African Cup Winners Cup

African Cup Winners Cup. One team withdrew befroe playing a match in the preliminary round: AS Police (Mauritania). The club benefiting from this withdrawl – Kamboi Eagles (Sierra Leone) – withdrew before playing a match in the first round. It was almost comic… teams going ahead without playing only to be eliminated without playing. Why did they bother to enlist in the tournaments? But there was more: the first leg between Dragons de l’Oueme (Benin) and Abiola Babes (Nigeria) was abandoned, although the result – 2-0 Dragons – stayed. Both clubs were disqualified immediately: Dragons for fielding 2 ineligible players; Abiola for pitch invasion by its supporters. After this scandalous event another one followed: just before the start of the 1/8 finals, Al-Ahly (Tripoli) was disqualified – that followed the suspencion of the Lybian Federation by CAF for not paying its subscription dues. Thus, AS Sogara (Gabon) and DHJ El-Jadida (Morocco) reached the ¼ finals without playing, their opponents dusqualified. DHJ El-Jadida had it tough in the quarter finals against CS Hammam-Lif (Tunisia) – two scoreless draws, scoreless overtime, penalty shoot-out, and only at this points CS Hammam-Lif was a bit luckier, extracting 4-3 victory. But that was the most the Tunisians could do – they were unable to beat AS Sogara at home and lost the away leg without scoring a goal: 0-0 and 0-3. The other semifinal was Egyptian affair – Al-Ahly vs Ismaili – and produced no winner: 0-0 and 1-1. But Al-Ahly scored away goal and qualified to the final. Which looked unusual – Benin was hardly famed for its football, so it was strange to see a team from this country playing a final. Al-Ahly was the obvious favourite and after the opening leg on home turf everything seemed done and finished: Al-Ahly won comfident 3-0. At Gabon, though, the sure victory evaporated – the hosts recovered sufficiently and Al-Ahly had to battle to the end to keep some lead. They succeeded – AS Sogara won only 2-0.

How good or bad AS Sogara was is hard to tell – first, Benin neither then, nor now is in the vanguard of African football. Second, AS Sogara folded many years ago (1995), giving the impression it had been some over-ambitious special project, which quickly run out of money and support. This final was their best achievement, although a bit lucky, for they did not have opponent in the 1/8 finals. But they eliminated serious teams on the way to the final: Secondi Hasaacas (Ghana) in the first round and CS Hammam-Lif (Tunisia) in the semifinals. They came close to at least reaching ovetime at the final. A team of mystery, really, and given their disapperance in the 1990s, too bad they did not win.

Al-Ahly was the favourite of the final and they did not disappoint. Their road to the final did not look like overwhelming success, but they scored just enough to eliminate every opponent, to prevail by a goal, or, in the semifinal, by away goal. It could be said this was mature team, experienced, knowing what is needed and how to get it, without flair, but business-like. No wonder why: Al-Ahly just won its 3rd consecutive Cup Winners Cup. No other African club won three times in a row ever before. It was not the end of their successful run either – this very likely was the greatest African team ever. And more : Egypt did not qualify to the World Cup finals, but seemingly was the strongest African country at this time. 1986 was a great peak – the national team won the African championship, the clubs – both African club tournaments. All trophies were in Egyptian hands – or feet. The total success spoke of serious development on every level, not at all of some accidental lucky strike. Professional development is murky histroic topic in the realm of African football, but foreign players were playing in Egypt, so professionalism took stable roots in the country – hence, the results.

African Champions’ Cup

African Champions' Cup. Nothing new... UDIB (Guinea Bissau) did not play a single game – it qualified to the first round because East End Lions (Sierra Leone) withdrew before the first leg and then withdrew itself before playing the first leg against FAR Rabat (Morocco) in the first round. ASC Ksar (Mauritania) also withdrew in the preliminary round. Maji Maji (Tanzania) withdrew as well in the first round, but they at least played one match, losing 1-5 to Dynamos (Harrare, Zimbabwe). After that there were no more withdrawels, eliminatios rounds went one after another and in the semifinals Canon Yaounde (Cameroon) lost to Zamalek (Egypt) 2-1 and 0-2. In the other semifinal away goal decided the outcome: Nkana Red Devils (Zambia) fatally tied its home leg against Africa Sports (Cote d'Ivoire) 1-1. The second match ended 0-0 and Africa Sports reached the final.
 The final was real drama, as football should be. In Cairo, Zamalek won 2-0, but in Abijan Africa Sports won with the same result. 
Overtime did not change anything, so it came to penalty shoot-out. 
Lottery or not, Africa Sports was in better position, for they were playing in front of home crowd. But it was not to be their day: the Egyptians prevailed 4-2. 
Zamalek triumphed with the Cup and looks like not only shirts were exchanged after the end of the game, but also shorts – two Egyptian players here sport Africa Sports' shorts. Strange, but there was a brief fad in changing shorts in the middle of the 1980s. 
Unlucky Africa Sports – they did everything they could, but lost. Depending on point of view, they either had tough opponents on the road to the final, or were a bit shaky team, especially when it came to scoring. They qualified to the second round after penalty shoot out and twice qualified thanks to away goals. Only in the 1/8 finals they had a big victory – 5-0 against New Nigeria Bank (Nigeria), but lost the second leg 0-2. Seemingly, there was little something missing – perhaps that was why they did not win the trophy. 
Zamalek had wonderful campaign and no problems until the semifinals – but they played admirably against one of the tradtional African powers, Canon (Yaounde), reached the final, and managed to prevail over Africa Sports on their home turf. Zamalek won its second Champions' Cup, all in three years time. 

African Cup Of Nations

The African Cup of Nations. It was the 15th African championship – may be strange, but only South America had more tournaments. Not the World Cup, not Europe. Anyhow, the championship was going through qualifying stage and final stage, hosted by Egypt. The host nation qualified directly to the finals, as well as reigning continental champion Cameroon. The qualifications went as ever before: nobody withdrew in the preliminary round, but in the next round Sudan, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, and Tanzania decided not to play. In the second round there were no withdrawals.

Mali was eliminated in the first round by Cote d’Ivoire 0-6 and 1-1, just to give you a taste of the early phases. There were no surprise results – Zaire, Tunisia, and Nigeria were eliminated, but they faced equally strong opponents, so nothing out of ordinary. The last 8 were divided into two groups for the finals in Egypt.

Group 1 was played in Cairo.

1.EGYPT 3 2 0 1 4- 1 4

 2.IVORY COAST 3 2 0 1 4- 2 4
 3.Senegal 3 2 0 1 3- 1 4
 4.Mozambique 3 0 0 3 0- 7 0
Mozambique finished last, losing all games and scoring no goals – really weak. 
 Senegal was most unlucky – eliminated not even on goal-difference, but because they lost the match against Cote d'Ivoire. Minimal loss, but fatal – 0-1 in the last group round. 
Group B played in Alexandria. 

1.CAMEROON 3 2 1 0 7- 5 5

 2.MOROCCO 3 1 2 0 2- 1 4
 3.Algeria 3 0 2 1 2- 3 2
 4.Zambia 3 0 1 2 2- 4 1
Zambia finished last with 1 point from the 0-0 tie against Algeria. 
Algeria did not go ahead either – two ties and a loss was rather weak performance. 
 In the semi-finals Cameroon prevailed over Cote d'Ivoire 1-0, thanks to Roger Milla. Egypt also came with a 1-0 win over Morocco – late goal by Abouzid decided the fixture. 
The match for 3rd place was played in Cairo and Cote d'Ivoire took solid 3-1 lead by the 68th minute. Sahli managed to score second goal for Morocco, but after that only 5 minutes remained and there was no time for anything better than minimal loss.
Morocco finished 4th and their final place, as well as the early elimination of Algeria, perhaps spoke the best of rapidly improving African football: both World Cup finalists did not succeed. The competition was getting tougher and by no means a team qualifying to the World Cup finals was the obvious leader of the continents, as it was during the 1970s. 
Cote d'Ivoire did very well, ending with bronze medals. May be Morocco was not pushing all that hard, having in mind the coming World Cup, but even if so, Cote d'Ivoire played with heart and deserved its triumph. 
The final, also played in Caire, was major drama: Egypt heavily supported by home crowd and craving victory at home versus Cameroon, which was going strong despite failing to reach the World Cup. The heroes of the Spain'82 were determined to repeat their continental success from 1984 and also the take revenge for missing World Cup finals. The clash of equal ambition and may be skill produced no winner – after overtime, the result was 0-0. Penalty shoot-out... And only now Egypt prevailed – or was luckier: 5-4. 

It was difficult and long game, as one can see on the Cameroonian faces. 
Cameroon finished second, but unbeaten. No shame in losing penalty shoot-out, but the disappointment was perhaps huge – Cameroon was doing well, yet, no success this year. No consecutive African trophy, no World Cup... no fun.
 Egypt took full advantage of hosting the finals and won the championship, if only on penalty shoot-out – the team made the whole country happy. 
Since the champions were quite anonymous outside Africa, here is a picture with names – this is the squad which faced Morocco, but no matter. Top, left to right: Al-Khatib, Ashraf Kassem, Magdi Abdelgani, Mohamed Yasin, Thabet Al-Batal, Mostafa Abdou, Gamal Abdelhamid.
Bottom, left to right: Ali Shehata, Mohamed Omar, Hamada Sedki, Taher Abouzaid 
Egypt won the African championship for a third time, but had to wait awfully long time for that – since 1959! At last they were on top – imagine the joy! 


Aftermath. It may be risky claiming that, but the 1986 World Cup was the last satisfying tournament. In general, everybody was pleased at the end. Apart from the general impression, the details were less pleasing and there were important negative and alarming conclusions. So, point by point without pretense for completeness.

Mexico was graceful host just like in 1970. Considering the short notice for getting ready, the Mexicans did very good job and, most important, the whole atmosphere was festive and friendly. It may have been the distance helping to that, but there were hardly any confrontations between fans of different countries – the only noticeable accident was the brief fight on the stands between English and Argentinian fans. On the negative side were: the lingering questions about how exactly Mexico got the hosting of the finals – suspicions remained, but the truth was not established. Also, there were large protests of angry Mexicans going on during the whole tournament – it was also an open and unanswered question: why Mexico spent money on the World Cup instead of using that money to help the victims of the devastating 1985 earthquake.

Players without shadows. This was more important problem: FIFA was getting more and more commercialized. In the oppressive Mexican heat, the games were played in midday – because of TV, especially European TV. There was no way – because of the time differences – to broadcast live games in the early evening across the ocean. Late night or early morning broadcast meant little audience and because of that – little revenue from advertisers for both FIFA and TV companies. Thus, the games were schedule at noon… at the worst heat. It is a miracle that the players endured and actually played quite fast football. But it was absolutely clear after this World Cup that revenue is the prime motivation and everything else only had to comply with commercial demands – money first, game just a lure, players’ health – private business. Socrates directly accused FIFA for pushing Mexico and Brazil ahead for profit. FIFA retaliated after the finals and in arrogant manner: Sep Blatter expressed concerns about the way many country conducted their preparatory friendlies – national teams played many meaningless games, often against clubs, and only for profit. FIFA, of course, was not to order countries how to prepare their teams for World Cup finals, but the appalling practice depreciating the sport had to stop. It was easier for Blatter than for Socrates to prove his point: Bilardo, for instance, used only local junior teams for sparring partners and absolutely refused to play a friendly with Poland, touring Argentina for some obscure reason. It was easy for FIFA officials to blame individual countries – Blatter did not say anything how exactly a team should be prepared for Mexican conditions: high altitude, scorching summer heat, and games scheduled at noon, for FIFA was very much concerned for the profits from TV and other sponsors.

The end of the beautiful football. It was clear in 1982, now it was confirmed – Brazil, France, Denmark, USSR achieved nothing. It was particularly painful to see Brazil and France out, for it repeated 1982, firmly establishing the brutal truth: those playing artistic football and pleasing the eye were the losers. They were never going to win and the lesson was easy to learn: play brutal rational game and you may triumph at the end. West Germany was the strongest argument.

Yet, the 1986 World Cup satisfied both fans and specialists because of good number high quality dramatic matches. Almost all of them happened after the group phase, rising the problem of numbers. Arguably, the memorable extraordinary matches were pretty much the same number as in the past, say, about 10. But in 1974 the total of games played was 38. Now there were 52, 36 of them in the low-quality group phase. It was clear that great football could be expected only after the group phase, teams too careful and not in top gear at first. It was becoming too much for the fans, though – they watched what used to be the whole tournament before the real fun began, gradually becoming saturated with football, spent there excitement in empty expectation something great to happen, and too picky and easily irritated later. One reason the match for the third place attracted smaller and smaller interest. The combination worked negatively: the great matches were as in the past, the number of dull games increased, endangering overall assessment of the tournament. Low scoring did not help either – the 1986 World Cup had the lowest scoring in all finals played so far. The biggest reason was the modern way football was played.

As a whole, the quality of the teams increased and there were practically no outsiders, but it was the lower level of the football pyramid getting closer to the leading nations and also the leaders going down a bit. Practically everybody was capable of strong physical football, thus, it was difficult to score goals. Looking from this perspective, perhaps the worst team in 1986 was Bulgaria and not because they too bad, but because it was the team leaving no memories at all. There was certain irony in that: Bulgaria played a fifth World Cup without winning even one match. And in the same time this tournament was Bulgarian best ever, for the first time the team went beyond the group phase. Not an encouraging sign – you have never winning dull team climbing up and unable to imprint any memory of itself. However, they were not a team easily destroyed by others – if they lose, it was by small difference. Modern football dangerously oscillated between 0-0 and 0-1, winning was increasingly becoming a matter of lucky goal scored.

The game was generally physical and rough, no team shying away from brutality. Uruguay was the chosen scapegoat and behind its back hided all others – they played ‘manly’ football, the Uruguayans were the beasts. Convenient, but hardly true… Uruguay may have been more open about it, but hacking, kicking, punching was the norm. It was casual, cynical, going on constantly and everywhere on the field. It was professional… even the term ‘professional foul’ was already firmly established, it was normal, a matter of preventing the opposition from scoring. With that booking was no longer real punishment shaming the perpetrator and bringing him in line – getting yellow card was now part of the game, a normal risk, made no impression on anybody. With the mentality that football is a war, gentlemanly approach was thrown to the garbage – cheating, simulating, diving, everything was alright.

Wide spread brutality taxed referees to the limit and sometime beyond – they were under heavy scrutiny and harsh criticism in 1986. In general, refereeing was found appalling and incompetent. In part, it was because of higher number of finalists, so more referees were needed, but also the FIFA policy of including more of the ‘third world’ in the important phases of the sport. Competence was lacking, there were many mistakes. Of course, the most scandalous offense was the goal scored by ‘the hand of God’ – ultimately, the referees were guilty for that, especially the lineman Bogdan Dotchev. Let’s face it: if Maradona did the right thing and went to the ref to tell him he played with hand, then what? Dotchev did not signal that, the ref signaled goal scored… a reverse? Since when referees reverse decision made? And what kind of referee could be the one who has to be instructed by players on what happened during the match? Impasse… The referees were caught by the transformation of the game into a war and had no tools to function – vicious kicking started with the first whistle and ended only with the last. Let it go unpunished and everybody was accusing the ref for the ugliness. Be stern, register and punish every foul and everybody was accusing the ref of pettiness, too happy to be in the center of the things and flash cards, and not letting players play. The original outcry about brutal play in 1986 was quickly reversed – just as soon as the yellow cards piled up – into accusation that the referees were excessive, it was not right to show so many cards. Five yellow cards were shown at the final and it was laughable: 3 of them were for arguing and obstruction, but vicious deliberate tackles were left unpunished at all.

here were no complaints against Arppi Filho, he was found sound and good, and it was true – he did whatever possible to let the game flow uninterrupted, but still had to break the game almost every minute because the hacking started from the first minute and never stopped. Not even counting all other dirty tricks both teams employed. The Brazilian tried as much as possible, even closing his eyes for quite a lot, and yet he had to show 5 cards and blow the whistle almost every minute. What really can be done to satisfaction when the whole game is like the moment above? What a referee could do if the players do not even react to his instruction? FIFA was also very inconsistent in its own instructions to the referees: tackles from the back were to be booked, but the referees did not follow that – and how could they, when there were so many such tackles? In the middle of the tournament, when the cards became too many, FIFA quietly insisted that referees restrict bookings. It was neither here, neither there – clearly, there was no available way to fight brutality, for it was the norm, a key ingredient of modern football.

No new tactics were observed – the norm was already familiar: the key battle was going in midfield, players had to be physically conditioned to press anywhere on the pitch and endure high tempo more than 90 minutes, team work and universality were a must, the preferable scheme was 4-4-2, with slight variations. Ideally, a team should be flexible enough to change on occasion to 3-5-2 or 4-5-1. Thus, most valuable players were those able to change position easily and prime examples were West Germany, where essentially midfielders were used as full backs – Brehme on the right and Briegel on the left, Argentina, where midfielder Olarticoechea was used as left full back, Brazil using Junior as pivotal midfielder, but ready to cover his original position – left full back. However, constructive playmakers were getting fewer and fewer and most teams were becoming similar – fast, tough, but lacking imagination. With the exception of Josimar, there were no new bright players discovered at the 1986 finals. Similar teams galloping 90 minutes most often canceled each other and scoring was getting very difficult and scarce. Artistic football was proved to be the loser, but impoverished skills severely limited the options for beating tough opposition: the example of Morocco against West Germany was not explored by any other team, except Argentina – it was simple concept, but needed skillful playmaker, who could slow or increase the tempo at will and thus frustrate one-speed teams. Denmark was prime example of team unable, no matter what, to change their approach when the game was going wrong: it did not work, yet, Denmark run and attacked and attacked Spain, remaining to the last minute the more attractive and dangerous team, but lost 1-5. The same problem had USSR and England was hopelessly outdated, stubbornly using line defense and reluctantly giving up typical center-forward on occasion. In general, nothing new was displayed, but there were some different nuances, which were employed and they alarmingly old, giving the impression that the development of the game was going backwards. The best examples were Argentina and West Germany and their coaches.

This time even the Germans did not expect their team to go far, so bad it was, so ridden with scandals, and so impoverished on skills, imagination, and creativity. It was also the prime example of modern football and thus soldiered to the final. The success should be credited almost entirely to Franz Beckenbauer – he managed somehow to keep constantly quarreling squad ready to play, overcoming all kind of disasters – from Schuster’s refusal to play to the deliberate injury Schumacher delivered to the defender he did not want to play with. West Germany only run, producing nothing and seemingly incapable of creating anything, but triumphed at the end, thanks to will and taking whatever chance popped up. Beckenbauer simply had no options for changing anything at all – so dull was his team and Schuster was absolutely right to say that whether he played or not makes no difference, for there is nobody to play with. As a last resort, Beckenbauer only increased the number of strikers in the second half, fielding Hoeness and Voeler. But he was clever to take advantage of whatever available – finishing second in the group phase, West Germany had open road practically to the semi-finals, for it was going to meet the weakest possible opponents. There was a way to beat the Germans, but hardly any team was smart enough to try it: Morocco showed it – playing slow, possessing the ball in the middle of the pitch, destroyed the fast physical Germans – they were easily outplayed by technical opponents and were uncomfortable with slow tempo. Unfortunately, Morocco did not have good enough strikers and was a team still not experienced enough, so they lost. West Germany was deadly opponent, no doubt about it, but beatable – if one knew what to do. It was one-track team and Beckenbauer knew it best: he said after the lost final that if he had to play it again will play it excatly the same way. That is, he had nothing else, no players to change anything at all. Yet, ugly as they were, the Germans were winners at the end and with some weird good luck could have been even world champions. That was their lesson and unfortunately football in the 1980s came to that – field 11 soldiers, let them run and battle, and will win the war.

Bilardo used slightly different approach – yes, what he was saying was in line with predominant wisdom: collectivity, alertness, perfect physical condition, coverage of the whole field. But he insisted on intelligence. And on defensive approach. His model was Estudiantes (La Plata) of the late 1960s, the team he played. On the surface, Bilardo was introducing some outdated kind of football – 10 defenders and 1 free roaming star, left to do whatever he wants. But this approach not only did not look very different from the prevailing norms, but provided an edge to beat those very norms – Argentina run as the Germans did, fought opponents everywhere on the field, as the Germans did, saturated the midfield with players as the Germans did, but was flexible enough to move into fully attacking football when the opposition was weaker, to slow the tempo to make one-track speedy teams uncomfortable, to switch from slow tempo to fast one, to move its defensive line from way back to the center of the field, and back, depending on demands of the moment or particular opponent. It was intelligent, if not very attractive play, play and Bilardo had not only players willing to execute his requirements, but the right kind of players – not just willing, but actually capable to think on the field, able to do what the coach wanted. The notion of having a star, free to do whatever he sees fit, with the whole team just supporting him, was lifted right from the 1960s, but it worked, for it was terribly confusing for robotic opponents, used only to matching, marking and fighting equal numbers.

Of course, Maradona was supreme. It was said that the 1986 World Cup was one-man show, but it was not entirely correct. True, Maradona shined and made enormous difference, but he was also unselfish – taking the brutality of opponents on himself, taking their attention, so the ball can dangerously go to some empty zone, where free team-mate could score, giving great passes, acting as playmaker, controlling the pace and the flow of the game. Maradona was also the prime example of the football of the 1980s – a villain and a hero at once, good, bad, and ugly in the same time, but unstoppable. He was not alone too – there was excellent Batista in midfield and defense, Burruchaga ready to take over from Maradona when the occasion needed it, Valdano tormenting opposing defenders just with his presense, Olarticoechea, roaming on the whole left side of the field, selfless working man Enrique, fearless burly defenders. The Argentines destroyed West Germany, proved it was beatable team, what was needed was equal physical toughness and endurance, but having technical skills and intelligence to make full use of them. Good reading of the game and ability to control and change the tempo; flexibility to make slight changes in approach depending on specific opponent and concrete moments of the match. Strange as it was, generally defensive concept was the best tool to beat rapid warrior football. But it was not up to everybody… to make use of Bilardo’s idea, one needed a player like Maradona and there was only one Maradona. Collective football in want of universal soldiers reduced skillful visionary midfielders to almost endangered species. Platini, Socrates, Zico, Junior were too old by now and there was nobody young coming in. Compared to Netzer, Overath, Beckenbauer, Matthaus was pathetic and he was not just the best West German football had, but almost the whole world had to offer now. That was the sad part of Argentinian example – without great midfielder like Maradona, Bilardo’s concept was useless, impossible. Again, West Germany was the prime example: Beckenbauer used not one, but two midfield conductors – Matthaus and Magath – in hope that they could do something creative. It was desperation… and did not work, the two of them were unable to match even a quarter of Maradona’s play and creativity. The future of the game did not look very bright and time proved it – this was the last really entertaining World Cup.


29.06.86 (12.00) Mexico City, Estadio Azteca

ARG - GER 3:2 (1:0)

(~114000) Arppi Filho BRA, Fredriksson SWE, Ulloa COS

ARG: Pumpido - Brown, Cuciuffo, Ruggeri, Olarticoechea – Giusti, Batista, Maradona (c), Enrique - Burruchaga (89 Trobbiani), Valdano
GER: Schumacher - Jakobs, Berthold, K.-H.Förster, Briegel – Matthäus, Brehme, Magath (63 D.Hoeness), Eder, K.H.Rummenigge (c), K.K.Allofs (46 Völler)

1:0 Brown 23 h, 2:0 Valdano 56, 2:1 Rummenige 74, 2:2 Völler 82 h, 3:2
Burruchaga 88

booked: Maradona, Enrique, Pumpido, Olarticoechea / Matthäus, Briegel

For those not German and not Argentine, Argentina was slightly preferable – they played some football after the group phase, unlike West Germany. Nobody was fool, though – a ‘manly’ match was expected. And that was what the world got. From the distance of time, though, the ‘manly’ match is largely supported by the number of yellow cards – they were many, but Maradona, Enrique, and Pumpido were booked not for some vicious kicks, but for arguing and obstruction. The referee was strict and never lost authority, but one had the feeling that a lot of rough play was left unpunished. Yet, it was lively and interesting match – later considered the last interesting final played. It was and not just because of the five goals scored and the drama lasting to the end, because of the late German equalization.

Argentina cleverly exploited their seemingly simplistic tactic: fight everywhere, slow the tempo, but never forget the German net and construct speedy attacks in every possible moment. Curiously, for defensive-monded team, Argentina attacked a lot. The Germans were entirely creatively hopeless, but attacking was also a second nature for them, so the match was basically a clash of attackers. The Argentines, however, got the upper hand by the 20th minute and to the end of the match were the better team. And their superiority materialized – true, after a terrible and rare misjudgment by Schumacher. The first half ended 1-0 and soon after the beginning of the second half Argentina scored a second goal – looked like that was the end. The Germans did not look capable of anything, Argentina controlled the game, using every dirty trick in the book to waste time, but nothing obvious – they still preferred to attack whenever had a chance and did not lapse into monotonous passing from defender to goalkeeper and back again and again.

It is well known that 2-0 is perhaps the most dangerous lead. It is also well known that one is sure of beating a German team only when the referee blows the last whistle. Beckenbauer did what he could – the same he did in previous games: increased the number of strikers with fresh substitutes and rushed his team ahead. The utter lack of creativity, of any ideas, made the German rush easily deflected and no big dangers to Pumpido emerged. Argentina had little problem defending, so it looked like the whole thing will be just thrills for the fans, but Germans are Germans… In five minutes they scored twice. Out of the blue. And practically identical goals – from left-side corner kicks. Nothing dangerous really… but both times a German was left alone in empty space between late to cover defenders and Pumpido. And suddenly it was 2-2, and it was the 83rd minute already, and Argentina still looked the more dangerous team. And it looked like overtime was coming and in it the tireless Germans could prevail or at least drag the game to penalty shoot-out. Fun or not, suddenly the possibility of West German victory was looming. So many teams were crashed by Germans this way – with late goals, with excellent physical condition and iron will. But Argentina did not break under pressure and reacted with new attacks.

Wonderfully executed couterattack ended with Buruchaga scoring third goal for Argentina.

And immediately after that Maradona almost scored again. Spectacular flight, but it was clean tackle – no penalty. And time was running out, and Bilardo played his last trick dragging seconds in procrastination in making tactical substitution – it was clear that the whole idea was to kill time and eventually break the German tempo. Finally Trobbiani replaced Burruchaga, it was over the 90th minute already, but no matter – in the remaining seconds Trobbiani got a chance to score! Finally the end came.

Argentina was the new world champion! Maradona was joyous with the cup in his hands and joyous was the crowd in front of his house in Buenos Aires, on vigil there, as in a shrine. The god delivered.

West Germany lost the final and it was fair – Beckenbauer had no pretenses and complaints. He said that if the match has to be played again, he will use the same approach, will change nothing. He only wished there were no German mistakes in defense. The coach recognized the higher quality of Argentina over his team and he was right – West Germany had no argument on the field and it was obvious from the start of the championship. No secrets here: Briegel and Schumacher were the only outstanding players in this team. There were no key players even remotely close to Beckenbauer, Netzer, Overath, Breitner. The best playmaker at hand was Matthaus and there was no comparison between him and the already mentioned names. There was no room for improvement. In fact, West Germany did much more than anybody expected thanks to sheer will power. Yet, it was a team difficult to criticize, for before the World Cup at least in Germany it was expected that this squad will not go beyond the group phase of the finals – they went to the final instead, so they were above any blame. With so impoverished team, with so many scandals before and during the tournament, with so much bad press, with so poor way of playing, it was a miracle they went that far, a truly heroic performance. Not likable performance, though. Beckenbauer was the big hero, for he made it possible – enduring harsh criticism, internal fights in the team, backstabbing from some of the players, he had to use not just his football skills and instincts, but to be more than anything involved with diplomatic work on large scale. May be his diplomacy was more important than his actual coaching – hard to tell, for there was virtually nothing one can do with so dull team. Which comes right to the last minutes of the lost final: Beckenbauer somewhat blamed the players for the loss, for making defensive mistakes. But he never blasted against them knowing very well that he tried everything: just like in the previous games, he reinforced his lame attack with fresh substitutes and rushed the team ahead. Having more strikers on the field – the only hope for some positive result – immediately unbalanced the back line. Argentina was not down and out after the result was equalized, it looked for striking back in every possible opening and did not fear at all German pressure. The Germans had no real answer to that, it was impossible for them to change tactics, to go back into defense and drag the match to overtime. Knowing only to run and press, that was what they did – to their own peril. If it was Italian team, the third Argentine goal most likely would not come. West Germany did not deserve victory and even they knew it, recognized it. Yet, they did much more than anybody expected from them and that was achieved almost entirely on will power and determination.

Argentina was the right winner and triumphed with second world title. It was not a team with friends for a long time – Bilardo was under heavy criticism not just at home for his tactics and selection. Argentina was not impressive in the group phase of the finals, but after that was playing better and better every next match. At the final, they were the better option and proved it on the field. Bilardo made few changes and adjustments until he got the right combination and chemistry, but he had the players for that, unlike Beckenbauer. For a team rightly criticized for using outdated defensive tactics, Argentina displayed plenty of attacking football and was attractive team to watch on occasion. Maradona was in the center of everything, it was said Argentina was one-man show, but it was not entirely true – Bilardo had no excuses on the matter, he repeatedly said that he is realistic and if one has Maradona better use him profitably, made the team play for him. Maradona was supreme – and selfless too – but the structure of the team was right and also he was not alone. Batista and Enrique played incredibly strong and useful football. Burruchaga added secondary edge to the team – not only with creative midfield work, but ready to take the initiative in any moment when the opposition concentrated too much on Maradona and there was another opening to be explored. Defensively Argentina was very disciplined and strong, hardly giving any chance to the other team – frankly, Pumpido had little to do in the whole tournament. The big advantage of Argentina was intelligence, though – it was a squad very well reading the flow of the game and able to quickly change its approach according to specific needs. Argentina controlled and changed the tempo of the game, something very dangerous for European teams used to high speed play – Argentina easily slowed down the tempo to make their opponents kind of lost, but immediately accelerated in the next second in attack. Skillful players, the Argentines had no problem finding open space to explore. Physically strong and fearless, they were not beatable by tough and enduring European teams, matching them completely, but adding the special South American viciousness – merciless tackles, arguing, wasting time, simulating, fighting, hunting particular players, every dirty trick in the book they employed. Beckenbauer said that his team made defensive mistakes in the last minutes of the final and thus lost – the opponent was down physically and psychologically, he said, and his team did not use that by pressing further, but stepped back. Did not look so and maybe the German players sensed it better than their coach – the Argentines were not down at all after the second German goal. They were ready to run, fight, attack, as long as it takes. They did not lose their minds for a second, minded defense just as well and scored from a counter-attack, their specialty. And could score at least one more goal after that, when there was no time left. They read the Germans perfectly, that was all – they knew that the Germans would not go back to keep their lucky result and drag the match into overtime, so used the wild shapeless rush of the Germans to their own advantage. And it was not just that, but also pressed the Germans back, took the initiative into their own hands and when it was a matter of seconds… well, then it was full display of dirty tricks. The endless procrastination of taking a touch in their own half, which evolved into substitution of Burruchaga, dragging time with the full knowledge that the referee is going to give extra minutes for that, but also playing with German nerves. Can you blame them? Hardly… for Trobbiani, fielded just for wasting time in the ‘process’ of substitution almost scored a forth goal. Argentina was fair champion.

Third place

Third place match
28.06.86 (12.00) Puebla, Estadio Cuauhtemoc

FRA - BEL 4:2 (2:1, 2:2, 3:2)

(~21000) Courtney ENG, Silva CHI, Al-Sharif SYR

FRA: Rust - Le Roux (56 Bossis), Battiston (c), Bibard, Amoros - Tigana (84 Tusseau), Genghini, Vercruysse, Ferreri - Bellone, Papin
BEL: Pfaff - Gerets, Grun, Demol, Renquin (64 F.van der Elst) – Vervoort, Scifo (46 L.van der Elst), Mommens - Ceulemans (c), Claesen, Veyt

0:1 Ceulemans 11, 1:1 Ferreri 27, 2:1 Papin 43, 2:2 Claesen 73, 3:2
Genghini 103, 4:2 Amoros 109 p

booked: Pfaff
The match for third place was already meaningless and therefore anticlimactic. Just like in 1982, France put its reserves in it, Platini not playing at all. Belgium fielded the regulars, but the spark was not there. Some commentators said that the teams were exhausted from too much football, but the predominant opinion was more on target: in the 1980s 3rd place interested nobody. Only first place counted. 
Largely because of the many changes in the French team, Belgium took the initiative. 
And scored the first goal, Ceulemans as if taking revenge. Revenge for his scared performance against Argentina. But the French had enough class even without Platini and finished the first half leading 2-1. 
Still in the second half Belgium managed to stay on track and equalized. The regular time ended 2—2. 

In overtime the French were fresher, if anything. 

Two more goals made it 4-2 France and the 3rd place was theirs. Overall, it was not so bad at all – 6 goals, 120 minutes play, the feast lasted to the end, even if the teams were not very interested and only 21 000 fans showed up. 
Belgium finished 4th, their best ever place at World Cup finals. There is wrong name on the picture – instead of Scifo is written Vercauteren (misspelled for good measure). No reason the Red Devils and their fans to be unhappy – hardly anybody counted on them to go that far, but they did. Contributed to the memorable part of the finals. A pleasant surprise, considering their shaky beginning, but once again Belgium showed great spirit. Belgium played three games ending with overtime, so they had one of the most grueling and taxing tasks, but were not bothered – a clear case not only of determination, but good training and adaptation to the difficult hot conditions of Mexico. Guy Thys reaffirmed his big reputation, but he did not have the team he once had: back in 1980 Belgium was newer, younger team. For a country with limited pool of players, maintaining a strong team is very difficult – players age and drop out, but similar replacement were difficult to find. Yet, Thys managed to keep his team strong. Unfortunately, that was quite obviously the swan song of this team – Thys himself was getting too old and so were the key players: Broos and Vandereicken were not up to task anymore, Broos had to be replaced after the first games, Vandereicken did not play at all. At 32 Pfaff perhaps could stay a few more years, for goalkeepers last longer, but Gerets, Renquin, Vercauteren, Ceulemans, and very likely De Wolf, Veyt, and maybe Vanderbergh played their last World Cup. The next generation was seemingly of a lesser quality: perhaps Franky van der Elst, if healthy and in good form would stay. Scifo was certainly the new star and only 20. Add Claesen, Vervoort, Demol, and Grun... Not enough to take over. No problems with goalkeepers – there were two goalies ready to replace Pfaff. Belgium most likely was heading to some decline and for that it was too bad they lost the match for the 3rd place – would have been a nice tribute to the team which did so much with so little in the last 6 years. 
France finished better than 4 years earlier, but there was a bit of disappointment. France started more solid than inspired, a certain change in their play was noticeable – harder and tougher play, instead of the elegant and creative style with which they dazzled fans all around the world. France was unable to take revenge against West Germany, which was entirely beatable team – but 1982 repeated itself, almost fully. France could be blamed for putting the last nail in the coffin of the third-place match: twice in a row they showed to all to see that this match did not matter at all by fielding reserves. France can be also blamed for not evolving tactically – for instance, the innovation introduced in 1984 – 3-5-2 – was not followed and 4-4-2 was used now. On the other hand, France contributed to arguably the most beautiful match at the 1986 finals – the quarterfinal with Brazil. This match made many, many people hoping to see France World champion or at least to play at the final, the beautiful football to triumph again. And the team was not up to the task of beating the German machine... and with that one of the most exciting generations was going to step down without world success. France was facing the same problem as Belgium: Platini, Giresse, Tigana, Bossis, Rocheteau, and very likely Battiston played their last World Cup. After them... it was not very promising: Amoros, Le Roux, Fernandez, Bellone, maybe Papin. Not the same class and the absence of creative midfielders was absolutely clear. Just for that France deserved more than third place, but the chance was denied by the Germans and for that the French had to blame themselves at least a bit.

1/2 finals

25.06.86 (12.00) Guadalajara, Estadio Jalisco

GER - FRA 2:0 (1:0)

(~47500) Agnolin ITA, Nemeth HUN, Petrović JUG

GER: Schumacher - Brehme, K.H.Förster, Jakobs, Briegel - Eder, Matthäus - Magath, Rolff, K.Allofs, Rummenigge (c - 58 Völler)
FRA: Bats - Ayache, Battiston, Bossis, Amoros - Tigana, Giresse (72Vercruysse), Platini (c), Fernandez - Stopyra, Bellone (66 Xuereb)

1:0 Brehme 9, 2:0 Völler 90

booked: Magath / Fernandez

The massacre started the moment the referee opened the game – the ball was not even moved away from the center when Stopyra was hacked by Brehme and needed medical help. And to the end of the game it was mostly that, Agnolin stopping the game twice in a minute. It was thoroughly European brutality – cold, cynical, casual – in which both teams were equal. Platini committed two vicious fouls before the 5th minute started. The murder never stopped, the fans were displeased and almost from the middle of the first half to the end they booued both teams and the referee. The referee for letting all that unpunished – it may have been an order from FIFA to go easy on the cards, but so much was unpunished and so frequently fouls were comitted that Agnolin eventually chose not even to stop the game if the offended team still possessed the ball. Practically in the lats minute Fernandez was booked, but for what offense? Most likely for swearing at Agnolin. 
Bats made terrible mistake in the 9th minute and Brehme scored after a free kick – it was strong kick, the wall strangely did not move at all, but it was a ball going straight in the hands of Bands. And from his hands... into the net. Little change after that – it was obvious that West Germany will soldier one more match and France will get the initiative, which they did. But it was somewhat wrong tactics... 
 As the match progressed, the French approach became clear and with that – the wrongness of it. France , possessing the ball more often, did not control the tempo – for some reason they chose to play fast, a wrong approach to playing against tireless runners. In the same time the French strikers did not press the Germans when they got the ball in their own half, but moved far back near the central line. Thus, the Germans had the luxury to build speed without harassment – Briegel in particular became the most dangerous German because of that, ruling the whole left side of the field. The French midfield also went back when Germans started building their pathetic attacks in their own half – behind the central line, but leaving a gap between themselves and the defence. All that was very convenient for the German team, as clumsy as it was. This gaps and the need to stop German attacks confused the French attacking efforts as well – they were somewhat chaotic, further complicated by the eternal problems of their strikers – Stopyra and Bellone were the same as every combination before them: always making a fatal extra step which killed the scoring opportunity. The long crosses from the wings had no adressee, for France had no center forward. The whole idea to use Platini as a striker was wrong – he was not the typical center forward to wait in the penalty area for high balls and fight for it in the air. So, he was late, he was not even there, the crosses was meaningless. And France lost its dominance in midfield also... it would have been much better if Platini played the playmaker, control and change the tempo, organize attacks. 
Yes, France was the better team, but they missed everything to be missed and more. Schumacher was also at top form and prevented a lot, but it was false dominance and even false bad luck – France practically lost the game early, when they did not slow the tempo – playing at German speed, they practically let the Germans dictate the match even when the French had more possession and looked like the much better team. Nerves served them badly as the end was getting near and the result was still 0-1: they went entirely into frantic attacks, the whole team, and made mistake after mistake at finishing. Thus in the last minute the Germans scored the second goal... after a simple counterattack,which left two Germans against single defender and Bats far ahead from his net. Foller got the ball, went by Bats and scored at leisure in the empty net. And Agnolin ended the match. And for some reason the French swarmed him to argue and protest who knows what... they lost the game by their own doings. Of course, it was no fun to see the ugly and clueless Germans win, but the French allowed them. Too bad for football, but wrong tactics resulted in German victory. For a second consecutive World Cup West Germany eliminated France at the semifinals. Both times playing bland football, only running and kicking. Unlucky French, twice unlucky, many said and say to this very day – but watch this game again! There was no way to beat the Germans playing the way they want it, that was the simple truth. 
25.06.86 (16.00) Mexico City, Estadio Azteca

(+110000) Márquez MEX, Valente POR, Méndez GUA

ARG: Pumpido - Cuciuffo, Ruggeri, Brown, Olarticoechea - Giusti, Enrique, Batista, Burruchaga (86 Bochini) - Maradona (c), Valdano
BEL: Pfaff - Gerets, Grun, Demol, Renquin (54 Desmet) - Vervoort, Scifo,Vercauteren, Ceulemans (c) - Claesen, Veyt

1:0 Maradona 52, 2:0 Maradona 63

booked: Valdano / Veyt
Later – and cemented as fact eventually – it was said that this match was one-man show, that Maradona destroyed Belgium. It was not precisely that – he was great, but if we go for this simplistic opinion, an interesting tactical battle would be entirely omitted. Argentina – Belgium was a meeting of teams with similar approach: defensive minded teams, looking for counter-attacks. So... what they could do? One option was both teams to stay passively in their own halves, waiting the others to dare move ahead. Such move never comes, 120 minutes of boredom and the lottery of penalty shoot-out. The other option was rather unexpected: Belgium predictably moved back, leaving the initiative to the Argentines. They did not mind – they played slowly, possessed the ball, and attacked without forgetting their defense. They simply moved the proper defensive line to the central line, saturated the Belgian half with players and started their defensive efforts right there, near the Belgian penalty area. Which killed possibilities for speedy counterattacks in empty space. In the same time the Argentines used their vast technical superiority to the best, making clever passes in vulnerable areas and suddenly accelerating the speed. Alternating the speed was the key for success, Argentina dominated for good 20 minutes before Belgium found some way to go ahead – which was exactly that: changing into fully attacking approach to which Argentina had quick answer: they simply moved back in pack. But they already managed to remove the edge from the Belgians – brutality started right with the beginning of the game and the Argentines hunted down Ceulemans. It looked like the big striker got scared, for he started to shoot at every moment the ball reached his legs – shooting not that match to score, but just to get rid of the ball before Argentine defenders came near and kicked him to death. No use of such shots, nothing dangerous for Pumpido. And when the Argentines were murdering Belgians, they were more Belgian than them – masters of the offside trap, the very Belgian invention. There was a moment when 3 Belgians were left in offside! Three players knowing how to play against offside traps best... 
Meantime Argentina looked very comfortable – now there were opportunities for counterattacks, in which Maradona excelled and the only dangerous moments were still in front of Pfaff. The goal was getting near... Belgium was distracted and may be even confused by the problems they were facing: staying in defense – very dangerous; going into attack – very dangerous. Belgium was not comfortable switching from one approach to another and back, but the Argentines had no problem with that at all. It was even like they were not changing anything – only moving their defensive wall from one place to another. At about the 40th minute it was all clear – Argentina took full control, dominated and only miracle could upset their victory.T
The second half was entirely Argentinian and Maradona scored 2 goals. 
Later the match was described as Maradona show, but he was not alone. True, when Belgium was tamed, Maradona was brilliant, but that was in the second half and also obscures the intelligence the team employed. Belgium had a chance here and there, but Pumpido was inspired and saved everything. Once Argentina ensured victory, the team somewhat slowed down, saving energy – the job was already done, but even when relaxing the Argentines did not drop their guard, becoming careless. 

1/4 finals


21.06.86 (12.00) Guadalajara, Estadio Jalisco

FRA - BRA 1:1 (1:1, 1:1, 1:1) p 4-3

(+65000) Igna ROM, Christov CZE, Nemeth HUN

FRA: Bats - Battiston, Amoros, Bossis, Tusseau - Giresse (84 Ferreri), Tigana,
Platini (c), Fernandez - Stopyra, Rocheteau (101 Bellone)
BRA: Carlos - Josimar, Julio Cesar, Edinho (c), Branco - Alemão, Socrates,
Junior (91 Silas), Elzo - Müller (72 Zico), Careca

0:1 Careca 18, 1:1 Platini 42 (75 Bats saved a penalty by Zico)

Penalties: (0:0) Socrates (save Bats), 1:0 Stopyra, 1:1 Alemão, 2:1 Amoros,
2:2 Zico, 3:2 Bellone, 3:3 Branco, (3:3) Platini (out), (3:3) Julio Cesar
(out), 4:3 Fernandez

booked: Edinho (during pen shoot-out)
A lot was expected from this match and the teams not only did not disappoint, but elevated the duel into incredible show and to one of the all-time best World Cup matches. Too bad this game was not the final – 120 minutes followed by penalty kicks; wonderful football and fantastic misses of not one, but three superstars. What can you say... one team had to be eliminated. Brazil already came to its great form, France was also improving, the 1/8 finals whetted everybody's appetite for more beautiful football. Brazil was slightly stronger in the first half and scored relatively early goal, but France was not going to give up and although a bit illogically, Platini equalized shortly before the break. So, the second half started again from equal positions and France was seemingly getting the upper hand this time, now Brazil was showing its own great ambition and determination and had this ' illogical' chance France got in the first half: a penalty. 
Zico, already established as the 'supersub' of the Brazilian team, stepped in. And missed! It was not the best penalty of the grand-master, but such things happen. The debate about why Zico may go fruitlessly to the end of time... the result stayed 1-1 and no team managed to change it to the end of regular time. In the extra-time one may slightly blame the referee for not giving a penalty to the French, but the fact remains: the game was not even stopped. Which may have been even a gesture to the excited fans: let give them drama to the fullest. However, Igna soon made a second mistake. Was it a mistake? The penalty shoot out started and started with a big bang: Socrates shot the first penalty – and missed! Zico, however, did not miss this time, but Brazil was trailing France now. Then Bellone stepped in, the ball bounced back from the post, hit Carlos, and bounced from his head into the net. Igna allowed the score. Was he right? Brazil protested a long time and Edinho was booked, but whoever changed a referee's decision? But was it a rightful goal? The rules are a bit murky about that... no big deal if the ball comes in after slight deflection from either the goalkeeper or from the a goalpost. But after two deflections? What if the ball deflects from the side post up and then from the top post into the net? It was similar case – from post to goalkeeper's head and into the net. The player was the problem, although passive at this point. But if that, why not the opposite – say, the ball deflects from the post back to the striker and just bounces from him into the net? Really, it was splitting hairs – Igna allowed the score. 'Justice' was restored quickly – Platini stepped in and kissed the ball before making his super-important shot. The ball went high and out... What a thrill – three of the greatest players in the world, all of them supreme penalty shooters missed. What a fate, what a drama. And immediately after him Julio Cesar was unlucky, the ball hit the side post and went out. Fernandez did not miss and France won. Brazil was send home. 
Standing from left: 'Socrates' Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, 'Elzo' Aloisio Coelho, 'Julio Cesar' da Silva, Edino Nazareth Filho 'Edinho', Claudio Ibrahim Vaz Leal 'Branco', 'Carlos' Roberto Gallo. Crouching: 'Josimar' Higinio Pereira, Luis Antonio Correa da Costa 'Muller', Leovegildo Lins Gama 'Junior', Antonio de Oliveira Filho 'Careca', Ricardo Rogerio de Brito 'Alemao'. 
So unfair... Brazil, the most exciting team and, for many, the strongest one in two consecutive world finals was eliminated early again. A whole wonderful generation was going out without climbing the highest football peak. From Brazilian perspective, it was already 3rd World Cup in a row in which the team played great and lost. A national tragedy. From outside point of view... the mediocre football Brazil played in their early games was quickly erased from memory – now the great Brazilians were lamented. They were stronger than in 1982, they deserved at least to reach the final, what a bad luck not just for them, but for everyone. It was true that Brazil was superior team than the one in 1982, for now they had a good goalkeeper and paid more attention to defense. But it was also true that Brazil struggled greatly until Santana found the right combination of players as the finals progressed. It was not the joyous wonderfully playing squad the world saw 4 years earlier – the current Brazil shaped into that only in the last group match. One problem was not solved, though, and it is very difficult to figure out why – the strikers were not very effective. Same was noticed in 1982 and continued into 1986, no matter what combinations Santana tried. But it was impossible to find out why was that – the boys played strongly, had even flashes of greatness, there was nothing to really blame them... they just did not score goals. And little something was costly in the long run. Brazil had no reason to be ashamed of its performance, but going home proudly... Brazil was not Northern Ireland, good play did not count. No matter how many fans and observers thought them the best team in 1986, they were eliminated. 
21.06.86 (16.00) Monterrey, Estadio Universitario

GER - MEX 0:0 (0:0, 0:0. 0:0) p 4-1

(+44000) Diaz COL, Bambridge AUS, Snoddy NIR

GER: Schumacher - Berthold, K.H.Förster, Jakobs, Briegel - Brehme, Eder
(115 Littbarski), Matthäus, Magath - K.Allofs, Rummenigge (c - 59 D.Hoeness)
MEX: Larios - Servin, F.Cruz, Quirarte, Amador (70 J.Cruz) - Munoz, Aguirre,
Negrete, Espana - Boy (c - 32 de los Cobos), Sánchez

Penalties: 1:0 K.Allofs, 1:1 Negrete, 2:1 Brehme, (2:1) Quirarte (save
Schumacher), 3:1 Matthäus, (3:1) Servin (save Schumacher), 4:1 Littbarski

booked: K.Allofs, Förster, Matthäus / Aguirre, Quirarte, de los Cobos, Servin,
sent off: Berthold (84) / Aguirre (100)
Great football was not expected from this match and there was none. It was long battle better forgotten quickly, which was decided by penalty shoot-out. Mexico was slightly better 110 minutes and West Germany – the last 10 minutes of the overtime, but there were few shots. Only one in the overtime, for instance. Mexico played as much as they could and were permitted; West Germany soldiered. This game was mostly blamed on the referee. 
The Colombian Diaz was accused of over-zellous refereeing – 7 yellow cards and 2 red ones! What was that? Diaz did not let the guys play... after all, it was the match establishing Schumacher as gentleman player. As if a wolf could become a lamb... Both teams were hacking each other from the first second and did not stop to the end. The Mexicans were systematically hunting down Matthaus and Briegel. The Germans... well, can you blame a machine with all kinds of dangerous parts for cutting off the hand of one careless enough to come close? Can you blame a rifle for spitting out bullets? That what rifles do... and so Germans. Matthaus and Briegel were kicked any each way 120 minutes and finished the game unharmed. Tomas Boy was out injured in the 32nd minute,though... which pretty much killed the creative force of the Mexican team and practically left Hugo Sanchez without supply of useful balls. There was hardly a full minute of play in this match, yet, now the wave was reversing: so far there was outcry of brutal football and referees not punishing the culprits, but now... Now it was a referee showing too many cards and preventing the boys from playing with his whistle. Diaz lost the game early – of this he was guilty. It was clear that the Mexicans were after Matthaus and Briegel by the 5th minute and nobody was punished. By the 10th minute Rummenigge tried a karate kick, worth of Bruce Lee, at the head of Mexican player and the game was not even stopped! And immediately after that Schumacher rather casually attempted to decapitate another Mexican – again, no reaction from the referee. By the 15th minute it was crystal clear who has the upper hand, when the German wall ignored Diaz entirely – the wall was no more 6 meters from the ball and reacted to all gestures and orders of Diaz with adding one and then a second player to itself. It was like asking a boulder to move... no reaction, no movement, nothing... until Diaz gave up. After that... yes, he made more mistakes – wrong calls, no calls, too early for some things, too late for other. Not a single card was undeserved, but... in the eyes it was too many cards for nothing. True, it was very difficult to punish Germans – how can you find a machine doing something deliberately: it was it job to run and mow, so it did without emotions, mechanically, orderly... And how many cards one can show anyway? To every player? Diaz had no authority on the pitch, that was sure, and for the opponents – well, that was their best anyway. The goalkeepers had very little to do in this match. Was it the ugliest game? Hardly, but it was a typical example of 1980s football. Run and chop. Better speak of something else... German victory was quite expected. Lucky team... having the weakest possible opponent in the 1/8 finals and weakest in the ¼ finals. Why so lucky, was a question better put to the Danish coach Piontek... if he was really clever, he would try to lose against the Germans in the group match: the second-placed in the group knew who they will meet all the way to semi-finals, for the group was finishing after the others. It was Morocco and then the winner of Mexico-Bulgaria. The Germans chose to take the second place... and Denmark went into the mouth of Spain. West Germany suffered terribly against both Morocco and Mexico, but still reached the semi-finals. It was not the first time... one could easily recall the lost group match in 1974 against DDR. It was not like West Germany did not play – for pretty much the same reasons as in the match against Denmark: the team was struggling so far and it was under heavy criticism. Plus, it was a political clash. But West Germany lost back then and appeared in the easier semi-final group. Now – against 2 easier opponents, thanks to the lost game. Twice West Germany benefited by losing a game, thus winning in the long run. And in 1982 the Germans proved they win in the long run by not playing at all – the shameless theater with Austria. There was a big lesson in that. 

Mexico was eliminated – it was expected. Deep in their hearts, the Mexican fans knew it as well – only a miracle could move them further than the ¼ finals. They did not have a team equal to the leading football nations. In fact, it was rather limited team – Hugo Sanchez and Tomas Boy were the really classy players. Add Negrete, Aguirre, Quirarte and that was all. Severe goalkeeping problems – the half-Japanese Pablo Larios was much respected in the dressing room, but it was not for goalkeeping. Yes, he did what he could – perhaps even more than what he could – but he was spectacular liability: the fans loved his flying acrobatics, but it was just a show - he was not strong goalie. Not his fault – Mexico did not have solid goalies. Did not have solid players at many positions. Bora Milutinovic did wonderful job with the limited resources at hand – first of all, he managed to keep his team both motivated and relaxed. His personality greatly helped – all smiles and jokes, he managed to keep journalists on his side. The players respected him and listened to him – and tried as best as they can to follow his requirements. It helped Mexico knew him well – he played there, he started coaching there, Tomas Boy played against him on the pitch, Hugo Sanchez played a bit along with him and then was coached by him. If there was anything to criticize Milutinovic for, may be it was the choice to run and battle the Germans – Mexican players were slower, slower even than the slow Magath and Matthaus. And physically weaker – the Germans could easily run for hours, this was not a secret. Trying to outrun them only served the Germans. The tactic Morocco used was much more effective, but may be Milutinovic just did not have technical enough players for similar approach. And when the Germans injured Boy there was nobody to control the tempo. Overall, Mexico did well – they went as far as they could, they did not lose to West Germany on the pitch. 

22.06.86 (12.00) Mexico City, Estadio Azteca

ARG - ENG 2:1 (0:0)

(~115000) Ben Naceur TUN, Dochev BUL, Ulloa COS

ARG: Pumpido - Cuciuffo, Brown, Ruggeri, Olarticoechea - Batista, Giusti, Burruchaga (76 Tapia), Enrique - Valdano, Maradona (c)
ENG: Shilton (c) - G.M.Stevens, Butcher, Fenwick, Sansom - Hoddle, Steven (76 Barnes), Reid (66 Waddle), Hodge - Lineker, Beardsley

1:0 Maradona 51 h?, 2:0 Maradona 56, 2:1 Lineker 81 h

booked: Batista / Fenwick, Butcher

Well, this match remains in memory and is still talked about, it is so well known. For two reasons, pretty much defining the football of the 1980s: the ugly and the wonderful went hand in hand, entangled and inseparable. Cannot cancel the one without canceling the other. Hero or villain, no clear cut, no distinction. The shameless and shameful 'Hand of God' followed by the incredible beauty of the second goal scored by Maradona, which is at its last phase above. 
Lineker scored his 6th goal, but England lost. They tried, but Argentina had enough teeth.
Fair, unfair... the English bookies refused to accept 'the hand of God' and did return lost bets, but even this patriotic act did not change reality – England went home. For many and not just British, it was unjust and perhaps in the name of justice the actual performance of England was elevated higher. True, England left somewhat better memories than in the 10 years, but still struggled and anybody who thought that they unfairly lost possible title should be directed to watch again the games against Portugal and Morocco. No doubt, Bobby Robson did good job, but a combination of traditional attitudes, bad luck, and may be late decisions crippled England. First of all, for all the praise Robson got, he did not bring England up to date – nobody was playing defense in line in the world, but England. By 1986, this was terribly outdated... it was outdated concept 10 years earlier, now it was simply some 'prehistoric' and the main result of it was rather easy penetration of English defense by modern strikers, playing on the edge of offside – they just run away in empty space with only Shilton in front of them. Midfield finally appeared to be more creative, but it was plagued by injuries – particularly Bryan Robson. Things improved only when the middle line was practically replaced with different combination, but it is doubtful B. Robson would have made such drastic change if Bryan Robson was relatively healthy and Wilkins was not red carded. The old inclination to have typical center-forward kept Hateley for awhile and Lineker became instantly ineffective. The much better combination Lineker-Beardsley was finally found, but more out of desperation than anything. One can blame Robson for late substitute in the match against Argentina – Barnes invigorated the team, but came on the field when there was no enough time - but that's academic. England was and still a moral winner, but only if the second goal of Maradona is ignored. England needed huge rework – the whole defense had to be replaced (with whom?), the midfield re-invented (no matter how good Bryan Robson, his frequent injuries made him liability) – and all that needed a coach with some modern thinking, for radical vision was a must. As it was since 1972... It was a verdict pronounced by English TV commentator in the early minutes of the match with Argentina: Maradona was the only star of the gauchos, and England also had only one... Peter Shilton. A man who can only keep a game scoreless. 
22.06.86 (16.00) Puebla, Estadio Cuauhtemoc

BEL - ESP 1:1 (1:0, 1:1, 1:1) p 5-4

(~45000) Kirschen GER, Brummeier AUT, Codesal MEX

BEL: Pfaff - Gerets, Renquin, Demol, Grun - Vercauteren (106 L.van der Elst), Scifo, Vervoort - Ceulemans (c), Claesen, Veyt (83 Broos)
ESP: Zubizarreta - Tomás (46 Señor), Gallego, Chendo, Camacho (c) - Julio Alberto, Victor, Michel, Calderé - Butragueno, Julio Salinas (63 Eloy)

1:0 Ceulemans 34, 1:1 Señor 85

Penalties: 0:1 Señor, 1:1 Claesen, (1:1) Eloy (save Pfaff), 2:1 Scifo,
2:2 Chendo, 3:2 Broos, 3:3 Butragueno, 4:3 Vervoort, 4:4 Victor, 5:4 L.van
der Elst

booked: Demol, Grun - Tomás, Calderé
If there was anything to say before the match, it was a bit of complaining – Belgium had 3 days more to rest, recover, and plot. It was sure they would be fresher. Was it fair? Well, there is no ideal way to make a schedule. Tactically, both teams were expected to play what they played so far – looking for counterattacks. This slightly favoured Belgium – they were masters of this kind of game, they played it since the 1960s, created and perfected the offside trap and were able to slice the opponent with speedy counterattack, not bypassing the midfield, but using their side backs as constructors. Spain won over Denmark in similar fashion, but it was team used to play with the ball, so they were likely to be lured into attacking efforts, which suited the Red Devils best. And so the match went... Spain seemed to be somewhat prevailing and in control, but incapable of really penetrating the Belgian defense in part because they had to keep and eye on their back too and did not dare to put defenders massively ahead. Gerets, in particular, kept the Spanish defenders back with his deadly long passes in open space. The slight superiority of Spain did not materialize with anything dangerous – both goalkeepers had little to do and when they had to act, acted superbly. Still, Belgium got what they wanted in the 34th minute. After that Spain had no choice but to push froward, to try and try, and try. Going ahead in mass, they left their own back quite open and the Belgians made good use of this, but little dangerous came from their efforts too. Call it sheer luck, call it the genius of Butragueno... 5 minutes before the end Butragueno most likely improvised a corner kick, passing the ball quite back and from great distance Senor managed to kick a lightning bolt right on target. 1-1 and the the overtime produced nothing more, except the Spaniards looking more and more tired. But the crawled to penalty shootout, the sheer lottery, in which somewhat curiously two great goalkeepers were unable to save a single ball. It was the lousy kick of Eloy which decided the winner: Pfaff was practically required to take the ball, it would have been bigger effort and even skill to let it in the net. Belgium reached the semifinals.
Spain went as far as they could. How to describe them... solid. The great promise of 1984 did not materialize, Spain'86 was a step back from Spain'84. But it was not the ugly and quickly burnt-out Spain'82. The team somewhat lacked depth – Eloy and Caldere were clearly inferior to the regulars; Victor and Salinas apparently reached the limits of their potentials two years ago and those who thought they will go further up were wrong; Zubizarreta was also a step back compared to Arconada. Too bad Camacho was getting too old, it was more or less the end of him as a national team player. On the positive side was rather compact and well balanced squad, playing competent football and less inclined to make a corrida out of football match. And Butragueno. He already was a star, but his debut on world stage was excellent. A deadly player. Top scorer. His teammates used him well – they knew what to do to get the best of him, to pressure defense in the penalty area, to pass balls in tiny free space, where he can rush and score, or cross balls from the wings and he can pop up suddenly and head it in the net. Spain had future, but needed more endurance and also a few classy players. 

1/8 finals

1/8 finals
15.06.86 (12.00) Mexico City, Estadio Azteca

MEX - BUL 2:0 (1:0)

(+114000) Arppi FIlho BRA, Igna ROM, Méndez GUA

MEX: Larios - Amador, Quirarte, F.Cruz, Servin - Munoz, Negrete, Espana, Boy (c- 80 de los Cobos) - Aguirre, Sanchez
BUL: Mikhailov - Zdravkov, Arabov, Petrov, Dimitrov (c) - Sadkov, Yordanov, Kostadinov, Gospodinov - Pashev (80 Iskrenov), Getov (71 Sirakov)

1:0 Negrete 35, 2:0 Sarvin 61 h

booked: Arabov

For each team the opponent was the best possible choice, but Mexico was the favourite – not only they played at home, but the Bulgarians were shapeless squad, plagued with problems, which never won a game at World Cup finals. Voutzov was paying heavy price for his own selection of players: his regulars were disappointing, he tried to change the squad and quickly run out of options. Zdravkov was moved back to play in defense, presumably, as right full-back. But that was a return to the start of the championship, the match against Italy, and the coach came back to that not because such idea worked, but because there was nobody else to try. The veteran midfielders Zhelyazkov and Plamen Markov were out, so what was left of the option played. The left winger Pashev was put in attack, combined with his club teammate Kostadinov at the other wing. Presumably, Plamen Getov was to be center-forward. It was idiotic team... the natural inclination of Bulgarian coaches for so many years was to saturate the defense, but looking at the squad it was hard to imagine how: not a team for 3-5-2 (although just by the typical positions of the players that was the concept on paper), not 4-4-2, for there were 3 strikers... not 4-3-3, not 3-4-3... what exactly was Bulgaria fielding was probably a huge mystery to the very coach making the team: there were no less than 3 attacking midfielders, playing on the left side, and quite useless anywhere else. No defensive midfielder at all, unless Zdravkov was to man this position – leaving the right flank of defense unmanned, of course. Two wingers, both restricted to his won side and unable to play at the other, but no center-forward. To some observers, it looked like that Kostadinov was moved back to midfield – 4-4-2 formation – which, if it was the grand idea, was more than stupid: the winger never played midfield in his life. The fantastic formation was entirely clueless and shapeless on the pitch – reaching new low. Mexico had no problems with its starters and was quick to explore the many weaknesses of Bulgaria, the biggest one obvious from the beginning of the game: the Bulgarian squad not only had no idea what to do on the field, but seemingly had no desire even to move. No wonder Mexico immediately occupied the Bulgarian half and not only stayed there, but created plenty of scoring opportunities. Mikhaylov, however, was rock solid and made some fantastic saves. But the goalkeeper could not resist Mexico alone and the moment when he was powerless came – incredibly beautiful shot by Negrete ended in the net. The second half started pretty much as the first half and Mexico scored a second goal – the job was more or less done, for Bulgaria clearly was powerless. The second Mexican goal curiously spurred some life in the Bulgarians and they went into attacks, but they were chaotic, just a desperate running ahead by everybody. Mexico faced some troubles, but Larios was solid between the goalposts, the Bulgarian storm was neutralized and as the game was coming near the end, the original disposition was restored – Mexico dominating, the ball in the Bulgarian half, and at least one opportunity to score a third goal. Voutzov, true to his lack of meaningful ideas made changes – what he wanted to achieve perhaps he never knew: the substitutes came too late to make any difference, they were both strikers, but they replaced strikers – if the coach wanted to put more attackers in hope of launching relentless attacks to the end, that was not the right move – he did not increase the number of attackers, it looked like making substitutions just because one can make substitutions. No miracle happened, of course, and Mexico won confidently, playing their best match so far. 
Bulgaria was eliminated, all too late really. Their performance had peculiar quality: they made no impression whatsoever, left no memories at all. They were going from bad to worse, every next match sinking lower. The only thing to distinguish Bulgaria was an anti-record: this was their 5th World Cup and they never won a match! The only player who played well and with heart was the goalkeeper Borislav Mikhaylov, but even his performance was not really noticed, buried in the general blank the team left after itself. Good or bad, Mikhaylov alone could not do much... Back in Bulgaria criticism was quick to come, but the venom was also misplaced: coach and players were blamed for everything and as long as they accepted that and did not talk back, everything was fine – and ready to be repeated again, for there was little real analysis and meaningful propositions for changes. It is even pointless to go into critical details of what was wrong with the selection and the tactics (if there were any, but with selection like this – what tactics?) It is pointless to ask why Christo Kolev did not play at all – perhaps the most creative midfield conductor in the squad. Actually, such stupid question surfaced at the time and it was answered that Kolev was too young and inexperienced... so, why he was hauled to Mexico than? Questions like that, leading nowhere, for they had to be asked before the World Cup. Now... Bozhidar Iskrenov practically summed the general idiocy in late in night radio interview right after the match with Mexico, which, fortunately, not many heard in 3 a.m.: 'Well, the Mexican crowd was too noisy and confused us, we are not used to play in such conditions.' Iskrenov blamed the Mexican fans... a professional player found it wrong, even malicious, to play in front of full stadium. And to confirm that no lessons were learned, that nothing will change, Georgy Dimitrov immediately after the World Cup joined the French St.Etienne in violation of the transfer rules: he was not 28 years old yet to be permitted to play abroad, but the very Federation, which made the age rule and conducted all foreign transfers simply went for the money, rule or no rule. How anything would change in such environment? The criticism was just a white noise and the general public took it exactly as that. How to take seriously criticism, when it meant nothing – Georgy Dimitrov, for instance, was chosen as one of the guiltiest, one of the prime culprits, and the piles of blame lead only to quick lucrative foreign transfer. As if he was rewarded for accepting the blame, right or wrong, going through the motions of some absurd theater. 
15.06.86 (16.00) Leon, Estadio Sergio Leon

BEL - ZSR 4:3 (0:1, 2:2, 3:2)

(+32000) Fredriksson SWE, Socha USA, Sánchez ESP

BEL: Pfaff - Grun (112 Clijsters), Gerets (101 L.van der Elst), Renquin, Vervoort - Scifo, Demol, Ceulemans (c), Vercauteren - Claesen, Veyt
ZSR: Dassajev - Bessonov, Demianenko (c), Kuznetsov, Bal - Zavarov (73 Rodionov), Aleinikov, Yakovenko (80 Yevtushenko), Yaremchuk - Belanov, Rats

0:1 Belanov 28, 1:1 Scifo 56, 1:2 Belanov 70, 2:2 Ceulemans 78, 3:2 Demol
102 h, 4:2 Claesen 109, 4:3 Belanov 111 p

booked: Renquin

Perhaps this picture summarizes the clash between Belgium and USSR best: Dassaev desperately trying to get the ball from Claessen and meantime Kuzhetzov looks like impartial observer. One of the most memorable games in this World Cup, a long epic, which ended only after overtime, 7 goals scored, a mega-surprise – this match had everything what football fans want and cherish. This is also a bit of a controversial game: the referee was criticized and particularly in the former USSR he was and is blamed for the surprising loss – it is practically established as fact, that 2 Belgians goals were scored from offside. But careful watching of the match on cool head does not support the 'fact' and outside USSR not everybody saw referee's mistakes or at least not as the prime and only reasons for the Soviet loss. What everybody saw, however, was one huge upset of expectations: USSR was major favourite before the game, many were already certain that this team will go all the way to the final and may be even win the championship. USSR was perhaps the only team entirely praised during the group stage. Belgium, on the other hand, has been not impressive at all – sturdy and surely going to fight, but not the same team so loved in 1980. The Soviets were flying and Belgium had little to offer against such brilliant team – that was the universal opinion before the game. Perhaps the only person who was not blinded by the dazzling Soviet football was Guy Thys: he saw the weaknesses in defense and had players who were more than capable of following his instructions: it became obvious as soon as the match started. The duo in the center of the line was unstable and often left gaps, both full backs were improvised – if universal Bessonov had no problem playing right full back and did it often in the past, Bal was playing new and foreign position for him at the other side. Belgium effectively explored that. USSR also had problems in attack, where only Belanov was really dangerous striker – Zavarov was rathre attacking midfielder than pure striker, but there was practically nobody else of high class at hand. Blokhin was 34... not the player he was 10 years ago and tending to go back in midfield now. What USSR had in abundance was midfielders and Lobanovksy tried to use them to fill the gaps. But it was not major worry – it was expected that USSR will attack and Belgium will be preoccupied with defense. The Belgian approach was well known – strong defense and counterattacks, which were expected to be killed by speedy and numerous Soviet midfield. And the game started as expected – the Soviets were the stronger and more dangerous team. Only Belgium was exactly just fighting back, but organized dangerous and perhaps better tailored attacks of their own – twice they were close to scoring, the ball bouncing off the goalposts. Yet, the inevitable happened – the Soviets scored first, they were seemingly the stronger team and the first half finished 1-0. Now it looked like that the match was certainly entertaining, but USSR was still the sure winner, perhaps scoring a goal or two in the second half. Which they did, but the Belgians scored first, equalizing in the 56th minute. The Soviets did not look upset – if it was an offside, their reaction was strange: no protests. By now the weaknesses of the Soviet defensive line were already seen, but there was still no doubt they were the stronger team and going again into attack, they got the lead again in the 70th minute. And again Belgium equalized, using the gaps in the Soviet defense – and again the goal was considered unmarked offside, but the Soviet players did not protest. Regular time ended 2-2. Still USSR was favoured, this 2-2 looked somewhat strange and very likely the last Belgium could do. The extra-time was different – both teams were tired, but had no time for clever patient play, they rushed into attacks, which were also full of mistakes, providing opportunities for both teams. In the extra time team USSR started losing coherence – the simpler Belgian approach was perhaps easier to maintain, they were getting more dangerous as a result. And now they started scoring, making the result 4-2. The 4th goal was a clear evidence of the problems of the Soviet defense – it was atrocious collective mistake, nobody was in place, nobody paid attention, nobody covered the opposite players. The Soviets almost came back right away – they got a rather suspect penalty and made the result 4-3. When the referee ended the match, perhaps everybody was speechless – so much thrills and entirely unexpected winner. USSR was out... Belgium played great. 
Instead of winning the title, USSR went home early – a sensational shock. Back at home, the failure was blamed first on the referee, and, second, on Lobanovsky. His decision to use substitutes against Canada was considered wrong and fatal – the flow of the team was broken. This argument is hard to judge: Lobanovsky broke long Soviet tradition to use regulars no matter what opponent, but there were plenty of examples when second teams were used in meaningless games to give a break to the regulars. The Mexican conditions – the heat and many complains about difficult surface of the stadiums – support Lobanovsky's decision. Lack of spirit was not the problem against Belgium, nor was sudden drop of form – the problems of Soviet defense had nothing to do with that, they were quite objective and old. Lobanovsky had to improvise defensive line every match: the best Soviet central defenders were injured and not in the team at all. There was problem with right full backs: no good ones in the country. The defense was shaky and beatable, especially by clever team like Belgium, tactically well versed and able to use weaknesses. Finally, the attack suffered from the same problem – few really good players, limited options. Belgium suffered from similar problems, but coped much better because of different tradition and approach: it was a team traditionally oriented towards defensive play and building counterattacks from its defensive line – so, all Belgian defenders were skilled in using the offside trap and and starting counterattacks. It worked perfectly against attack-oriented team, which built its game in midfield. May be the big mistake of Lobanovsky was leaving Protassov on the bench, but it is academic argument: Protassov was new and inexperienced player yet. The usual arguments against Lobanovsky – ignoring Spartak (Moscow) players in favour of his own Dinamo (Kiev) players does not hold water this time: apart from Dassaev, Spartak had nothing else to offer, as far as the weak positions are concerned. The elimination of USSR was seen as a big upset only because big expectations were built on very weak foundation: the group phase of the World Cup was bland and USSR suddenly was the bright light with its huge win over Hungary. After that the Soviets were not so 'great' and the tougher the opponent, the more difficult was for them – until they met a team determined to play to the last minute and sophisticated enough to see and use the obvious weaknesses of USSR. A team, which could not be outrun, a team very skillful in defense and having inconvenient tactics. USSR did not fail from grace – it played to the best of its ability and was outplayed just a little. 
16.06.86 (12.00) Guadalajara, Estadio Jalisco

BRA - POL 4:0 (1:0)

(~45000) Roth GER, Márquez MEX, Snoddy NIR

BRA: Carlos - Josimar, Julio Cesar, Edinho (c), Branco - Elzo, Alemão, Socrates (70 Zico), Junior, Careca, Müller (74 Silas)
POL: Młynarczyk - Przybyś (60 Furtok), Ostrowski, Tarasiewicz, Karaś - Wójcicki, Majewski, Urban (84 Żmuda), Boniek - Dziekanowski, Smolarek

1:0 Socrates 30 p, 2:0 Josimar 54, 3:0 Edinho 78, 4:0 Careca 82 p

booked: Careca, Edinho / Boniek, Smolarek, Dziekanowski
Well, another picture which tells it all. After the match many observed that both teams played as if continuing their previous games: Brazil was flying and Poland losing ground by the minute and with that, losing even desire to play, reaching eventually a state of indifference. Brazil was going up and up, now it looked like they were coming back to the excellent form they had in Spain'82, playing with joy and inspiration. The teams also looked finally shaped, everything was fine. As for Poland, the low expectations of them were entirely fulfilled: they were not a great team. Frankly, the only plausible thing to say about the Polish performance in Mexico was the gentlemanly decision to make Zmuda real 4-time World Cup player: it was not enough to be in the squad for that, one had to play a bit and he was fielded late in the clearly lost match against Brazil to make this crucial appearance. A honorable decision, but that was everything to say about Poland – it was clueless team from start to finish and in this match it became clear in the first minutes that Brazil will win. It was only a matter of time and the only question was how many goal the Brazilians will score. They scored 3 and the rise of Josimar continued, for not only he had a great day again, but scored again a goal – his second match for the national team and he scored 2 goals. That a right full back! The Brazilian magic was found again, may be even better magic than 4 years ago: good goalkeeper, solid defense, bright midfield, good attack. The problem of age also was seemingly solved: start with Socrates, then replace him when he gets tired with Zico. There was very little to say against this team and against Santana now, even in Brazil: the team won every game it played, received 0 goals, scored 6 in its last two games. They were playing beautifully again, started to score a lot, and were very strong in defense as well. New stars were rapidly rising too – all Brazil was loved for was in place, this was prime candidate for the title. 
Poland said good bye to Mexico too late for some. 1978 was repeated, just as some observers warned before the finals – after the great jump up, big fall down. It was not a great squad and there was nothing to be done about it: it was objective problem of not having enough talent at the moment. Basically, the team depended on the due Boniek-Smolarek, who were getting long in the tooth both individually and as a combination. It was useful to recall that this was the 3rd World Cup for Boniek – he was neither young, nor a surprise anymore. His inevitable decline was already noticed. But if Boniek was the young broom, the only bright player of tired and quite shapeless team in 1978, now there was no new emerging talent. Objectively, Poland had to be satisfied with reaching the World Cup and nothing more. The only thing to blame them was the lack of desire to play – they were quite indifferent. Not that much easily discouraged, but indifferent. No motivation at all. For such a team and for such an attitude, they progressed too far in the championship. 
16.06.86 (16.00) Puebla, Estadio Cuauhtemoc

ARG - URU 1:0 (0:0)

(~26000) Agnolin ITA, Valente POR, Courtney ENG

ARG: Pumpido - Cuciuffo, Ruggeri, Brown, Garré - Giusti, Batista (87 Olarticoechea), Burruchaga, Pasculli - Maradona (c), Valdano
URU: Alvez - Gutierrez, Acevedo (61 Paz), Rivero, Santin - Ramos, Bossio,Barrios (c), Pereyra - Cabrera (46 da Silva), Francescoli 

1:0 Pasculli 42

booked: Garré, Brown, Pumpido / Francescoli, Acevedo, da Silva, Santin

NOTE: The Uruguayan coach banned from taking place on the bench.
The 400th game of the World Cup

And one more photo capturing best the match. The monstrous clash of Argentina and Uruguay is a match put in the dark corner. The terrible reputation of Uruguay is the prime reason – it is enough to see the stats: 7 yellow cards! It is enough to remember the old rivalry between the two countries, which suggests lot of fights and little football – the result supports that. It is enough to recall that two teams with defensive tactics met, to 'be sure' that this game was very likely slow and riven by petty tricks. And then watch the game. Most of the expected was there, but it was fast, attack-oriented match with tons of football and thrilling moments. Neither team waited the other to make mistake, but tried its best to create scoring opportunities and score. It was clash of giants, equally vicious, but almost equally creative and determined to prevail. It is a miracle only one goal was scored and Argentina was lucky to win the game – the match easily would have ended any possible way. The TV camera often went to the stands, showing an old man calmly sipping mate – ah, can't miss the arch-devil Borras! He was a 'news'... let see what he is doing – some wild gestures, may be some voodoo ritual, fresh blood of just killed virgins? The devil just watched the game, not even reacting to some suspect calls on the pitch. Meantime his boys fought the neighbours with everything they had – and met equally tough, but creative opponents. That was the biggest surprise of this match – neither team barricaded itself in its own half, baiting the enemy to come forward and use an odd chance to counterattack. Argentina was slightly stronger and more dangerous, but Uruguay was not really weaker and there was no a moment of relaxation. Of course, the enemies kicked each other and then some more. Of course, they argued with the referee beyond the high limit of tolerance in the 80s – that was how Pumpido got booked. But despite the brutality, both teams played some fantastic football. Unlike many games of the championship, this one deserves a second watching. And it was too bad Uruguay lost, they did not deserve it really, although everybody was happy to see them out, because by now everybody was biased against them. As for Argentina – for the first time the team showed they can actually play football. After this match Argentina started to shape into title contender in the minds of observers and fans. 
Uruguay built such ugly reputation, everybody wanted them out and it was a relief to see them gone. The reaction in Uruguay was different – opinion changed from almost hatred for Borras and his hopeless team before the World Cup started to rallying in support of coach and team wronged by the world. There was an element of which-hunting and scapegoating by now – Uruguay was labeled arch-villains, so it was easy to blame them even before they moved. Was Uruguay the most brutal team at the 1986 finals? Hardly. They were more open about it, though, and they also argued a lot with the referees, so they were easy target for collective hating. The real problems of Uruguay were different, though: the defensive tactic, professed by Borras, by itself was not wrong: Argentina used the same approach. But in the Uruguayan case, it affected the play of Francescoli – 'the Prince' was not very effective most of the time. Since Uruguay had small pool of players, it was wrong to leave some of the best out of the team – that especially true for strikers. That were the prime reasons for the early exit of Uruguay, even for the lucky reaching of the second stage of the championship. Were they capable of more? Depends... they played their best football against Argentina, so it looked like that they were more comfortable playing with South American teams. Any other opponent somehow lead Uruguay to recoil into their defensive brutality, destroying any attempts at playing football – so, it was deserved end of the line. There was no pleasure in watching butchers on one hand and on the other – Denmark annihilated the butchers entirely. One thing was sure and remains: everybody was just happy to get rid of Uruguay. 
17.06.86 (12.00) Mexico City, Estadio Olimpico '68

FRA - ITA 2:0 (1:0)

(~70000) Esposito ARG, Diaz COL, Martinez URU

FRA: Bats - Ayache, Battiston, Bossis, Amoros - Giresse, Tigana, Fernandez (75 Tusseau), Platini (c - 86 Ferreri) - Rocheteau, Stopyra
ITA: Galli - Bergomi, Vierchowod, Scirea (c), Cabrini - G.Baresi (46di Gennaro), de Napoli, Bagni - Conti, Altobelli, Galderisi (58 Vialli)

1:0 Platini 16, 2:0 Stopyra 56

booked: Ayache / de Napoli, di Gennaro

The noise around this match was great – expectations, speculations, predictions, interviews, until the start of the match. The reigning World champions against the reigning European champions, what a thrill! Neither team played well so far... but Italy started slow and only improved when really mattered, culminating at the semi-finals and the final in 1982. France started badly, but seemingly was going up every next game they played. This was the moment for some terrific display of football, then – it was all or nothing. There was lots of 'nothing' on the field, though... Italy did not improve, very likely could not improve. France was, if anything, very experienced team and managed to kill the only danger Italian attack possessed: Altobelli. The French superiority in midfield decided the match: Altobelli was cut of from supply, the Italian defense was perhaps lured a bit closer to the center of the field, because the main actions was going on in midfield and if you want to get the ball from Platini and company, you have to go near them, thus leaving gaps and empty spaces near your own net. France cleverly capitalized on that – their strikers, as ever, were not the greatest danger, but they kept defenders' attention on themselves and speedy midfielders popped up dangerously from behind. Since France was not just Platini, keeping an eye on him was more confusing than anything else – when Italians paid him attention, the action simply moved to some other place, unwatched at the moment. Largely, Italy lost the midfield and with that – the match. It was fair result. 
Italy deserved to lose and go home. The hopes that Italy will get stronger with time did not materialized, the team struggled with some uninspired and boring football from start to elimination. And it was clear why they went home early: not enough good players. The heroes of 1982 were no longer around or they aged and were pale shadows of their former selves: Rossi did not appear at all. As a general impression, this squad was composition of leftovers from 1982, mostly players, who were reserves back then, and various second stringers, who would not make the squad 4 years earlier. There was new talent, but at the moment too young to put in central position: thus, Conti (31 years old and not really great anymore) and Altobelli (30 years old) were the key attackers. Vialli (21) and Galderisi (23) were substitutes. Italy was shaky team caught between generations – the old guard was going out, the young talent was still not fully bloomed. Frankly, Italy deserved to go home and if not for the weak group they were in the opening stage, most likely they would have gone home earlier. 

17.06.86 (16.00) Monterrey, Estadio Universitario

GER - MAR 1:0 (0:0)

(-19000) Petrović JUG, Brunmeier AUT, Nemeth HUN

GER: Schumacher - Berthold, K.-H.Förster, Jakobs, Briegel – Eder, Matthäus, Magath, Rummenigge (c) - K.Allofs, Völler (46 Littbarski)
MAR: Zaki (c) - Khalifa, Bouyahyaoui, Oudani, Lemriss - Dolmy, El Haddaoui, Bouderbala, Timoumi - Khairi, Krimau

1:0 Matthäus 89 f

booked: Lemriss, Khalifi
If we take this moment... wow, what a match! Deceiving photo. Of course, West Germany was the big favourite here – yes, the Germans played terribly so far, but they made it by sheer will and determination, and Morocco was the easiest possible opponent. Yes, it was clear that the Germans will not play some interesting football, but it was expected that Morocco exhausted its strength in the group stage and will be easy target for physically superior team with iron will. What happened on the field was both expected and unexpected. The weather was very hot and the match proceeded in slow tempo – however, it looked deliberate. Later, many had the impression that Morocco did not play to win, it was disinterested team. But a close look at game suggests different view: looks like Faria tried to find tactic giving his boys a chance. Hot or cold, West Germany preferred high speeds, constant running, constant pressing, constant battle, so its physical superiority to win the game. Morocco, more skillful team, played slow and mostly in the middle zone. Thus, its technical superiority gave them control of the ball and thus of the tempo. The West Germans were never comfortable when the tempo was sluggish, they could not get the ball and were also lulled by the slow ball moving somewhere near the central line. As soon as the Moroccans saw the opposition going to sleep, there was lightning long pass deep in the German half, most often in some relatively empty space, giving a good chance for a speedy striker to go alone right to Schumacher. With difficulty, the German defenders managed to kill all such dangers, using offside trap, but the Moroccans patiently tried again. This was clever tactic, the best possible against West Germany, it taxed German defense pretty much to the maximum. Too bad Morocco did not score – for West Germany had no answer really. The Germans were especially hopeless in attack, could not built anything even barely meaningful, and lost the midfield entirely as well. But they did not allow a Moroccan goal, and that was the decisive factor. Just before the final whistle, when it was damn sure the match was going into extra-time, the Germans scored. Out of nothing... from a free kick. It was sheer luck – true, Matthaus kicked a good ball, but Moroccan defenders and goalie made collective mistake when building the wall. German luck, which of course, was not just luck – the Germans, good, bad, or ugly, were very sophisticated players with nerves of steel. Playing to the last second, trying any opportunity, no matter how hopeless. Never giving up, never losing their cool, just like machines. In a long run, machines win. No pleasure in watching machines, though... 
Morocco was eliminated, but they went home satisfied. Went farther than any African team before. Played quite well. Won their group. Above expectations, even their own. Jose Faria did splendid job with his selection, especially in the tactical aspects. Tactics were always the weak side of African teams , but this time the problem was seemingly solved: Faria taught his players not only what he wanted from them to do, but actually to do it on the field. The playmaking abilities of Mohamed Timoumi were put to great use and effect. Losing to West Germany was no shame – Morocco practically outplayed the opposition. Unfortunately, to break the Germans was not easy, so Morocco was unable to score. As for the goal which decided the match – well, Germans... they prevailed against bigger, stronger, scarier teams than Morocco just the same way. One moment was enough to lose a game against West Germany. Too bad Morocco was eliminated, though – they were much better fun than the iron toys. Yet, it was great for the whole African football Morocco went that far and left very good impressions. 
18.06.86 (12.00) Mexico City, Estadio Azteca

ENG - PAR 3:0 (1:0)

(-99000) Al-Sharif SYR, Al-Shanar ARS, Ponnet BEL

ENG: Shilton (c) - G.M.Stevens, Martin, Butcher, Sansom - Steven, Reid (58 G.A.Stevens), Hoddle, Hodge - Lineker, Beardsley (82 Hateley)
PAR: Fernandez - Torales (85 Guasch), Schettina, Delgado (c), Zabala – Canete, Romero, Nunez, Ferreira - Cabañas, Mendoza

1:0 Lineker 32, 2:0 Beardsley 56, 3:0 Lineker 72

booked: Martin, Hodges / Romero, Nunez

NOTE: The Paraguayan coach banned from taking place on the bench

Before the game Bobby Robson said his England will win 3-0. His arguments were met with strong skepticism – England did not play well so far and its defense was dangerously outdated, playing in line. However, it was pretty much clear how the opponents will play: Paraguay depending on solid defense and the speed of Romero and Cabanas in counterattacks. England – attacking relentlessly and trying to prevent long passes to the deadly Paragayan duo in front. Neither team had anything else to offer... What was somewhat left unvoiced – because Uruguay was the greatest villain, taking all attention and blame on itself – was that most likely this match will be tough and brutal. Paraguay had long tradition of playing dirty; England never shied away from bruising tackles either. Depends on how one views the game of football, though... British commentators preferred to describe team Paraguay as 'very physical'. Anyhow, the game proved Robson right, those expecting 'manly football' right, those pointing out weaknesses before the match were also right. It was not the Uruguayan coach watching from the stands – the Paraguayan one was also suspended. 4 yellow cards were shown during the game, equally, 2 yellows each team. English defense was vulnerable and too slow for speedy Romero and Cabanas. Luckily, the ball rarely reached them. Paraguayan defense played also just as expected, however, it was tricked. Robson said – and nobody believed him – that he made some changes to surprise Paraguay. The change was long waited for: it was clear that the only lively thing in English attack was Lineker and something had to be readjusted in order of utilizing his abilities. That was to make him the pinnacle of the attack, the game to be shaped around him. A technical, speedy, mobile striker with no fixed position in front. He was more of a problem for his teammates, though – as the match progressed, it was clear that Robson asked his players to create opportunities for Lineker, to watch him and what available space he has, to use surprise openings, but hundred years old habits were difficult to break and the English often made high crosses to the front of the Paraguayan net – a tall center-forward must be there, to battle for the ball in the air and strike it in the net. But there was no tall center-forward, there was nobody now and the cross was wasted. Paraguayan defense was also more confident with air battles for balls coming from the wings, but the absence of enemy striker was nothing to complain about. Stopping Lineker was another matter – the Paraguayan apparently did not expect his kind of play and found no answer. Robson's idea were for using Lineker required a second player – Beardsley, who was similarly unfixed in one place striker. That was perhaps the best way to force English midfield out of old habits – to make them see there was nobody hulking in front of the Paraguayan goalkeeper and thus to restrain the natural desire to make a cross. And that decided the outcome of the match, fairly early too – Lineker scored and England was leading 1-0 at half time. Then early in the second time a second goal was scored and finally Lineker made it 3-0. Meantime Paraguay failed to score – opportunities were missed, but Shilton also played very solidly and more. More or less, Paraguay, with its limited resources, had no other option: no great midfielder to control ball and tempo, and to create opportunities. It was a team of soldiers, they did their best, but when it came to attacking, it was just long ball in empty space to Romero and Cabanas. English defense had no real answer to the duo – too slow – so they were to be tackled illegally as soon as possible, before they were near the net in scoring position. Luckily, England possesed the ball most of the time and gave relatively few opportunities for counterattacks, just as hoped. England did not look particularly stronger than Paraguay, but won 3-0 and more importantly showed some life and creativity. And because of that suddenly popped up as a potential title contender in the eyes of many. 
Let face it: nobody expected much of Paraguay. Rather anonymous squad, most likely to be just happy playing at the finals after enormously long absence, and go home after the group stage. May be some memorable effort, but no more. Romero and Cabanas were stars, no doubt about it, but having only two strikers was hardly enough even for occasional heroics. Paraguay was expected to tough to beat team, though – expected to be organized, brutal, alert, fit. Physically strong. Given all that, Paraguay did better than expected. Yet, it was obvious they could go further only if having some tremendous luck. A brave team, yet nothing special. May be the referee failed to give them a penalty against England, but even if he did... the result was already 2-0 England. Well, modest ending, but generally not bad performance. It is also good to points out that thanks to monstrous brutality on display in so many games, the Paraguayan contributions in this department paled, were 'also run' at best, practically unnoticed. One can be sorry for Romero and Cabanas, though – wonderful players, who most likely would not appear at another World Cup. 
18.06.86 (16.00) Queretaro, Estadio La Corregidora

ESP - DAN 5:1 (1:1)

(~38500) Keizer HOL, Dochev BUL, Ben Naceur TUN

ESP: Zubizarreta - Tomás, Gallego, Goicoechea, Camacho (c) - Julio Alberto, Victor, Michel (84 Francisco), Caldere - Butragueno, Julio Salinas (46 Eloy)
DEN: Høgh - Busk, M.Olsen (c), I.Nielsen, Andersen (60 Eriksen) – Berggren, J.Olsen (71 Mølby), Bertelsen, Lerby - Laudrup, Elkjær-Larsen

0:1 J.Olsen 33 p, 1:1 Butragueno 43, 2:1 Butragueno 56 h, 3:1 Goicoechea 69 p,
4:1 Butragueno 80, 5:1 Butragueno 90 p

booked: Goichoecea, Camacho / Andersen
What makes football great? Games likes this one. Big surprise, which nobody likes, save the winners. At the group stage Denmark was the only team which not only played wonderful football, but was getting stronger in every next game. Spain... not so. The impression was that they spent more that they have in the effort to reach the 1/8 finals. Tough, difficult, but beatable – especially by flying team like Denmark. What was rubbing some observers the wrong way was the arrogant confidence of Piontek, practically boasting that his boys were not even showing all they can and thus every opponent was going to lose. No doubt about it. Looked like Piontek was losing reality, especially when the relaxed atmosphere of the Danish camp was observed closely: it was enough to see Elkjaer-Larsen sitting next to the swimming pool with cigarette in one hand and cold beer in the other. Other teams trained, the Danes lounged... And paid the price for that. And what price they paid! Spain utterly destroyed them. Yet, it did not happened right away – about 60 minutes Denmark was not only superior, but proved Piontek right – the commanded the match, the ball was mostly in the Spanish half, the victory was crystal clear... Denmark scored first and now it was just a matter of how many more goals they will put in the Spanish net. But in the 56th minute, despite the great dominance of the Danes, the result was 1-2. Terrible mistake of Morten Olsen presented Spain with equalizer just before the first half. And then a corner kick provided the second goal – the Danish defense was too slow and too heavy in the air. Meantime Denmark missed a number of great opportunities ans who does not score... the Danes went frantically ahead after the second goal and lost balance, lost any thought of defense, and that was their undoing – Spain scored 3 more goals. Yes, it was explosion, but this time the dynamite exploded in the hands of its own creators. It was unbelievable. And even more so to those, who saw the match – Denmark did not look worse, on the contrary – whoever heard the result first and watched the match later had the impression that the news got the result wrong... but it was not and it was Elkjaer-Larsen with 4 goals, but 'the Vulture'. 
Many were shocked and lamented the elimination of USSR, but more so after the elimination of Denmark. After all, this was the team playing more exciting football every next game and certainly the most entertaining football so far. And they were the better team against team for the most of the time, far better... Their failure was blamed on arrogance, but there was more of course: the problems of Danish defense were noted well in advance. Old, slow, and heavy was the verdict, vulnerable line. It was true to the point – Morten Olsen was 36 years old, Busk – 33. There was objective problem – deficit of good defenders, Denmark had only 6 in the squad, and the regulars were practically irreplaceable. Mexican conditions did not help the oldest players – it was the opposite. Add to it the chronic deficit of top class goalkeepers. But all that was well known in advance, best to Piontek. The real problem was something else: Denmark was compared to the great Ajax of the early 1970s, they were called the new Ajax. Sounded great and real bright spot for many fans and specialists in the dull football of the 1980s – so great and optimistic ray of light, that something very important was obscured. Denmark was not Ajax at all – yes, Ajax was arrogant, carefree, loud-mouth, over-relaxed team, but it was also an incredibly intelligent team, capable to read very quickly particular game and opponent and adapt approach permitting them to win. They were capable effortlessly to change tactics during ongoing match and, if that was needed, to become ruthless, ugly, defensive soldiers. No sentiments on the pitch – the hippies transformed into professionals, they were always proffesionals on the pitch. If legs needed to be broken in order of winning, then break legs. If closing the game was needed to neutralize some dangerous foe, then forget the artistry and close the game in some dull kicking the ball around the central line. Ajax had the players for such changes, though. Denmark did not – it was team knowing only how to play in attack, always trying to outplay the opponent and score. And if the opposition scored... well, we have to outscore them, simple and clear. It did not work against teams like Spain, teams asking for different approach, change of tactics. Ajax would never permit tricky Spaniard to get advantage of deadly Butragueno – most likely they would had kicked him to death. Most likely after scoring one goal, Ajax would had try to confuse the Spaniards with alternation of the tempo, would try to bait the known Spanish brutes into receiving yellow and red cards, so the get numerical advantage. Ajax would not try just to outplay Spain. Denmark was not able of anything else, but attack and attack – opening itself more and more for lethal counterattacks, exposing the vulnerability of its defense. Wonderful as it was, team Denmark was simplistic team and thus beatable not just by clever opponents, but almost by anybody, if their strikers were unlucky to score goals. Unlucky to make it 2-0, Denmark lost 1-5. And that looking the stronger team to the end of the match. As for old, slow, and heavy defense... there was not much to do about it. The only option was improvisation – Holland improvised in 1974 and 1978, but Piontek was either scared of taking a risk, or feared that improvisation would destroy his midfield, his greatest line on which everything depended. Well, Piontek did not have so many options at hand – Michels could risk in 1974, moving Haan back, for he still had other midfielders, but if Piontek moved back Lerby... the midfield was crippled right away. It was not that the coach did not try to change things in defense – Sivebaeck (yes, heavy and slow) was out – but that was the maximum. Unpleasant as it was, Denmark deserved to be eliminated, if one digs deeper with more objective mind. Still, too bad for football. 

Third-place table

It was clear by now, but just to stay methodical: 4 out of the 6 third-placed teams qualified according to their own table. 

1. BEL^ 3 5-5
2. POL^ 3 1-3
3. BUL^ 2 2-4
4. URU^ 2 2-7
5. HUN 2 2-9
6. NIR 1 2-6
Northern Ireland knew they were going home – 1 point had no chance. But they were going home proudly: with severely limited resources, they played pretty equal to any other team. May be skills were lacking, but they had big hearts, nobody blame them. Perhaps the only team deserving to stay longer – when you look at the lucky ones. Too bad it ended like this for Pat Jennings, at the end of his long career, and Sammy McIlroy, who was also getting too old. Without knowing yet, too bad for Norman Whiteside, for his career was cut short by injuries and this happened to be his last World Cup too. One cannot be too sorry for the spirited Irish for another reason: they did not play great football and no matter how big their hearts, the quality of their game was not great and there was no way to change that. 
Hungary... apart from fellow Hungarians, nobody could be sorry for them. It was weak team, no doubt about it. Improvement was not possible at all – Hungary was on its way downhill, hardly had any promising players, and even did not have the spirit the Irish had. Frankly, better have the Uruguayans, who at least enraged everybody with their murderous kind of football: they stirred some emotional response, the Hungarians stirred nothing. One of the teams fully deserving to go home as soon as possible.