Retirements make headline news, not debutantes. Yes, they are mentioned and profiled, but only as a possibility. It is easier to speak much later – yes, Frank Rijkaard debuted in 1980-81 season. A beginning of great career, one fantastic player arrived.

Back then one Franklin Edmundo Rijkaard, 18-years old, debuted for Ajax. Talented – yes. Hopeful – yes. More? Not yet. A product of the already famous Ajax youth system, but still only potential promising player. Others failed, leaving no memory. Ajax was not in its best times, rather desperately trying to build a team close to the great one of early 1970s and the shadow left by Cruijff and company was too thick to break. Was Rijkaard able to stay in the tam, let alone lead it to new glory? Only time could tell… there was no way imagining Rijkaard will win more trophies than Roberto Rivelino in 1980-81.


Retirement. This year Rivelino stepped down. Roberto Rivellino – or Rivelino, as his name was spelled most often – was born on January 1, 1946 in Sao Paulo. Perhaps his Italian name, so close to the beloved by Brazilians diminutive form of naming their stars left him as one of the few Brazilian stars known by his full real name and not by nickname. He debuted in 1965 for Corinthians and played for them until 1973. His debut was so impressive, he was played his first match for Brazil in his first season as a professional footballer.

With Corinthians jersey the attacking midfielder played a total of 471 matches in which he scored 141 goals. Highly skilled, he had close control of the ball, great vision, accurate long passes, and deadly free-kicks.

The fans quickly named him “O Rei do Parque” (‘King of the Park’, after Corinthians’ home ground, Parque São Jorge). He was outstanding in a time, when there were so many fantastic players.

Against Ademir Da Guia (Palmeiras). Rivelino won – he was regular national team player, Da Guia only in 1974…

Against Gerson, another master of organizing the game and long passes – Rivelino hold his ground.

Friends with Pele and teammates in the national team.

Enemies with Pele on the pitch. There was only one number 10 in the national team and the only way Rivelino was going to get it was Pele stepping down.

A great star, cultivating his moustache, which became his trade-mark. But he played in a bad time for Corinthians, which did not win anything since 1954. Fans love, but they also hate – in 1973 Corinthians lost once again and Rivelino was singled out as the most responsible for losing. He moved to Fluminense.

Between 1973 and 1978 he played 158 matches for Flu, scoring 53 goals. Success came at last – he was part of the “the tricolor machine”- Doval, Pintinho, Gil, and Carlos Alberto Torres – which won the Rio de Janeiro championship in 1975 and 1976. He was credited with scoring the fastest goal in football history, which he scored from the centre right after the referee whistled the start of a match: Rivelino spotted the opposition goalkeeper still praying on his knees and promptly lashed a long ball in the net. One thing Rivelino did not won was the championship of Brazil – but Pele did not won it either, as many other great players at the time.

Internationally, there was more and greater success.

Rivelino played at 3 World Cups and won the world title in 1970. Back then Brazilian pundits worried about Zagalo’s selection – he had too many number 10 players, Pele, Tostao, Gerson, and Rivelino. At least one had to be left out was the thinking, which Zagalo dismissed and played them all together to the thrill to the fans around the globe. The next two World Cups were rather disappointing, but Rivelino left his mark.

Here is his spectacular goal from a free-kick against DDR in the 1974 World Cup. Still remains as one of the greatest moments in football.

1974. Scotland’s wall had all reasons to worry his artistic free-kicks. The long-time Manchester United captain and Scottish international Martin Buchan recently summed it all: ‘It’s one thing watching Rivelino do his tricks on TV, but when you are up close and trying to get the ball off him it’s not so much fun’. Buchan singled out his three appearances against Brazil as his most memorable moments playing for Scotland. But time was advancing and Rivelino was aging. 1978 was the end of his career as a national team player.

In 1979, 33 years old, he signed a contract with Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia). This was a historic moment – Rivelino was the first world class star going to play in Asia. There were Europeans playing there before – largely in Hong Kong – but nobody made the news of the day. This transfer was entirely different – on one hand, players of Rivelino’s status moved to Europe, on occasion to Mexico, and after 1973 – to NASL. Going to Asia was something new and very unusual. On the other hand, Arabis countries got so much oil money they had the means of hiring true stars and this signing looked like beginning of ambitious program of cultivating and developing the game over there. No better way then getting a high profile player.

Rivelino with Najeeb Al-Imam, playing for Al Hilal in 1979. Rivelino played 57 matches for Al Hilal, scoring 23 goals. This was his last club – in 1981, 35 years old, he announced his retirement.

He left the beautiful game after a total of 686 appearances and 217 goals on club level, 92 matches and 26 goals for Brazil, and one World title.

The legend now – a true one, so he is sporting the colours of the clubs he left a huge mark on – Corinthians and Fluminense. As a whole, Roberto Rivelino rather belonged to 1960s football, not the total football of the next decade. He was unable to adapt to the new requirements – hardly ever helped the defense – but he was a master of organizing the game. He is critical of contemporary football, lamenting that there are no great players anymore. May be he is right – after all, he was a great star in the time of the great stars. Let’s face it – Christiano Ronaldo, Messi, and Neymar are not world champions (so far), Roberto Rivelino is.

The losers

So after the end of the qualifications one question remained, due to the enlarged World Cup finals – who was left out? There were always strong teams unable to qualify before. And now?

Japan was just starting her football program and South Korea was not even beginning its her own, so Asia hardly had any team of class – except Iran.

Arguably, they had the strongest domestic championship, developed during the 1970s and in 1978 the national team played well, showing lots of potential. But then the revolution took place, the old government went to dust and the new religious rulers took power. Football was left behind and Iran did not participate at all in the qualifications.

Africa. Perhaps South Africa. It was said, that football was lively, professional, popular, and may be the best on this continent. This was the only African country European players went frequently to play a season or two – mostly British, German, and Dutch. But it was also all hearsay – South Africa was expelled from world football for a long time, nobody saw their football, divided into racial lines. It is more than questionable an apartheid system could make a decent team.

Perhaps Ghana. Often continental champions and considered maybe the best football playing nation on this continent. But this was also a rumor, depending on who one listened to. The plain truth was that Ghana never reached World Cup finals so far and, unlike other countries, hardly had any well known professionals based in Europe.

CONCACAF. NASL was one thing, but USA and Canada were something else – the hype and constant import of stars did not help domestic football a bit. Since neither country took the obvious other road – to naturalize foreign players, who did not play for national teams before, both countries were extremely weak. The only missing the finals team was Mexico.

No matter what, Mexico was the strongest football nation in North and Central America. They had a good number of strong players at that time – Hugo Sanchez is enough to mention. But they had only themselves to blame for not going to the finals. Yet, they would have been stronger finalist than either of the CONCACAF representatives.

South America. Uruguay. Yes, they were in the toughest group. But they just won Mundialito and there was a new promising young generation, revival seemingly was taking place.

Revival, if any, was apparently at very early stage and Uruguay in reality was perhaps not worse, but surely not better than Chile or Peru. One may lament the old glory, but currently Uruguay had not a team to be missed. Paraguay was similar, although was less clout.

Europe. Now, here was a team ‘left behind’ – Holland. Memories were fresh, players were still famous, even definitive for the last decade, Dutch players were hot commodity. What could be a World Cup without Oranje? What a bitter fate – they were unlucky to be in the toughest possible qualification group.

In any other qualification group Holland would have qualified, that was quite clear. But in the same time Holland was in decline, made very obvious at the 1980 European championship. The new generation was not even close to the mighty Dutch of the 1970s. And the crisis was not going to go away if they qualified – very likely, playing at the finals would have been a bitter disappointment for everyone. Tough, physical team, but nothing special.

May be Sweden… never favourites, never having very powerful team, the Swedes always played with big hearts, even above their level, and endeared everybody.

But at the 1978 World Cup they showed decline and lack of new talented players. The team above tried, as Swedes ever did, but had too many shortcoming and was not able to impress. Decline settled – yes, like Holland, if in another qualification group and a bit of luck, they could have reached the finals. But definitely Sweden was not a team left behind – with or without them, the finals were not to be different.

Recapitulation. The new formula of the World Cup practically allowed all strong teams of the world to play at the finals. Before it was mostly Europeans teams missing the finals, but not so now. Only Holland – and it was a big ‘maybe’ – may had some larger impact on the finals. Only CONCACAF would have been represented better – in that only in half – by Mexico. May be for the first time all strong teams of the world were going to be seen at the finals.

Asia. Group 13


Group 13. Asia. Asia… if anybody deserved more spots at the finals, it would be Africa – for nothing else, but just to, perhaps, elevate the continent from chaos to some more serious stage of development. Asia was not even on African level yet… and there was also the lowest of the low – Oceania. On the football map Oceania was only three countries at that time, so they probably did not complain at all and very likely were happy to have a chance at least to play against more and various teams. Asia was further weakened by the expulsion of Israel and the withdrawal of Iran, due to the political change in the country. 19 countries entered elaborate tournament, going through stages – the vast continent and the inclusion of Oceania made travel difficult, so the preliminary stages were organized geographically, perhaps taking into account the wealth of the countries too, for it was not possible to follow geographic lines entirely. At the end, only Zone A was played in the usual manner – that is, teams travle from to place to visit opponents. Zones B and C were staged as round-robin tournaments, hosted, correspondingly, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Al-Kuwait, Kuwait. Group D was entirely differently organized – there was preliminary stage at first, at which countries visited each other. After that there were 2 sub-groups, played in one place – Hong Kong. This round-robin sub-groups were followed by semi-finals and a final. The winner joined the winners of the other three groups to a final tournament, played, however, traditionally – teams hosting at home and traveling to visit opponents. This last stage brought troubles, perhaps kept under lid so far, in the open. The program was typical for the times – a clever team was able to get convenient schedule, giving a strong chance. Kuwait not only played 3 of the last 4 games, but hosted all of them. Having a good start with 2 away wins, they made the best of home turf and high moral – won twice and tied one match, thus, one match before the end of the qualifications, Kuwait was unreachable and qualified for the first time to World Cup finals. Saudi Arabia, the outsiders at this stage, hosted the last match against New Zealand. However, New Zealand was outraged the previous game, when they felt the hosts, Kuwait, were blatantly helped by the referees and New Zealand was cheated big time. The accusations were ignored by the Asian football body, which further enraged New Zealand. May be rage motivated them to utter destruction of Saudi Arabia – 5-0. With which New Zealand equalized not only points, but also the goal-different of China. And now salt was put on the wound: New Zealand outscored China by 2 goals – usually, when goal-difference is a factor, in case of equal record, the team scoring more goals gets the higher place. The other possible way is considering the record of the direct games played: if that, New Zealand also must have been placed ahead of China, because they won one match and tied the other. But… New Zealand was 3rd in the final table. Which led, who knows why, to a play-off in Singapur – only now New Zealand managed to get ahead, beating China 2-1. As a final note to the mess, perhaps to show just how big was the mess, a famous referee was invited for this match: the Brazilian Filho. Local referees were not trusted at this point.

1.Kuwait^ 6 9 4 1 1 8- 6

2.China> 6 7 3 1 2 9- 4

3.New Zealand> 6 7 2 3 1 11- 6

4.Saudi Arabia 6 1 0 1 5 4-16

This is the controversial final table of Asia. After that the play-off between New Zealand and |China was played and New Zealand became the second representative of the continent. It was also the last team to qualify for the World Cup finals.

Kuwait – unheard of team, but, if anything, oil-dollars were aplenty. Asia had nothing to show yet, so why not they?

Back row (left to right): Adrian Elrick, Duncan Cole, Mark Armstrong, Grant Turner, Allan Boath, Dave Bright, Clive Campbell

Middle row: Kevin Fallon (assistant coach), Ricki Herbert, Brian Turner, Barry Pickering, Richard Wilson, Frank van Hattum, Glen Adam, Sam Malcolmson, John Adshead (coach)

Front row: Steve Wooddin, Keith Mackay, Steve Sumner (captain), Charlie Dempsey (New Zealand World Cup director), Bobby Almond, John Hill, Glenn Dods .

New Zealand at the beginning of its qualifying campaign. Entirely unknown team, not expected to do anything impressive at the finals. But brave boys, going to the World Cup.

Africa. Group 12

Group 12. Africa. Perhaps the most grumbling continent about misrepresentation – Africans complained bitterly, that they deserve more spots at the World Cup finals. Now the spots were doubled – from one to two. Many felt it was right – the rise of African football was advocated for the most of the 1970s. African players were well respected professionals, even stars, for a long time in Europe and their numbers gradually increased. In Africa, players developed ‘naturally’, something lost not only in Europe, but during the 1970s in South America as well – the Africans were fresh, close to the origins of football, the only hope to make attractive already too mechanical game. Critics pointed out, that African football was notoriously poorly organized and ridden with corruption, the prediction of great African football were not only stale, but becoming an empty myth, for nothing materialized for so long. Instead, African teams were just a punching bags at World Cup finals and who needs more of that? The shadow of laughable Zaire in 1974 was very strong and dark. And skeptics were seemingly right… 29 countries entered qualifications Less than in Europe… Entry was one thing, actual participation – quite another. As ever before, teams started to withdraw – Ghana, Uganda, and later Lybia. The formula was messy as ever, scandals erupted as ever, money were short as ever, walkovers happened as ever – Egypt, Madagascar, teams went ahead without having to play – Sudan, Liberia, Togo, and Zimbabwe, rules were seemingly improvised on the spot – there was no overtime to break a tie, but immediate penalty shoot-out. Eventually, the qualifications reached culmination: two pairs, the winners going to Spain. Both finalist practically emerged after the first leg: Algeria won over hosting Nigeria 2-0 and Cameroon also beat the home team, Morocco 2-0. Curiously, the second legs ended in entirely same results too: at home, Cameroon beat Morocco 2-1 and with the same result Algeria prevailed over Nigeria. If anyone paid attention, they would note some goalscorers – Madjer and Belloumi (Algeria) and Milla (Cameroon). Tokoto (Cameroon) was already well known in Europe. But except the French, the old and biggest buyers of African players, nobody cared to look closer.

Newcomers to the finals. Noted for successful club football and few players, playing well in Europe, but generally unknown, following the dubious tradition of Black Africa – a new team going to World Cup finals and disappearing without a trace after that. As ever, European coach to get them to some success, but also questioning the class of the football on the continent: if little known coach, if known at all, like Branco Zutic, could lift the team to the finals of the planet, imagine the other teams, the opposition. That was the immediate impression.

Arabic country going the finals was, by far, the preferable option – they performed better than Black African teams at world finals. But… here it was again: no consistency, no continuation. No Egypt, no Morocco, no Tunisia, which left good impression in 1978. Newcomers, perhaps as mercurial as those before them. And since better organized and structurally developed Arabic countries were unable to get more than a single spot… forget about the ‘rising’ football in Africa. Skeptics having a field day at the moment.

CONCACAF. Group 11

Group 11. CONCACAF – Central and North America. 15 countries entered, but money, logistics, and class meant specific qualification structure, going through stages. Mexico was the undoubted favourite and for the second spot… it was anybody’s guess, for all other participants were weak, even harmless. The northern countries started together in preliminary Northern Zone, the smallest one. Two teams were qualifying to the next round – here the first alarm was triggered: Mexico finished 2nd, after Canada. Well, not very important… Mexico was perhaps not seriously prepared yet, or they played just the bare minimum. They were the sure finalist, nothing to worry.

The last stage was the really important one – a qualification tournament in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, played in November 1981. Six teams qualified to it and played against each other. Clearly, the only question was which country will get the second COCACAF spot at the World Cup finals. The intrigue was lame: the ‘soccer war’ between Honduras and El Salvador from 1969 was unearthed for the occasion, but nothing happened. Mexico underperformed again, but there was nothing to worry about… they had convenient schedule, playing the last match of tournament against possible troublemakers – Honduras. Possible, for they were hosting the qualifications and thus expected to have some advantage. So what? Mexico was head and shoulders above any CONCACAF team – traditionally so. No matter they were 2 points behind El Salvador before the last match. Surely, they were going to win and with already better goal-difference… yes, Mexico did not show any supremacy so far, they were going to be 2nd, but they were going to the finals. For sure. Honduras had nothing to play for – they already qualified. The mere formality ended in a shocking 0-0 tie and… Mexico was out.

1.Honduras^ 5 8 3 2 1 8- 1

2.El Salvador 5 6 2 2 1 2- 1

3.Mexico 5 5 1 3 1 6- 3

4.Canada 5 5 1 3 1 6- 6

5.Cuba 5 4 1 2 2 4- 8

6.Haiti 5 2 0 2 3 2- 9

May be getting advantage and benefiting from hosting the final qualification round, but going for a first time to the World Cup finals.

May be lucky, after having to fret to the very end of a match they only had to watch, but goiing to the finals for a second time.

To an outside observer – pure exotica, obvious outsiders, perhaps even a good example of the folly to give very weak continents more spots at the World Cup. To a point, two was less than one, for Mexico was more or less the only country outside Europe and South America with relatively decent football. Perhaps, from the standpoint of 1981, the only interesting news about the CONCACAF finalists was political trivia: at the end of the 1960s those countries went into a war, triggered by World Cup qualification match. Now the losers back then, Honduras, helped their enemy to reaching the final. Amusing.

South America. Groups 8,9 & 10

South America was divided into three qualification groups, the winners going to the finals. Given the small number of participating countries, the formula perhaps was not the best possible, but that was the chosen one, entirely favouring the leading countries. Without Argentina, it was quite predictable qualification stage.

Group 8. The easiest group – Bolivia and Venezuela were not a problem even for a very weak Brazil, that was sure.

1.Brazil^ 4 8 4 0 0 11- 2

2.Bolivia 4 2 1 0 3 5- 6

3.Venezuela 4 2 1 0 3 1- 9

This is formation which faced England in December 1981 – already qualified and preparing for the finals. Tele Santana’s team already was much talked about and here it was only getting fine tuning. A team expected to thrill and very likely win the coming world finals. Problems? There were some, but so far they were not a big matter of discussion outside Brazil.

Group 9. The toughest group in South America – Peru and Uruguay were expected to fight for the spot, but Colombia was able to stand its ground too. Uruguay, given their performance at the Mondialito, was the likely winner. Group games fulfilled expectations only in part: Colombia was not the dark horse and the race was between Peru and Uruguay. The decisive match happened to be in Montevideo, where 2 first time goals gave the victory to the visitors, Peru. The next match in Lima was mere calculation: Peru kept Uruguay to a goalless tie and became unreachable, no matter how the last game – Uruguay – Colombia – ended.

1.Peru^ 4 6 2 2 0 5- 2

2.Uruguay 4 4 1 2 1 5- 5

3.Colombia 4 2 0 2 2 4- 7

Peru – to the finals for a second consecutive championship. Strong 1970s and excellent start of the 1980s.

Group 10. Ecuador was seen as an outsider, so a battle between Chile and Paraguay. Hard to predict – Chilean football was rising or so it seemed; Paraguay was the reigning South American champion. Yet, neither country was seen as particularly strong and the second tier South American countries traditionally were not consistent – what happened 2-3 years ago hardly ever means the same country would have a strong team now. Momentary form ruled. Chile got a bust right after the first group match: Ecuador won over visiting Paraguay 1-0. Two games and less than a month later everything was more or less finished: Chile prevailed over Paraguay in Asuncion 1-0 – what was left was 2 home games for Chile. Only a miracle would have changed things. No miracle occurred.

Chile to the finals. By now, the political antagonism mellowed done, so unlike 1973-74, the Chilean team was seen more in terms of the sport – it was not much, depending largely on veterans, who played at the 1974 World Cup without any memorable moment.


Europe. Group 7

Group 7. The odd European group from which only one team was going to the finals, so it was made a small group of only three teams. Malta did not count, so it was the direct battle between the other two going to decide the finalist – by now Poland lost its shine, acquired in 1974; DDR never had any, so it was, theoretically, unpredictable battle between two equal teams. When the two back to back legs between came everything fell into place: Poland was stronger, although not overwhelmingly – they won both important matches by a goal and qualified without losing even a point, just like West Germany.

1.Poland^ 4 8 4 0 0 12- 2

2.DDR 4 4 2 0 2 9- 6

3.Malta 4 0 0 0 4 2-15

Going to the world finals for a third consecutive time. However, not as a favourites and the picture shows why: this is the squad at early stage against Malta, which means some regulars were not needed. What was behind the bunch of stars, most of whom made their names in 1974, was problematic. Poland was weaker, it was obvious since the 1978 World Cup that there was no new great generation. Of course, Iwan and Smolarek were yet unknown.

The general feeling of after the qualifications was that Europe got more than it deserved: not only there were no strong teams left behind, but some second raters qualified. The increase of the finalists was a bit suspect at this points – after all, only Holland missed the boat. But Holland was in a decline. West Germany, Belgium, France, to a point Yugoslavia and Austria, were currently strong, but the others were either not improving, or shaky, or lucky, or unknown quality. What was mostly satisfied were traditional reputation and clout. Well, what could be a World Cup without Italy, England, USSR, Hungary, Czechoslovakia? Since all depends on form and current talent, names mean nothing – but football ignores reality, ever.

Europe. Group 5 & 6

Group 5. Easy group – there were no doubts about Italy and Yugoslavia qualifying. Which they did. Moody Yugoslavia seemingly managed to organize a strong team for the first time after 1976. Italy… was booed. There last two matches did not matter at all and like many times before the Italian team took it easy. A tie at home with Greece did not endear the squad to the fans, but they last match with Luxembourg enraged the fans – Italy, utterly disinterested, won 1-0, but the lack of interest to the game was way too obvious and disgusted fans booed the team in earnest.

1.Yugoslavia^ 8 13 6 1 1 22- 7

2.Italy^ 8 12 5 2 1 12- 6

3.Denmark 8 8 4 0 4 14-11

4.Greece 8 7 3 1 4 10-13

5.Luxembourg 8 0 0 0 8 1-23

A version at the beginning of the qualifications in 1980 – against Denmark goalkeeper Pantelic scored the opening goal from a penalty. Some players were dropped, others were added, the team was polished with time and looked very strong again, having also vast pool of reserves (at one point veterans Popivoda and Bjekovic were also tried – old, young, there was plenty of talent).

Of course, everybody knew for a long time that the Italians never played more than the bare minimum needed to go ahead, but after the miserable end of the campaign doubts were raised: one cannot ever entirely dismiss Italy, but it was recalled that the spark of 1978 was gone by 1980 and in general Italy struggled for the most of the 1970s, losing ground in the process. Of course, they were going to the finals, but few, if any, saw them as a serious factor in 1982. It was felt that in another qualification group Italy perhaps would have been eliminated altogether.

Group 6. Not particularly strong, but entirely unpredictable, for there were 3 teams practically equal. Having similar problems as well, so a forth team – Northern Ireland – was not to be entirely discarded. Israel was the obvious and certain outsider. No team was in particularly great shape – Sweden was rather in a decline, detected in 1978, and Portugal was not able to climb back from its slump during the 1970s. Scotland was more or less considered one of the qualifying teams, whether 1st or 2nd did not matter. And predictions were fulfilled, except that for Israel, which took advantage of the shaky opponents, meddled with their fate, and ended with 5 points. Scotland won the group, 2nd place was taken by a surprising team, mostly making the best of the shuffling and ups and downs of the others.

1.Scotland^ 8 11 4 3 1 9- 4

2.Northern Ireland^ 8 9 3 3 2 6- 3

3.Sweden 8 8 3 2 3 7- 9

4.Portugal 8 7 3 1 4 8-11

5.Israel 8 5 1 3 4 6-10

Scotland had a steady and serious campaign, which qualified them early, but, compared to the 1974 World Cup squad, the current vintage was quite uneven and unbalanced: great players, like Dalglish, Souness, and new wonder Archibald, but also weaker ones – Rough, Robertson, for instance – and there were no better, unfortunately. But Scotland qualified for a third consecutive time and it was well known they played with heart at finals. In this group – the most deserving team.

Northern Ireland – may be a surprise winners, but perhaps the team pleasing most, for the underdog going ahead is always wonderful. Lucky a bit, it may be argued, but after all it was not Irish fault Portugal was destroyed by Israel and Sweden had an awful start, losing points left and right. Northern Ireland always played with great spirit and motivation, making more than the best of otherwise limited squad. They won when mattered most – which was generally at home – had tough defense and plenty of enthusiasm. If anything, it was great to see players like Pat Jennings and Sammy McIlroy going to play a world cup finals. May be George Best could have a chance too… it was always considered.

Europe. Group 3 and 4

Group 3. Compared to group 2 – nothing really. It even looked unfair to have 4 strong fighting teams in one group and hardly any at their level in the next group. USSR and Czechoslovakia were sure favourites here, but there was bit of bitter taste: USSR had a dreadful decade, arguably reaching rock bottom at the qualifications for the 1978 World Cup. New generation and club success came recently, but the young players were yet unknown. Czechoslovakia was rather unpredictable, following a wild cycle of ups and down. Their last team was unimpressive at the 1980 European championship and the general feel was that the previous generation, now getting too old and stepping down, was much better than the current one. But there was not much opposition in the group and although shaky, especially Czechoslovakia, both teams qualified. Wales suddenly had a chance to go ahead, but to a point USSR qualified the Czechoslovaks instead – in the last tow group games USSR first won against Wales 2-0 and then tied Czechoslavakia 1-1. The last results equaled the points of Wales and Czechoslavia and worse goal-difference eliminated Wales.

1.USSR^ 8 14 6 2 0 20- 2

2.Czechoslovakia^ 8 10 4 2 2 15- 6

3.Wales 8 10 4 2 2 12- 7

4.Island 8 6 2 2 4 10-21

5.Turkey 8 0 0 0 8 1-22

The new USSR team taking shape. One of the most talked about teams in the 1980s was still too new and unfamiliar – even friendly nations, like Czechoslovakia, were not sure of the proper spelling of the names, as is shown here.

Like USSR, going to the World Cup finals for the first time since 1970. Unlike USSR, Czechoslovakia enjoyed success during the 1970s, becoming European champion in 1976. The winning team inevitable became the measure for any other squad and by this measure, the new version was found lacking quite a lot: it was a precarious mix of European champions, who were younger back in 1976, thus still in shape, and those, who came after them. Unfortunately, a good number of the newer crop were actually active in 1976, but playing second fiddle to the champions at best. Hence, the doubt how good they could be now – but they were not challenged by sufficient numbers of young talent and there were problems with some positions.

Group 4. Naturally, England was seen as the big favourite and Hungary, Romania, and maybe Switzerland fighting for the second place. Reality was different: England struggled during the whole campaign and Norway popped-up from nowhere, as a pleasant surprise and the only improving team in the group: they even beat England. As a result, the group produced the tightest race possible, with all five teams participating and having hopes for the finals. The last 6 games decided the winners and losers: Romania lost steam when mattered most, Hungary qualified first, thanks to home wins over Switzerland and Norway, and England fretted to the end – before the last group match, they were trailing Romania by the point and hosting Hungary proved once again difficult task – England won minimally, 1-0, against a team which nothing to play for at this point and was not great anyway.

1.Hungary^ 8 10 4 2 2 13- 8

2.England^ 8 9 4 1 3 13- 8

3.Romania 8 8 2 4 2 5- 5

4.Switzerland 8 7 2 3 3 9-12

5.Norway 8 6 2 2 4 8-15

Hungary before the home game with Norway, which qualified them to the finals. Some lovely players, led by Nyilasi, but it was largely the same team as in 1978 and by now it looked like they reached the limits of their potential already.

England, looking formidable and struggling on the pitch. At least Keegan & Co. managed to reach the finals – for the first time since 1970.