played little abroad, where international recognition could have been forged. A great scorer and dangerous striker, he shined mostly when playing for Penarol and his greatest international success came late in his career – in the 1980s.

It looked like Morena retired a bit early – at 33, he perhaps could do what many South American stars did and do: play for smaller clubs until 37-38 – but very likely heavy injuries were taking their tall on him. But his career was more than remarkable. He debuted in 1968 for Racing (Montevideo) – 16 years old! In the next year he moved to River Plate (Montevideo)

Here he is crouching on the far right in 1970 – he played 3 years for River Plate, 48 games in which he scored 27 goals, and was more than noticed – he was called to the national team in 1971 and scored a goal in his very first match against Chile. Debuted for Uruguay at 19 in 1971 and was steady regular until 1983.

This is still in his early days as national team regular – in 1972 against Spain. Crouching at the far right. In total, he played 53 games for Uruguay and scored 22 goals – and that in the dark decade of Uruguayan football!

Morena played at only one World Cup – in 1974, when Uruguay was particularly bad, another reason he was overlooked by the world and the European clubs in particular. Here he is the last player on the right, 22 years old among aging stars like Mazurkiewicz, Pavoni, Rocha, Cubilla (not in this formation). The biggest success with the national team will come almost 10 years later, in 1983, when Uruguay with Morena, won the South American championship.

It was much better on club level – Penarol got the prolific striker in 1973 and he fitted well, scoring goal after goal.

That was the familiar picture – opposition on the ground, ball in the net, Morena triumphal and powerful. He won 4 titles with Penarol, played 140 games between 1973-79 and scored 162 goals. He scored more goals than the games he played! Few ever did so, Morena was already in very limited club. In all these years with Penarol he was the top scorer of the Uruguayan championship, 6 years in a row. He was also the top scorer of Copa Libertadores in 1974 and 1976.

Perhaps his most memorable match was in 1978 against Huracan Buceo. Penarol won 7-0 and Morena scored all of them. Here is his 7th.

In 1979 he joined Rayo Vallecano (Madrid) – it was not the best move, but very likely Morena had no better European option. He played 34 games and scored 21 goals, but Rayo Vallecano was small club on the verge of relegation. However, his play attracted Valencia.

Morena in the middle, in his trademark position: sitting on the ball. Teammate with Mario Kempes… looked like a lethal combination, but… Valencia took a big dive down after its European success, Kempes was injured and in not in good form… Morena stayed for only one season – 16 goals in 31 games perhaps was not good enough for Valencia at the time.

In 1982 he was back with Penarol and his most successful years began. Between 1981-83, Morena played 50 games, scoring 39 goals, but it was not the domestic success which mattered now. Yes, there were 2 more titles.

But in 1982 Penarol won Copa Libertadores – in a way, it was a reward and recognition for two unlucky great players – Morena and the central defender Walter Olivera, who broke his leg just before the 1974 World Cup and unlike Morena did not appear in any World Cup finals and never played abroad. Both forgotten players finally got recognition via international success.

And soon after winning Copa Libertadores Penarol won the Intercontinental Cup, prevailing over English Aston Villa. Morena played key role in this success as well.

The next year Uruguay won the South American championship with Morena leading the attack. He was 31 years old, seemingly running strong for both club and country. What happened next is difficult to explain, for it looked like Morena suddenly deteriorated. Somehow his foreign adventures never turned right. May be injuries affected his play. May be he was not cut to play abroad. May be he was unlucky, joining the wrong clubs. In 1983 he moved to Flamengo (Rio de Janeiro), but his stay was short and seemingly he did not play official games.

In 1984 he was a player of Boca Juniors (Buenos Aires). The photo hardly tells the truth: here is Morena in the middle and ahead of his teammates, the big star of the team. But he played only 7 games and scored just 1 goal for Boca. That was it – he was back with Penarol in 1985, but hardly played and eventually retired. His last season consisted of 6 games in which he scored twice.

May be, internationally, not the star coming to mind at once, but certainly a legend of Uruguay and Penarol. He is the all-time highest scorer of Uruguay with 233 goals in 240 games. His 22 foals for the national team were beaten years after he retired. His total club record is 268 goals in 316 games.

He is fondly remembered – a fierce centre-forward and scorer,

a winner, a delight.

Occasionally, he is glad to play for Penarol’s veterans.

Mr. Goolllll in his later years, still near the pitch, near Penarol.

World Cup Qualifications Asia and Oceania

Asia and Oceania. According to FIFA, that was groups 13, 14, and 15. According to FIFA, all that was Asia… and was not. True, outside Europe, Asia was the continent with teams willing to participate, so it appeared fair they should be divided into 2 separate groups. But in the same time there was the thorny problem with Taiwan and Israel, both FIFA members, but boycotted by the other Asian teams and not permitted to play in Asian competitions. Yet, unlike South Africa, Taiwan and Israel were not expelled from FIFA and had to play somewhere. And in the same time Oceania hardly had any countries wanting to play, football there was scarce and rudimentary and the 5th continent had not a designated spot at the finals. Keep them separate or lumped them into Asia? The solution was tentative and weird one: the Oceanic Group 15 was somewhat lumped into Asia and yet separate. Half of the participants were clearly Asian teams, but the group stayed apart and the winner of it was going to play-off against the second-placed team in the European Group 7. So, proper Asia had 2 spots at the finals, reserved for the winners of Group 13 and group 14. Apart of the two proper Oceanic teams, 29 Asian teams entered and after Israel and Taiwan were moved to Group 15, 27 played or at least wanted to play at first. They were split into Middle Eastern and Far Eastern groups, vaguely, on geographical principle. Each division had its own complicated structure, going through preliminary eliminations, subgroups, and final group, the winner of which qualified to the finals. Unlike CONCACAF, here not just distances and shortage of money were the obstacles: there were political tensions between countries, wars and civil wars. Lebanon withdrew after playing 4 games and its results were consequently stripped. Oman withdrew without playing any games. Iran withdrew after seeding, due to the war with Iraq. Perhaps the possibility to face at one point team Iraq was too much to handle. On the other hand, Iraq had no such scruples and played, but because of the war they played all their games away from home, ‘hosting’ games in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, India. And under the circumstances, Iraq performed amazingly well, going all the way to the Group 13 final. There they met Syria.

The first match was in Damascus and Iraq managed a 0-0 tie. The second leg they ‘hosted’ in Saudi Arabia and won 3-1. Both legs were given to European referees – like in Africa, the local stuff was officially considered somewhat not good enough for such important games, but the real reason was deep mistrust in both teams about the fairness of Asian referees – they could be bribed by the opponent, or follow some political instructions.

A lot had been said about the methods used by Saddam Hussain to achieve his rather political goal, but even so the Iraqi success cannot be denied: it was homeless team, worried about friends and relatives in times of war and often bullied by powerful men in its own government. Even if opposition on the field consisted of mediocre teams and worse, the Iraqi team was heroic. One can only wonder what could have happened if they had to face Iran at some point, but that was academic – Iran withdrew without playing a single match. Even the suspect meetings with Lebanon quickly seized to be a problem: Iraq and Lebanon met twice in three days, both games were played in Kuwait and both ended 6-0 Iraq, but after that Lebanon withdrew and the results were striped from records. What mattered was that Iraq reached the world cup finals pretty much against the odds and made Saddam Hussain happy.



Group 14. The far east had fewer tensions than the Western Asia and they were somewhat avoided either by chance or design: North and South Korea were not in the same subgroup and Taiwan was banished to Oceania. Pakistan did not enter the qualifications, like many other countries, so there were no frictions with India and, as a whole, this group was perhaps the most orderly and normal than Africa, CONCACAF, and the Western part of Asia. Teams were divided into 4 subgroups at first and the winners moved ahead to direct eliminations in the second and third round – semifinals and final. China vs Brunei for some reason was played on neutral grounds – in Hong Kong and Macao. Currently, South Korea and Japan were the better teams, both countries at the beginning of their programs for converting into well organized professional football, boosted by the successful performance in Europe of few stars of which the Koreans were more recent, especially Cha Bum-kun. It looked like that Japan and South Korea will compete for the spot at the finals and the expectation was fulfilled. Both teams sailed untroubled to the final – South Korea lost only 1 match, 0-1 to Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur in Subgroup 1. Japan lost only a point after 0-0 tie in Phenian against North Korea. In the second round Japan eliminated Hong Kong 3-0 and 2-1, and South Korea eliminated Indonesia 2-0 and 4-1.

The final proved one thing – South Korea was ahead of Japan in its development. One can look at the European sensations and somewhat see that: Okudera belonged to the late 1970s and already faded away. Cha Bum-kun was at the top of his game and fame around 1985. South Korea played at the 1982 World Cup finals, but Japan did not reach finals yet. And it was not to be this time either – South Korea won the first leg in Kobe 2-1 and then prevailed again at home – 1-0 in Seoul.

This was the squad South Korea used in 1985 and the star Cha Bum-kun is absent. Looked like he did not play against Japan and if that is true, the reason was the timing: the final was played in October and November, when the West German season was in full force and most likely he was not released to play for the national team of his country. But if he did not play, it would be only a good argument for the development of the South Korean football – even without their key star, they good enough team to overcome the other most ambitious and developed team in the Far East. Well done and well deserved victory and South Korea was going to make her second appearance at the World Cup finals, an Asian record.


Group 15. Oceania. A group of only 4 teams, 2 of them allotted there just because they were pariahs with no proper place. But three of the four teams already played at world cup finals – Israel in 1970, Australia in 1974, and New Zealand in 1982. Taiwan was more for the learning experience and nothing more than that – as a whole, the teams were weak, but Taiwan was far weaker than the rest and entertained no ambitions or hopes. Distances were great – this was perhaps the group having the biggest travel problems and Taiwan, poorer than the others, decided to play away games – flying to whichever country, playing both legs against them on their turf in few days, and going home. They lost all matches with astonishing goal-difference: 1-36! So, it was getting 4 points from Taiwan and scoring as many as possible goals against them and then going to real fight with the other 2 opponents. The three teams were similar and more or less equal – quite weak and depending on immigrant players. Australia had the best options – it attracted constant flow of Europeans, both Eastern European and British, who started playing football in highly developed countries, mostly England, Scotland, and Yugoslavia. Both Australia and New Zealand had limited local choices, for rugby was the number one sport. Israel depended mostly on Jewish settlers, so there options were weak and few. Australia was best suited for advancement and they did not disappoint.

1.AUS> 6 10 4 2 0 20- 2

2.ISR 6 7 3 1 2 17- 6

3.NZE 6 7 3 1 2 13- 7

4.TAI 6 0 0 0 6 1-36

The decisive games were early in the schedule: Australia tied 0-0 New Zealand at their home and then went to beat Israel in Tel-Aviv 2-1.

Israel lost yet another qualification – the squad tells why in some way, but also suggest hope for the future: Avi Cohen was already known as a Liverpool player and Ohana was making his way in Europe, although he became respected player a few years later. These two scored 3 goals each, Ohana in one match, Cohen in three. In a way, it was a bit stronger team than New Zealand: Israel had two good European based players, New Zealand had only Winston Rufer. In another Asian group, Israel was the likeliest winner, but here it was tougher and Israel finished second.

Australia did its best and won the group with confidence, but there was next round – to a point, it was convenient opponent: Scotland, the runner-up in the European Group 7. More or less familiar opponent, playing familiar kind of football, for Australia was heavily influenced by British football from both immigrant players and coaches. But she was convenient opponent for Scotland for the same reasons and the Scots, even not so great at the moment, were still much stronger team. The picture above is one of Australian formations fielded against Scotland. They played heartily, but lost. It was quite honourable exit – 0-0 in Melbourne and 0-2 in Glasgow, but there was no second world cup finals for the ‘soccerroos’, not yet. They had to wait many more years. And the players of this squad remain anonymous because of elimination – how good or bad they were, or could have been? Who knows… Kosmina scored 5 goals in Group 15, Odzakov – 3 goals.

World Cup Qualifications Africa

Group 12 – Africa. 28 teams entered, playing for 2 spots at the finals in Mexico. The whole tournament was staged in direct elimination rounds, the opening one seeded geographically, the following ones were not. As usual, teams withdrew without playing a single game and their opponents got walkovers, but that happened only in the first round.

Given the current ‘fame’, based on performance at the 1982 World Cup mostly, the big upset was the early elimination of Cameroon – they lost to Zambia 1-4 and 1-1 in the second round. The picture above is from a friendly with Saudi Arabia.

Zambia itself did not last long – Algeria eliminated them in the third round.

Here is Algeria, going strong and just about to finish Zambia. Another supposedly strong team at the moment – Egypt – was also eliminated in the third round: they lost to Morocco 0-0 and 0-2. Libya on the other hand was progressing fine – just like her club did well internationally this year. A bit of a surprise, but Libya reached the final stage. So did Tunisia after disposing Nigeria in the third round.

The final round. Tunisia vs Algeria. All was concluded in Tunis, where the visitors won 4-1. Algeria won its home leg 3-0 for good measure. Both games were conducted by European referees.

Tunisia, featured here against Nigeria, blew up its chance to reach the world cup finals for a second time. Well, Algeria proved to be too mucg for them.

And Algeria qualified to the world cup finals for second time in a row – the first African team to do so. It was splendid campaign – Algeria did not lose a single match and only once they were tied, in the second round by Angola (0-0 in Luanda). Menad scored 3 goals against Tunisia, Madjer – 2.

Morocco got strong lead in the first match in Rabat, winning 3-0. In Benghazi Libya prevailed, but only 1-0 and Morocco qualified. The match in Rabat was the only one at the final round refereed by an African – the second leg in Benghazi was given to the Italian leading referee Agnolin.

A moment from the the decisive clash and rare glimpse at the Libyan national team players. Moroccans protest a goal they scored and seemingly dismissed by the referee in the opening match.

Morocco, coached by the Brazilian Jose Faria, reached the finals for the second time. It was very long wait, but Mexico was lucky name for them: it was the 1970 Mexican World Cup they debuted at the finals and now again they were going to Mexico. Africa still had only a handful appearances at the final world stage, but already Morocco and Algeria had more than any other African country and new rivalry emerged – which one was better: Algeria, qualifying twice in a row, or Morocco, which projected consistency.

World Cup Qualifications CONCACAF

CONCACAF. From now on, continental qualification tournaments will be abbreviated to the last stages: too complicated and meandering from stage to stage. Except Mexico, automatically going to the finals as host, 17 teams entered qualifications. At first preliminary direct eliminations, followed by group stage for the winners of the preliminary eliminations and then final tournament between the group winners and the best team progresses to the world finals. According to FIFA, the whole thing was called Group 11. Three teams withdrew after seeding – Jamaica, Barbados, and Granada – so Canada, Costa Rica, and Trinidad and Tobago had walkovers, going to the next round without playing. Guatemala did not play either – it was blessed with a bye, for the original entrees were uneven number. The Antilles, most likely for financial reasons, decided not to host a match and played both legs in Haiti – one of them they even won, but Haiti already had secured 4-0 victory and small loss did not bother them.

The next stage was between the winners, divided into 3 subgroups. Here money were decisive factor too: Surinam and Trinidad and Tobago played all there games away.

Subgroup A

1.HON^ 4 6 2 2 0 5- 3

2.SAL 4 5 2 1 1 7- 2

3.SUR 4 1 0 1 3 2- 9

Subgroup B

1.CAN^ 4 7 3 1 0 7- 2

2.GUA 4 5 2 1 1 7- 3

3.HAI 4 0 0 0 4 0- 9

Subgroup C

1.COS^ 4 6 2 2 0 6- 2

2.USA 4 5 2 1 1 4- 3

3.TRI 4 1 0 1 3 2- 7

Final round:

1.CAN^ 4 6 2 2 0 4- 2

2.HON 4 3 1 1 2 6- 6

3.COS 4 3 0 3 1 4- 6

Canada achieved its best triumph ever – qualified to the world cup finals. For first time and so far – the last time. It was great campaign, the team never lost a match. This was probably the best Canadian team ever, but let consider the Canadian success carefully: Mexico was entirely out of the picture and all other CONCACAF teams were very weak. Including teams showing improvement – Honduras and may be Costa Rica. Normally, Canada was at that level too, but most of her players were involved with NASL. With the collapse of NASL, it was a matter of planning and money – some Canadian players moved to European clubs. Smaller clubs in smaller leagues, but still European professional clubs, so the experience was valuable. A large group of players had no clubs at all, but the Canadian Federation got financing for more or less permanent training camp for the members of the national team, so, if anything, the players trained together and got used to each other in a way most Central American national teams could not do. To a point, for a weak national team to operate like a club – permanent squad, training together and play only friendlies, could be more beneficial than the usual was, when players are called only for incoming games and after that everybody goes back to its club. To a point, for players of such national team would be even better to concentrate hard on strong performance of the team – this could be the road to a contract with good European professional club. A player, say from Costa Rica, playing semi-professionally at home and occasionally for the national team, such a road could be closed: nobody paid attention to the Costa Rican championship, where the player appeared regularly. The goal of such player used to be NASL, but NASL was no more. Even such arrangements did not elevate the Canadians above the rest, so the final touch was what so many countries did and do – put the opposition in the most unfavourable situation, make life extremely difficult for them on and off the field. Usually Canada hosted international games in the West, mostly in Vancouver – the weather there was fine and there was larger interest in soccer, than east of the Rocky Mountains. In the summer Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary were also used as venues, but if the game was in any other season, it was in Vancouver. And Vancouver was the host town until the final round – at it, Canada used Toronto for the match with Costa Rica (this most certainly done to get as many as possible supporters), but the game with Honduras, the most dangerous rival, was played in St. Johns, Newfoundland. Harsh climate and difficult to reach place – Honduras was put in maximum inconvenience: after slow, difficult and very expensive travel, they had to play on unknown field in tough, windy weather. And even that did not help Canada all that much – Honduras lost only 1-2. But it was victory and just enough for a triumph. As for the heroes, they were anonymous outside North America, although some of them had long successful careers in NASL. Naturally, at least half the squad were not born in Canada – there were Scots, English, Italians, and so on. In 1985, the biggest interest focused on Igor Vrablic, born in Bratislava – he was young, but already played in Europe, so he was seen as the greatest asset of Canada. Not quite right, but in football, the ‘world’ generally meant Europe, so Vrablic was hailed.

World Cup Qualifications South America

South America. Ten teams divided into 3 groups, the winners going directly to the World Cup finals, The second-placed teams plus the 3rd-placed team in Group 8 progress to play-offs for the 4th South American spot at the finals.

Group 8. Argentina was the favourite and Venezuela – the outsider. Short of surprises, Peru and Colombia would go to the play-offs. There were no surprises.

1.ARG^ 6 9 4 1 1 12- 6

Argentina qualified easily – they won 4 games in a row and then took it easy, losing 3 points to Peru. It did not matter at all. This was new team under new coach, with very different philosophy than Menotti, but the team was still in making. Second row from left: Passarella, Clausen, Garre, Trossero, Russo, Fillol. First row: Buruchaga, Giusti, Barbas, Maradona, Valdano. After the 1982 World Cup fiasco Argentina was somewhat underestimated and formation like this one would be seen as an experimental. To a point, it was true, but one thing was already certain – the new Argentina was going to be made around Maradona.

2.PER> 6 8 3 2 1 8- 4

Peru finished second – no surprise. The Peruvians were certainly proud of themselves for their strong record against Argentina – 1-0 in Lima and 2-2 in Buenos Aires – but their real battle was the next one, the play-offs.

3.COL> 6 6 2 2 2 6- 6

Colombia also went to play-offs as expected and even finished 3rd as expected.

4.VEN 6 1 0 1 5 5-15

Venezuela – anonymous outsider and performing accordingly. 1 point was their whole achievement, a tie at home with Colombia. Still ‘success’ for Venezuela meant occasional win in a friendly – the team above won ‘historic’ victory against Bolivia.


Group 9. Uruguay and Chile were expected to go ahead, Ecuador was the outsider, the drama was who will win the first place. Historically, Uruguay was the stronger team, they also had good current squad, they won, but with a little help from Ecuador.

1.URU^ 4 6 3 0 1 6- 4

This is not team from the qualifications, but the squad playing in France at the Artemio Franchi Cup, yet, no matter – that was pretty much the team. After disastrous decade, Uruguay was slowly coming back with new bright generation, lead by Francescoli. Diogo and Bossio were the other big names here and few are missing, but that was pretty much the team. Uruguay reached the World Cup finals for the first time after 1974, but it was not easy – the opponent was Chile, Uruguay won at home and lost in Santiago. The match in Montevideo was the last in the group and it was win or die – Uruguay won 2-1. It was helped by Ecuador, which nibbled a point from Chile and thus Uruguay came a point ahead. If not for that, they going to be tied with Chile on points and Chile winning on better goal-difference. But all finished fine in April, so in August Uruguay was playing in France, mostly as part of their preparation for the finals next year.

2.CHI> 4 5 2 1 1 10- 5

Chile was second, as expected, but it was a matter of bad luck too. Well, not exactly bad luck – Chile had somewhat inferior squad compared to Uruguay. They did not have a world-class star like Francescoli, not a leader of such caliber, so they were a bit vulnerable at important moments: their undoing was in the very first match of the group – 1-1 tie in Quito against Ecuador. The lost point proved fatal.

3.ECU 4 1 0 1 3 4-11

Ecuador had no chances and got just 1 point in their very first match, losing the rest. Chile got its revenge for the lost point in Quito, thrashing Ecuador 6-2 in Santiago, but the Uruguayans were smiling – they qualified directly to the finals thanks to Ecuador. And that was all modest Ecuadorians were good for at that time: to spoil somebody’s chances and unwittingly help somebody else.



Group 10. Again, it was transparent group – Brazil the favourite, Paraguay – to the play-offs, Bolivia – no hopes. The schedule itself made sure there will be no surprises – the last two group games were hosted by Brazil. It was finished before they were played – the reason why the record looks a bit weird: Brazil already won both away matches and Bolivia upset Paraguay with 1-1 tie in Santa Cruz. Both Paraguay and Brazil had 4 points, but even if Paraguay won the second leg in Brazil, their foe still had a home match with Bolivia and finish on top.

1.BRA^ 4 6 2 2 0 6- 2

Nobody doubted that Brazil will qualify directly, but the manner was somewhat unusual. This is the squad for the opening game against Bolivia in Santa Cruz. Brazil won it 2-0. Then they won 2-0 in Asuncion. With 2 home games left, it was expected that Brazil will finish with 4 victories. Instead, they tied their home games. Calculated campaign… played at full strength in the first games and then taking it easy at home. In both home games Brazil opened the scores, as if to make sure that there will be no more than a tie. No experiments, it was the best Brazil had, all great stars delivered from their European clubs for the qualification games. It was also aging team, for it was practically the same team which played at the 1982 World Cup. But so far – so good.

2.PAR> 4 4 1 2 1 5- 4

Paraguay was expected to go to the play-offs and they did. Brazil was too much for them, so the real battle was still ahead.

3.BOL 4 2 0 2 2 2- 7

Bolivia did well for an outsider, but they had no chance to qualify and they knew it. Of course, the Bolivians were proud to tie Brazil in Sao Paulo, but Brazil had nothing to play for, so it was a gift in some way. The real success was the opening game at home against Paraguay – the tie was something to brag about, but really it only helped Brazil. So one can say that later Brazil returned the favour at no cost for itself. Even so, Bolivia so rarely got points from mighty leaders that it was good for moral.


The play-offs for the last South American spot at the finals. Semifinals and finals, direct elimination in two legs.

Paraguay won 3-0 against Colombia at home and the Colombians were unable to overcome the difference: they won 2-1 in Cali and were out.

Colombia went as far as they could – they were still one of the weaker teams. And may be they were too careful and old fashioned: Carlos Valderama was not in the squad. Too young to be trusted?

Chile was clearly better than Peru and won both legs – 4-2 in Santiago and 1-0 in Lima.

Peru was in decline, so it was not big surprise they were eliminated. The squad pretty much tells it all: top row from left: Jose Gonzales Ganoza, Juan Caballero, Franco Navarro, Guillermo La Rosa, Wilmar Valencia, Javier Chirinos, Eusebio Acazuso. Middle row: Jose Velasquez, Pedro Requena, Eduardo Malasquez, Ruben Diaz, Leonardo Rojas, Jorge Olaechea, Julio Cesar Uribe. Sitting: Samuel Eugenio, Jorge Ramirez, Cesar Cueto, Luis Reyna, Jorge Hirano, Hugo Gastulo, Juan Carlos Oblitas. Remains from the 1970s – Velasquez, Cueto, Oblitas – and except Uribe no bright young players. And Uribe was not a newcomer either.

Chile and Paraguay met at the final to decide who will go to Mexico. Paraguay won at home 3-0 and then kept a tie in Santiago, after leading 2-1 at the end of the first half. The Chileans eventually equalized, but that was all.

That was the end of the road for Chile and perhaps rightly so, for it was an end of an era – the current generation may have been overall better than the one of the 1970s, but there were outstanding stars like Figueroa. Point in case: the legendary Carlos Caszely still played a bit in the qualification group, but he is absent in the pictured squad. Too old, his days were over. And no big stars at the moment.

This is the squad winning 3-0 at home and

then the same boys finalizing their campaign in Santiago. No names… and no doubt why: this was the first time Paraguay qualified to World Cup finals in 28 years. Great success, but to the European eye – entirely unknown names, no point mentioning them.

But they must be mentioned, for the players were not exactly anonymous. This is the line-up which faced Bolivia in the original qualification group, but pretty much the same players went all the way to grab the 4th South American spot at the finals. Standing from left: Ever Hugo Almeida, Gustavo Benitez, Rogelio Delgado, Cesar Zabala, Justo Jacquet, Juan Bautista Torales, First row: Javier Villalba , Marciano Rolando Chilavert, Buenaventura Ferreira, Julio Cesar Romero, Alfredo Mendoza.

A squad based on Olimpia (Asuncion) – the team having great domestic run for years, conquering Copa Libertadores as well. They were playing together for years and some were getting old, but they knew each other in and out and had vast experience. Romero was the great star, of course, adding outstanding class to the otherwise gritty team of fighters. It was a team deserving to culminate with playing at world cup finals and it was great they did: at least the world would see them and learn who they were, for even Romero was quite unknown and underappreciated in Europe. Great success for Paraguay by itself, but also they were the most deserving team to qualify behind Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay.

World Cup Qualifications Play-offs

The play-offs. A bit of disorder is needed here, because the play-offs involved European teams. If not for that, the play-offs must be placed later – they were played after the all groups ended their games, in October, November, and December of 1985. But those play-offs completed the European group of teams qualified to play at the World Cup finals. The first play-off was for European final spot and involved the second-placed teams in groups 1 and 5. Belgium vs Holland. Both teams misfired in their groups and now had last chance. Holland was somewhat the lesser team at the moment, still unmade, in transition. Belgium had its great generation and this time everybody was at hand, those suspended in 1984 were back. But this duel was very old and like any derby, quality of players and form mattered not. Even when Holland was fantastic and Belgium in decline, the Red Devils made enormous trouble for the Flying Dutch, beating them often. Now the roles were reversed, which meant that weaker Holland may come victorious. And it almost happened: Belgium won 1-0 in Brussels, but in the 83rd minute in Rotterdam it was 2-0 Holland. Then the defender Grun scored and the match ended 2-1. Belgium qualified to the finals on away goal, Holland was out of world cup finals for second time in a row.

Uncertain, transitional time – if one looks closely not only of the two formations, playing against Belgium, and add the earlier photo in the group report (the team, which played a friendly with Bulgaria), the problem shall be seen: there was tendency to use famous veterans, which apparently were no longer up to the task. The young stars were kept somewhat in secondary place, still suspect and when in doubt – place experienced veteran. Who disappoints immediately, so look around again with the same dilemma – call back the youngster or get another name from the past. Holland was rightly eliminated, although it cannot be denied that they tried hard to go to Mexico.

With difficulties, Belgium managed to qualify. True, they made mistakes, costing them direct qualification, but they won the play-off and were more deserving team than Holland. The results of the neighbourly clash does not tell well who deserved to go to the finals – traditionally, the matches between Belgium and Holland were tough and decided by single goal, so superiority cannot be judged by them alone. Belgium had its golden generation, penalized players like Gerets were back and the team was in its full force. No uncertainty, rebuilding, looking for a new team – that was the difference between Holland and Belgium, in Belgian favour. It was good they prevailed, however minimally.

The other play-off was intercontinental – the second-placed in the European Group 7 vs the winner of Group 15, Oceania. Whatever the ‘Oceanic zone’ was, it was the weakest zone, so without designated spot at the finals. And because it was so weak, an European team was sure winner. Not big deal, but still… Australia won Oceanic zone and Scotland came from the European Group 7. Frankly, it was very convenient opponent for the Scots – the Australians played British type of football, so no surprises there. Also, British teams often went to Australia to play friendlies and if Australia came to Europe, it was generally to play a bit in Great Britain – that made them fairly familiar team for Scotland, unlike other teams from Asia and Oceania. Even travel, as long and tiresome as it was, was established and without delays and weird transfers who knows where. The first match was in Glasgow and Scotland won 2-0. Two weeks later in Melbourne it was 0-0. In fact, Scotland won the play-off in the second half of the Glasgow match when both goals were scored.

Australia was still plain zero in football terms, but they had the typical British pride infused in their sport, so it was not a matter of skill, but a matter of honour to give their best, to play to the last second, never giving up, especially against British team. The Scots did not win easily, but they won – the Australians did not moan: they did what they could, lost to superior opponent, but got some respect.

Here are both teams, looks like before the match in Melbourne.

Scotland qualified at last – it was December 1985 by now – and everything was fine. Here is the factual winning team before the opening leg in Glasgow. Well, here it is… Australia may have been weak, but Scotland was taking no chances. Full force, everything they had, including Dalglish and Souness. No second-stringers, no reserves, one even have the feeling Denis Law would have been fielded if he was just a bit fit. Scotland had to qualify, that was that. Australia was brushed aside – it was almost like playing against Northern Ireland or Wales, in a sense better play England than some of the weak British teams. Scotland won and that was fine. Alex Ferguson did it, but he was surely aware that he could only pull and stretch fighting spirit and nothing more with so limited and short options.


World Cup Qualifications Europe Groups 6 & 7

Group 6. Theoretically, Denmark and USSR, both teams ascending rapidly, were the favourites and Switzerland and Ireland could make trouble now and then, but short of miracle, neither was going to the finals. Norway was the outsider. At the beginning of the qualifications, miracle glimpsed possible for awhile: USSR lost the very first match of the group 0-1 in Dublin and a month later was tied 1-1 by the Norwegians in Oslo. But Ireland was not a team able to get advantage, using games with weaker teams – they lost in Oslo and ended 0-0 in Dublin against Norway. Meantime, Denmark was steady and there were no surprises – they lost away to Switzerland, which was not a surprise and, predictably, lost to USSR in Moscow, but got all points they needed from the other games. Switzerland was also as expected to be: playing as good as they could, upsetting some teams at home, but also getting upset in other games. USSR perhaps benefited from their schedule: they did it many times before and now again – making a schedule in which most of their home games were late in the schedule,when other results were known, some teams had no more games to play, and it was easy to calculate exactly what was needed. Such crafty schemes sometimes worked, sometimes did not, this time worked.

1.DAN^ 8 11 5 1 2 17- 6

Denmark had steady run from start to finish of qualifications, the team was great and at the end topped the group. But it was not quick victory – it had to wait until the very last round and there was a slight chance danger of elimination – theoretical danger: Switzerland had 7 points before its last home game against Norway and Denmark with 9 points was visiting Ireland. If Denmark lost and the Swiss won… but it was in the realm of the fantastic – the Danes had +8 goal-difference, the Swiss -5 and had to win 11-0 and Denmark lose 0-5. Impossible. Denmark won 4-1 in Dublin and the Swiss did not even win in Lucerne: 1-1.

2.ZSR^ 8 10 4 2 2 13- 8

The Soviets started poorly, but that was in 1984. Five of their games were in 1985, 4 of them at home and the last three conveniently not only at home, but in the early fall – late in the group schedule, so it was easy to calculate what was needed and even more importantly, at the time when the Soviet season was in its second half and everybody in perfect from. Their opponents were just beginning their season and not yet in strong shape. Before those last 3 games USSR had 4 points from 5 games and that was in the beginning of June. Then – in September and October – USSR took advantage of their scheme: Switzerland stumbled twice with home ties and the maximum points they could end with was 9. USSR won 1-0 over Denmark and had 6 points now. Ireland could finish with 12 in theory, but only if winning in Moscow – USSR won the game, though: 2-0. What remained was home match againts Norway – a sure win – and no matter how the other games ended, the Soviets were going to the World Cup. They won 1-0, as expected. They finished second in the group, but it did not matter – the goal was achieved. It was not some overwhelming success – it was rather cunning and calculated: USSR’s crucial victories were minimal and if those games were away matches instead of home ones, it was not at all certain they could win them.

3.SUI 8 8 2 4 2 5-10

Switzerland was expected to fight for the 3rd place with Ireland and they did precisely that. For awhile they seemingly had a chance to reach Mexico, but it was an illusion – Switzerland lost points at home. This is the squad against USSR, which managed 2-2 in Bern in April 1985. After that they lost 2 away games and quite badly – 0-4 against USSR and 0-3 against Ireland. And after that – three home ties, losing ground match after match until the last one became meaningless.

4.IRL 8 6 2 2 4 5-10

The Irish played according to their predicament: limited resources. They were even in worse situation than Northern Ireland, because apart of Brady, O’Leary, and Lawrence, there was nobody else and Brady and O’Leary aged dangerously by now. So, they did what they could – depended mostly on spirit. Got 8 points, took 4th place. Could have been 10 points, if they won their last match in Dublin against the Danes – but their foes were much classier squad and also driven by ambition. And not only that – the game was played at the same time when Switzerland played at home with Norway, a match the Swiss were expected to win and even if the Irish won theirs, they were going to lose on worse goal-difference. Denmark destroyed them 4-1. Spirit is spirit, class is class.

5.NOR 8 5 1 3 4 4-10

Norway was the outsider of the group, so they were expected to finish last. But it was a group with convenient opponents and the Norwegian football was slowly improving since 1980, so they got points. Standing from, left: Age Hareide, Vidar Davidsen, Kai-Erik Hervolsen, Erik Thorstvedt, Tom Sundby, Jorn Andersen. Crouching: Hans Herman Henriksen, Svein Fjaelberg, Per-Egil Ahlsen, Arne-Larsen Okland, Hallvar Thoresen. A group of respected, if not real stars, players, well established in foreign clubs – Thorstvedt, Thoresen, Hareide, Sundby – but hardly enough to do more than difficulties for stronger teams. The Norwegians did well from their own perspective: almost equal to all others, getting points here and there, never losing terribly. But when Denmark stepped on the pedal and started flying, there was no way… Norway lost 5-1 to the Danes in Oslo. The blow came in the second half – the first ended 1-0 Norway. That was the difference at that time: Norway was not yet a strong team, it was just improving outsider.


Group 7. The battle for 1st place was inevitable – only the group winner qualified directly to the finals, the second placed was going to play-off. Not a difficult play-off – against the winner of Oceania – but still a play-off. So, Spain and Scotland were going to fight for top position, Spain expected to win. Scotland was weaker compared to the teams they had in the 1970s; Spain performed very well at the 1984 European finals. And having Wales in the group was more of a handicap for Scotland, for British teams traditionally played ferociously against each other, the weaker ones taking particular pride in making life difficult for the stronger. Not only Wales made trouble for Scotland, but this time they even tried to qualify, so relatively easy group turned out to be difficult one, practically decided by the smart scheduling of the Spaniards – like USSR, Spain managed to get their last two games against Iceland, the first away and the very last match in the group – at home. And the schedule did it: Spain won in Reykjavik, as expected, and then watched Wales and Scotland kill each other in Cardiff: 1-1. Now both British teams finished their games with 7 points each. Spain had 6 and home match against Iceland. They won it and finished on top.

1.ESP^ 6 8 4 0 2 9- 8

Spain effectively qualified taking full advantage of Iceland. Against Scotland and Wales Spain lost both away games with alarming results: 1-3 in Glasgow and 0-3 in Wrexham. It was home wins against direct rivals and difficult, miserable victories over Iceland, 2-1 both matches. Barely enough to win the group and performing quite poorly – it looked like 1984 was an accident not to be repeated again. Back to the gritty football endearing no one of the 1970s. Perhaps Spain even had to thank to Wales for its lucky first place.

2.SCO> 6 7 3 1 2 8- 4

Scottish football deteriorated quite a lot in the 1980s, a tendency started back in the 70s, slowly nibbling at the Scottish pool of players – it was not the spirit and not that much the playing scheme, but the quality of players. They were fewer quality players and the bright individuals – even less. Ten years ago there were still quarrels why some players were selected and others left out, there was plenty of good players to chose from. Now Scotland was more like the Irish and Wales: a handful of stars and nobody around them. Dalglish and Souness were at their last legs, but it was almost impossible to replace them, especially when things were rough and urgent. From the next generation… practically only Gordon Strachan was European class. So, the going was difficult – Scotland lost first place at home, finishing 0-0 with Wales. And may be the Scots assessed rightly their own team, because there was no great fuss over finishing second: somehow, they expected exactly that and concentrated on their real chance to get ticket to Mexico – the play-off against the winner of Oceania.

3.WAL 6 7 3 1 2 7- 6

Wales was perhaps the only team one could be sorry for – they were just unlucky, an underdog which almost came on top. Almost… almost does not count. Such team Wales did not have for 10 years already: two great stars, one of them world-class – Ian Rush and Mark Hughes – made them lethal in atatck. Southall was solid goalkeeper – may be not great, but solid, the first solid keeper for a very long time. Mickey Thomas was hardly a first-rate player, but he was spirited and able to influence his teammates. What Wales had at the moment was similar to what the two Irish teams had and, more importantly, what Scotland had. With one tiny advantage – Wales had current stars, whereas the Scots had veterans. But Wales lacked the experience needed for games with weaker teams – they lost to Iceland 0-1 in Reykjavik. This was the very first match in the group and it was the one which robbed Wales from otherwise deserved success. What they managed to do, however, was to cancel the chances of Scotland for winning the group – the Welsh tied the Scots 0-0 in Glasgow, thus practically giving the first place to Spain. Worse goal-difference took away from them the second place. Unlucky, but they had only themselves to blame: if only they tied the first match in Reykjavik – but they lost it.

4.ISL 6 2 1 0 5 4-10

Nothing was expected from Iceland and Iceland modestly did not expect anything – they were outsiders. General improvement and some good players based in European clubs increased the reputation of the team – it was no longer enough just to show and the game was won: now one had to be careful and play seriously in order of prevailing over Iceland. Prevailing was the world, but so far Iceland was not prevailing, their opponents were. So, Iceland ended quite satisfactory – they won only one match, but made life very difficult for all their opponents, both at home and away. Nobody managed to beat Iceland by more than a goal and Spain trembled to the very last minute of the second match, for they needed to win both matches and Iceland was not giving up.

World Cup Qualifications Europe Groups 4 & 5

Group 4. Tough group and difficult to predict. France was the leader, of course, but Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and DDR were pretty much equal. France traditionally having troubles against Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. Yugoslavia was not in great shape, already noticed in the their failure at the 1984 European finals, which made them vulnerable to both DDR and Bulgaria. Bulgaria had a good crop of players at the moment – not a great team, but at least equal to the Yugoslavs. DDR was tough opponent. Depending in form, luck, momentary inspiration or out of the blue failure, everything was possible in this group. Luxembourg nobody counted for anything else than point donor and a team to improve one’s own goal-difference – in this group, it was felt, goal-difference was likely decisive factor. Ups and owns colored the progress of the group, eventually coming to rather early Bulgarian qualification to the finals, which, if anything canceled out great final rush of team DDR – they won their last 4 matches and ended with the most goals scored in this group, but missed the finals in Mexico. France was not in the form which made them European champions and had to fret to the last moment, when a win over Yugoslavia was a must. It was a home game and Yugoslavia was already out and dispirited, which helped as well and France finished not only ahead of the last direct threat, DDR, but first in the group. Bulgaria had nothing to play for at this moment, so they took it easy and also their squad was greatly disturbed by the Cup final scandal a few months earlier, ending with suspensions of large group of key national team regulars. So, Bulgaria finished 2nd in the group on worse goal-difference.

1.FRA^ 8 11 5 1 2 15- 4

France qualified and on top of its group of that, but it was not easy. This is squad which actually made it in the last round against Yugoslavia. Variety of factors may explain the French difficulties: very often a great winning team plunges down a bit after its great success, so in the qualifications following the 1984 European finals France was not at its best. Inconvenient opponents, against traditionally France struggled. Aging players and may be no equal replacements at hand. Traditional problems with the attacking line. The squad above at least shows some of the problems: Toure and Ayache were hardly stars at the level of the rest and Rocheteau still a starter – on and off starter for years… who else? Every possible player tried, placed, replaced, and again and again trying Rocheteau in new combinations, old combinations, with other players, alone, as a support striker, as a central striker, dismissed, recalled, and so on in the same vicious circle with no way out. Yet, France qualified, putting itself together when it mattered most and even the impression that the next year would be quite better, or at least not shaky.

2.BUL^ 8 11 5 1 2 13- 5

Bulgaria was the first to qualify and luckily so, for in the middle of 1985 the Cup final scandal shook and depleted the national team. To a point, Bulgaria benefited from circumstances – France, traditionally beatable team, was not at its best as well, and Yugoslavia was weaker than it used to be. This leveled the ground and although Bulgaria did not display exciting football, it was able to get results from pretty much equal, but disorganized games. To a point, the very first match in the group determined the outcome: Bulgaria managed a scoreless tie away against Yugoslavia, which boosted moral and confidence. That was in 1984. The key victory was the home match against Yugoslavia, a messy match, in which Bulgaria prevailed 2-1. After the game Bulgaria had 9 points and 2 games to go, the next one visiting Luxembourg. France had 7 points and 3 matches ahead of them. Yugoslavia – 8 points and 2 games to go, both tough – at home against DDR and last match visiting France. DDR had 4 points and 3 matches to go. The only concern at that point was Yugoslavia – to decide the fate of Bulgaria, but only in case Bulgaria lost or tied its match against Luxembourg. Which was practically impossible… Bulgaria won 3-1 and left the other teams to fight between themselves for the second spot for the Mexican finals. The real concern was the next year… the reason for the picture above, taken at the end of 1985, after the qualifications were finished. It was different team… a team with problems. Sitting form left: Anyo Sadkov (freshly renamed from his original Turkish name Ayan Sadakov, for the anti-Turkish program was started already), Radoslav Zdravkov, Roussy Gotchev, Nikolay Arabov (the irony of politics… the ethnic Turk Sadakov was forced to change his name, but the Gypsy Arabov was not even if his last named clearly has Muslim roots), Kostadin Kostadinov. Middle row: Christo Kolev, Plamen Getov, Georgy Dimitrov, Ivan Voutzov – coach, Georgy Vassilev – assistant coach, Krassimir Koev, Atanas Pashev, Zhivko Gospodinov. Top row: Bozhidar Iskrenov, Iliya Valov, Emil Dimitrov, Stefan Lakhchiev, Lyubomir Petrov, Petar Petrov. First of all, CSKA and Levsky were ‘disolved’ and the new clubs were not the same and quite confused, so some usual national team choices were not in form. But more importantly key national team players were suspended for long time, some for life – notably, Borislav Mikhailov, Plamen Nikolov, and Nasko Sirakov, all Levsky players. Suddenly the national team had to be started anew and second stringers had to be called – thus, Lyubomir Petrov, Emil Dimitrov, Stefan Lakhchiev, and to a point, Krassimir Koev. It did not look good, it did not promising, it was not the same team. The whole atmosphere was somewhat tense and there was no immediate remedy: schedules for friendlies were already made, there were no official games to really try a new formation, the feeling was the team collapsed and there will be no way to build a new one. But that was a problem for the next year – so far, it was fine campaign and Bulgaria reached the world cup finals for the first time since 1974 and had to get somewhat ready for its 5th appearance at the finals.

3.DDR 8 10 5 0 3 16- 9

DDR performed somewhat like it ever did – tough, even with chances to qualify, but hardly memorable . This was one of their better campaigns and yet they failed. Their finish was strong – 4 wins in a row – but not enough to catch up. The squad above is from the beginning of the qualifications, from 1984 for the home match against Yugoslavia, which they lost 2-3, but more or less that was the squad for the whole qualification cycle and beyond. Two things perhaps should be said about them – one is trivia: that was the first time DDR dropped its affront and started using Adidas gear. The second is more important: for all dominance of Dynamo Berlin in East German football, few players of the team were in the national team. Only Troppa, Ernst, and Rohde. May be the doctored domestic championship had a lot to do with international failure.

4.JUG 8 8 3 2 3 7- 8

Here is one of the formations which played unsuccessfully against Bulgaria. Standing from left: Zajec, Hadzibegic, Gudelj, Stojic, Capljic, Radanovic. First row: Bahtic, Bazdarevic, Mlinaric, Vokri, Djurovski. Frankly, a so-so team, especially if compared with teams from 1970s and 1960s. A crisis was detected during the 1984 European finals and there was escape from it yet – the current generation was not great, there were very few truly bright players and there were problems in every line. Objective circumstances, nothing to be done with.

5.LUX 8 0 0 0 8 2-27

Luxembourg was absolute outsider and that was all. Lost every game they played, but that was expected.


Group 5. Not a difficult group on the surface, but one of the groups without direct qualification of 2 two teams – the second placed had to go to a play-off against the 2nd in Group 1. Which meant coming on top was a must. And looked clear, though… Cyprus was the outsider, Austria in decline, Hungary not really strong, and Holland, although slowly and shakily recovering from its crisis started after 1978, was seemingly the strongest team and unquestionable winner. Hungary and Austria were to fight for second place and the Austrians perhaps had better chance. It turned out very different.

1.HUN^ 6 10 5 0 1 12- 4

Hungary started very strong and their key match was the second, when the visited Holland and won 2-1. That was perhaps perhaps the waking point for both their opponents and international observes – Hungary had 2 easy games with Cyprus, a visit to Austria, and their last match was at home against Holland. Looked like they were going to make it. How good was the squad was another matter – may be not all that good, certainly not a team everybody was raving about, but its moral was boosted and fueled further by the successful international campaign of Videoton. Some players of the club were now in the national team, lead by the goalkeeper Peter Diszt, who became quite famous if not by his abilities, at least because of his wild bearded face. Hungary was also helped by the state of affairs around: both Holland and Austria were shaky and although going into opposite directions, they were beatable teams, not very different than Hungary. So, momentary form, some luck, courage, enthusiasm, helped along and Hungary won 5 games in a row, making their last game meaningless. Strange or not, but Hungary mainly prevailed in second halves after trailing 0-1 against all opponents in their first three games. In their 4th match, hosting Cyprus, they ended the first half 0-0. Not the play expected from strong and confident team, but they collected their wins one after another, finishing everything in Vienna, where they won their 5th match 3-0 – the only match Hungarians concluded in the first half. Rather unexpected victory, but who could blame winners?

2.HOL> 6 7 3 1 2 11- 5

Holland was still in transition – Rijkard, van Basten, and Gullit were already regulars, but regulars also were Willy van de Kerkhof, Brandts, Spelbos, van de Korput. A mix of bright young stars and veterans mostly remembered for stiff and insignificant play. Holland started losing their first games and particularly painful was losing from Hungary in Rotterdam. After that things somewhat improved, but Holland was still unable to win at home against Austria (1-1) and the fate was to decided in the very last group match – and here one may say the Dutch were immensely lucky: Hungary, already a world cup finalist, had nothing to play for. May be for Dutch point of view their team was brave and fought tooth and nail to win, but Hungary had no motivation at all and perhaps was more concerned to keep its players out of injury than wanting to do honorable match in front of its supporters. Holland won 1-0 and finished 2nd – which meant going to qualification play-off against old foe Belgium.

3.AUT 6 7 3 1 2 9- 8

It was clear by now that short of miracles, Austria was hardly a first rate contender. The team was declining for some time – key players aged, but save for Tony Polster, there were no young talent near the level of Pezzey, Prohaska, Jara, and Koncilia. Same names and faces for 10 years now they were fading away already, the peaks of their careers in the past. Given the problems of the other teams in the group, it was still possible Austria to go ahead, but it was also very possible they would not. Austria was out of first teams exactly in the manner of fading team: losing at home 0-3 to Hungary. What remained was the hope for 2nd place and play-off. They did their best and tied Holland 1-1 in Rotterdam and then won at home against Cyprus 4-0, their lats match. Now their fate depended on others… if Hungary only tied Holland, Austria was through. But Hungary had nothing to play for and certainly not doing favours, which may prove devastating. Holland won and took 2nd place on better goal-difference. Austria perhaps got some consolation that the campaign was lost ‘only’ on goal-difference, but there was no world cup finals.

4.CYP 6 0 0 0 6 3-18

Cyprus, on the left before the start of their home game against Holland, was just hopeless outsider. Nothing new… they lost all 6 games and if Cypriot football was improving, it did not show in the qualification tournament. May be the other three teams made extra effort to get all points from their games with Cyprus in order to cover for their otherwise shaky condition, the fact nevertheless was that improving Cypriots were unable to get even a point from shaky and declining opponents. But eternal outsiders as they were, the Cypriots perhaps did not shed tears over it.

World Cup Qualifications Europe Groups 2 & 3

Europe. Group 2. One of the tough groups – West Germany was favourite, but 3 teams competed for the 2nd place. Malta was the team to beat and secure not only 4 points, but also to improve once goal-difference. Well, theoretically, because Malta came close to upsetting both the Germans and the Portuguese and actually managed to upset the Czechoslovakians. Anyhow, West Germany acomplished its task early – it was unreachable after September 9, 1985, when they tied Sweden 2-2 in Stockholm (after leading 2-0 at the end of the first half) and there were still 6 games to go and West Germany had still 2 more games to play. To a point, West Germany ‘decided’ the second finalist in the is group – the Germans lost at home to Portugal 0-1, which sunk the hopes of Czecholsovakia significantly and then killed those remaining hopes by tying 2-2 the same team again at home: Czecholsovakia was leading 2-1 to the 87th minute, when Rummenigge equalized. That happened in the last round. Those last 6 games settled the matters one by one: at the moment West Germany became the group winner, Portugal had 6 points and 3 games to go, Czechoslovakia had 3 points and 3 games to go, and Sweden – 6 points and 2 games to go. Czechoslovakia won over Portugal at home 1-0. Portugal extracted 3-2 victory against Malta in Lisbon. Sweden looked with best chances at this point, for their rivals had both to visit West Germany and the Swedes had to play their last match against Malta. But it was all or nothing for them – at least a tie had to achieved in the away match with Czechoslovakia and Sweden was seemmingly on the road to success when Corneliusson scored in the 8th minute. But the host equalized in the 41st and in the second half Vizek scored his second goal in the game to give victory to Czecholsovakia. Sweden was out and now Portugal had slightly better chance – they had 8 points, the Czechs – 7, but both teams had to play their last game in West Germany and the likeliest outcome of the visits was German victories. Which was the only hope for Sweden left… in such scenario, they only needed to win in Malta and their already better goal-difference would qualified them. But to bet on other teams… West Germany had nothing to play for. Portugal won 1-0 in Stuttgart and the race was over – the last two games did not matter.

1.GER^ 8 12 5 2 1 22- 9

West Germany was perhaps the strongest performer in Europe – until they qualified. At this moment they had 5 wins and 1 tie. Not an exciting team, but always winning. But when victory was not important… they took it easy, which was somewhat new approach. The machine run in high gear only when mattered. Cold, calculating team, which eventually led to criticism at home and worries about coaching.

2.POR^ 8 10 5 0 3 12-10

Portugal was a team expected to qualify – that based on their great performance at the 1984 European finals, but it was not something taken for granted. Their brightest star – Chalana – was heavily injured and the team started the qualifications shakily. And they were not always convincing: the home game against Malta was a big trouble. They won in West Germany, but the hosts had nothing to play for – if the Germans needed points… But all considered, Portugal was better option than their rivals: it was entertaining team on the rise, unlike its opponents. For the country itself, it was great relief: for the first time after 1966 Portugal was going to play at the World Cup finals.

3.SWE 8 9 4 1 3 14- 9

Sweden ended 3rd, but it was a bit difficult to judge their failure: on one hand, Sweden usually managed to qualify to world finals no matter what kind of players they had – to fail in second consecutive campaign suggested deep problems. On the other hand the crisis detected around 1978 was over – there was new talented generation. Perhaps it was too young and inexperienced yet, perhaps the generational change in the national team was not finished yet and the new team was still in shaping. They missed the finals by little, but missed it.

4.CZE 8 8 3 2 3 11-12

Czechoslovakia failed and that was more of an objective situation, rather than coaching mistakes or underperformance. The pool of talent was short, it happens everywhere at some time. Not enough high quality players and this formation, which played against Sweden, pretty much shows it: Ondra, Micinec, Lauda, Levy, Kula… players, who left little, if any, memories. Frankly, it was better for fotball in general they failed to reach the world finals.

5.MLT 8 1 0 1 7 6-25

Malta… the eternal outsider. There was improvement, though – the team made big problems for West Germany at home and even bigger ones for Portugal in Lisbon. Their only point was extracted from Czechoslovakia, which significantly contributed to failure of the Czechs. Improvement was noticed, but Malta remained a hopeless outsider – only one had to put more effort and be more careful against them.

Group 3. What looked like easy group proved to be intriguing and surprising one – England was the unquestionable favourite and Romania was to be second. Romania was the likeliest finalist not only because of the visible improvement of its football – even if it was not so, Northern Ireland, Finland and Turkey were traditionally weaker, much weaker. England not only won the group, but ended with best record among all European teams: the only unbeaten team in the qualification campaign. England allowed just 2 goals in its net. It was not easy ride bellow them, though. At first, there was nothing to suggest surprise – Northern Ireland lost to Finland in the first group match and then, in the second, overcome Romania in Belfast 3-2. The spirited Irish managed to turn around what looked like lost game – they were trailing 1-2 at the end of the first half. Still, nothing shaking – it was early stage, Irish teams were known to be tough fighters, especially on home turf, but teams like Finland were just as likely winner against the Irish, as any really strong squad. The possibility of upset arrived in June 1985, when Romania was unable to beat Finland in Helsinki: 1-1. Suddenly Northern Ireland and overlooked Finland had a chance. Romania managed to get a point at Wembley and the last 3 games became decisive, no mistakes allowed. Romania had easier schedule than Northern Ireland and Finland already finished its matches and was out of the game with 8 points. Calculations… Romania was hosting Northern Ireland and had its match away in Istanbul. At least 3 points were sure take. Northern Ireland had two away games against Romania and England, which looked like sure losses. The maximum, with some luck, would be two ties – 2 points. Romania was certain World Cup finalist… until the games were played: Northern Ireland won 1-0 in Bucharest and then extracted a point in London. It was over – Romania won 3-1 in Istanbul, but it was entirely meaningless match by now.

1.ENG^ 8 12 4 4 0 21- 2

By itself, nothing unusual in the great English qualification campaign, especially in such a group. But there was new hope, based on new quality: Bobby Robson veered away from the traditional British approach to the game and he was helped by Don Howe, often accused and held suspect in the past for trying to infuse ‘continental’ approach to his teams – more in theory than in practice, but still. The coaches had some key players to use for their ideas – Glen Hoddle, Chris Waddle (both considered ‘continental’ type of players – skillful conductors of the game, who avoided just to run the ball as quickly as possible from defenders to the strikers) and Gary Lineker, who was not at all the usual British center-forward, waiting for a cross from the wingers in the penalty area. At last, it was thought, the English caught up with the modern tendencies – and in that was the revived hope that this team could rise to greatness after so many years of disappointment and shame. The only concern was the fragility of the new stars – Hoddle, Waddle, and Bryan Robson were prone to injuries.

2.NIR^ 8 10 4 2 2 8- 5

The heroes. Few people outside Romania were unhappy of the underdog’s success – it was victory of spirit, for Northern Ireland had, as ever, limited choice of players and there was hardly enough even for a decent starting eleven – no matter how great Norman Whiteside was, he had to play along with the likes of Ian Stewart, there was nobody else. The boys however fought bravely and overachieved. Scoring was a great problem, a traditional problem, so Northern Ireland usually had problems against teams of their or lower level, but they were also incredibly difficult opponent for strong teams.

3.ROM 8 9 3 3 2 12- 7

Romania…easy to say they had only themselves to blame for the failure. One should go back to the 1984 European finals: Romania left very pleasant impression, but it was clear that there is lot to go – it was rising team, but in an early stage and one year later still was exactly that. This line up, which ended 0-0 with England in Bucharest, more or less proves the point – standing from left: Boloni, Stefanescu, Lung, Camataru, Iorgulescu, Coras. Crouching: Klein, Hagi, Ungureanu, Rednic, Negrila. Not bad, tough enough to stay unbeaten against England, but lost a point against Finland and facing rugged fighters like the Irish, just lost at home their most crucial game. Something was missing, something little, but missing… oh, well, the great Steaua squad did not reach its peak yet, that was the little missing thing.

4.FIN 8 8 3 2 3 7-12

Finland did surprisingly well and even briefly had a chance to reach the world cup finals, but one should look at the their results – the success was due mostly the make of the group. For a team like Finalnd, Northern Ireland was beatable at home. So was Turkey. In a good day, with a bit a luck, the Fins could also tie a team like Romania at home. All that brought them points, but the true test was against England – and in it, reality was harsh: 0-5 in London. They did much better at home – 1-1 – but one can also say that England, already confident leader, may be did not play at top gear. Finalnd won 3 games, but 2 of them were against miserable Turkey and they were minimal: 1-0 and 2-1.

5.TUR 8 1 0 1 7 2-24

Turkey had miserable campaign, getting only one point and scoring just 2 goals. All relative… improvement of Turkish football was already noticed, but it did not go as far as the national team. This was one of the most anonymous Turkish squads in the last 20 years. They registered the worst loss in the whole European qualification campaign and at home on top of that: 0-8 against England. Enough said.


World Cup Qualifications Europe Group 1

By the end of 1985 the qualification saga for the 1986 World Cup ended. There was no universal or even satisfying formula to the qualifications and this time even the orderly European structure was affected. The enlargement of the participants at the finals presented various problems – one of them was that the number of European countries was the same, but the finalists almost doubled and now the qualification groups were no so exciting as they used to before 1982 World Cup: two teams qualified from each group and that made a lot of games meaningless: rarely there was a group made of equally competitive teams – as a rule of thumb, there were two favourites in each group and they easily qualified. Whether first or second, did not matter. However, changes were proposed and for this campaign originally only the group winners qualified to the finals and the 2nd-placed were to go qualification stage between themselves. But FIFA changed that is somewhat dubious formula: only the runner-ups of groups 1 and 5 went to a play-off to decide a finalist. And the runner-op of Group 7 was going to play-off against the winner of Oceania. No matter what, continents were not equal in neither strength, nor clout. There was some objective reasons for that – European football was the strongest on one hand, the nearest to it, South America, had too few countries for either decent qualification stage or enlargement of number of its finalists. Political problems plagued other continents, along with very weak level of football: the most notorious case was Asia – Israel and Taiwan were boycotted, the first from Islamic states, the second from China, and there was always a problem where to place these two states. This time they were placed in Oceania – no big deal, since only two countries wanted to play – New Zealand and Australia. At least, there was some resemblance of a qualification stage, but Oceania did not have a designated lot at the finals: it was only that the winner should proceed to play-off against the 2nd-placed in the 7th European group. However, distances were so great in this ill-assembled zone that Taiwan, short of cash, chose to play all its games away: going to the other countries and playing both legs one after another against the hosts. Political problems outside football affected both Asia and Africa: Iran and Iraq were in war, so Iran withdrew altogether from qualifications and Iraq played all his matches away from home. It was close in Africa as well: Lybia and Egypt did not see eye to eye, so in case they had to play against each other Lybia was going to withdrew, as it ordered its club teams in the African club tournaments. Luckily, Egypt was eliminated early and the stand-off did not happened. As ever before, some countries chose to withdrew without playing any games. This did nothing to change the grumbling inside FIFA – Europe was getting too much: 13 teams qualified directly plus Italy as reigning world champion and very likely the team having to play against the winner of Oceania. 15 teams out 24 finalists were European. Oceania, having no reserved spot, was most likely to be left without finalist. Asia had 1. Africa – 2. South America – 4 spots, but it was 4 teams out of 10 total, almost half of South America was going to the finals. Europe and South America were going to have almost half of their members at the finals, which was way too much. Not to the South Americans, though, who preferred to compare 15 Europeans to 4 South Americans and cry injustice. North and Central America had 2 spots, but with Mexico going directly to the finals as a host, it was felt that this area was having at least 1 team too many, for there was hardly half-decent team behind Mexico. The disaster El Salvador was at the 1982 World Cup was still fresh – two more like that? In general, Africa was seen unfairly handled – football there was on the rise, or so was the popular tale for about 10 years already, and there was feeling that one or two more African teams would be better than CONCACAF teams or, God forbid, a team from Oceania at the finals. As ever before and after, the finger was pointed at the Europeans – with their money and clout, they always got what suited them at the expense of anybody else. It was impasse: Europe rightfully claimed that the only internationally decent football was there and if you want an entertaining World Cup, then get the really best teams. The other continental federations had shaky alliance – all together only to oppose Europe, but from there it was falling apart: the South Americans joined Europe in support of strong final tournament. Africa was all for popular spread, give the smaller countries a chance, it is good for the development of the game, encouraging, but they did not mind Oceania and Asia to stay as it – football too weak there, not good for the game… CONCACAF was on board mostly on principle, well aware it had not only weak teams, but a whole bunch of countries short of money and thus it was never sure who will actually play at the end, or suddenly withdrew, leaving the federation with even worse standing in FIFA. One thing that could be said with some truthfulness is that at this time the European qualifications lost some of its drama for the popular mind – not that people did care to attend, but there was no more real drama and grand upsets. It was quite mellow: the outsiders were well known and the better teams were going to the finals for sure. Lot of games became meaningless and not only between favourites and outsiders. Anyhow, to business:

Europe. Groups 1 to 7, according to FIFA’s structure.

Group 1. It was clear in advance who will be first and second, but this was group where was important to finish on top – the runner-up was going to play-off instead of directly qualifying to the finals. The battle was between Poland and Belgium, the Belgians seen as favourites, according to recent performance and strength of players. However, both Poland and Belgium proved to be a bit shaky and the group winner was decided in the last round, in direct battle between the favourites. Poland had slight advantage: it was hosting the match and needed a tie. Their goal was achieved: 0-0. Thus, Poland ended first not on points or goal-difference – both teams finished with 8 points and +4 goal-difference – but on more scored goals: 10 vs 7. Belgium, irony of ironies, had to go to play-off against its eternal rival Holland.

1.POL^ 6 8 3 2 1 10- 6

Poland qualified for a 4th time in a row, but there was sense they had not really strong and competive squad.

2.BEL> 6 8 3 2 1 7- 3

Belgium had reason to worry: by now the casualties of the bribing scandal were back, the team was restored to full strength and should have been group winner – but it was not. The finger should be pointed at the first match against Albania in Tirana. Against the odds, Belgium lost it 0-2. At the end, it was not sure at all Belgium would be at the 1986 World Cup: play-off against Holland was no joke.

3.ALB 6 4 1 2 3 6- 9

Albania finished 3rd, thanks to better goal-difference. Most likely, the Albanians were satisfied – they had no chance reaching finals, but there was some improvement of their game and they managed to finish above Greece. As anything better, they had perfect excuse – Enver Hoxha died in April 1985 and the match with Greece had to be postponed. Albania lost it anyway, but let say the players were disturbed and grieveing. Suits the official line…

4.GRE 6 4 1 2 3 5-10

Greece was not in great shape – the ascent during the 1970s, culminating with their appearance at the 1980 European finals stopped – generational change was the most obvious problem: the one from 1970s aged and retired and there was no new one of great talent, at least not yet. Perhaps Greece could have finished 3rd, but 3rd or 4th – did not matter. Whatever hopes the Greeks entertained were shattered on May 19, 1985, when Poland destroyed them in Athens 4-1.