The homecoming


THIRTY SIX years after the launch of the World Cup, football came home in 1966 when England, the country which had been credited with its creation, was given the honour of hosting the event for the first time. Europe was given 10 places in the final round, South America four and North and Central America combined only one. However only one spot was given to Asia, Africa and Oceania collectively, a decision which resulted in Asia and Africa refusing to participate in the preliminaries. Eventually, North Korea, the only country to apply for the Asian preliminaries, defeated Australia in a play-off to fill that single slot.

The Koreans did not stop with that but provided the biggest surprise in the World Cup. Not much was expected of the debutant, which lost to USSR (0-3), drew with Chile (1-1) before facing Italy in the last Group match. Italy, which had beaten Chile 2-0 but lost to USSR 0-1, needed only a draw against the Koreans to book a quarter-final berth. That's when the unexpected happened. Despite Italy fielding its best line-up, the team crashed to a stunning 0-1 loss to N. Korea, Pak Doo-Ik netting in the 42nd minute match-winner to become an instant hero.

Buoyed by the unexpected success, the North Koreans appeared set for more in the semi-final against another newcomer, Portugal. An early 3-0 lead (the first goal by Park Seung-Jin coming in just 33 seconds) pointed to Korea's continuing dream run in Goodison Park before the world saw the emergence of yet another outstanding talent by the name Eusebio. In an amazing comeback, Eusebio scored four goals in a row and set up another to give Portugal an incredible 5-3 victory. Like North Koreans against the Italians earlier, the Portuguese had contributed to Brazil's early exit and also put Pele out of action through injury. Suffering consecutive 1-3 losses to Hungary and Portugal, Brazil's hopes of another World Cup success vanished.

Meanwhile, England moved on smoothly barring its encounter with Uruguay, which, with its defence-oriented approach, ensured there were no goals in the match. Still, with wins over Mexico (1-0) and France (2-0), England progressed to the quarter-final where it confronted Argentina at Wembley. It was a match where tempers ran high and also saw the Argentine captain Antonio Rattin, being given the marching orders for repeatedly arguing but refusing initially to leave the field. England won (1-0), thanks to Hurst's header. Mas almost equalised for Argentina but as it happened, England safely moved into the semi-final where it ended the run of Portugal (2-1) with Bobby Charlton scoring twice for one of his best outings for his country. Eusebio reduced the margin for Portugal.

In other matches, West Germany, inspired by Beckenbauer, notched up a thumping 4-0 win over Uruguay, which was down to nine players after two players were sent off. Hungary, the conqueror of Brazil fell 1-2 to USSR's fire power. Had Grosics been there, perhaps Hungary could have made a match of it. But in the semi-final marked by ill-temper, Germany edged out the Russians (2-1), Beckenbauer impressing with a breathtaking curler that brooked no stopping. Haller had helped Germany take the lead and then late in match Porkujan reduced the margin.

The England-West Germany title clash was one of the most talked about finds in the history of the World Cup. Over 95,000 spectators, including Queen Elizabeth II, braved a drizzle to watch the twists and turns of an exciting contest. After Geoff Hurst had cancelled out Helmut Haller's early goal, a 77th minute strike by Martin Peters put England 2-1 in front. When a win for England seemed imminent came Wolfgang Weber's equaliser in the final minute and forced the contest into extra time, the first time in a World Cup final since 1934. England stuck to its task and went all out. Then came Hurst's most debated goal off a shot that took the underside of the crosspiece and bounced. Hurst went on to complete a hat-trick and England had won the Cup 4-2 in a sensational manner.

With each passing edition, the contests had begun to grow in intensity as also the keenness to host the mega event. The 1970 edition many believed would go to Argentina to host but for various reasons, including inconsistency in that country's support and its prevailing economic conditions, the South American nation was overlooked and instead Mexico, which had staged the 1968 Olympic Games, was chosen as the venue. This was the World Cup that triggered a war between two countries, El Salvador and Honduras over a regional qualifying match.

Traditionally strong teams such as France, Portugal, Spain, Yugoslavia and Argentina went out in the qualifying phase while Israel and Morocco made their debut in the final round. With most stadia much above sea level many teams arrived early to get used to the conditions. For the first time the World Cup introduced player substitutions while live telecast went global. Host Mexico and USSR set the ball rolling. Both eventually qualified from Group I. Italy and Romania made it from Group II, Brazil and England from Group III and West Germany and Peru from Group IV.

It was a repeat of the previous edition's final between England and West Germany but at the quarter-final stage. Germany avenged the defeat in a sensational come-back from two goals down. Beckenbauer and Uwe Seeler equalised and forced the issue to extra time and there 'de bomber' Gerd Muller, the edition's top scorer with 10 goals, sent the defending champion into oblivion. Italy also made a late revival to defeat host Mexico 4-1 while Brazil prevailed over Peru 4-2. When Uruguay edged out Russia 1-0, the semi-final featured four former World champions - Uruguay (1930, 1950), Italy (1934, 38), Germany (1954) and Brazil (1958, 1962).

The semi-finals, expectedly, provided high drama with Brazil avenging its 1950 loss in the final to Uruguay with a 3-1 verdict while Italy and Germany were involved in a seemingly never ending fight that needed extra time to resolve the issue. Italy led 1-0 before Karl-Heinz Schnellinger equalised in the last minute. In the extra-time an injured German star, Beckenbauer, his arm strapped to his side, courageously carried on. Both teams shared four goals in the extra time before Gianni Rivera's match winner in the 111th minute helped Italy clinch a place in the final.

Both the finalists - Brazil and Italy - had won the World Cup twice and so one of them was destined to keep the Jules Rimet trophy permanently. In the end the South American flair prevailed over the catenaccio or defence-oriented European approach. Brazil thus took proud possession of the Jules Rimet Trophy. Experts believed that this was the best squad ever to emerge from Brazil with the likes of Pele, Gerson, Jairzinho, Tostao and Rivelino taking the 'samba' dance to a new high. It was Pele's final match and he played like a genius. His headed goal off a Rivelino cross is considered among the all time great goals in football history. The final scoreline was 4-1 with Gerson, Jairzinho (he scored in every match for Brazil in the competition) and skipper Carlos Alberto finding the target.

The 1974 edition in Germany then marked the introduction of a new trophy, the 'FIFA World Cup'. Even before the final round was reached there were surprises galore with the list of teams which missed the bus including England, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Austria, France and Portugal. USSR joined in only because it did not play against Chile on political grounds thereby allowing the South American nation to advance on default. South Korea came close to qualifying but after victories over Hong Kong and Israel in the preliminaries, failed against Australia in the Asia-Oceania play off. The focus was on West Germany, fresh from its 1972 European Nations Cup success and on 'Kaiser' Beckenbauer. A shaky start however sent wrong signals to home fans. A loss in a Group league match to East Germany, its political enemy, raised a furore, an emotional backlash. A shaken West Germany had the team captain, the 'Kaiser' have a crisis meeting with his team-mates and later explain and appease the public mind by coming on television.

That West Germany was not a loser by this setback became clear later through its progress from then on to Cup-triumph. Yet another unexpected development was the exit of Scotland after the first round despite being the only undefeated team in the tournament! It had one win (against Zaire) and two draws (against Brazil and Yugoslavia) to tie on points with Brazil for second place but on goal difference the defending champion squeezed ahead.

A measure of the growing popularity of the World Cup was the whopping 98 nations in the qualifying phase. Notable first time qualifiers into the select band of 16, other than East Germany, were Haiti, Australia and Zaire, the first sub-Saharan African nation to enter the FIFA World Cup final round. As the competition progressed, the two Germanys qualified for the second round from Group I, which included Chile and Australia. From Group II it was Brazil and Yugoslavia, while from Group III the exciting team from Holland with the resourceful Johan Cruyff, Neeskens, Rep and Rensenbrink in the rank quickly espoused the theory of 'total football' with an all-win record in the league. Sweden joined it while Bulgaria and Uruguay went out. From Group IV, Poland impressed with its victories over Argentina and Italy to march ahead. Argentina was the second team. Italy and Haiti went out of contention. For the first time, the second round was again a Group league rather than a plain knock-out with the eight teams drawn into two Groups. The full impact of Holland's 'total football' made famous by its leading club Ajax, came into play as the team overran Argentina 4-0, Cruyff scoring twice, beat East Germany 2-0 and piled misery on an erring and rough-tackling Brazil 2-0 to storm into the final. In the other Group, West Germany survived a tough time but the revelation was Poland. Its key player Gzregorz Lato rose to become the tournament's top goalscorer (7).

Both Germany and Poland had two wins each, the losing teams being Sweden and Yugoslavia. That meant everything hung on the match between the two for a slot in the final. A rainy day at Frankfurt served the Germans better in terms of adaptability. Still it was its goalkeeper Maier, who saved the blushes for the team with his double effort that frustrated Lato and Gadocha. Finally Gerd Muller, who rarely misses a scoring chance, bombed the Polish citadel to draw a passage for Germany. Poland thereafter had the satisfaction of beating Brazil for the third place, Lato producing the winner.

A sensational start marked the final at the Munich Olympic stadium. Holland, looking a crack unit and in full cry, earned a spot kick in 80 seconds when Cruyff was brought down by Hoeness with no German player having touched the ball. Neeskens converted the penalty. A contest which was essentially between the flair of Cruyff and the dependability of Beckenbauer was set for a high voltage drama. For nearly half an hour the Dutch stunned the Germans with their ball play. Then came the shift as Holzenbein, taking a pass from Overath shot ahead, with Breitner following. Inside the penalty area, Breitner was tripped. Breitner himself converted the spot kick to equalise and Germany was back in action.

Cruyff, all but saw his team go ahead after he had successfully lured Beckenbauer away only to see Rep fumble and allow goalkeeper Maier to pounce at his feet. Holland virtually lost the contest there even before the first half ended. Gerd Muller showed his shooting skill once again to slot what was a path-breaking goal, an effort that fetched Germany its second World Cup success. Holland's World Cup dream remained unfulfilled.