This World Cup, played at high altitude in the mid-afternoons, in the middle of a hot summer, in Mexico had a tragic qualifying competition. There would be two teams from Central and North America; Mexico, who qualified automatically as hosts, and the winner of the qualifying competition. Despite its vast population, the United States was not a force in the world of football, thus it was always likely that the second qualifier would be a football mad Latin country. At that time Honduras had a large immigrant population, who had come from its Central American neighbour El Salvador. Hondurans maintained that they were being overrun, whereas the El Salvadorian migrants insisted that they were discriminated against and victimised. Of course both countries were in serious economic difficulties, so it was not difficult to stir up trouble and cause a rise in tensions, such an outcome would be welcome to the governments of the day, who could distract attention away from their own inadequacies. There were three football matches in all, both home matches being won by the hosts, which meant that a decider was required at a neutral venue. All these matches were marred by crowd trouble; a difficulty made worse by wholly irresponsible clashes on the border between the militaries of the two countries. Four days before this final encounter both nations had cut off diplomatic relations. El Salvador won the decider three-two in Mexico after the game had entered extra time. One week later this football victory was followed up by an invasion of Honduras, with planes bombing various targets and ground troops attempting to move in in the wake of the planes. The invasion was not a success and US pressure forced a ceasefire; however, two thousand people had died.

Elsewhere in the world there had been tensions, Israel’s victory in the Six Day War in 1967 may have enhanced her military reputation, but it did nothing to endear her to the Islamic states. Fortunately, Arab Morocco was placed in a different group in the first round, which reduced some of the potential for trouble. Morocco’s presence meant, as well, that there was again an African country competing in the World Cup finals. Israel had qualified at the expense of European opposition, so, despite the atlas placing Israel on earth’s largest continent, there was no representative from Asia, where the game had still to catch the popular imagination.

European team managers knew that winning the World Cup in the Americas had never been managed by their forbears, not just because there had been comparatively few tournaments staged there; but because of the extreme heat, a problem for Latin sides too, but one with which they were more able to cope. An obvious form of preparation was to play a series of friendly matches against Latin American opposition in the period leading up to the World Cup. This was what Alf Ramsey proceeded to do for England. One of England’s games was against Columbia, which reasonably enough, was contested in Bogotá, the capital of Columbia. One reason international football teams possess large entourages is to provide a degree of protection against cupidity and greed; such a development was still in the embryo stages in 1970, but even had the team been better chaperoned, it was likely that the following sting would still have been attempted. England captain Bobby Moore was with his namesake Bobby Charlton in the jewellery store that was inside the hotel they were staying at, eventually they left the store. Shortly afterwards Moore was accused of stealing a gold made from emerald and gold worth £600 in 1970 prices. Moore denied ever having seen the bracelet, never mind taking it. Eventually both players were permitted to depart, the incident appeared to be closed. The England team departed to play another friendly match in another South American country. Heading back to Mexico England stopped off in Columbia, something they would probably not have done had they anticipated what was to come. Incredibly, as it appears now, and astonishingly, as it appeared to the England players then, Moore was arrested. There was, allegedly, another witness. England had to depart for Mexico sans captain Moore. Moore was kept under house arrest whilst British diplomats used all their skills in an attempt to secure Moore’s release. They were able to show that this same sting had been attempted on visiting bullfighters and singers, who had mostly paid up in an attempt to avoid any embarrassment or loss of freedom. Moore was released on bail, which enabled him to rejoin his team-mates in Mexico, although it was clear that the preparation of the England team had been disrupted. Eventually this second alleged witness disappeared, and two years later the owner of the store and one of his assistants were charged with conspiracy. Some wondered if Moore would have been detained but for the unfortunate match between England and Argentina in the 1966 World Cup.

The first round divisions were:

Group 1:
Soviet Union
El Salvador

Group 2:

Group 3:

Group 4:
West Germany

These groupings perfectly illustrated the folly of the divisional system without a proper system of seeding. At the time Brazil were considered the finest team in Latin America, whilst a similar accolade was afforded England in Europe. Simply observing that England were world champions and Brazil former world champions should have alerted anyone to the unbalanced weightings. Moreover, Czechoslovakia were former finalists themselves and were manifestly not a pushover. One could add that there were weaker teams than Romania in Mexico in 1970. By contrast group one only had one serious contender, the Soviet Union, who had been European champions in 1960 and had reached the semi-finals in 1966. Group two, at least, had two respectable sides, who did qualify for the next round. Group four was scarcely more challenging than group one. A betting man could have made money by forecasting that the eventual winner would come from group three.

Several great players were to make their presence known in 1970. Franz Beckenbauer, who had already appeared in the 1966 World Cup Final for West Germany, had fully matured as a player. Nicknamed “the Kaiser”, this highly gifted footballer was equally at home marshalling a defence or leading an attack. Football formations had continued to evolve over the years, yet the scope for finding new methods was still there. Because of Beckenbauer West Germany were able to adopt a sweeper system, for the great man was able to sit in front of the back four to intercept and break up attacks, often before they had even occurred to his opponents. His magnificent movements on and off the ball, when he played in his position just behind his midfield, meant that he had time to send forward the most telling pass, short or long, it mattered little to Beckenbauer, for he could do them both. His timing was such that he could run forward to adding telling pressure to a West German attack, but could scamper back so rapidly that his absence was scarcely noticed. He offered West Germany both security and menace, and was largely responsible for West German successes in international football.

Born in Rio de Janeiro on Christmas day 1944, Jairzinho made his debut for Brazil in 1963 against Chile. However, injury and the presence of the great Garrincha meant that Jairzinho didn’t have a sustained run in the Brazilian team until the 1970 World Cup. Lightly built, Jairzinho would have preferred to have played in a more central position in the Brazil attack, however, the presence of the supreme football artist Pelé meant banishment to the wings; nonetheless, Jairzinho was deadly, for his shooting was powerful and accurate. There, perhaps, has never been a more exciting player than Jairzinho, who liked nothing more than sprinting at terrifying speed towards the opposing goal line; not easy to dispossess, the opposing fullback would, as like as not, make a clumsy challenge that would send Jairzinho flying: he was, therefore, very prone to injury. In compensation for his team, giving away a free kick to Brazil has always been a risky proposition if the goal is within range. Jairzinho scored several spectacular goals in his career, of which more anon.

Tostao, who had performed credibly for Brazil in 1966, was perhaps the bravest player who played in the Finals in 1970. For he had been struck full in the face by a ferocious clearance from Corinthians defender Ditao in a match in the Brazilian league in 1968; the force of the clearance was such that one of Tostao’s retinas had become detached. Tostao’s doctors recommended an operation, and they warned the forward that they could give no guarantees were he to continue to play professional football. Danny Blanchflower, captain of the great Tottenham Hotspur side of the 1960s, once commented: “Football is not really about winning, or goals, or saves, or supporters: it’s about glory. It’s about doing things in style, doing them with a flourish; it’s about going out to beat the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom; it’s about dreaming of the glory ...”. This sentiment epitomised Tostao (and Brazil), who decided to risk much for the chance of the title “World Champion”. Tostao remained a very influential player for Brazil, although he had become much more cagey when it came to challenging in the air. Tostao had lost none of his perceptiveness when it came to positioning in anticipation of through balls; his ability to trap and bring under control a ball remained unsurpassed, as did his skill in holding onto possession until support had arrived. Often his opponents couldn’t even see the ball, never mind put in a tackle. For he could twist and turn, sinuously advancing to the opponent’s goal whilst so doing; what made him the worst nightmare for many a defence was the extreme difficulty of guessing what Tostao would do next. Highly experienced, Tostao had made his debut for Brazil in 1963, he was never to play better than he did in 1970.

At twenty-eight years of age Giancinto Fachetti was in the prime of his career. Capable of running eighty meters in 8.8 seconds, he provided a security at left back that was unmatched in Europe. Operating the catenaccio system made the Italian team was the most defensively minded in the competition, scoring against them was extremely difficult. Yet Fachetti, with his pace, also presented a serious menace to opposing defences, scoring no less than ten times in one season at club level in Italy, no mean feat for a defender in that most security conscious of leagues. With that scoring reputation it was unbelievable but true that Fachetti could man mark an opponent out of the game. Born in 1942 in Treviglio, Fachetti made his international debut in 1963 against debut. He was part of the Italian side humiliated by North Korea in 1966. His lengthy international career ended in 1977, when he was a member of the Italian side beaten by England at Wembley. He was perhaps a trifle unfortunate never to belong to a team that won the World Cup.

Whatever the limitations of staging the contest in midsummer in a hot country, i.e. teams being required to play for ninety minutes plus in unbelievably hot temperatures, the football that was served up was sublime. Brazil, still smarting from her premature elimination in 1966, wanted to show who was the real champion, and was successful. For Pelé and Tostao were on top of their game, whilst Jairzinho and Rivelino constituted a magnificent find. It is arguable that there has never been a stronger side than that fielded by the Latin American giants in 1970. England too, had strengthened since 1966, Alan Mullery being a notable addition. Thus it was no surprise when the second game clash between these two formidable sides, played on 7 June 1970, was dubbed the “real final”. Unfortunately for England, the temperature in Guadalajara reached 98 degrees Fahrenheit, a figure significantly in excess of what could be considered prudent: the England players took sodium tablets to ameliorate the effects of dehydration. The one-nil score line was in no way indicative of how exciting that match was; for the seventy thousand plus spectators saw treats such as the goal that never was, and this after only ten minutes. Jairzinho, who was in top form for this game, picked up the ball on the extreme right, once he had shaken off his marker Tommy Cooper; his angle was such that it was impossible to gauge whether he would shoot at the near or far post, moreover Pelé was superbly situated to head the ball should Jairzinho pick him out. Gordon Banks, still rated the world’s number one goalkeeper, moved to cover the near post, which was the most likely destination of any ball released by Jairzinho, while there was every expectation that the England defenders would prevent the ball ever reaching the far post. In the event, Jairzinho chipped the ball very high in the air, no England defender could reach it, surely it would pass harmlessly by? But no, Pelé jumped, he rose so high that it seemed impossible; furthermore, the timings of the pass and the jump were perfectly synchronised, almost as if they had been choreographed; Pelé had time to divine where Banks was, and directed a powerful header towards the far post, furthermore the ball was directed downwards, for it would be impossible for a goalkeeper to rush the length of the goal, dive and prevent the ball going in. Banks did the impossible, knocking the ball upwards with one hand over the bar. A stunned Pelé later recalled his thoughts: “At that time I hated Banks more than any man in football. I just couldn’t believe it. But when I cooled down I had to applaud him with all my heart. It was the greatest save I have ever seen”. Later on Geoff Hurst is presented with a chance to put England ahead, unfortunately he was never to possess the goal scoring instinct of Jimmy Grieves, he paused and then shot weakly. He should have taken the opportunity, and left the problem of whether he was offside to the match officials. It was a costly error. The match was goal less at half time, but it was an evenly contested affair with which both sides could be satisfied. The contest between the giants resumed in the second half, could the strongest attack in the competition, Brazil’s, break through against the most formidable defence available, that of England? Fourteen minutes into the second half the answer came back in the affirmative, although not before Francis Lee had headed a cross straight at Felix, who was in goal for Brazil: one needed more than that to win such a match.. Tostao was running down the left touchline in possession of the ball, Moore moved out of central defence to support England right back Newton, he was followed by Labone. Moore decided that this support, and the danger presented by Tostao, was such that the best option was to try and tackle the Brazilian genius. It was a fatal error for Tostao recovered quicker than Moore, the Brazilian swept in a quick pass towards Pelé who was entering the penalty area, shadowed, as he had been throughout the match, by the superb Alan Mullery. The danger of a shot from this position forced Terry Cooper to move towards Pelé to block. Quick as a flash Pelé passed to his right where Jairzinho was rushing in towards the exposed England left; Martin Peters stormed back in an attempt to fill the hole, while Banks rushed out of goal to reduce the angle, but it was too late. Jairzinho found the gap that Banks could not cover and sent the ball thundering into the far corner. A stunned Banks kneeled on the ground, it was a body blow. Yet the game was not over as a contest, England substitute Astle fluffs a chance to equalise when his shot skids past the wrong side of a post. Later on a header from Astle puts Ball into a position to score, yet the Everton player, who was soon to join the Arsenal, was unable to do anything. Later on Ball partly redeemed himself when his shot skimmed over the bar. But it was not to be. Brazil had won the game that should have been the final by the narrowest of margins. Luckily, however, both teams were still in the competition.

Thus Brazil had won her opening two games, for she had beaten a resurgent Czechoslovakia four-one in her opening game after being a goal down. Indeed that game served as a wake up call to watch out when Brazil had a free kick; for Rivelino, who reputably had the hardest shot in football had smashed the free kick between the goal posts even though the Czechoslovaks had marshalled a six man wall; their undoing was that the free kick was being taken just outside the box but very near the centre, so that Rivelino had a near perfect view of the Czech goal and a choice of where to place the ball. Jairzinho was at the end of the wall and had stepped smartly aside at just the right moment for Rivelino.

Brazil eventually won Group Three with England a convincing second.

As expected, West Germany swept aside all opposition in a weak Group Four. Italy scored a solitary goal in Group Two in their opening match and then shut up shop in the way that only Italian sides are capable of. No more goals were scored by either side in matches involving Italy in that group, which proved sufficient to come top. In a weak Group One the hosts had the added advantage that infighting fatally undermined the Belgium camp; thus for the first time Mexico progressed beyond the first round of a World Cup, behind a much diminished Soviet team.

Coming first in group three meant that Brazil had to face the runners up of group four in the quarterfinals. The four-two result in favour of Brazil occasioned no surprise, nor were the Brazilians ever in much trouble. Italy easily overcame the hosts Mexico four-one, the only surprise was that Mexico scored a goal. The extremely dull match between the Soviet Union and Uruguay was goal less after ninety minutes, the South Americans managing to score the decisive goal only after the game had reached extra time. The game of the round was between the finalists of 1966, England and West Germany. For England there was a disaster when goalkeeper Gordon Banks suffered from food poisoning. He had to be replaced at a late stage by Chelsea’s Peter Bonetti, who was not remotely in the same class. England were therefore already without their best player before a ball had been kicked. West Germany would have been further encouraged that the venue was León where they had played and won all their group games. West Germany were popular with the locals, who took to hooting the horns of their cars outside the hotel where England were staying on the night before the match; indeed Banks was of the opinion that the food poisoning was not accidental: “the more I look back, the more I believe my food could have been tampered with”. Notwithstanding this, the start of the match was a disaster for West Germany with Alan Mullery and Bobby Moore in fine fettle and dictating events. This dominance being converted into a goal for Mullery after just over half an hour. This supremacy was maintained all the way to half time and the beginning of the second half. Five minutes after the interval the match seemed to be over as a contest when Martin Peters scored from a Newton cross. West Germany had forty minutes to do something, so with just over half an hour left they brought on Grabowski. In the appalling heat of that day this fresh pair of legs lent new impetus to West Germany, but still they could not score. Then with twenty-two minutes left, a catastrophic blunder from Bonetti, who dived too late to save a shot from Beckenbauer, resulted in the ball ending up in the right hand corner. West Germany were undeservedly back in the game. Nonetheless, the match should still have been won by England; however, England manager Ramsey panicked, taking off two world class players, Bobby Charlton and Martin Peters, in the matter of a few minutes, when it was obvious that the struggling Terry Cooper should have been replaced. England’s organisation disintegrated, thus enabling Uwe Seeler to score from a back header after a slip by the tired Brian Labone. The score was level now with eight minutes of normal time left. The exhausted players fought on until the game reached extra time. Stamina would now be more important that footballing skill. The fates then dealt a cruel blow to England; four years previously in the World Cup final Geoff Hurst scored a goal that should not have been allowed, he now scored a perfectly legitimate goal that was disallowed, a form of delayed justice. Finally Gerd Müller volleyed a tremendous shot home from mid-air that signalled the end for England, their exhaustion and loss of two of their most creative players making any hope of a fight back just a pipe dream. England were left to rue what might have been, for they thrown away a won game.

The pairings now made it certain that there would be one team from Latin America and one from Europe in the final, for Brazil had to face Uruguay, and West Germany Italy. This time Brazil would make certain there would be no repeat of what happened twenty years previously in the 1950 World Cup when they had unexpectedly lost to their smaller neighbours. The three-one score line barely doing justice to their supremacy. The match between Italy and West Germany, however, was a much more absorbing contest, in stark contrast to all of Italy’s previous games in the competition. At first the game started in a manner highly suited to Italian tastes, for Boninsegna had struck home in the ninth minutes of play after two fortunate rebounds. Entirely predictably this served as the cue for the Italian players to withdraw and attempt to play the remainder of the match without another goal. This was something in which they were peerless, having done this very thing in three of their matches of the World Cup to date. This enabled West Germany to dominate the field, they were able to gather a surprisingly large number of chances, with Beckenbauer, in particular, unlucky not to win a penalty. Nonetheless the Italian luck held, the longer the match went on, the more desperate the West Germans became. A cynical tackle on Beckenbauer, with half an hour left to play, sent the West German talisman tumbling. Such was the force of the fall that Beckenbauer dislocated his shoulder. Schön the West German manager had already used one of his permitted two substitutions, the obvious thing to do would have been to replace the injured Beckenbauer; yet there was a genuine dilemma, Beckenbauer was the one truly great player in this German team, he had served as the fulcrum of most West German attacks, to replace him would almost have been tantamount to capitulation. The clincher for Schön was the willingness of Beckenbauer to continue, notwithstanding his quite useless right arm; so Patzke was removed from the West German defence and replaced by Held. The gamble appeared to be in vain when a powerfully struck shot from Held was cleared off the line, then Albertosi in goal for Italy brilliantly saved a Seeler effort. Ninety minutes had been played, the increasingly frantic Germans threw every available player into the attack, losing two-nil would have been no different to one-nil. Finally the Italian game plan was busted when a fast low cross from Grabowski on the left was met by Schnellinger, who put the ball home. West Germany would have to play their second extra-time game in as many matches. This was much worse in the hellishly hot conditions of the Azteca stadium in Mexico City in front of an ecstatic crowd of eighty thousands, than it would have been in Europe; for the venue was at a very high altitude, and midsummer in Mexico is far more challenging that in Europe. At least Beckenbauer’s right arm was now strapped, but the odds still favoured the Italians in a game now likely to be determined by blunders. Incredibly the first error came from an Italian substitute, Poletti, from which Müller was able to capitalise after just four minutes of extra time. West Germany were now two-one up in a match that was now both entertaining and farcical; within minutes Italy had scored twice, courtesy of Burgnich and Riva, three - two, what else could happen? Surely the drama was over? But no, just over five minutes later Müller scored again, literally throwing his head towards the ball. West Germany learnt that a minute can be a long time, for that was all Boninsegna needed to cross to Rivera from the goal line on the left, Rivera made no mistake. West Germany had lost, but they had given their all, they had displayed bravery and determination when it would have been all to easy to have sunk to an ignominious one-nil defeat.

Brazil were to face their antithesis on 20 June 1970, extravagant attacking would be met by stonewalling and blanket defence. Exuberant ambition would challenge cynicism. Two Latin sides would fight, one from Europe, the other from the Americas; two countries, who had two wins each, would battle to win the Jules Rimet Trophy for the third time and be entitled to keep it. Probably nearly everyone who had an interest in the game but no Italian ties wanted the South Americans to win. More than one hundred thousand people crowded into the Azteca stadium on 21 June 1970. They were rewarded with some spectacular passing and movement from the Brazilians who dominated right from the beginning. In the eighteenth minute Italy’s hopes of a successful dour defence, and a solitary successful strike, were ended when Rivelino crossed from the left; Pelé rose majestically to meet it and headed downwards, this time there was no Gordon Banks to make a stupendous, impossible save. Italy had conceded, they would have to come out and play, which might expose them to further damage. Yet the pattern did not alter all that much, the Italians knew just how dangerous Brazil could be, their hopes still rested on a lucky break, which was precisely what happened. In the thirty-eighth minute Clodoaldo casually back-heeled the ball. He had not being paying attention and the Brazilian defenders were a fraction too slow to react, instead Boninsegna slipped in and raced for goal, the onrushing Brazilian goalkeeper Felix tried to do what he could, however, he was easily side-stepped; Italy were suddenly, and completely against the run of play, level. Brazil just carried on as they had been, yet there were no further goals in the first half. The pattern did not alter in the second, it took Brazil all of twenty minutes to break through this time; Gerson sending a thunderously powerful shot towards the Italian goal after he had successfully wrong footed his markers by pivoting just outside the penalty box. This time there would be no gift from the boys from Brazil, five minutes later a Gerson free kick was headed by Pelé into the path of Jairzinho, Jairzinho simply guided himself and the ball between the goal posts past the goal line. There could be no doubt as to the result, one met with approval by the crowd as Brazil continued to press. The performance was capped by yet another goal, four minutes from the end Alberto’s charge towards the Italian penalty area from the right was anticipated by Pelé who expertly placed the ball in his path, all Alberto had to do was shoot, shoot accurately and shoot hard, he did so, the ball accelerating towards the far post past a beaten goalkeeper. Brazil had won, they had won possibly the finest finals ever despite all the organisational difficulties, the high altitude and the obscene temperatures, they had won with one player Jairzinho becoming the first ever to score in every game, they had won with perhaps the finest footballing team ever assembled by a nation contesting the World Cup finals. Zagalo Brazil’s manager had himself played for the successful 1958 and 1962 sides.

© 2006 World Cup Years Ltd.