World Cup Special: 18 Tournaments, 18 Moments – Italy 1990

World in motion

The 1990 World Cup in Ital is roundly criticised by pundits as being one of the most dour tournaments ever.

However, for the fans of my generation- as our first true taste of the greatest international competition – the tournament has an air of the exotic and retains its romance even to this day.

Amid the draws and defensive football of Italia ’90 there are still so many instances of magic.

There is the performance of Cameroon, who finally put Africa on the football map, unlucky losers in the quarter-final against England but propelled by the dancing Roger Milla they stunned a number of top teams – including Argentina in the group phase.

Despite not winning a single game in normal time throughout the tournament. The Republic of Ireland bundled their way into quarter-finals only to lose to hosts Italy.

Maradona produced another moment of brilliance, his mazy run and clinical threaded pass allowing Claudio Cannigia to score the only goal in the round of 16 game against Brazil.

And then there was England.

Under Bobby Robson, hammered by the press in the run-up to the tournament, England, once they gathered momentum, actually began to look like a football team.

Failing to impress in the groups, England built up steam with David Platt’s fantastic volley against Belgium and Gary Linker’s two penalties (including dives) against Cameroon before eventually losing to the Germans on penalties.

The run produced many unforgettable moments, Paul Gascoigne’s tears in the semi final, Chris Waddle’s penalty miss, which brought the journey to the end, and Bobby Robson’s dance down the touchline.

And for that summer, to the soundtrack of New Order’s World in Motion, a technically gifted England side finally made a nation believe.


World Cup Special: 18 Tournaments, 18 Moments – Sweden 1958

The first glimpse of genius

The World Cup is not only the place where dreams come true (unless your English), it is the place where stars are born.

Michael Owen came to the fore 1998, Roberto Baggio built his legend in 1994 but it was Pele in 1958 that had the most shine of all.

The Brazilian, just 17 at the time of the first round game against USSR in Sweden, became the youngest player to appear in the tournament.

And the teenager, instrumental in securing the World Cup for his country, produced an astonishing display showing maturity way beyond his years.

Pele scored a stunning hat-trick against France in the semi-final and scored the trademark goal of the tournament against Sweden in the final. The goal – a delicious lob over an onrushing defender followed by a thumping volley – was the first of two and helped Brazil to a 5-2 win.

And from there his stock continued to rise, the Brazilian going on to appear at a further three World Cups, perhaps saving his best for the 1970 tournament where his attempted lob against Czechoslovakia and the outrageous dummy against Uruguay are among two of the greatest goals never scored.

While it is open for debate whether he is the best player in the history of the game – Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradonna and Franz Beckenbauer could all stake thier claim for that mantle – his effect on football is unrivalled.

With Pele reaching his peak at the same time football became a television spectacle he became the game’s first true global superstar.

And his record of 77 goals in 92 games in the gold shirt certainly speaks for itself.

World Cup Special: 18 Tournaments, 18 Moments – England 1966

Pickles the Dog

Every man, woman and child across the length and breadth of the country knows the time worn tale of England’s 1966 World Cup triumph.

The years of hurt that have followed it, the dodgy Russian linesman and Hurst’s hat-trick are etched into the nation’s conscience.

Perhaps a more interesting, and slightly less travelled yarn, is that of Pickles the dog and the stolen Jules Rimet trophy.

It is a misadventure that is quintessentially English. The trophy had not gone missing in its 36-year history but as soon as it reached old Blighty it was half inched from a display exhibition.

The trophy was on show at a stamp exhibition at Westminster Central Hall in March just months before the start of the tournament.

Understandably uninterested in pictures of the Queen’s head, the thief decide to ignore the valuable stamps and sought out the more culturally significant World Cup. The cocky light-fingered ne’erdowell also sent the police a ransom note for the return of the trophy.

But cometh the hour, cometh man’s best friend.

Pickles, a black and white mongrel, discovered the trophy a week later under a garden hedge in South Norwood, South London wrapped in newspaper.

As a reward, which is probably small beer for today’s dogs, Pickles was invited to a celebration dinner and – unhygenically – was allowed to lick the plates clean. His owner David Corbett, picked up a £6,000 reward.

However, the tale, much in the same vein as England’s World Cup legacy, did not have a fairytale ending. The Jules Rimet Trophy was stolen again in Brazil 1983 where it was melted down and made into coins.

Pickles met his own unfortunate end, strangling himself on his lead while trying to chase a cat some years after his great find.

And England, despite their heroics in the tournament, as we all know, are still yet to pick up a second major trophy.

World Cup Special: 18 Tournaments, 18 Moments – Argentina 1978

The tournament they couldn’t lose

Although it has never been proven beyond doubt, rumblings persist that Argentina’s glorious hosting and victory in the 1978 World Cup is not all that it seems.

At the time of the tournament, Argentina was in a state of political flux. The military had overthrown the government in 1976 and there were widespread reports that political unrest had resulted in thousands of political murders.

Many countries threatened to pull out of the tournament but none actually did. Holland’s star player Johan Cruyff and Afroed German Paul Breitner were the only players to follow through on their moral instinct and boycott the event.

Explaining the philosophy of his government, Argentina’s leader General Jorge Rafael Videla said: “As many people as necessary must die in Argentina so that the country will again be secure.” As many as 30 000 are estimated to have lost their lives during the junta’s reign, some of which were butchered during the World Cup itself.

The stranglehold that the Argentine leader had over the people extended to the World Cup. Realising the immense power of sport as propaganda over the populace, it was a tournament they couldn’t – and didn’t – lose.

In the midst of many strange decisions in favour of the Argentines. The most suspicious was the final second round group game against Peru. With the hosts needing to win by four clear goals to claim a place in the final, the ‘dispirited’ Peruvians lost the game 6-0.

According to Argentine investigative journalist Maria Laura Avignolo, General Videla offered the Peruvians 35,000 tonnes of grain to be shipped from Argentina to Peru, $50m of credits to be unfrozen and substantial bribes paid directly to Peruvian officials from accounts held by the Argentine navy. The players allegedly received $20 000 each to lose.

The final itself was a suspicious affair. In an article in the Financial Times, legendary journalist Brian Glanville, suggests that many of the Argentina players may have taken performance enhancing drugs.

He said: “Argentina were dead at the end of 90 minutes. Then suddenly they came out for extra time recharged. How that happened I just don’t know. It seems physically quite unfeasible. They were by far the more vigorous team in extra time.

“Far more pace and running than Holland. But if they took any kind of stimulants, I would have thought it was very difficult for them to take it before the beginning of extra time. And if they had taken them earlier, why hadn’t they shown earlier? I can’t answer that. But I did find it extremely odd and I still do.”

With the World Cup secure the junta were more secure than ever, as was corruption’s grip on the integrity of the beautiful game.

World Cup Special: 18 Tournaments, 18 Moments – Mexico 1970

…by far the greatest team, the world has ever seen

Félix, Hércules Brito, Wilson Piazza, Carlos Alberto (c), Everaldo, Clodoaldo, Gérson, Rivelino, Jairzinho. Tostão and Pelé.

Once in a generation a great team is assembled that sweeps aside all opposition, claiming awards, accolades and adulation … In 1970 that team was Brazil.

Not only is the team considered to be the best of its generation, it is often recalled as the best of all time.

And it is highly regarded, not for its success, but because of its magnificent, swashbuckling, attacking, football. The brilliant Austrians and Hungarians could not win beautiful before them and the Dutch and the 1982 Brazilians could not do it after them.

They won every single match on their way to the 1970 title beating World Champions England, Uruguay, Peru, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Italy in the final.

Besides the great Brazil side the World Cup win also produced a number of firsts in world football.

Brazil became the first three time winners of the tournament and were allowed to keep the Jules Rimet trophy (which was unfortunately stolen and melted down in 1983).

Pele, in his Brazil swansong playing in his last tournament, became the first player win the trophy three times – a feat yet to be matched – while coach Mario Zagallo became the first man to win the World Cup as both a player and a manager.

But Brazil’s 1970 side are most fondly remembered for some of the greatest moments in World Cup history.

Pele’s downward header from 10 yards tipped over the bar by England’s Gordon Banks is one of the best saves ever and still looks stunning by modern standards.

But it is captain Carlos Alberto’s goal to seal the World Cup victory which is the most special moment.

Clodoaldo beats four players before feeding Rivelinho who, in turn, sets Jairzinho racing down the wing. The ball is played square to Pele who senses the run of Carlos Alberto and tees it up for the skipper the slam home from 20 yards.

Brazil cement their place as the greatest team in the world by scoring the greatest ever team goal.

Football had not seen anything like it and has yet to witness anything similar since.

World Cup Special: 18 Tournaments, 18 Moments – Uruguay 1930

Uruguay and the first World Cup

Football fans flushed with excitement for this year’s World Cup in South Africa to kick-off should thank Jules Rimet and the International Olympic Committee.

The Olympic football tournament had been the pinnacle of the World game for a number of years until FIFA and the IOC fell out over whether professionals could take part.

When the IOC decided to cut the sport from its schedule for the 1932 Olymics in Los Angeles, FIFA president Jules Rimet decided that the governing body should organise its own global tournament.

And thus the World Cup was born.

However, the 1930 tournament in Uruguay, the South American’s picked as hosts as reigning Olympic champions, was fraught with organizational difficulties.

With South America some distance away (by 1930 standards) and just 13 teams entered, only four came in from Europe – Belgium, France, Romania and Yugoslavia after being coaxed into entering by Rimet and the Uruguayan promise to pay their boat fare.

Famously, not part of FIFA at the time, none of the home nations decided to enter the tournament, with the English FA turning down a personal request from Rimet to play.

The opening game of the tournament, the first World Cup match in history, is a yardstick for the progress football has made. Just 3,000 fans saw France beat Mexico 4-1 at the Estadio Pocitos in Motevideo. Just days later, a game in the same stadium between Romania and Peru drew a crowd of just 300.

Despite the lack of interest in some of the visiing nations, there was significant local support for eventual winners Uruguay.

Their victory over a strong Argentina side in the final was watched by almost 100,000 fans and helped cement football as the region’s number one sport.

And despite its kinks and a general reluctance by Europe to embrace it, the tournament fuelled something bigger.

It was the very first tournamnet which turned a game watched by thousands into a religion worshipped by billions.

World Cup Special: 18 Tournaments, 18 Moments – Italy 1934

Sindelar and the Wunderteam

Before Holland reinvented the game with Total Football there was the Wunderteam.

Austria is not a modern football super power but it was arguably the best team of the 1930’s.

The side, which included Matthias Sindelar – one of the most underrated international footballers of all time and Walter Nausch, swept aside all comers in the lead up to the 1934 World Cup in Italy.

Their neighbours Germany were humbled 5-0 and 6-0, while the Wunderteam also beat the highly rated Hungarians, who were also emerging as a global football giant.

Managed by Hugo Meisl, the team did not lose a game throughout 1931 and most of 1932 and arrived in Italy as tournament favourites.

However, like the other great European footballing sides which followed, such as Hungary in the 1950s and Holland in the 1970s, the team ended up trophyless.

The 1934 World Cup title went to Italy and it was they who dispatched the Wunderteam 1-0 in the semi-final. The Italians also beat the Austrians 1-0 in the 1936 Olympic final.

The Austrians, still grieving of the death of Meisl in 1937, were an ageing side by the time the 1938 World Cup came around but withdraw form the tournament following the country’s Anschluss with Nazi Germany.

Like the team he excelled for, Sindelar also met a sad end.

In January 1939, the footballer and his girlfriend were found dead in their Vienna apartment. The official verdict was carbon monoxide poisoning but rumors persist that he was killed for refusing to play for the Germans in the 1938 World Cup.

The Nazi’s may have had another reason for killing the staunch social democrat. In the Anschluss game, marking the union of the nations, Sindelar scored a second half goal against the Germans and proceeded to celebrate directly in front of number of high-ranking Nazi officials.

According to legend, the game was fixed and was supposed to be a draw – until Sindelar got bored of missing chances.

While little footage of the player in action exists, the words of theatre critic Alfred Polgar underline his brilliance.

“In a way he had brains in his legs and many remarkable and unexpected things occurred to them while they were running.

“Sindelar’s shot hit the back of the net like the perfect punch-line, the ending that made it possible to understand and appreciate the perfect composition of the story, the crowning of which it represented.”