Group 4. To a point, Yugoslavia was expected to win here. But only to a point – Yugoslavia failed miserably at the 1982 World Cup and looked like starting a new team. Not exactly great… Meantime Norway showed some teeth, so suddenly the group appeared quite equal and unpredictable. And very exciting – before the last group match 3 teams had a chance to go the finals. Wales was leading by a point, but the other two – Yugoslavia and Bulgaria were still to play between themselves. Calculations, calculations… a tie was making Wales the winner. Yugoslavia needed a win to finish first. Bulgaria needed also particular result: not only to win, but to win 3-2 or by 2 goals. The last match was in Yugoslavia, which tipped the scales a bit in Yugoslav favour. But only a bit. The fans of three countries were glued to televised drama. Real drama: Bulgaria scored first. The match – not a great one – went through changes able to give one a heart-attack. At the very end Yugoslavia scored the winning goal, the match ended 3-2. Who was feeling most? May be the Welsh – they were not playing, unable to control their fate at all – only watching, hoping, despairing, hoping again, crushed at the end.
No mater what, a modest squad, but going well to the end. Brave performance, surely – unlike Bulgaria, which was its own victim: a home tie with Norway, then home loss to Yugoslavia, then lost away to Wales… at least 4 points lost. True, Wales lost its chance just before the last group match – a 1-1 home tie with Yugoslavia – but they were the underdog team. All said, there was no really strong team in this group – it was a battle of equals and more a matter of luck than of skill.
1.YUGOSLAVIA 6 3 2 1 12-11 8
2.Wales 6 2 3 1 7- 6 7
3.Bulgaria 6 2 1 3 7- 8 5
4.Norway 6 1 2 3 7- 8 4
Group 5. Well, it looked like easy group for Italy – they just won the World title and the opponents were going through some troubles. However, those, who felt Italy did not deserve the World Cup had a field day. It was so easy to laugh and pontificate – Italy was out of the race after 4 matches, in which they tied 3 and lost 1 match. The champions of the world won only once in this campaign – and it was the last and entirely meaningless group match: everything was decided, Italy hosted Cyprus and finally won 3-1. The battle switched to entangled battle between three teams. There were some surprising results and in the end it was almost the same situation as in Group 4: Sweden was first with 11 points and no more games. Czechoslovakia was hosting Romania and were to be the group winners only if they won – then they would be ahead of Sweden on better goal-difference. Romania, with the worst goal-difference of the three, needed a tie to get ahead of Sweden by a point. And they got it, managing a 1-1 against Czechoslovakia.
This is Sweden in 1984, but the squad was pretty much the one dramatically ending second. May be rightly so – Sweden was always a fighter, but there was some acute crisis, more or less starting about 1977, when the previous generation aged. Now a new talent was filling up the vacuum, but the team was not fully shaped in 1982-83.
1.ROMANIA 8 5 2 1 9- 3 12
2.Sweden 8 5 1 2 14- 5 11
3.Czechoslovakia 8 3 4 1 15- 7 10
4.Italy 8 1 3 4 6-12 5
5.Cyprus 8 0 2 6 4-21 2
Group 6. No arguing here – West Germany was the obvious favorite, no matter in what shape or form. Austria was getting a bit old and since traditionally there was no big pool of players, replacements were hard to find. And Austria was true to expectations – not really challenging anybody. But tough Northern Ireland unexpectedly challenged the mighty Germans – mostly because the Germans were not so mighty… the problems of dull Germany were well displayed at the 1982 World Cup and under increasingly criticized Derwall nothing good was happening. West Germany struggled and reached the bottom when they lost at home to Northern Ireland 0-1. Only 2 games remained at this point – one of them was merely a protocol, then the last group match between West Germany and Albania. Northern Ireland was leading the group with 11 points, but hardly entertained any hopes – the Germans played at home against the group outsider and had superior goal-difference. Yes, they were 2 points behind, but it was hardly possible to imagine Albania getting a point in Germany. But they almost did – the Germans struggled tremendously and displeased entirely their supporters. They extracted with great difficulty 2-1 win. There was no joy – the national team was viciously and rightly criticized in the German press.
Northern Ireland in 1984 – but the team was pretty much the one almost going to the European finals. Back from left: Gerry McElhinney (Bolton Wanderers), John McVey (physio), Gerry Armstrong (Real Mallorca), John McClelland (Rangers), Pat Jennings (Arsenal), George Dunlop (Linfield), John O’Neill (Leicester City), Paul Ramsey (Leicester City), Billy Hamilton (Oxford Utd), Derek McKinley (attendant)
Front from left: Mal Donaghy (Luton Town), Ian Stewart (QPR), Nigel Worthington (Sheff Wed), Jimmy Nicholl (Toronto Blizzard), Billy Bingham (manager), Martin O’Neill (Notts County), Norman Whiteside (Man Utd), Stephen Penney (Brighton), David McCreery (Newcastle Utd) [Not pictured] Terry Cochrane (Gillingham).
Most of the same players were going to endear the World in not so distant future – at the moment, they almost prevailed over mighty West Germany.
1.WEST GERMANY 8 5 1 2 15- 5 11
2.Northern Ireland 8 5 1 2 8- 5 11
3.Austria 8 4 1 3 15-10 9
4.Turkey 8 3 1 4 8-16 7
5.Albania 8 0 2 6 4-14 2
Group 7. Holland, although in decline, was still considered the favourite. Spain was the other potential candidate, but Spain routinely disappointed. Considering the kind of football Spain played for years, Holland was the obvious choice, even in decline and struggling. As almost all groups, the last match decided the winner, but in scandalous manner. The group was plagued with scandals, complaints, accusations, and bitterness – the group displaying everything unpleasant in 1980s football: all that mattered was winning. For this, the pitch was not enough. At first was the more than suspect match between Malta and Holland – Malta was the host, but also was under UEFA penalty and could not use home ground. Holland ‘generously’ proposed the match to be played in Aachen, West Germany, near the border. It was good offer – the Dutch were going to pay all expenses of the Maltese national team. Agreed… and Holland won 6-0. Spain was not happy at all, but the result itself was not exactly unusual… The taint of this match plagued the group to the end – Holland played its last match at home against Malta. And won 5-0. Spain was not happy again. What remained, though, was their last match – also a home game against Malta. At this point it was rather mission impossible – Holland was leading by 2 points, but with goal-difference so great, Spain could qualify only with a victory by 11 goals. Even against Malta it was too much. Before the match Malta handed a complaint against Spain to UEFA – the hosts obstructed training, failed to provide training ground or flooded the pitch when Maltese training was scheduled. UEFA ignored the complaint and the match started, only to develop weirdly – about 30th minute it was 1-1. Spain got a penalty – questionable penalty, to Dutch eyes – but no big deal, for Spain missed it. Everything really started after the equalizing goal – the Maltese scorer went into strange quarrel with the referee and was expelled. Against 10 men, Spain started scoring… and scoring, and scoring to the final 12-1. The exact number of goals they needed to finish ahead of Holland. The result was reached a bit earlier and the last 6 minutes of the game were almost not played – the stands chanted happily, the players of both teams aimlessly walked on the ground. And many journalists, particularly Dutch, predicted the outcome – so suspicious was everything about this match. But everything was suspicious well before that and it is really hard to point a finger at anybody – Malta was really weak, Holland was not exactly kosher, Spain had a history of backroom deals, but… at best, it was tit-for-tat. UEFA, typically, did nothing, so apart from speculations, no truth can be unearthed.
Holland finished 2nd and may be rightly so – the crisis was still going on. This is the team,which won over Iceland in September, 1983.
Top, left to right: Pieter ‘Piet’ Schrijvers, Rudi Dil ‘Ruud’ Gullit, Petrus Johannes ‘Peter’ Houtman , Erwin Koeman, Marcel ‘Marco’ van Basten, Ronald Koeman.
Bottom, left to right: Huibertus Johannes Nicolaas ‘Ben’ Wijnstekers, Gerald Mervin Vanenburg, Edo Ophof, Peter Boeve, Wilhelmus Antonius ‘Willy’ van de Kerkhof .
It differs from the squads used in more important games and stronger opponents – here are the roots of the next Dutch great team, but it is only the beginning of the building process – Gullit, van Basten, Ronald Koeman are still young hopefuls. Holland – purely as a team – did not deserve to qualify. As a matter of fair-play, though… Spain were shameless cheaters. Because their victory over Malta was so suspect, their scores could be doubted too – 24 goals was the biggest score in the qualifying groups, but England was truly the highest scoring team.
1.SPAIN 8 6 1 1 24- 8 13
2.Netherlands 8 6 1 1 22- 6 13
3.Ireland 8 4 1 3 20-10 9
4.Iceland 8 1 1 6 3-13 3
5.Malta 8 1 0 7 5-37 2