England headed to Lisbon for their final qualifier in fairly low spirits. The defeat in Bratislava had handed the initiative in the group to Czechoslovakia. However there was a glimmer of hope for Don Revie’s men after Portugal had held Czechoslovakia to a 1-1 draw 7 days before England’s trip to Lisbon. That left the two sides level on points, with England holding a slim advantage on goal difference. With Czechoslovakia’s final qualifier at home to Cyprus, England knew that this was a must win game.
England’s worst performance in the group had come against the Portuguese at Wembley, that goalless draw was now looking like a very vital dropped point. Portugal had only managed to beat the Cypriots and had been hammered 5-0 by Czechoslovakia back in April.
Again there were changes to the England side. The back four was remodeled with Stephen Whitworth, Kevin Beattie and Dave Watson all returning. Paul Madeley was shifted into midfield in place of Colin Bell whilst Trevor Brooking returned in place of Allan Clarke, seeing Kevin Keegan joining Mick Channon and Malcolm Macdonald in a three man attack.
The game was played in the stadium of Sporting Lisbon, the smaller of the two stadiums in Portugal’s capital city but even that was sparsely populated with a crowd of just over 13,000 in attendance. Back home England supporters had to wait for ITV’s highlights show with Hugh Johns describing the action.
What they saw was a dismal opening to proceedings as Portugal started on the front foot. Despite a poor qualifying campaign, there was a slim chance that the home side could qualify for the final stages with two wins in their last two games, one of which was at home to Cyprus.
The nerves were showing in the England team and some calamitous defending handed Portugal an early chance as Toni shot across the face of goal. Things were to get much worse on 16 minutes as Portugal took the lead.
Paul Madeley committed a foul some 35 yards out from goal. There can have been little fear in the England players as Rui Rodrigues lined up to take the kick, but he unleashed a venomous effort which screamed into the top corner of Ray Clemence’s net, delivering a hammer blow to England’s hopes.
Portugal were not content with just one goal and should have had a second when Nene was allowed to run clean through before shooting wide.
Then just before half time England grabbed a lifeline as fortune appeared to have shone upon them. Given a free kick on the edge of the Portuguese penalty area, Austrian referee Erich Linamayer did a pathetic job in getting the wall back the required ten yards. By the time Channon came to strike the ball the Portugal players were about two yards away from the Southampton striker, but the ball flicked off one of the charging players, totally wrongfooting Vitor Damas in goal for the equaliser.
The second half though saw England run out of ideas and Ray Clemence was the most active of the goalkeepers producing one particularly fine save to prevent Portugal grabbing the winner.
The full time whistle saw England realise their fate. Just a point clear of the Czechoslovakian’s, they would require a miracle from Cyprus if they were to progress to the quarter finals. Four days later the inevitable failure to qualify was confirmed as Czechoslovakia strolled to a 3-0 win in Limassol to book their place in the last eight and leave England in the international wilderness for at least two more years.