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Category Archives: FIFA World Cup

I’m breaking my resolution to avoid posts on football during World Cup month: I’ll excuse myself by pointing out there are still 4 days to go…>One of the most futile, frustrating and yet inexhaustibly enjoyable pursuits open to the football lover is the selection of ‘all time greatest’ teams. In football there can be no right or wrong, only opinion, and it is impossible to select such teams given the changes that the game has undergone. Modern players are fitter, the ball is lighter, pitches better, they don’t have to put up with the rough treatment that wash dished out in the past. Modern defensive play is better organised and I believe the general level of individual skill is greater than ever.
I’m not going to commit myself to naming my all time 11 yet, but let’s look at some others.
In 1994 FIFA selected this team, which lined up in a 4-3-3 formation:

Lev Yashin- Soviet Union (1954-1970)
Djalma Santos- Brazil (1952–1968)**
Franz Beckenbauer- West Germany (1965–1977)*
Bobby Moore- England(1962–1973)*
Paul Breitner – West Germany (1971–1982)*
Johann Cruyff- The Netherlands (1966–1978)
Michel Platini – France (1976–1987)

Bobby Charlton – England (1958–1970)*
Mané Garrincha- Brazil (1955-1966)**
Ferenc Puskas – Hungary & Spain (1945–1956/1962)
Pelé- Brazil- (1957–1971)***

At the FIFA World Cup in France 1998 Mastercard got 250 journalists to select their Team of the Century.Again the formation was 4-3-3:

Carlos Alberto Torres- Brazil (1964-1977) *
Nilton Santos- Brazil (1949-1963) **

Alfredo di Stefano – Argentina, Columbia, Spain (1947–1949/1949–1954/1954–1962)
Mané Garrincha
Diego Maradona- Argentina (1977–1994)*

In the build up to the 2002 World Cup selected the following on the basis of online voting by fans:

Paolo MaldiniItaly (1988–2002)
Roberto CarlosBrazil (1992–2006) *
Roberto BaggioItaly (1988–2004)
Zinadine Zidane – France (1994–2006)*
Romario – Brazil (1987–2005)*


Unlike the previous selections, which were quite logical and balanced, this is a crazy set up that would never work in reality. 3-4-3
3 at the back- Maldini on the right? Roberto Carlos
was strong going forward but couldn’t defend, Beckenbauer buried in the middle of a 3 man defence?
4 number 10’s in midfield-
11 great players, but not really a team.
Anyway- Joao Kartoshka will reveal his all time 11 in the near future…

So, back in October, we undertook a journey through the history of the World Cup and have arrived at the present day. 18 tournaments, 4 continents- 7 different winners. There have been unexpected victors (1950, 1954), dubious victors (1938, 1966, 1974), but never any real surprises. In the finals in which the best teams did not win (1954, 1974) they were not beaten by rank outsiders, and even in the tournament in which the best* two sides were not in the final (1982) it was still competed by two leading nations.

*the world cup is actually a football fair; not a proper championship… more than half the matches are knockout ties, anything is possible. Merit doesn’t count.Socrates on Spain 1982, interviewed in FourFourTwo (2010).

So- players to watch?

Eight months ago I’d have said Arshavin(Russia), Cambiasso(Argentina), Ronaldihno (Brazil), but they won’t be there…
Messi (Argentina), Ronaldo (Portugal), Ribery(France), Drogba(
Côte d’Ivoire), Villa, Xavi(Spain), Rooney(England) of course, but expect a no nonsense victory based on solid defence and counter-attack from Brazil (probably against Spain in the final).

A few players have appeared in more than one World Cup Final (Luis Monti , as we have seen, for two different countries), and Zinadine Zidane is not alone in having scored in more than one final (Vava,Pele,Breitner), but Zidane perhaps, has left an indelible mark on two finals in a way that not even the genius of Pele in 1958 and 1970 achieved.
In 1998 Zidane stepped into the void temporarily vacated by the incapacitated Ronaldo . In 2006 he was arguably the greatest player in the World- in the final he opened the scoring with a penalty and then in extra time planted his head firmly into the chest of Materazzi and saw red.

It was an ill tempered tournament-345 yellow cards and 28 red cards were shown, with Russian referee Valentin Ivanov handing out 16 yellow and 4 red cards in the round of 16 match between Portugal and the Netherlands. English referee Graham Poll got in on the act by mistakenly showing three yellow cards to Croatia’s Josip Šimunić in the match against Australia. Mr Poll had a great excuse for his error- when booking Šimunić for the second time he marked him down as Australia #3 because of his Australian accent (Šimunić was born in Canberra).
Italy were very fortunate to progress against Australia via a dubious late penalty.
When I first saw Portugal’s Maniche I thought that he would soon take his place amongst the all time greats, but it was not to be, although he was one of the outstanding players of 2006.
Argentina’s Esteban Cambiasso scored one of the greatest ever World Cup goals…following a 25 pass move against Serbia Montenegro.

The details of the Final are overshadowed in the memory by Zidane’s sending off- Italy triumphed on penalties- Trezeguet hitting the bar with France’s second kick whilst the Italians got five out of five past Barthez.

Ronaldo’s glory was delayed by 4 years. After the fiasco of 1998 he ended the 2002 tournament as a world champion, and with the Golden Boot for his 8 goals, including 2 in the final, which, remarkably, was the first ever meeting between Germany and Brazil in the history of the World Cup.

France’s defence of the title was a disaster as they finished winless (this was also the last time that the champions enjoyed automatic qualification).
It was a happy goodbye to golden goals- 3 were scored.
Firsts: this was the first World Cup to be held in Asia, and the first joint hosting (FIFA will not repeat the joint hosting experiment,and both countries are bidding to host future tournaments individually).
Korea republic will always appear to have been the surprise package, finishing 4th, but they benefitted from a number of outrageous refereeing decisions on their way. Turkey acquitted themselves very well to finish 3rd, and after just 11 seconds of the 3rd place match Hakan Şükür registered the fastest ever World Cup goal .
Oliver Kahn became the first goalkeeper to be awarded the Balon D’or as most valuable player, but ironically his fumble of Rivaldo’s shot in the final gifted Ronaldo the opener. Germany only conceded 3 goals in the whole tournament.
David Beckham enjoyed some redemption when his penalty beat old rivals Argentina 1-0 in the group stage.
Ronaldo took his place in the history books with a truly bizarre haircut straight out of Tod Browning’s Freaks, the result of his 2 yr old son Ronald’s inability to distinguish between his father and teammate Roberto Carlos.

Zoot alors! Trois zero! Apparently several children were christened
Trois Zero in the wake of France’s first World Cup triumph. Pele had predicted that an African team would win the World Cup before 2000- Nigeria, the only African side to reach the knockout phase were swept aside by Denmark. But there was an African flavour to the victors- Marcel Desailly born in Accra,Patrick Vieira in Dakar and Zinedine Zidane of course had Algerian parents.
The finals were expanded from 24 to 32 teams. Laurent Blanc of France scored the first Golden Goal in World Cup history as the hosts beat Paraguay 1-0.

David Beckham, who within a few years was the darling of the media and possibly the most instantly recognisable footballer in the world, was far from flavour of the month.Having being sent off after kicking Diego Simeone in England’s defeat against Argentina, Beckham became a hate figure.
Having overcome a muscular Croatian side in the semi final the French took the precaution of poisoning Ronaldo in the lead up to the final.

Ronaldo was present at the final but could hardly be said to have played- similarly his teammates were visibly dispirited following his mysterious brush with death.

France were without their captain, Laurent BlancSlaven Bilic having engineered his dismissal in the semi with some hideous simulation.
France had to survive the last 20 minutes of the final with only 10 men with the dismissal of Marcel Desailly, by then they were 2 goals up and still controlled the match.

So the last World Cup of the 20th century, the 16th edition, saw the seventh nation to claim the title- the first ‘new’ winners for 20 years.

The 1994 World Cup Finals started and ended with dreadful penalties- the first was taken by soul diva Diana Ross at the opening ceremony, the last by Roberto Baggio in the final itself. Both sailed harmlessly wide of their target.A great tournament but a not so great final.
141 goals were scored at an average of 2.7 per match, but none in the final for the only time in World Cup history.
Bigger stadiums allowed an average attendance of 69,000, breaking records that had stood since 1950. The total attendance of almost 3.6 million remains the highest in World Cup history.
Oleg Salenko of Russia became the first player to score five goals in a single World Cup match as Russia ran out 6–1 winners against Cameroon.
Only 3 of the 15 knockout phase matches went to penalties- sadly the final was one of them.
Themed goal celebrations appeared when Bebeto marked the birth of his baby with his ‘cradle’ celebration, (along with Romário and Mazinho) in the game against the Netherlands. The Brazil players also made a memorable spectacle when they took to the pitch hand in hand.
The U.S.A v Switzerland match in the Pontiac Silverdome was the first to be played indoors in World Cup history.
Before the tournament Pele predicted that Columbia would win the World Cup , but they were a waning side plagued by domestic problems and went out at the first stage.
Maradonna made his final World Cup appearance- suspended for drug misuse he left fans with memories of outstanding brilliance and plenty of controversy.

An iconic image, taken from a blimp above the stadium, Taffarel ecstatic, Baggio despondent.

Probably the worst, most tedious, bad-tempered Final in the history of the World Cup… Brian Glanville The Story of the World Cup.

The 1990 tournament had the lowest goals-per-match average of all World Cups. There were 115 goals, an average of 1 goal every 42.7 minutes.There was only one match where both teams scored more than one goal.
Defensive play dominated- The Republic of Ireland, for example, reached the quarter-finals despite scoring only 2 goals. They also did not win a single match outright. Both semi finals were decided on penalties.

Other features of the tournament were the high number of sendings off- 16, and a record number of penalty awards. Even the opener in which Cameroon defeated the holders Argentina was most memorable for the brutal play of the Cameroonians who were reduced to 9 men by the end.

The rules of the game were changed largely in response to this cynical, unpalletable fare- back passes to the goalkeeper were outlawed (ROI’s game against Egypt, possibly one of the least interesting ever, saw goalkeeper Packy Bonner keeping the ball for 5 minutes),as was the tackle from behind.
The final was truly dreadful- Argentina didn’t seem to want to play and the Germans, playing their third successive final, reacted theatrically to physical challenges. The crowd were hostile towards the Argentinians,who had defeated Italy in the semi final, and as the national anthem was jeered Maradonna could be seen muttering ‘sons of bitches’ in response. In the 65th minute, Argentina’s Pedro Monzon was sent off for a foul on Klinsmann (who threw himself around like a fish in the bottom of a boat). Team-mate Gustavo Dezotti received the second red card of the game with four minutes left, by which time Brehme had scored the only goal of the game from the spot after the referee had awarded a soft penalty when Rudi Völler went down.

Away from football the early nineties were times of great change, and this tournament saw the last appearances of West Germany, USSR, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.
Italy discovered a hero in Salvatore ‘Totò’ Schillaci – the Juventus striker made his debut as substitute in the opening game against Austria and finished the tournament as top scorer with six goals- he only scored one further goal in his international career.

I was waiting for my teammates to embrace me, and no one came… I told them, Come hug me, or the referee isn’t going to allow it… Diego Maradona.

Who remembers the sinister star shaped shadow that haunted the centre circle of The Azteca stadium during June 1986?
In June 1974 FIFA chose Colombia to host the 1986 World Cup. However, in November 1982 Colombian authorities declared that they could not afford to stage the tournament, and Mexico was selected on 20 May 1983 as replacement , becoming the first nation to host two World Cups. In September 1985 A severe earthquake struck Mexico, but the World Cup went ahead as planned.
The final between Argentina and West Germany was the last World Cup game to be watched by a crowd of 100,000 plus.
As 1986 had been declared the International Year of Peace by the United Nations, the advertising boards of all the stadia displayed the FIFA and United Nations logos along with the legend “Football for Peace – Peace Year”.
Three of the quarter finals were decided on penalties (shootouts having being introduced in 1982).
The fourth produced the remarkable sight of 1.65 m Maradona out jumping 1.85 m England goalkeeper Peter Shilton to punch the ball into the net. A few minutes later Maradona scored a goal that is often cited as the best ever. At the time I was convinced that the final touch had actually come from an England defender.
Manuel Negrete of Mexico scored an equally memorable goal:

Appearing in his second tournament Zidane scored his first World Cup goal…not Zinadine but his uncle, Djamel Zidane, who netted for Algeria against Northern Ireland.

On the world stage it was goodbye to Socrates and Zico, two players who will always rank amongst the greats.

If 1978 was about Mennoti and his cigarettes 1982 was, thanks to Enzo Bearzot, the year of the pipe.
Italy triumphed in the final against a lacklustre West German side despite missing a first half penalty. The Italians had overcome dire treatment from their press (accusations included players being involved in gay love affairs) and emerged from what is considered to be the original ‘Group of Death’ (second round group C saw them matched with Brazil and Argentina).
Most neutrals would have favoured Italy over a West Germany team who had introduced kung fu to the tournament in the shape of Schumaker’s assault on Battison, and who in the opening phase had been involved in the darkest episode in World Cup history. In a match known as The Shame of Gijón West Germany and Austria colluded in providing a result that ensured they both progressed at the expense of Algeria.
Algeria had beaten West Germany 2–1 on the opening day, becoming the first African team to defeat European opponents at the World Cup. Now, when West Germany took a 1-0 lead against Austria, both teams gave up playing and spent 80 minutes aimlessly punting the ball to and fro.
El Salvador had a desperate time. The country was ravaged by civil war, and they arrived in Spain just 72 hours before their opener with Hungary. They had to borrow footballs from the Hungarian camp in order to train. Their manager advised them to take the game to Hungary. On this occasion attack was not the best form of defence, and they got on the end of a 10-1 defeat When Luis Ramírez Zapata (nicknamed El Pelé) had pulled it back to 5-1 his teammates were annoyed with his joyful celebrations, worried that the Hungarians would , in their anger, step up a gear. Their fears were realised to some degree when substitute Laszlo Kiss netted a seven minute hat trick.
Zico and Socrates featured for Brazil, two of the greatest players never to win the World Cup.

To be a footballer means being a privileged interpreter of the feelings and dreams of thousands of people.-Cesar Luis Menotti
Our football belongs to the working class and has the size, nobility and generosity to allow everyone to enjoy it as a spectacle.-Cesar Luis Menotti

In 1976 Argentina underwent a military coup that plunged the country into seven years of fear and oppression. Many doubted whether Argentina could stage a successful World Cup in such circumstances.
The name Mario Kempes was written large across the 1978 tournament. He won both the Golden Boot (top scorer) and Golden Ball (player of the tournament). His six goals included 2 in the highly charged final.
Kempes (of Valencia) was the only foreign based player in the Argentina team. He typified the image of the dashing Latin footballer of the era.

The Netherlands accused the Argentines of gamesmanship in the final. The host team came out late and lengthy debates ensued about the legality of René van de Kerkhof’s plaster cast. There was an intensely partisan atmosphere in the Estadio Monumental. Argentina were heading for a 1-0 win when Dick Nanninga equalized a few minutes from the end. Rob Rensenbrink then hit the post in stoppage time. Argentina went on to win 3–1 after extra time. The Netherlands boycotted the post-match ceremonies.
Another enduring image of the tournament was that of Cesar Luis Menotti, El Flaco, Argentina’s sullen, long haired manager, seemingly chainsmoking his way through the competition.Daniel Passarella, Argentina’s captain, said of Menotti: He always knew exactly what to say to motivate his players. And he was always very calm. We only saw him get really angry once: just before extra time in the Final against the Netherlands. He looked at us and said, ‘Look around you. There are 80,000 of us and eleven of them. We’re not going to lose, are we?’ It was the type of shock tactic that the team needed. We took to the field again certain we’d win and we made the title ours.
The 39 year old Menotti won admirers by refusing to associate with the dictators, insisting that football and politics were not related.Interviewed earlier this year Menotti reiterated: I just don’t think a head of state has the right to muscle in on sports victories, neither a democratically elected one nor, as was the case back then, a rotten dictator.
Tunisia made history by beating Mexico 3–1. It was the first time that any African team had won a match at the World Cup finals.
The fact that only black and white TV was available in the host country gave us the unique situation of seeing France playing their game with Hungary in borrowed kit of white and green stripes, their blue being indistinguishable from Hungary’s red to viewers watching in black and white.