Whilst the top four sides in Europe were preparing for the Finals of the 1976 European Championships, England had flown halfway around the world to prepare for the qualifying tournament for the 1978 World Cup. The United States was celebrating its Bicentennial and a four team tournament had been arranged as part of the festivities. With the NASL in its pomp, and the US national side too weak to provide serious competition, Team USA was made up of players playing in the States at that time, which meant that Pele and Bobby Moore to name but two would represent the home nation against Brazil, England and Italy.
Italy and England would become familiar foes over the next 18 months or so as they were drawn together in Group 2 of the European qualifiers, and Don Revie’s team were using the tournament as a warm up for the first match of the campaign which would take place against Finland in Helsinki in mid June. Italy would have to wait, as it was Brazil who provided the first opposition in Los Angeles.
BBC broadcast the match live on BBC 1 with Jimmy Hill presenting and David Coleman on commentary duty. Unfortunately my copy of the game is of horrific quality with an Italian soundtrack.
Brazil were a team in transition. After a horrific showing at the 1974 World Cup where brutality replaced the beauty of the 1970 side, the South Americans were aiming to match the flair for which they were famous with the steel required in the modern game. A young Zico was in the side captained by Rivelino.
England named a strong side for arguably the most difficult match of the competition. Don Revie made three changes from the side beaten by Scotland at Hampden Park a week earlier. Mike Doyle, Trevor Cherry and Trevor Brooking came in for Roy McFarland, Ray Kennedy and Peter Taylor. Revie showed faith in his undoubted number one, Ray Clemence, despite the Liverpool keeper’s howler in Glasgow.
The match kicked off at 2.30 local time under a burning sun. England were in a unfamilar strip of White Shirts and Shorts with yellow socks, whilst the Brazillians were in their traditional yellow shirts, blue shorts and white socks.
The early stages were a cagey affair and neither goalkeeper was severely tested in the opening 20 minutes. Clemence did have to deal with a 25 yard free kick from Brazil, but the effort was so weak it was almost a back pass. At the other end some neat play by Trevor Cherry created an opportunity for Brooking, but his shot was wide of the mark.
The game did begin to open up after the midway point of the first half. Mick Channon gave Emerson Leao in goal for Brazil, cutting in from the left hand side to drive in a low hard shot. The South Americans retaliated with a long range effort which Clemence held well.
England had a half-hearted appeal for a penalty waved away as Stuart Pearson went down in the box, but Herr Weyland, the West German referee, showed little interest in the Manchester United strikers claims. Five minutes later Pearson forced a decent save from Emerson Leao as he latched on to a Keegan header, but his effort was dealt with proficiently by the Brazilian keeper.
Eight minutes into the second half Brazil brought on Marinho Chagas for Marco Antonio and the substitute almost made an instant impact with a 30 yard effort which Clemence touched over the bar.
The TV coverage wasn’t the best with little in the way of replays, and player identification was incredibly difficult on the copy I watched, with a terrible picture making both sides look almost identical. There was no problem with the pitch side microphones though, with a shout of “Get fucking tight” clearly audible from the England bench.
Both sides were making little impact in attacking areas with Brazil restricted to efforts from long range but it was England who looked the most dangerous. A quickly taken free kick on the right hand side in the 70th minute found Mick Channon on the far post but his stooping header could only find the side netting.
A minute later England again almost breached the Brazillian defence. A fine ball into the box by Colin Todd was cleverly headed into the path of Keegan by Pearson but the Liverpool man’s effort from seven yards out was smothered by Emerson Leao.
A very creditable point looked to be on the cards for Don Revie’s side but in the last minute Brazil snatched the win. England’s defence never really looked set for a corner but they managed to half clear the ball to Gil. He fired the ball back across the face of goal where it found substitute Roberto De Olivera who drilled the ball into the net from six yards out.
It typified Don Revie’s reign as England boss. Even when things looked to have been going well, something came along to spoil the party and he was devastated at the final whistle, quoted as saying: “It was heartbreaking to have lost so late in the game. I am sure that any neutral observer would say that England deserved at least a draw.”
With Italy comfortably beating Team USA 4-0, it meant that England would need to beat the Italians in New York if they were to have any chance of winning the tournament. As it turned out, the match was something of a classic.