The increasing success of the World Cup created intolerable pressure upon Fifa to expand the competition and admit more countries. The upshot was that an eight additional qualifying places were made available. This time there would be fourteen from Europe (up four), four from South America (up one), two from Central and North America (up one), two from Africa (up one) and two from Australasia (up one) for a total of twenty-four, and increase of eight. The divisional format was retained, with six divisions of four teams in the first round, the first two from each division would then go through to contest a second round which was split into four divisions of three teams each. Only the winners of the second round would go through to the knockout stage, which started at the semi-finals, the winners of the semi-finals would then play in the final. This satisfied the honour of most countries, and pleased the sponsors and television companies who could feast on the bonanza afforded by the additional games.

The Soviet Union’s apparently principled objection to the Pinochet government in Chile, did not, this time, prevent their footballers playing in a competition in which they might face this South American team. Even within the Soviet block tensions were rising, Poland’s Solidarity movement was at this stage making its presence known in the form of strike action and other rumblings of discontent; indeed, with a Polish Pope in Rome, some of the supporters of the Polish football team unfurled Solidarity banners in Spain in the match between the Soviet Union and Poland. The organisers took them away at the insistence of the Soviets, whose television service was covering the finals.

Inauspiciously, the Falklands War broke out in 1982 between Great Britain and Argentina, which meant that there was potentially an explosive match should the Argentine face one of the three British teams who had qualified (Argentina had invaded the Falklands on 2 April 1982, the occupiers were soon driven out by the British, who recaptured Stanley its chief town on 14 June), as the events were very much current. It was fortunate that there was no such match, particularly between England and Argentina, as they have always been extremely, some would save overly, competitive affairs. In fact when the draw was made, the first team picked to face Argentina, the reigning world champions, was that from Scotland; the organisers sensibly preferred a farce to a riot, and put Scotland’s name back into the draw, the next team picked was Belgium. What would have occurred had Argentina and a British side qualified for the same division in the second round must remain a matter of speculation, happily it did not happen.

Perhaps the most surprising absentee from the competition were the Dutch, who had been the beaten finalists in the previous two World Cups. But there was a team from the Low Countries, the Kingdom of the Belgians, who were making their first appearance in the finals since 1970.

Little was expected of the teams from Australasia, New Zealand are and were famed and feared for their rugby teams, particularly Rugby Union in which the New Zealand All-Blacks are the standard setters, but in football they have achieved no prominence. Kuwait only had 1,638 registered players in all, thus it was a major achievement to have even qualified. The Iranian revolution of 1979 and the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88, were, on a human scale, incomparably greater tragedies that what had happened in the South Atlantic, thus it was no surprise that Iran dropped off the football map. At least football did not have to contend with a condemnatory fatwa from Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, who proscribed chess.

In footballing terms Africa was very much a continent of light. Its representatives Algeria and the Cameroons contriving to embarrass more fancied European teams and very nearly qualify for the next round.

Representative teams were sent from the footballing federations of the following countries:

Poland, Italy, West Germany, Austria, Belgium, Hungary, England, France, Czechoslovakia, Northern Ireland, Spain, Yugoslavia, Soviet Union, Scotland, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Kuwait, New Zealand, Algeria, The Cameroons, Honduras and El Salvador.


In principle the increase in the number of teams should have meant that the groups were weaker. On the whole they were evenly balanced, France would win the European Championship in 1984 and Czechoslovakia had been European champions in 1976 (an eternity in footballing terms), so group Four could not be described as particularly weak. Group One contained Poland and Italy, teams which had been outstanding in the two previous World Cups and had got stronger. West Germany were the reigning European champions, having beaten Belgium in the final. Spain, the hosts, have traditionally done badly at the World Cup, so one could perhaps had termed Group Five the weakest, but this is hardly convincing.

Not much was expected of Italy in this World Cup, the general feelings of negativity that they attracted were due in no small measure to the belief that they would not come out of their defensive shell. Yet there were grounds for optimism, and the Italians were to unveil a star. Born on 13 March 1955 near Anzio, where the Allies had so disastrously invaded in 1944, Bruno Conti had the pace, dribbling abilities and accuracy required of the traditional winger. Not renowned as a great goal scorer, Conti nonetheless had the priceless ability to keep opposing defences under the cosh and create opportunities for his colleagues. His first club was Roma, for whom he was to play nearly all his club football. Owing to the grip that Juventus players had on the national side, it took Conti a long time to break in, his debut not coming until 1980 at the age of twenty-five. In the early games of this World Cup, Conti, like his colleagues, did not shine, not until the semi-final against Poland and in the final itself.

Brazil continued to produce world class players as if it was the easiest thing in the world. It was perhaps appropriate that a player with the name of Socrates would be one of the more thoughtful participants on the football pitch. Tall and skilful, Socrates always seemed able to anticipate what was happening and gain that extra increment of time that enabled him to play the deadly ball. Planted in midfield, he was the platform from which Brazil launched her attacks. An extremely fleet of foot player, Socrates always appeared to be calmness personified, and in possession of the time he needed to pass. At twenty-eight years of age this native of Belem had been playing professional football for only four years; he had first ensured his qualification as a medical doctor before entering the more lucrative field of football.

No European or South American team qualify for the World Cup without at least some classy players. In the case of Northern Ireland their hopes rested on veteran goalkeeper Pat Jennings and the youngest player in the tournament, seventeen year old Norman Whiteside. Physically robust for his age, Whiteside was known as a prolific goal scorer in his youth, often scoring more than a hundred goals in a season of junior football. Born in Belfast, Whiteside reminded some of his countrymen of the young George Best, a parallel that was pursued when Whiteside joined the same club: Manchester United. Brave in the tackle, he was fast and had a devastating shot, and, owing to his size, did not appear easy to knock about.

The hopes of Belgium reposed in twenty-five year old Jan Ceulemans, who had been instrumental in securing World Cup qualification and in their second place in the European Championships just two years previously. Very much a leader of men, Ceulemans would adjust to the playing conditions, playing slowly at high altitudes or when the temperature was hot, while smoothly slotting in to fill any holes left by his lest astute countrymen. Ceulemans made his debut for Lierse at the age of sixteen, initially as a centre forward. His goal scoring soon earned him a place in the national side.

Italy lived down to everyone’s worst expectations when they drew all three of their games in Group One, what little excitement there was was engendered in the last of these games when they played the Cameroons, who had to win, having an inferior goal difference. Poland, who actually managed to win a game in this defence minded division, at the expense of Peru, ran out fairly easy winners.

Group Two saw the return of the West Germany of 1954. In one of the most disgraceful matches ever played at a World Cup West Germany qualified at the expense of Algeria. What had happened was that earlier Algeria players had played one of the games of their lives, defeating the European champions by two goals to one in their first game of this World Cup. The Algerians had hung on in the first half, then thirteen minutes into the second Lakhdar Belloumi stormed into the German penalty area and shot, the ball thudded into a defender’s legs and bounced off into the path of the onrushing Madjer, who promptly scored. West Germany were shaken, and started to put in some very aggressive tackles of dubious legality, nine minutes later Rummenigge equalised for Germany, but it left a sour taste as Fergani and Cerbah of Algeria had earlier had to be treated for injuries. But within a minute justice was done; Assad, on the left hand side of the half way line, was half tackled but managed to retain possession, he then slipped the ball to Zidane, and then hurtled forward, Zidane soon returned the ball to Assad who by now was in the German penalty area, quick as a flash Assad volleyed the ball into the path of Belloumi, past Breitner in defence, for Belloumi was rushing onwards to the West German goal. Belloumi side-footed the ball into the net. The West Germans desperately lashed out but were unable to retrieve the situation. It looked as if Algeria could qualify at the expense of the former champions, but it was not to be. Fifa had, unfortunately, not learnt the lesson of fours years previously, and they permitted interlined matches to kick-off at different times. By the time West Germany had to play Austria they knew that they had to win one-nil, moreover, such a result would enable the Austrians to go through too. Sure enough West Germany scored early against Austria and then? well nothing, neither side made even a token effort to score again, simply kicking the ball about in an entirely aimless way. It was an appalling, but supposedly perfectly legal, way to behave. Even if there had been any hope of restitution, Fifa saw to it that nothing would come of it by ignoring the Algerian protests. It could hardly have been more obvious that such a display brought the game into disrepute.

That teams from Central and North America were not a patch on those to the south of them who shared the same hemisphere was demonstrated when Hungary put ten through El Salvadore, a record. Yet this Hungarian side was not the equal of the “Magic Magyars” of the 1950s, and it did not prevent Hungary’s elimination followed a convincing four-one defeat at the hands of defending champions Argentina.

Kuwait caused a minor upset when they held Czechoslovakia to a draw in their first ever World Cup. It was the last point that the Kuwaitis were to pick up at this World Cup, and it also proved fatal to Czechoslovak hopes as the Central Europeans scored one match point less than France. England, in Trevor Brooking, Bryan Robson and Kevin Keegan, had some of the better players of the tournament. Yet it was still fairly impressive to win all three of their first round games, especially the first against France, for the French were to make it all the way to the semi-finals. It should also be born in mind that Keegan and Brooking were injured and could do little in these early stages.

Yugoslavia have always been among the more fancied of the European sides, so it occasioned a small surprise when the plucky Northern Irish team held them to a draw. In view of the catastrophe that El Salvadore had suffered at the hands of Hungary, it was surprising that neighbours Honduras were to do so well against the hosts Spain, actually holding them to a draw. Thus upholding the unwritten law that Spain never do well in international tournaments, or at least Spain never performs anywhere near her potential. The second games of the round saw Spain restore some pride by dispatching the Yugoslavs, whilst the minnows Honduras and Northern Ireland fought each other to standstill in a one-one draw. This meant that Northern Ireland had to beat Spain to qualify for the next round. In a hard tackling game, in which the referee tended to punish Irish transgressions, but not see any from their opponents, the Spaniards repeatedly tested Pat Jennings in goal for the Irish, but were unable to score. One minute into the second half Gerry Armstrong passed the ball from the centre to his right where Hamilton was commencing a run. Dogged by Tendillo, Hamilton still managed to run almost half the length of the pitch and fire a shot home, which Spain’s goalkeeper Arconada only just succeeded in palming away. Fortunately for Northern Ireland the ball was knocked straight into the path of Armstrong who scored from his shot. One-nil to the Irish and an upset was on the cards. Shot after shot was rained in on Pat Jennings but he saved them all; after sixty minutes play Donaghy was rather dubiously sent off, which meant that Spain now had a extra man. The Ulster men withdrew into deep defence, which, with Jennings in inspired form, proved enough. The frantic Spaniards were lucky that Yugoslavia beat Honduras, so, rather unexpectedly, the teams going through were Northern Ireland and Spain.

Brazil very convincingly won Group Six, which lead many pundits to tip them as eventual winners


It was a different Italy that came out to play for the second round. Group C being manifestly the strongest of the new groups. With the bitter footballing history between Italy and Argentina it was, perhaps, given the stakes, inevitable that their match would be extremely physical, the five yellow cards not fully reflecting the violence of this match. In the mayhem Italy managed to score one more goal than their great rivals, who were unable to make the partnership of the rising star Maradona with Kempes work. Then Argentina had to get their act together to take on their rivals Brazil, but found themselves three down before they were able to respond, their frustration being reflected in Maradona being sent off. This meant that in the last game of this group Italy would have to beat Brazil. Italy stormed into the lead after only five minutes, courtesy of Rossi, but then Brazil began to respond. After twelve minutes Socrates managed to level the scores. And Brazil began to take charge. Yet Italy never stopped battling, deriving comfort from the knowledge that this Brazil were not secure at the back. Indeed in the twenty-fifth minute Cerezo of Brazil carelessly knocked the ball within reach of Rossi who seized the opportunity and sped off with the ball towards the Brazilian goal. Peres in goal for Brazil was a fraction late off his line to challenge Rossi and the rest of Brazil’s defence was behind the Italian, Rossi thumped the ball into the back of the net. Brazil were in trouble, again. Zoff, at the age of forty, was on top of his game, and managed to make repeated saves both before and after half time. Then, thirteen minutes into the second half Rossi misses the chance to put the game out of reach, for he was presented with the ball with only the goalkeeper to meet, but, inexplicably, missed. Ten minutes later Brazil were level. Conti, who had been tremendous form throughout the game, kept the Italian counterattacks going; with one quarter of an hour to go Conti takes a corner for Italy, the Brazilians don’t clear it properly which gave Tardelli the chance to shoot, he does, and is rewarded with a goal as Rossi manages to deflect it en route. Still Brazil, fought back, but achieve nothing more than a disallowed goal, which was also something the Italians managed. The giants of Latin America had fallen.

In Group B the experienced West Germans played solidly in a goal less draw with England. They then overcame the supine hosts Spain by two goals to one. This meant that England would have to beat Spain in the final game of the group and score at least twice. This seemed would have seemed an eminently possible prospect, except that two of England’s most creative players, Trevor Brooking and Kevin Keegan, were not match fit. Ron Greenwood the England manager calculated that both players could only manage half an hour each. The question was whether to play them at the beginning, or the end of the game. One can never judge what substitutions would be needed during the game, so Greenwood went for the more flexible option of bringing them on at the end. Unfortunately, a grimly determined Spain did not want the ignominy of a whitewash, for sixty minutes they prevented England from scoring. By the time Brooking and Keegan appeared their tails were up, and they hung on grimly for the goal less draw. Thus England departed from the competition without losing a game and having conceded only one goal.

The much weaker groups A and D saw Poland and France qualify.


Italy were fortunate that Boniek was injured, thus they did not experience much trouble defeating Italy two-nil in the semi-finals. Rossi added to his growing reputation by scoring both goals.

The match between West Germany and France did much to alienate the neutrals from Germany. In the match France took the lead and were pegged back. Then after sixty-six minutes Battiston of France collected a beautifully precise ball from Platini and raced on, there was only Schumacher in goal for West Germany to beat, the German ‘keeper rushed out to meet the Frenchman; Battiston’s effort, unfortunately, hit the post and went out. It was what happened next that enraged the neutral and the French alike. Schumacher made no effort to slow down and smashed his forearm into Battiston’s face. The Frenchman went down, the blow was so severe that he had to be given oxygen to breathe; as if this was not enough he had lost three teeth and had neck and shoulder injuries. Battiston had to be carried off on a stretcher. Incredibly the referee did not penalise Schumacher for the worst foul in World Cup history. France twice came desperately close to winning, but the match ended three-three. West Germany then went through on penalties.

The West Germany team played in the Bernabeau Stadium, home of Real Madrid, on 11 July 1982 with the status of favourites. It was four years since another European team had beaten them. Yet, of the ninety thousand spectators, only a small number wanted this German record to continue. The behaviour of the West German team in the matches against Austria and France had gone against all sense of fair play. There was no sense of shame, for Schumacher, the German goalkeeper and perpetrator of the atrocious foul on Battiston of France, kept his place in the team. The match started disastrously for Italy when Graziano had to come off injured when the match had barely begun, he was replaced by Altobelli. The early play went in West Germany’s favour, but slowly the Italians began to impose themselves. In the twenty-fifth minute Conti was brought down by Briegel in the penalty area, but unfortunately Cabrini missed, when he took the penalty. At half time no goals had been scored and the Italians were gaining in confidence. In the second half the cynical side of the West German game reared its ugly head in the form of several rash challenges, some near the German penalty area. There was a tremendous roar of approval when, eleven minutes into the half, Rossi headed home from a free kick. West Germany kept attacking, with Rummenigge being at his most dangerous Zoff only just managed to stave the ball off thanks to an assist from Collovati. Twelve minutes after the first goal, Italy scored again, the West Germans having been unable to prevent Tardelli from loosing off a left-footer. The Italians now tried to play a possession game, with the crowd deliriously shouting “olé” every time a West German attempted an unsuccessful tackle.

Briegel did nothing to endear himself to the crowd with a transparent dive, the desperation of the West German players was such that they ludicrously tried to argue the issue with the referee who had waved play on. While this non-argument was going on Conti swept forwards sixty yards, pulling it in for Altobelli to put Italy three up. There was widespread cheering. Breitner did pull one back for West Germany shortly afterwards, but it was too late. Never has there been a final in which nearly all the neutrals wanted one side to win, but West Germany had brought this on themselves by their lack of sportsmanship.

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