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Retro World Cup: George’s A-Z of the World Cup ~ your cut-out-and-keep guide (Part 1)

June 2, 2014

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Yep, football fever’s verily back again (you may ask when isn’t it, but still), we’re now just a mere 10 days away from the 2014 World Cup kicking-off in Brazil. And, following on from its first (a run-down of its picks for the 20 greatest ever England players), George’s Journal is continuing its ‘Retro World cup’ series of posts with one that’s genuinely aimed to be something of an aid to all you peeps out there – think of it like one of those public information films from ’70s TV, peeps.

Yes, if you haven’t the foggiest the idea what the World Cup is, blithely know very little about its in-and-outs or fancy brushing up your memory on all things Coupe du Monde before you head to the pub to watch and discuss England’s – or whoever’s – progress over the next few weeks, then this’ll be right up your kicking-that-old-leather-ball-against-the-wall back-alley.

So, here we go then, folks, the first half of my far from always serious, certainly not particularly profound, but always affectionate alphabetised guide to the World Cup (letters A-M)…

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A is for… And it’s a goal!

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Let’s start as we mean to go on… The thing that peeps really remember about World Cups – certainly those of many years back – are the things that most peeps watch football for (and generally hope to see once in a while, if it’s not too much trouble), yes, my calcio-curious friends, I mean great goals. And, given World Cups tend to feature the best players on the planet, they also tend to boast some terrific net-busters. And to prove it, here’s a selection, each of which may just have been the best strike of their particular World Cup (click on each of ’em for a video clip). So we have Archie Gemmil’s magical moment for Scotland against the Netherlands (1978 in Argentina); Falcao’s thumper for Brazil against Italy (1982 in Spain); Josimar’s jubilant screamer for Brazil against Northern Ireland and Diego Maradonna’s dribble-tastic second for Argentina against England (1986 in Mexico); Roberto Baggio’s brilliant effort for Italy against Czechoslovakia (1990 in Italy); Saeed Al Owairan’s outstanding run and finish for Saudi Arabia against Belgium (1994 in USA); Dennis Bergkamp’s simply stunning control and strike for the Netherlands against Argentina (1998 in France) and, for me at least, the greatest goal ever scored in a World Cup, Carlos Alberto’s strike that rounded off an amazing move from Brazil to claim their fourth goal in a 4-1 victory over Italy in the 1970 (Mexico) final.

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B is for… Brazil

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The Brazilian national men’s football team is the most successful, decorated and, frankly, adored in the history of the World Cup finals, having won the thing a record five times – and the only side to have played in every tournament. Basically, Brazil are the New York Yankees of the World Cup. They’re pretty much recognised by all and sundry as the best entertainers too, so they’re also the Harlem Globetrotters of the World Cup. Sort of. Winners in 1958 (Sweden; the first time a team won it outside its own continent), 1962 (Chile), 1970 (Mexico), 1994 (USA) and 2002 (Japan/ South Korea), their most celebrated side – and the one that ensured the world fell for the samba-lovin’, laid back, but brilliantly creative and attacking Brazilian take on football – was the 1970 winning squad, featuring the genius that was Pelé and packed with legends like Carlos Alberto, Jairzinho, Gerson and Roberto Rivelino. No Brazilian side’s quite matched that one; although ’82’s almost did (with the likes of Zico, Falcao and Socrates) but didn’t win as it wasn’t defensive enough for the modern era. This year’s finals will be held in Brazil, of course, prompting the world to pray it all goes off without too many hitches (or protests; fingers crossed!) and that the delightfully yellow-shirted Pentacampeões can live up to the hype and pressure and have a stonking tournament – for their and football’s sake. After all, last time the Cup was held in Brazil (1950), they lost to Uruguay in the final – and have never lived it down.

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C is for… conspiracy theories

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In pitting country against country, the World Cup is a major showcase of national pride in the name of international prestige. Yet, there’s nothing prestigious about the dubious things rumoured to have gone on to help teams win; scraping the bottom to come out on top, as it were. The conspiracy theories started in 1954 when, in beating the hugely strong Hungarian team in the final, the little fancied West Germany were said to have done a ‘Ben Johnson’ and taken stimulants. Indeed, a University of Leipzig study recently claimed the team, believing they were being given Vitamin C, were injected with methamphetamine; there’s doubt as to whether the study looked at that actual match, though. Later, Argentina were mired in controversy at their 1978 home World Cup, it being claimed another team in their second-stage group, Peru, conspired to concede exactly the right number of goals – six – against the hosts to sweep them into the final ahead of Brazil. Oh, and it was then discovered Peru’s goalkeeper Ramón Quiroga had been born Argentinian. Mind you, the Argies still believe their captain Antonio Rattín was unfairly sent off in the ’66 quarter final against England (a match which the latter won on their way to winning the Cup on home soil). Similarly, both Italy and Spain called foul on decisions that went the way of the simply cracking South Korea, hosts in 2002, when they lost their knock-out matches against them, claiming that year’s contest was rigged to get the Asian underdogs as far as possible. Yet, the greatest conspiracy of all concerns Sweden’s 1958 tourney: a 2002 Swedish-made documentary claimed it didn’t take place at all. It was all cobblers, its broadcaster confirming it a hoax afterwards; just a slice of sublime Scandinavian satire then.

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D is for… Diana Ross’s miss

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It the was World Cup’s most cringeworthy spectacle. During the USA 94 opening ceremony, a set from Diana Ross climaxed with the diva extraordinaire taking a penalty, splitting the goal apart as she ‘scored’. Only she didn’t, she missed but the goal still fell in two. It was cringeworthy because it was naff as hell and looked pathetic (had she ever kicked a football before?); basically, showbiz-related consumerism raining on the World Cup’s parade. All right, we live in capitalist times; fine. There’s nothing wrong with naff profiteering taking a ride on the back of or helping finance the thing, but when it impinges on the contest’s integrity, then surely you’re on mock-worthy ground. I mean, look at all the advertising and sponsorship. Long gone are the days when we merely had Canon and Fujifilm on billboards around the pitch; nowadays the corporations are such a huge presence they have their own ‘official’ World Cup songs – really, check this out. Indeed, FIFA’s world rankings have for years now been officially titled ‘The Coca-Cola FIFA World Rankings’. But things really turned a dubious corner when the media started to suggest the ’98 final (France vs Brazil) was as much an international battle of the sportswear brands (France wore togs made by Adidas; Brazil by Nike) – for more on that, take a look at this article; it’s an enlightening read. And there’s all the TV ads we’re assailed with; they reached such a pitch ahead of the 2002 event that an (admittedly cracking) remix of Elvis’s A Little Less Conversation made it to #1 in the UK off the back of a Nike WC-themed commercial. But, aside from its arguable vulgarity, does it matter much? Well, maybe if it’s clearly becoming too much for a ‘silent’ minority willing to do something about it – the ‘Anonymous’ Internet hackers look set to target the upcoming World Cup for all its wanton commerciality in the face of its host nation’s (Brazil) much maligned inequality. And dare one call to mind the constant controversy that’s Qatar 2022? Right, don’t worry; harangue over, folks.

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E is for… Estadio Azteca

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The only stadium – until Rio’s royally famous Maracanã does on July 13 – to have hosted two World Cup finals, Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca is arguably the most legendary of all the competition’s countless venues. Called into action when its nation put on the the World Cups of both 1970 (perhaps the best of all-time) and ’86 (another fine effort), it’s been the site of 18 World Cup matches, easily the most of any venue anywhere. In ’70 it most memorably hosted the semi-final epic between Italy and West Germany – a two-hour, seven-goal thriller which saw five strikes scored in extra-time, German captain Franz Beckenbauer play with his arm in a sling due to a broken wrist and Italy finally claim a 4-3 win – as well as the outstanding  final in which a drained Azurri couldn’t prevent a joyously rampant Brazil score the ‘Goal of the Century’ (see entry for ‘A’ above), run out 4-1 victors and keep the Jules Rimet trophy forever as they’d won it a (then) record third time. Sixteen years later it played host to the semi-final between Argentina and Belgium and the fine final in which the Argentinians were crowned champions for a second time after a 3-2 win over West Germany. However, its most notorious match was that tournament’s quarter final between Argentina and England, during which the former’s talismanic enfant terrible Diego Maradona scored two of the most extraordinary goals ever; his second, the other contender for ‘Goal of the Century’ (again, see entry for ‘A’ above) and his first, the infamous ‘Hand of God’ effort (see entry for ‘M’ below). Oh, and lest we forget, the Azteca was also the primary stadium for the ’68 Summer Olympics, ensuring it was the site of that ’60s-moment-of-all-’60s-moments, of course, the Blank-Panther-salute-as-podium-protest. Nowadays, it’s used as the Mexican national football team’s home ground – bit of a come-down, frankly.

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F is for… fantastic fans

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If flourishing, easy-on-the-eye link-play is its melody and terrific goals its soaring choruses, then football fans are undoubtedly the World Cup’s bass line; it’s heartbeat, its pulse. They’re the unfalteringly faithful few who travel to far-flung corners of the globe to watch the team representing their nation take on all comers and try to achieve that rarest thing – the claim they’re the best in the world; at football, at least. Football, most especially in England, of course, has had its problems with hooliganism, but the true fans have always believed in the football and the players in the team they spends hundreds (or nowadays thousands) to travel to watch on the international stage. They’re passionate, they’re dedicated; some even obsessive. But many are realists and boast a wonderful sense of humour. How couldn’t they if they’d come to support Saudi Arabia against West Germany in 2002 (the Saudis were thumped 8-0)? Or if they’d come to support Scotland (yes, I know, but it’s true) in Argentina in ’78; deliriously happy to be the only one of the ‘Home Nations’ to have qualified (stuff the English!) but, yet again, not getting out of the group stage thanks to disappointing form and too few goals? Nowadays every country’s fans seem to dress outlandishly (which is wonderful), but it used to be that minnows like Scotland and the Republic of Ireland had the most colourful and camera-friendly fans at World Cups – their teams unlikely to do much for the tournament so the fans mostly there for the craic (whether Roy Keane likes it or not). And yet, this is the magic of the World Cup, sometimes something incredible happens, just as it did for the Irish when, them having not even won a match, they got through to the last eight in 1990 and thus manager Jack Charlton was forced to live up to his promise and secure the players an audience with the Pope. That’s why fans go to watch their teams live, because you just never know; dreams can come true.

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G is for… Gazza’s tears

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It was at the Stadio del Alpi, Turin, on July 4 1990, deep into extra-time in the deadlocked World Cup semi-final between England and West Germany. Midfield maestro Paul Gascoigne had been a revelation for England; few in the country had even heard his name before this tournament, but his creativity had been crucial in his nation’s best showing on the biggest stage for 24 years. Yet, owing to the loveably enormous enthusiasm in his play, he’d picked up a yellow card earlier in the competition, so when he was booked at this point in this match it meant he’d be suspended for the next match; he’d be forced to sit on the bench throughout the World Cup final – should England get there. But his reaction, and the reaction to his reaction, was extraordinary. Such instances as this have now become commonplace in football and players to whom it happens usually give the impression they’ve taken it on the chin. Not Gazza. Always more boy than man (whose increasing fame as an off-the-pitch prankster par excellence had become a media sub-plot to England’s tournament progress), he lost it – but in the most sympathy-inducing way possible. His eyes welled up, his lip quivered and he started to cry. Some have suggested this eruption of emotion, full of childlike vulnerability, somehow changed English football; humanising it for the ’90s, dragging it away from the macho, hooligan connotations of the ’70s and ’80s. That’s cobblers, of course, for football really became more media friendly with the emergence of the Premier League a few short years later and, thus, seeing much more money thrown at it. Still, ‘Gazza’s tears’ became surely the most iconic moment from this World Cup – certainly in the UK – and proved elite sport can move millions irrespective of who wins or loses; it was arguably a generation’s equivalent to Bobby Moore lifting the Jules Rimet trophy.

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H is for… Haircut 101

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… would be the name of a course about the weird and wonderful hairstyles that have graced past World Cups. And it should be too, so many have there been, delighting and bewildering football fans. Yes, aside from the glorious goals and the peerless matches, it’s the barmy barnets of chaps with extraordinary talent in their boots but seemingly little sense in their bonces that have entertained so many most of all. And quite frankly, to look at all the incredible curls and mindless mullets, it’s hardly surprising. Top of the list has to be ’90s Colombian playmaker Carlos Valderrama (top left in image above), whose enormous blond afro became so famed and adored he adopted it for life – and recently dyed it pink for Breast Cancer Awareness. Nice chap; crap coiff. The ’90s were a golden era of horrendous hair, offering us too Valderrama’s teammate Rene Higuita’s jet black curly mullet (bottom middle); the spendiferously monikered American Alexei Lalas’s sort of 16th Century ginger locks and über goatee (top middle); Nigerian Taribo West’s alien-antennae-like plaits (always green when playing for his green-shirted national team; bottom right); the – again – marvellously named Potuguese Abel Xavier with his bleached-blond-electrocuted-esque effort (bottom left) and, just entering the ’00s, the enormous monobrow Brazil’s Ronaldo wore above his forehead with nothing else behind it for the 2002 final (top right). But the biggest mistake of all must have been, ironically, when Chris Waddle shaved off his awful mullet ahead of the 1990 semi-final, opting instead for a sensible short-back-and-sides – in the match, of course, he missed the decisive penalty and England were knocked out. Ouch…

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I is for… Italian catenaccio

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Mamma Mia! You may not believe it, but it’s true – the supposedly anti-attacking Azzuri are the second most successful nation in World Cup history. Nicknamed the Azzuri as they originally wore sky-blue shirts (the colour of the pre-unified Italy’s House of Savoy), Italy have a reputation for defensive football, which to some extent is deserved. The term catenaccio (literally translating as ‘door bolt’ and a very Italian football-formation tactic) was originally deployed by a highly successful Inter Milan team in the 1960s and sees a team depend greatly on defensive stability, the back four ideally being unimpeachable, with goals scored on rare breakaway attacks. Fair dues, the Azurri would go on to play this way internationally; they did so on-and-off in the ’70s and ’80s – but to varying success. However, long before catenaccio was invented, the Italians won the second and third World Cups in the ’30s (at home in 1934 and in France in 1938; although those two sides remain controversial for their supposed promotion of Mussolini’s fascism). Since then, Italy have won the Cup twice again, their greatest moment coming in ’82 when, despite their domestic game being mired in match-fixing murkiness, their negative catenaccio flowered into breathtaking breakaway attacking football and they went all the way to seal a highly unlikely triumph. Then, 24 years later, they won the thing again in almost exactly the same circumstances. Ah, the Azurri, eh?

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J is for… Jules Rimet

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A founding member of  of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), Frenchman Jules Rimet became its longest serving president, holding the reins of the official global soccer body for 33 years between 1921 and ’54. He’s most revered (and worthy of note in this blog post) because he’s generally considered the creator of the World Cup, overseeing organisation of the first tournament in Uruguay in 1930. Such a success did the World Cup become that, following World War Two (old Jules won a French War Cross as a WWI soldier, incidentally), the competition’s trophy, originally named Victory (as it featured the winged goddess Nike, the ancient Greek anthropomorphism of victory), was renamed the Jules Rimet trophy. Indeed, the thing itself has quite a history. Standing 35cm tall, weighing 4kg and made of gold-plated sterling silver, it was hidden during WWII in a shoe-box under the bed of FIFA’s Italian vice-president Ottorino Barassi (Italy being its holders at the time) to prevent capture by the Nazis. It was eventually stolen, though, when it came to England ahead of the ’66 World Cup, later to be found under a garden hedge by a dog named Pickles. Seventeen years later, following its handing over forever after to Brazil (as they’d won it a record three times) it was half-inched once more, sadly never to be seen again and suspected melted down. Its replacement, officially named the FIFA World Cup Trophy (not quite such a romantic moniker) was made for the ’74 and all subsequent World Cups. Standing 37cm tall and containing 5kg of 18-carat (75%) gold, it’s actually hollow; were it solid, it’s estimated it’d weigh a hefty 70-80 kg – way too heavy for a triumphant team captain to lift. And, disappointingly, FIFA stipulates it can’t actually be won; the victorious team always takes home a mere gold-plated replica. Makes you wonder why they all fight over the thing really, doesn’t it?

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K is for… kitted-out

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Dare one say it, but sometimes focusing on the football just isn’t enough in a World Cup (especially if you’re watching a particularly drab match or you’ve already watched more hours of the thing than you’ve had sleep for the last two weeks). And when fixating on hairstyles won’t cut the mustard either (see entry for ‘H’ above), what takes your eye and occupies your mind? Why, considering sides’ sartorial choices, of course. Yes, there’s been some marvellous, nay majestic, kits worn by World Cup teams down through the years; equally there’s been some truly terrible togs too. Top of most England fans’ lists would be the pure, iconic elegance of the red-shirt and white-shorts changed kit the Three Lions wore the day they won the thing on home soil back in ’66. And, arguably, England have got it right more times than they’ve got it wrong in World Cups. But what of everyone else? Well, it certainly does help when you win the Cup in a particular kit – it often makes the thing look even better than before. Was this the case with West Germany’s at Italia 90? To be fair, since then, it’s be rightly heralded a boldly abstract-patterned classic. And ‘classic’ is undoubtedly epitomised by the simple, radiant beauty of the yellow hooped-collar shirt, blue shorts and white socks of the Brazil of 1970; every subsequent Brazilian kit has effectively emulated it – and been in its shadow. Mention too should go to the total-football-orange of the Dutch in 2006; the chunky collars of the Scots in ’78; the daring stripey half-shirts of the Danes in ’86 and, for me, best of all: the ebullient combination of dynamism and elegance that was the Peru kit of ’78 – all white but with that irresistible bright red stripe down the shirt (boldly on front and back). Just a shame they threw that game against Argentina then, really.

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L is for… location, location, location

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Think it’s just a load of corporate balls when suited sporting types hopelessly hob-nob and blantantly brown-nose to win their nation the honour of hosting a World Cup? Think again. Because, while winning that honour will cost the lucky country’s taxpayer several million arms and legs, it may well help its team get a long way in the eventual tournament – it may even aid it to win the thing. Still doubtful? The facts speak for themselves, peeps. Out of the 18 World Cups that have so far taken place, six of them (yes, one in three) have been won by the hosts: Uruguay in 1930, Italy in ’34, England in ’66, West Germany in ’74, Argentina in ’78 and France in ’98. Moreover, even when they haven’t converted hosting duties into victory, the home team’s finished runners-up twice (Brazil in ’50, Sweden in ’58) and got as far as the semis four times (Chile in ’62, Italy in ’90, South Korea in 2002 and Germany in ’06). In fact, even if you’re a host nation’s near neighbour you might well do the business: Italy won in France in ’38, Uruguay in Brazil in ’50, West Germany in Switzerland in ’54, Brazil in Chile in ’62, Italy in Spain in ’82, West Germany in Italy in ’90 and, in a role reversal, Italy in Germany in 2006. Alternatively, you might say of that last fact that many of the best international teams, packed full of wonderful players though they are, don’t tend to travel terrifically well. No wonder then Qatar were so eager to be named 2022’s hosts – they’re currently ranked 95th in the world.

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M is for… ‘Mano de Dios’

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The quarter final contested by Argentina and England at Mexico ’86 was graced by one of the World Cup’s two greatest goals, but it’s as much remembered for another moment. And it’s one that’s recalled in quite a different way; less incredibly famous, more utterly infamous. Six minutes into the second-half, the Argentines attacked the English penalty are, leading to, in an attempted clearance, the ball popping up off an English boot, thus, the diminutive but brilliant Diego Maradona chased after it. Realising he’d reach it just as would the  English keeper Peter Shilton, he leapt into the air and deftly punched the ball – so deftly that neither the referee nor the linesman apparently saw the foul – and it bounced into the net. Shilton and the English defence had all seen it, mind, but their protests (during which they gestured to their hands and arms to make it even clearer to the ref) fell on deaf ears. The goal stood, Maradona went on to score his extraordinary second four minutes later and his team eventually won the match 2-1. In the press conference aftewards, he said the goal had been scored “un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios” (“a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”). Some have suggested this inference was merely a Catholic-related belief that God’s spirit had aided him (or something); others – frankly most people outside Argentina – believe it was a cheeky admission of guilt. Undoubtedly, it led to the British TV media and tabloids instantly referring to the incident as the ‘Hand of God’. England felt they’d been cheated out of the World Cup, Argentina felt like they’d got some kind of revenge for defeat in 1982’s Falklands War, while the rest of the world never quite looked at Diego Maradona (then the greatest footballer on the planet) in the same way again.

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And watch out for – like that little irk next door’s football crashing into your greenhouse – George’s A-Z of the World Cup (Part 2) coming soon…

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Thomas permalink
    June 5, 2014 5:30 pm

    I loved reading your journal. One small addition: catenaccio is not an Italian system, but a Swiss one. They named it ‘verrou’, It was indeed Herrera who made it famous with Inter and the term was translated into Italian.

    • June 6, 2014 2:53 pm

      Thanks, Thomas. My research didn’t reveal that to me, but I bow to your superior wisdom when it comes its origins. After all, some similarly maintain ‘total football’ has its origins in the playing style deployed by the great Hungarian side of the ’50s. And who’s to say they’re not right.

      Anyway, glad you enjoyed the reading the post and thanks for the comment… 🙂

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