Brazil entered their match with Zaire with just one objective, to beat Zaire by three clear goals, and hope that Scotland failed to beat Yugoslavia. Any win for Scotland would see the World Champions crash out at the first stage, as they had last time they defended the trophy in 1966.
It was a demonstration of how far Brazil had fallen from the dizzy heights of Mexico that they barely achieved their aim against a side who had shipped nine in their last fixture against Yugoslavia. Granted the Africans were likely to be defending for their lives, with rumours that dictator President Mobutu had threatened the team with imprisonment should there be a repeat of the 9-0 humiliation.
It was a hero of the 1970 campaign who set Brazil on their way, Jairzinho firing home from the edge of the area on 12 minutes, the goal sparking his trademark celebration of running and punching the air. However that was the only goal the South Americans could muster in the opening period, setting up a nervous second half.
Despite their overall dominance, it wasn’t until midway through the second half that Brazil got their second, another Mexico hero netting. This time it was Rivelino who drove home from 20 yards, matching Scotland’s tally and levelling things up on goal difference. With the game between Scotland and Yugoslavia still goalless, it was heading towards a situation where lots may have to be drawn for the second qualifying place.
With just 11 minutes to go, Brazil scored the decisive goal, and it was a heartbreaking effort for all Scottish supporters. A driven cross from the right hand side by Valdomiro beat Kazadi Muamba at his near post, the keeper diving over the ball and allowing it to creep under his body.
Zaire had one last “memorable” moment to provide, Muepu Ilunga getting all confused at a free kick, and breaking from the wall when the whistle blew to launch the ball down the pitch, a comedic end to a farcical campaign.
So it was Brazil who progressed to the last eight from Group 2, along with Yugoslavia. Scotland became the first undefeated side to fail to qualify for the second phase, their failure to go for the jugular against the weakest link in the group seeing them crash out.
Group 1 also finished on Saturday June 22nd, with the final afternoon game being the dead rubber between Chile and Australia in West Berlin. The match was a dismal 0-0 draw played out in farcical conditions and being marred by further political protests from the Chilean supporters. With a downpour forcing the security staff to take cover, a group of spectators took the chance to breach the cordon around the pitch and made their way on to the field, planting a flag bearing “Chile Socialists” in the centre circle.
With the pitch practically underwater in places, any kind of flowing football was almost impossible and the match ended goalless, Australia picking up their first ever World Cup finals point. It would be 32 years before they had the chance to pick up a second.
That left the small matter of sorting out who would finish top of Group 1, a match loaded with historical and political significance as for the first, and only time, the divided country of Germany met on the football field as Communist East Germany took on the host nation, West Germany.
The BBC selected this match for live coverage, with Barry Davies in the commentary box. Both sides had qualified for the second phase, with the West Germans ahead on 4 points. There was a small contingent of East Germany fans in the Volksparkstadion in Hamburg, given special dispensation by the communist government in East Berlin to travel to the West.
The match was a competitive one, with both sides having their fair share of chances. It was East Germany who should have taken the lead when slack marking from a throw in allowed a cross to find Hans Jurgen Kreische completely free in front of goal, six yards out. He wasted the chance though, blazing the ball over the open goal.
At the other end, Der Bomber, Gerd Muller should have put West Germany ahead, collecting a ball from Wolfgang Overath inside the penalty area, he turned and scuffed a shot goalwards, the ball coming back off the outside of the post.
East Germany though were more than matching their more illustrious neighbours, Reinhard Lauck going close before the break, his shot from the left hand side angled across Sepp Maier, but drifting just past the far post.
The second half was a much cagey affair, both sides restricted to long range efforts to open the scoring. Then with 12 minutes remaining came the historic moment which handed East Germany a famous win. A quick break down the right from Erich Hamann took the blue shirted East Germans forward and his crossfiled ball from just inside the West German half picked out Jurgen Sparwasser. The striker cleverly controlled the ball with his head, wrongfooting three West German defenders, before lifting the ball over the onrushing Maier into the roof of the net.
The final whistle saw scenes of great celebration for the East Germans, and boos greeting the home side. It meant that East Germany had won the group and would meet Brazil in the second phase, as well as the winners of Group 3 and runners up in Group 4. West Germany would meet Yugoslavia and those finishing 2nd in Group 3 and 1st in Group 4. As luck would have it, this potentially humiliating defeat, actually helped the hosts in their quest for the trophy.
The following day, Sunday 23rd June, saw the conclusion of the first round with all four matches kicking off at 4pm. In Group 3 all four sides could still qualify, with Holland topping the group with 3 points, Bulgaria and Sweden having 2 and Uruguay on 1. BBC selected Holland’s clash with Bulgaria for live coverage, David Coleman on commentary duty. The Dutch needed just a point to secure their place in the second phase, but produced a stellar display to breeze past the belligerent Bulgarians.
Holland’s intentions were clear from the start, Johan Neeskens testing the keeper inside 20 seconds. The Barcelona striker would be at the forefront of the action and opened the scoring on 5 minutes. Johann Cruyff had won a penalty, a trademark swivel of the hips and a dash for the byeline ended by a scything tackle. Neeskens fired the spot kick into the top corner, but was forced to retake as Australian referee, Tony Boskovic had spotted some encroachment. From the retake, Neeskens powered the ball down the centre of the goal to make it 1-0.
Just before half time Holland doubled their lead as Cruyff slid in Wim Jansen down the right hand side of the penalty area. The Feyenoord man was just about to pull the trigger and shoot when his legs were taken away from him, giving the referee no option but to point to the spot once again. Neeskens blasted the penalty into the top corner of the net to send the Dutch in at half-time two goals to the good.
Mr Boskovic baulked at giving the Dutch a third penalty with 19 minutes left when Jonny Rep was felled inside the area, instead giving an indirect free kick for obstruction. Cruyff floated the ball to the back post where a Bulgarian defender rose, unfortunately heading the ball across his own six yard box to where Rep was waiting to volley into the roof of the net, sealing Holland’s place in the last eight.
The Bulgarians did pull a goal back, beating the offside trap down the left hand side, the cross turned into his own net by Ruud Kroll. But Holland made it 4-1 with a couple of minutes left, when after a prolonged period of possession, Cruyff found himself free on the left hand side to whip in a cross, superbly headed home by the diving Theo De Jong.
That result put the Bulgarians out and left Sweden just needing a point from their clash with Uruguay to progress to the second phase. The Scandanavians had played two goalless draws so far, although both matches were far from sterile affairs. For Uruguay the equation was clear, they needed a win so the clash in Dusseldorf was destined to be entertaining.
Both sides attacked from the off with the Swedes looking the most penetrative side, Uruguay being restricted to long range efforts. The shooting of the South Americans was impressive though and Ronnie Helstromm in the Swedish goal was peppered with accurate efforts, particularly by Denis Milar. At the opposite end, veteran stopper Ladislao Mazurkiewicz also produced some fine saves, particularly to deny Ove Grahn.
After a fifth consecutive goalless half, Sweden finally broke their World Cup duck just seconds after the interval, as Ralf Edstrom opened the scoring. The big no 10 controlled a cross field ball from the left before smashing a half volley past the keeper to give the European side a massive advantage.
Milar clipped the top of the crossbar with another long range effort for Uruguay as they desperately tried to claw their way back into the game but Sweden booked thier place in the second phase with two goals in three minutes.
On 74 minutes Roland Sandberg collected the ball 25 yards out from goal and strode forward to hit an angled drive across the keeper, the ball clipping the inside of the far post before nestling into the net.
With Uruguay forced to go for broke, they were vulnerable to the counter attack and with just 13 minutes left Edstrom notched his second and Sweden,s third to secure a passage into the second phase. They would enter the group with West Germany and Yugoslavia, the Dutch moving on to meet Brazil and East Germany.
That left just Group 4 to be decided and the decisive fixture was between Poland and Italy in Stuttgart. A point for the Italians would be enough to see them through, with Poland already guaranteed a place in the last eight. The match was selected by ITV for live coverage, Hugh Johns commentating.
The Poles were in no mood to roll over and allow Italy an easy passage into the second phase and continued with the exciting attacking football that had carried them to their two earlier victories. They took the lead on 38 minutes with a superb header by Andrzej Szarmach.
A minute before the break and Poland were 2-0 up, a lovely ball rolled across the penalty are for Kazimierz Deyna to fire past Dino Zoff from the edge of the area.
Italy were in real trouble now, with news from the Argentina vs Haiti match meaning they were in danger of going out. Anastasi hit a post before the break and they continued to pour forward in the second half. However they lacked a cutting edge and could only break through with just two minutes left, Fabio Capello bundling the ball in from six yards out. The final whistle saw Poland claim a 100% record with a 2-1 win and left the Italians, runners up four years previously, sweating on news from Munich.
Argentina therefore needed to better Italy’s 3-1 win over the Haitian’s to move into the second phase. Inside the first 20 minutes that looked like being a breeze as the South Americans went 2-0 up. The Caribbean minnows keeper Henry Francillon was unfortunate for the opening goal, producing a great save to deny Hector Yazalde, but his defence were slow to react and Yazalde pounced to fire in the rebound.
Two minute later naive defending allowed Yazalde in behind the Haitians, beating a dismal attempt at an offside trap and pulling back across goal for Rene Houseman to tap home.
Ten minutes into the second half and Argentina moved into second place in the group when Ruben Ayala met a free kick driven across the goal by Enrique Wolff, the long haired number 2 diverting the ball past Francillon.
Italy’s hopes of qualification were revived by a goal for Haiti as Emmanuel Sanon pulled one back on 63 minutes, but Argentina restored the necessary three goal cushion five minutes later. Francillon again made a fine full length save to deny Ayala, but Yazalde was again the quickest to react and he forced the ball into the net, and helped the South Americans into the second phase. All that remained for Italy, as in 1966, was a hostile reception on their return home.
So it was England’s conquerors Poland and the South Americans of Argentina who progressed to the second phase. Unlike the straight knock out format pf previous competitions, the last eight would be played out on a round robin basis. with the winners of each group moving on to the final. It would be an intriguing rather than exciting development and saw one team become red hot favourites to lift the cup.