World Cup Yields a Range of Emotions
In the first World Cup in 1930, Uruguay met Argentina for the championship. The chant from the Argentine fans was: “Victory or death.”
More than a half century later, some would say the stakes have not greatly diminished.
After the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, there were heart attacks in Mexico, suicides in Brazil and murder in France. Following West Germany’s 3-2 loss to Austria in the same tournament, a West Berlin carpenter jumped from his window, shouting: “I don’t want to live anymore.”
This year’s tournament in Mexico had not even begun when a man in Barranquilla, Colombia, shot himself to death because he was unable to attend a World Cup warm-up game featuring Diego Maradona of Argentina.
With the World Cup comes not only unrestrained passion, but a small measure of lunacy and a great deal of the bizarre:
--In the 1930 World Cup in Uruguay, Argentina plays the United States. The American trainer, angered over a call, smashes his medicine bottles on the field. He is overtaken by fumes and must be assisted by bystanders.
--Powerful Italy is upset 1-0 by North Korea in 1966 in England. The team sneaks back home at dawn and is greeted at the airport by an outraged citizenry that pelts the players with fruit and vegetables.
--El Salvador eliminates Honduras in a 1969 qualifying game and the result triggers rioting and military attacks. Although there are longstanding and complex problems between the countries, the episode is dubbed the “Football War.”
--In 1978, Scottish fans contemplated sending a submarine across the Atlantic for the World Cup.
--In 1982 in Spain, the frantic sideline gestures of Sheik Fahid Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, then head of the country’s soccer federation, cause the Kuwait team to leave the field against France. The sheik later says his gesturing was meant to stop his players from arguing with the referee.
With the passion has come the politics. Like the Olympics, the World Cup offers a staggeringly impressive forum:
--Benito Mussolini uses the 1934 World Cup to parade his fascist ideals. As Hitler is to do two years later at the Berlin Olympics, the Italian dictator cheers his team from the stands.
--In 1974 the Soviet Union refuses for political reasons to play a qualifying game in Chile, giving the Chileans a berth in the tournament.
--Two years before the 1978 event, the president of Argentina’s World Cup organizing committee is assassinated. An Argentine group suspends its attacks against the government so not to disrupt the World Cup.
--Basque nationalists blow up a telephone company in Bilbao before the 1982 World Cup, entangling communications during the tournament; Argentina and England, at war in the Falkland Islands, compete but do not play each other.
For all the political maneuvering, the World Cup has mostly been a stage for some of soccer’s most compelling moments:
--In the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, the lowly United States stings England 1-0 on a goal by Larry Gaetjans, a Haitian immigrant from New York. It is the greatest upset in World Cup history.
--Playing before the Queen in Wembley Stadium, England defeats West Germany 4-2 in overtime for the 1966 title. Geoff Hurst scores three goals for England, the only player to do so in the championship game.
--The 1970 World Cup in Mexico features the tournament’s finest save. Pele of Brazil receives a cross and heads the ball toward the English goal. Goalkeeper Gordan Banks dives from the other side of the net and scoops the ball over the bar. Pele later describes Banks as “like a salmon leaping up a falls.”
Sketches of the previous 12 World Cups:
1930--Most European teams withdraw, insulting host government by refusing to make two-week trek to Uruguay. Security is tight and soldiers with bayonets stand guard. Police are called to control the riotous Argentina-Chile game. Uruguay beats Argentina 4-2 and a national holiday is declared. In Buenos Aires, mobs stone Uruguayan consulate.
1934--Under the heel of Mussolini, Italy stages event and plays with a patriotic fury. A qualification round is held to determine the 16 teams. Latin American squads, claiming they were snubbed by format, are no factor. Italy beats Czechoslovakia 2-1 in final.
1938--The World Cup shifts to France and Italy establishes soccer supremacy. There are three withdrawals: Argentina (miffed at not hosting event), Austria (occupied by Germany) and Spain (civil war). Brazil comes to prominence and beats Poland 6-5 in overtime. Leonidas of Brazil, a barefoot striker, and Ernest Willimowski of Poland each score four goals. Italy downs Hungary 4-2 for another title.
1950--Following a 12-year gap because of World War II, Brazil holds the tournament, which is boycotted by many European nations. The United States rocks England 1-0. Uruguay tops Brazil 2-1 in the final before 199,850 at Maracana Stadium. In the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo, eight deaths are attributed to the joyous news.
1954--Switzerland, home of soccer’s governing body, is host to some vicious soccer. In a quarterfinal known as the “Battle of Berne,” Hungary defeats Brazil 4-2. Afterward, Brazil’s players hide in the locker room and attack the Hungarians. Hungary beats Uruguay in the semis before losing 3-2 to West Germany in the final.
1958--A 17-year-old named Pele is introduced to the world in Sweden. Brazil, with grace and tantalizing speed, beats France 5-2 in the semis behind three goals by Pele. Brazil defeats Sweden by the same score for the title and leaves its imprint of attacking soccer that is to reshape the sport.
1962--Having been ravaged by earthquakes, Chile is compassionately awarded the event and the games are played in the winter of the Andes. Brazil is the showpiece but advances to the semis despite Pele being sidelined with a pulled muscle. Brazil wins the crown for the second straight time by defeating Czechoslovakia 3-1.
1966--The tournament assumes staggering proportions in England thanks to global television. North Korea shocks Italy 1-0 and the Italians return home in disgrace. Pele is tackled brutally throughout. Eusebio leads Portugal past Brazil. England, behind a controversial goal, downs West Germany 4-2 in overtime for title. England coach Alf Ramsey is knighted.
1970--The sweltering heat and altitude of Mexico are major factors. Excellent players abound: Teofilo Cubillas of Peru, Gerd Mueller of West Germany, Rivelino and Pele of Brazil. Gordon Banks makes the “save of the century” on header by Pele. Brazil routs Italy 4-1 in the final--a triumph for attacking soccer that gives Brazil its third crown.
1974--The World Cup is staged in West Germany where two years earlier tragedy marked the Olympics. The balance of power shifts with many top teams failing to qualify. Holland, with Johan Cruyff, emerges as a jewel of soccer. But West Germany, guided by Franz Beckenbauer, defeats the Dutch 2-1 in the finals.
1978--The games go to politically tense Argentina. Some sparkle is gone with the absence of players like Cruyff, Beckenbauer and Rivelino. Holland, displaying “total football,” advances to finals again. But Argentina, with two goals from Mario Kempes, triumphs 3-1 in overtime for the crown as the country erupts in celebration.
1982--Tournament in Spain is expanded to 24 teams. Algeria stuns West Germany 2-0 in first round. A scandalous game between West Germany and Austria eliminates Algeria and allows both German-speaking nations to advance. Italy rallies past Brazil behind hat trick by Paolo Rossi. After disposing of Poland, the Italians defeat West Germany 3-1 for third championship.