Following a successful, if controversial, hosting campaign, England was now the defending champion. But with many in the world still not willing to play nice with them (fairly or not), a target was now on their backs. But major changes were coming to the World Cup – namely, TV broadcasts (and in color!), and perhaps the finest team ever to show up at the world’s biggest sporting event took one last bow.
(The FIFA ’70 Mexico logo. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)
1970 FIFA World Cup
May 31-June 21
Runner Up: Italy
Third Place: West Germany
Fourth Place: Uruguay
Leading scorer: Gerd Müller, West Germany (10 goals)
Perhaps some eyebrows were raised when Mexico was named as host of the 1970 FIFA World Cup. While various other nations such as Peru and Japan were considered, only Argentina put in a competing bid officially. In 1964 in Tokyo, Mexico easily won the bid. But El Tri had never had a lot of success on the world stage – they had never made it out of the group stage up to that point. But in the end, it was the right choice – many considered the 1970 Cup the finest ever played.
Hosts Mexico and champions England automatically qualified. The same format remained – sixteen teams in four groups. For the first time, Africa had a guaranteed spot in the finals. And that first qualifying spot went to the “Atlas Lions” of Morocco. Both the Democratic Republic of the Congo (who would change their name to Zaire one year later, and then change it back in 1997) and Guinea were scheduled to compete, but FIFA rejected their applications. Ghana received an automatic bid for the first round. Sudan advanced over Zambia by scoring more goals in the second game (not away goals, as is the practice now), Morocco over Senegal, Tunisia over rivals Algeria, Nigeria over Cameroon, and Ethiopia over Libya. Over the last decade prior, Morocco and Tunisia had faced each other in qualification at least twice; both times required a drawing of lots, and both times, Morocco won to advance to the next round. This time, both teams had 0-0 draws, and a 2-2 sudden-death draw. This time, a coin was flipped. Tunisia got to call the coin toss – and predictably lost. The Tunisian FA was convinced that the toss was rigged, and reports even claim that they sent FIFA video footage as proof, which was predictably ignored. Ultimately, Morocco survived a three-team playoff with Nigeria and Sudan to become the first African team to make it since 1934.
In the Asia/Oceania zone, North Korea wouldn’t get to repeat their run, after refusing to play Israel. Although geographically located in Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) was assigned to this group, losing a 3-1 tiebreaker in neutral Mozambique against Australia. With the North Koreans’ withdrawal, Israel and Australia played each other for the spot. Israel qualified for the first and so far only time. Starting in 1974, Israel would move to UEFA for qualifying.
(Israel qualified as the Asian representative for the only time in 1970. Photo courtesy of http://www.uefa.com.)
In CONCACAF, with Mexico already qualified, only one spot was available. Although they advanced out of the first round, the United States couldn’t get past Haiti in the next round. The other two semifinalists – neighbors El Salvador and Honduras – were about to face controversy. Because goal differential wasn’t used yet, both teams won once and lost once in their capital city (1-0 Honduras in Tegucigalpa and 3-0 El Salvador in San Salvador). Both countries had something the other wanted – Honduras had the land, while El Salvador had the people. Riots had broken out in each of the first two matches. Immigration issues were affecting both countries, and would come to a head in the final match in Mexico City for the spot in the finals. Mauricio Alonso Rodriguez broke a 2-2 tie in extra time (101′) to send El Salvador through. Later in the day, the countries dissolved all diplomatic relations, and a brief conflict broke out, known as the “Football War.” It would last only five days, July 14-18 of 1969, and be broken up by OAS (Organization of American States), but it was a dirty mixture of politics and sports. Despite a treaty being signed and other judicial measures being taken, the bad blood has never gone away; as recently as 2013, both sides threatened the other with action.
(A five-day war between El Salvador and Honduras broke out in July 1969, during qualification for the World Cup, known as the “Football War.” Photo courtesy of http://www.football-bible.com.)
In any event, El Salvador and Haiti faced off for the spot. Again, both sides had a win and a loss, and it came down to another tiebreaker, this time in Kingston, Jamaica. Again, it went into extra time. This time, Juan Ramon Martinez (104′) hit the game winner to put El Salvador into the World Cup for the first time. Haiti would make their only appearance four years later.
For the only time in their history, not including withdrawals, Argentina failed to qualify in CONMEBOL, finishing last in a three-team group with Bolivia and the group winner, Peru, led by their superstar player Teofilo Cubillas, helping Peru in for the first time since the inaugural tournament in 1930. The Albiceleste of Argentina were left out in the cold again.
(Teofilo Cubillas remains arguably Peru’s best player, and scored six times to lead Peru in qualifying. Photo courtesy of http://www.nasljerseys.com)
Brazil easily qualified, despite both internal and external squabbles. Having suffered a military coup in 1964, many tried to escape the dictatorship, which had tried to influence manager Joao Saldanha with his team selection. Saldanha didn’t take kindly to this, especially to the insisted inclusion of striker Dario, who was a personal favorite of President Emilio Medici. While I’m paraphrasing, Saldanha said something to the effect of “I don’t get to pick his cabinet, so he doesn’t get to pick my team.” Saldanha even tried to leave Pelé off the roster; within a year, he was fired and replaced by Mario Zagallo, who put both Pelé and Dario on the team. He had a superstar team – defender Carlos Alberto, midfielders Gérson and Clodoaldo, and playmakers Tostão, Jairzinho, and Rivelino. Even goalkeeper, traditionally their most troublesome position, had a rock in Felix. They dominated the competition, winning all six of their qualifying games, scoring 23 and allowing only two. They were like the Yankees, Patriots, and Soviet hockey team all rolled into one. Uruguay also qualified out of South America.
Romania won the first UEFA group, earning a 1-1 draw with Greece to qualify. In a playoff in Marseille, Czechoslovakia beat Hungary 4-1; Italy easily qualified, particularly after Iceland withdrew; Soviet Union also won, as did Sweden, West Germany, and Bulgaria, beating Netherlands and Poland in a shocking upset. A 3-1 victory over Luxembourg got Bulgaria in. And for the first time in sixteen years, Belgium’s Red Devils made it back into the Cup, edging out Yugoslavia and Spain to qualify. They didn’t have any real chances to win, but they were greatly improved, led by Paul Van Himst, Raoul Lambert, and their star player, Wilfried Van Moer of Standard Liège.
(Wilfried Van Moer would lead the Red Devils back into the World Cup, Belgium’s first appearance in 16 years. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)
Two new innovations came on the field itself – each team was allowed two substitutions, and after the controversies in Santiago and London, yellow and red cards would be introduced to attempt to break the language barrier. Teams received two points for a win and one point for a draw. Juanito was the official mascot, and from 1966 on, every World Cup has had one since. Five cities would do hosting duties – Puebla, Toluca, León, Guadalajara, and the world famous Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. Much to the consternation of players, games would start at around noon to accompany primetime European audiences.
(Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. Photo courtesy of FIFA.)
This group featured hosts Mexico, Soviet Union, Belgium, and El Salvador. In the Mexico-USSR game, Evgeny Lochev set a record by being the first player to be booked in the World Cup. Later in the game, Anatoliy Puzach was the first sub (46′) right after halftime. Unfortunately, neither team had a goal in them, drawing 0-0. Would the hosts recover from a poor start?
Belgium and El Salvador played in their opening match. For once, it looked like the Red Devils had an easy match. And they did, earning their first ever World Cup win, 3-0. Following an El Salvador handball, Van Moer quickly played the free kick to Wilfried Puis, who passed it back. Van Moer fired from 35 yards (12′). GOAL!! Van Moer’s brilliant shot got the Belgians off running. Later in the game, Van Moer got his second (54′) on a close range shot. 76 minutes in, Raoul Lambert added a penalty to make it 3-0. It was a landmark day for the Belgians.
(Belgium earns their first World Cup win against El Salvador in Estadio Azteca. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
(Wilfried Van Moer scores one of his two goals against El Salvador, leading Belgium to a 3-0 win. Photo courtesy of FourFourTwo.)
The elation didn’t last in the koningkrijk. In the following match, they fell to the Soviets 4-1, with Lambert’s goal (86′) preventing a shutout. The Mexico-El Salvador game was scoreless right before halftime, when a foul was called in the box by Egypt’s Ali Kandil. Kandil waved the players over – except nobody know which team was given the free kick. Confusion reigned for a few seconds. It was basically first come, first serve. Mexico played the ball from the spot, and the ball landed to Javier Valdivia. He fired across the goal and scored, literally seconds before halftime. El Salvador refused to kickoff in protest. Kandil blew the whistle for halftime, with El Salvador fuming. During the halftime break, Mexico’s substitute Horacio Salgado began warming up on the sidelines. Accidentally or otherwise, Salgado infuriated the El Salvadorians even more by doing balletic steps, skipping and sashaying on the pitch.
It would get better. Literally seconds after halftime, Valdivia broke the defense again, and scored again, his second goal in less than two minutes. For the rest of the game, El Salvador could see that Kandil was in over his head. They kicked the Mexicans out of the game, and Kandil even awarded them a free kick after a mild challenge by Mexico. The rest of the match was a joke, and Mexico won 4-0 to seize momentum. El Salvador was out before their final game.
(Highlights of the Mexico-El Salvador match. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
The hosts narrowly edged Belgium 1-0 on a penalty goal from captain Gustavo Peña. Belgium was narrowly eliminated. The Soviets beat El Salvador 2-0, who were the worst team in the tournament with no goals scored and nine allowed. The Soviets won the group on a drawing of lots, after having the same goal differential (+5) with Mexico.
Although Israel was excited to be there, they lost 2-0 to Uruguay in their first match, with goals from Ildo Maneiro (23′) and Juan Mujica (50′). Italy beat Sweden 1-0 on an early goal through Angelo Domenghini. The two favorites drew 0-0 in the next game, while Israel got their only goal in their following game against Sweden. After Tom Turesson gave Sweden the lead in the 53rd minute, captain Mordechai Spiegler equalized only three minutes later. The scoreline held, and Israel had their first point.
Israel had one more surprise. They held Italy to a scoreless draw, earning a second point, but it still was only good enough for last place. The biggest story in the game was Italy’s super sub, a temperamental attacking midfielder named Gianni Rivera. Many felt that he could lead Italy to the whole thing, but because of his reluctance to play any defense in a country that prided itself on it, and thanks to a feud with his boss at AC Milan, Silvio Berlusconi, Rivera didn’t even play at all until the third group game. Additionally, manager Ferruccio Valcareggi believed that Rivera and fellow midfielder Alessandro Mazzola (of rival Inter Milan) were too similar in style and couldn’t play at the same time. Sweden beat Uruguay 1-0 but it wouldn’t be enough. Italy took the group and Uruguay finished second to advance to the quarterfinals.
Although England were the defending champions, the media’s jingoism was a major turnoff to the hometown fans. As a result, the English team was subject to honking car horns in the middle of the night, among other things. Additionally, captain Bobby Moore had been accused of stealing a bracelet several weeks prior in Bogota, Colombia. He was arrested and detained for several days. Although he was eventually cleared of wrongdoing, England came in with a chip on their shoulder.
Nevertheless, England took their first game Romania 1-0. It took a Geoff Hurst goal in the 65th minute to break through. Brazil easily took their first match over Czechoslovakia 4-1, including a goal from Pelé, playing in his final Cup. Additionally, Jairzinho had two and Rivelino had one. The next match would feature Brazil versus England and be labelled the “Clash of Champions.” In many years, it would have been the final.
During that match, England had numerous chances, but left them wide. Later in the game, Pelé took a cross into the box from Jairzinho. He headed it down. It looked like a sure goal….but then England keeper Gordon Banks made what many believe is the greatest save in the World Cup. He played the bounce and pushed it over the bar for a Brazil corner, as Pelé was already celebrating. This is how great he was – we even celebrate the ones he didn’t score. Brazil eventually won when Jairzinho scored (59′) in the second half. In the other game, Romania beat Czechoslovakia 2-1 when Floria Dumitrache (75′) hit the winner.
(Gordon Banks makes the save. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
Brazil survived a tough test from Romania 3-2 to win the group, with Pelé scoring twice and Jairzinho once. Czechoslovakia lost to England to finish without a point, as an Allan Clarke penalty (50′) put the Three Lions into the quarterfinals.
Shockingly, Bulgaria took a 2-0 lead only four minutes after halftime. But only a minute later, Alberto Gallardo (50′) started a Peruvian comeback. Five minutes later, captain Hector Chumpitaz scored the equalizer. Then, 73 minutes in, Cubillas scored the winner. The Bulgarians had blown it.
(Highlights of the Peru-Bulgaria game. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
Perhaps even more shockingly, Morocco’s willingness to attack paid off remarkably well. Just past the twenty minute mark, Houmane Jarir gave them a shock 0-1 lead over West Germany. That lead held up through halftime. For a while, it looked like Morocco might pull off the upset. However, captain Uwe Seeler hit the equalizer, and then Gerd Müller
hit the winner (80′) en route to leading the Cup in scoring that year.
Despite Morocco’s best efforts, a brace from Cubillas helped Peru push themselves into the quarterfinals. Robert Challe also added one, and Peru won 3-0. Once again, West Germany allowed the first goal, but rallied to bet Bulgaria 5-2. Müller had a hat trick, including one via penalty.
In arguably the best game of the round, West Germany used another Müller hat trick – the last of the Cup – to win 3-1 over Peru. Cubillas scored in his third consecutive game, and Peru had earned enough points to advance to the quarterfinals. Both Morocco and Bulgaria earned one point with a 1-1 draw. For the Moroccans, it was their first point in World Cup competition. Still, it wouldn’t be enough, as the Atlas Lions wouldn’t make it back until 1986.
Having taken second in the group on lots, Mexico tried to have FIFA re-arrange their venue to Azteca. FIFA denied their request. Now being forced to play in Toluca, they would have to face the tough-minded Italians. Initially, Mexico actually took the lead (13′) when Jose Luis Gonzalez beat the Italian keeper. But an own goal by his teammate Javier Guzman (25′) allowed Italy to equalize. While the score held up at halftime, Luigi Riva scored a brace at halftime, and Gianni Rivera would score one of his own. The final score was 4-1 Italy, and the hosts were out. Still, it was their first appearance in the knockout stages.
(Gianni Rivera scored for Italy to lead them to the semifinals. Photo courtesy of http://www.xtratime.org)
Playing at Estadio Azteca instead, Uruguay used an extra time goal from Victor Esparrago (117′) to advance to their first semifinals until 1954. While Peru played fairly well, including another Cubillas goal, Brazil proved too strong and won 4-2, including a brace by Tostão. Brazil was back in the semifinals.
The final quarterfinal was a re-match between West Germany and England. Goalkeeper Gordon Banks would be out for England after coming down with a mysterious case of food poisoning, being replaced by Peter “The Cat” Bonetti of Chelsea. Bonetti was a good keeper, but Banks’ success had prevented him from getting more caps. He finished with only seven in his career – but five of them were clean sheets. But this would be the one he would be remembered for. Like Barbosa for Brazil twenty years earlier, it would be for the wrong reasons.
Both teams had chances early, but it was England that would strike first, with Allan Mullery (32′) putting the ball past Sepp Maier. Neither team would score again before halftime. England’s fortunes looked to be looking up even more when Martin Peters made it 2-0 (50′). But then the Germans began to fight back, and Bonetti would become the goat.
West Germany fought back. In the 69th minute, Müller made a run. Perhaps Bonetti was nervous of his strike prowess, so he focused on him. Big mistake – it was Franz Beckenbauer who fired the shot at Bonetti. He got a hand on it…and then it rolled past him and into the net! Suddenly, it was only 2-1. According to legend, León’s pitch had not seen rain in months and was as hard as a rock. One minute after the goal, Alf Ramsey made a mistake of his own. The England manager decided to take out Bobby Charlton. According to Beckenbauer, he was delighted, claiming that was the moment he knew the Germans would rally. To be fair, Charlton was 32 years old, the oldest player on the England team. But still, he was the man that had made England go.
76 minutes in, Karl-Heinz Schnellinger played the ball into the box. Uwe Seeler went up for it. Known for his ability to head the ball backward, he did just that, which floated over Bonetti’s head for the equalizer. Neither team scored again in regulation and the match went into extra time. And once again, it would be Gerd Müller to hit the winner. A header was played down, and only Bonetti was left to mark him. It didn’t matter. Müller one-touched it into the goal for a 3-2 West Germany lead (108′). The lead held, and West Germany had rallied to win. It was their first competitive win over England since before World War II. Nobody knew it at the time, but the momentum had swung back the other way, perhaps permanently. Bonetti was seen as the scapegoat for England losing, and never played for The Three Lions again.
(Highlights of the West Germany-England quarterfinal. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
It would be a South America vs. Europe final, as Italy met West Germany and Uruguay hosted Brazil. In the first match, Uruguay took a shocking lead (19′) through Luis Cubilla. But Brazil would not be denied, getting an equalizer from the usually unheralded Clodoaldo one minute before halftime. Brazil would score twice more in the second half to make it 3-1, and would compete for the Jules Rimet trophy again. Another famous moment occurred when Pelé received a through ball from Tostão. He juked the keeper, known in the lingo as a “dummy,” and had a wide open net…but he missed. Still, Pelé was so revered that it almost made it more legendary that he didn’t score.
(Pelé’s famous “dummy” and miss of the Uruguayan keeper. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
The other match was a classic. In fact, many call it the “Game of the Century.” Italy struck first when Roberto Boninsegna put the Azzurri on top after only eight minutes. Plus, as seen below, he had a famous goal celebration.
(Roberto Boninsegna scores against West Germany. Photo courtesy of http://www.footballfever.blogspot.com)
For most the match, Italy’s defensive style of play, catenaccio, kept them in the lead. But West Germany kept pressing. Finally, right before extra time started, Karl-Heinz Schnellinger fired a shot that beat Italian keeper Enrico Albertosi. Schnellinger wasn’t known as much of a goalscorer – he was a left back who played his club football in Italy, amazingly enough (for AC Milan). He wasn’t a frequent scorer for them, and this was his one and only goal for Die Mannschaft in 47 caps. Even German announcer Ernst Huberty was shocked: “Ausgerechnet Schnellinger!” (“Schnellinger, of all people!!”) Nevertheless, the match was even and was headed to extra time.
In the first period, West Germany took the lead, as Gerd Müller struck again (94′). But Italy had another strike in them, as defender Tarcisio Burgnich (what a great name!) hit the equalizer four minutes later. As the second extra time period started, Luigi Riva struck for Italy to make it 3-2. Would Italy hold on? Six minutes later, Müller would make it 3-3 by getting his second goal of the match. Many blamed Gianni Rivera’s defense – or lack thereof – for allowing Müller to score. But Rivera had his own moment, finally cracking through less than a minute later off of a gorgeous cross by Boninsegna. In fact, many TV stations were still replaying the equalizer when Rivera scored. The scoreline finally held up, and Italy survived 4-3.
(Gianni Rivera scores the winner for Italy. Photo courtesy of The Telegraph.)
(Highlights of the Italy-West Germany match. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
Third place match
West Germany wasn’t demoralized after such a great match, holding on to win by a 1-0 scoreline through midfielder Wolfgang Overath (26′). Uruguay had good chances of their own, but couldn’t get through. Nevertheless, it was their best finish in 16 years. They would have to wait 40 years to get back to the quarterfinals.
Brazil and Italy would battle to become the first team to win the Cup three times. It was also the first time that two teams that had previously won had faced off in the final. Brazil’s attacking style would go head-to-head with the frustrating yet successful defensive style of play. Which strategy would win the day?
(The two teams line up before the final. Photo courtesy of Paste Magazine.)
Controversially, Gianni Rivera was left out of the starting lineup for the Azzurri. Perhaps it was a punishment for his brash behavior, or perhaps they felt he was a defensive liability, but Italy unnecessarily put itself at a disadvantage from the start. Brazil would play its attacking style to its advantage early. Pelé (18′) made the most of his last final by putting Brazil up 1-0. But Italy tied it (37′) after a rare mistake from Brazil’s defense, allowing Roberto Boninsegna to equalize. It went into halftime with a 1-1 scoreline.
(Pelé celebrates his goal for Brazil in the final. Photo courtesy of Young Journalist Academy.)
Still, Brazil was clearly the better team that day. They took the lead for good in the 66th minute, when Gérson made it 2-1. Only five minutes later, he played in a cross to Pelé, who headed the ball down to Jairzinho, running onto the ball, and hitting a beautiful strike for the third goal.
(Jairzinho scored the third goal for Brazil. Photo courtesy of Daily Mail.)
But it would be the final Brazilian goal that would be considered the stuff of legend. Eight of the ten outfield players touched the ball, and the movement was balletic and graceful. It was started by Tostão, who stole the ball from Italy. It went to defender Brito, then to Clodoaldo, Pelé, and Gérson. Clodoaldo got the ball back again and in his own half dribbled around four Italian players. He got the ball to Rivelino, and then Rivelino passed the ball beautifully to Jairzinho. He crossed the ball into the box to Pelé, who heard from Tostão (who had his back to the goal) that defender Carlos Alberto was racing along the right flank. Pelé held for just a second, played the ball into Carlos Alberto, who ran right onto it, and BAM!! GOAL! Many consider it the best goal ever scored in the World Cup – and for Carlos Alberto, it was a captain’s goal that was struck beautifully. The goal totally shattered the Italians’ morale with only four minutes to play. Neither team struck again, and Brazil won the match 4-1. The Jules Rimet trophy was theirs to keep permanently.
(Carlos Alberto scores the fourth goal for Brazil, one of the best in World Cup history. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
(The Brazilian team at the 1970 World Cup, one of the best teams ever assembled. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)
Pelé is the only player to play on three World Cup winning teams. The 1970 World Cup was his last, and he went out with a bang.
Another Brazilian, Jairzinho, is the last player to date to score in every match, scoring seven in exactly seven games.
Franz Beckenbauer played the semifinal for West Germany with his arm in a sling after hurting his shoulder during the match. With no substitutes left, Beckenbauer stayed in the game.
Ladislao Mazurkiewicz was named best goalkeeper of the tournament. His team? Uruguay, believe it or not. He was born on the coastal town of Piriápolis (population 8,800) to a Polish father and a Spanish mother. Despite his heritage, Mazurkiewicz never visited Poland or learned the Polish language.
The Telstar, manufactured by Adidas, became the first officially licensed ball used at the World Cup.
Brazilian coach Mario Zagallo became the first person to win the World Cup as a player and a coach.
Belgium earned their first win in the World Cup, and Morocco and Israel earned their first points. Unfortunately for Israel, they’ve never made it back.
In 1983, the Jules Rimet was stolen from a glass case in Rio de Janeiro by an unknown thief. The trophy was never recovered, and most likely melted down for gold.
Silvio Berlusconi, president of AC Milan at the time, later became President of Italy running the Forza Italia party (it would be like Barack Obama’s party being called Let’s Go White Sox).
Brazil’s attacking style was the end of an era. It would be the birth of a defensive style from here on out. Still, a new style of play four years later was about to be born from a Dutch team. It would be known as “Total Football.”
References and Sources
Young Journalists Academy
50 Greatest World Cup Moments (BBC documentary)
World Cup Heaven and Hell: Dirty Rotten Scandals (ITV documentary)
England’s Worst Ever Football Team (ITV documentary)
Mysteries of the Jules Rimet Trophy (ESPN 30 for 30 documentary)
20 Goals That Shook the World (BBC documentary)
The Ultimate Book of Sports Lists (Andrew Postman, Larry Stone)
Soccer’s Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Clumsy Keepers, Clever Crosses, and Outlandish Oddities (John Snyder)
Soccer’s Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves, and Fantastic Free-Kicks (Jeff Carlisle)
¡Golazo! The Beautiful Game from the Aztecs to the World Cup: The Complete History of How Soccer Shaped Latin America (Andreas Campomar)
The ESPN World Cup Companion: Everything You Need to Know About the Planet’s Biggest Sports Event (David Hirshey, Roger Bennett)
The Mammoth Book of the World Cup (Nick Holt)