World Cup 1982

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  • Story of Spain '82

        At the congress shortly before the 1978 World Cup, FIFA decided to increase the number of teams from 16 to 24 for 1982. It was about time. The football family had grown over the years and 16 teams had been standard ever since 1954. Already in April 1970 Sir Stanley Rous, FIFA president at the time, said the World Cup would be better balanced with 24 teams. Twelve years later on there was an opportunity to see whether he was right or not. The tournament set-up somewhat remained the same with six groups of four teams and a second phase groupstage like in -74 and -78, but with four groups with three teams this time.

        Argentina played Belgium in the opening game of the 1982 cup in Barcelona. The Catalan crowd was eager to see their new world-record signing Diego Maradona in action, but it was Belgium's Erwin Vandenbergh who stole the show with his matchwinning goal after the hour - the first goal scored in a World Cup opener since 1962. Coach Menotti was criticized for keeping faith in too many of the champions from 1978, but Argentina picked themselves up and progressed alongside Belgium despite the defeat. Menotti's men had nothing in store though when they came up against Italy and Brazil in Phase 2. They finished both games with ten men. Maradona lost his temper and kicked a Brazilian player on purpose as time ran out and received the red card. Only Daniel Passarella played up to 1978 standard, Mario Kempes barely had an effort on goal all tournament and new striker Ramon Diaz couldn't get on the scoresheet until it was too late so Argentina were dethroned.

        Argentina's first round group also contained Hungary and El Salvador. The match between them, on the tournament's third matchday, produced the most unlikely scoreline: 10-1 to Hungary featuring the fastest ever World Cup hat-trick by Laszlo Kiss, three goals in seven minutes. FIFA president Joao Havelange was in the crowd and must have had second thoughts on the 24-team issue.

        Thankfully for FIFA that massacre in Elche was to be the only humiliating scoreline in the tournament. El Salvador's CONCACAF colleagues Honduras held Spain to a draw when many people expected the hosts to top Hungary's ten goal haul. Spain flopped big time in their own tournament. Only one win in five games. Northern Ireland won Spain's group with a team basically made up of players from the lower leagues in England. The new nations stepped up and showed pride and guts when playing against better prepared and more professional players as the tournament wore on. Kuwait and New Zealand made brave efforts, but were unfortunate to play in very tough groups which hampered their chances, but they were not without talent.

        The best challenge from the "minnows" came from Africa. This was hardly surprising. Tunisia showed already in 1978 that African football was on the rise. In Spain, Cameroon went home undefeated after three draws - one of them against Italy. Roger Milla had a good goal wrongly disallowed against Peru that could have sent them through, but his day was still to come. Algeria beat West Germany, but were victims of FIFAs poor match set-up which enabled West Germany and Austria in the group's final match to know before kick-off which result suiting them both for progression to Phase 2. That result (1-0 to the Germans) was obtained early in the game and the teams virtually stopped playing to let time run out. FIFA has since then made sure the final two matches in the groupstage will be played simultaneously to avoid future scandals. In FIFA's case they had to learn the lesson the hard way twice. The Argentina-Peru farce at the expense of Brazil in 1978 was still a touchy subject back then.

        Brazil came to Spain with their best team since 1970 - some experts regarded it to be even better. The beautiful flowing samba style won hearts all over the world as the goals piled up against Soviet Union, Scotland, New Zealand and Argentina. Zico, Eder, Socrates and Falcao simply looked unstoppable until they ran into a skinny little striker called Paolo Rossi. Italy beat Brazil 3-2 with a semifinal spot at stake in one of the best matches ever seen. Rossi had three efforts on target all game and scored three goals. He bagged two more against Poland in the semifinal and opened the scoreline in the final itself against West Germany with his sixth goal. Enzo Bearzot's Italy triumphed 3-1 in Madrid and Dino Zoff became the oldest ever winner at 40 years of age. Cabrini, Tardelli, Antognoni and Scirea also had keyroles in this team who mastered the art of counter-attacking better than most champions and it became obvious in the big games.

        Other teams had success too. England was back after 12 years in the cold and went home undefeated after five games including two goalless draws in Phase 2. Lack of inventiveness up front hurt England's chances especially since Keegan struggled with injury throughout the tournament and barely played. France and Poland, on the other hand, had their stars in prime condition. Both teams started slowly, but improved with every game. Zbigniew Boniek was excellent for Poland and his veteran partner up front, Grzegorz Lato, was still going strong. Unfortunately Boniek was suspended in the semifinal against Italy, but was back with vengeance when Poland beat France in the bronzematch.

        France fielded a team with many reserves in that game after the painful semifinal defeat against West Germany a few days earlier. The Germans won this six-goal thriller on penalties after being two goals down in extra-time. Dutch referee Corver was heavily criticized for overlooking a spiteful foul by German keeper Harald Schumacher on French player Patrick Battiston who was sent to hospital in an unconscious state. Schumacher emerged as the hero in the first ever World Cup penalty shoot-out, but France like Brazil won the hearts of the fans world wide with their elegant style orchestrated by Michel Platini.

        FIFA could look back at the first 24-team World Cup with satisfaction. A deserved winner, plenty of great goals, competitive matches, the new nations appeared with dignity and class, but the tournament set-up needed tuning. The knock-out stage was to be re-introduced for 1986.





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