Politics On The Pitch #7: Groups Of Death Part 4 – 1990-99

Finally, after nearly an exact year since Groups of Death Part 1 in Politics On The Pitch, we come to the final chapter of this epic mini-series looking at politically and militarily uncomfortable match-ups (and many resulting withdrawals) in world football throughout the 20th century. Although it took a while to get going, as you’ll see, we now finish with the fascinating 1990s, which despite the slow starts culminates in probably the most politically fascinating group of all time.

World Cup 94 Qualifiers

With the conclusion of the Gulf War in 1991, a period of relative world peace and prosperity began on many parts of earth (ahem) meaning there are vast swathes of the 90s with nothing much to report on… Reflecting this, Euro 92 qualifiers had featured a reunited Germany, a soon to dissolve Soviet Union, and an Ireland-England pairing that, although still juicy, had been done many times by now.

Sure, the break-up of Yugoslavia the following year led to significant violence, and there was still tension in Northern Ireland, but no other powers were yet involving themselves in the Balkans and the North’s Good Friday agreement would soon be signed in 1994. While Yugoslavia’s situation removed them from world football, Ireland and Northern Ireland were again drawn together in World Cup 94 qualifying leading to an infamously tense final game in Windsor Park, with only a few brave souls from the Republic venturing up to see their side qualify amid safety concerns for away fans in the British loyalist stronghold.


Northern Ireland fans sending provocative gestures in the general direction of the Republic of Ireland, World Cup 94 qualifier, 17/11/1993.

One situation that raised eyebrows elsewhere was in Asia’s AFC Zone, where the possibility of certain countries qualifying for USA 94 rather than specific match-ups was the issue. From 6 preliminary groups, the winners who made it through to the final group round consisted of three US allies in Japan, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, and three countries with US economic sanctions against them – Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

As each team would play the other four once in Doha, Qatar, throughout October 1993, with the top two advancing to the finals, it also meant a meeting between North Korea and South Korea. This too, however, was a match that had already taken place as many as seven times since 1978, but after the Doha game – a 3-0 win for South Korea – the fixture would not return until a heartwarming 2005 friendly to celebrate 60 years since all of Korea’s independence from Japan.

In the end, the United States had nothing to worry about when it came to letting in their economic enemies. Iraq, Iran and North Korea finished 4th, 5th and 6th in the group, while 1st and 2nd placed Saudi Arabia and South Korea could look forward to a rousing welcome from Uncle Sam the following Summer.


South Korea's third goal in a 3-0 win over their Northern cousins in Doha, Qatar, World Cup 94 qualifier, 28/10/1993.

Meanwhile in Africa, withdrawals from the opening group stage were as rife as they had been in the past, signaling the poverty and conflict still experienced across the continent while the western economies prepared to boom. Out of the nine groups, ten teams withdrew without kicking a ball: Uganda, Sierre Leone, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sudan, Malawi, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Gambia, and Mali.

Two other African nations would also end qualification early for off the field reasons, as sanctions relating to both serious international incidents and internal problems (to put it mildly) again effected those who just wanted/were lucky enough to play a game for a living. Group D’s Libya, originally scheduled as have all matches away from home, left in protest in March 1992 after UN air and arms embargoes were placed on the country’s regime for not handing over suspects of the 1989 Lockerbie Bombing, and in Group B Liberia withdrew after two games in November 1992 as it’s civil war (1989-96) degraded into one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world.

Euro 96 Qualifiers

The qualifiers for the Euro 96 were momentous as many newly independent nations – formerly within the socialist unions of Czechoslovakia, USSR, and Yugoslavia – were taking part in their first campaign of any kind (plus Lichtenstein). Israel, having competed for World Cup qualification through UEFA many times as we have previously discussed, also competed for the chance to make it to a Euros for the first time, with a precedent already set through Eurovision Song Contest entries since 1973.

This all pumped the number of teams from 33 in the 1992 qualifiers to a whopping 47 for 1996, and that was still without the excluded Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s rump state, later to become simply Serbia and Montenegro). It also created interesting religious dynamics such as in Group 1, where Azerbaijan (99% Muslim), France (50% Christian; 39% non-religious) Israel (74% Jewish) Poland (87% Catholic) and Romania (81% Orthodox Christian) all battled it out for supremacy.

In Group 4, Italy found themselves in the interesting situation of being “surrounded” entirely by the debutante quintet of Croatia, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Ukraine (although the Baltic states had achieved independence early enough to have made it into World Cup 94 qualifying, along with Russia taking the Soviet Union’s place). With one new competitor at England 96 therefore all but guaranteed (the worst group runners-up would still have to meet in a play-off) the Croats displayed that the Balkan tradition of football excellence would live on without the Yugoslavian banner, as they pipped the Italians for top-spot by goal-difference.


Croatians en route to a great 1-2 victory away to Italy in only their third ever competitive match, Euro 96 qualifier, 16/11/1994.

Group 4 also demonstrated the numerous possibilities of states, who had previously been united under old regimes, now facing off against each other. In World Cup 94 qualifying, Lithuania had already been drawn against neighbours Latvia and this time it was Estonia, as well fellow-former Soviet Republic Ukraine, while Croatia and Slovenia had both been part of the old Yugoslavia.

In all of these cases, the teams involved were representing states that had effectively been on the same side in their independence movements. But particularly with the break-up of Yugoslavia, which was still on-going as the Bosnian War lasted until December 1995, future nasty “dream matches” between sworn enemies once again became inevitable in world football.

World Cup 98 Qualifiers

In Europe all remained calm for the 98 qualifiers – up to 50 teams from 36 last time – with the only semi-notable situations arising in the likes of Group 1, where three former Yugoslav republics were placed together for the first time (debuting Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia); Group 6 for the return of the Yugoslavia name itself, along with the former-Czechoslovak derby for the first time in a competitive setting; and the pairing of Latvia and Estonia in Group 4, meaning the three Baltic sides had now met. In Central and North America’s CONCACAF zone, economic sanctions again effected matters as embargoed Cuba played their first round home game against Cayman Islands, second round 1ss and 2nd-legs against Haiti, and third round home fixtures against El Salvador, Honduras and Panama either on neutral soil or in the opponent’s ground.

Even in Africa things improved as the only sides to withdraw were Mali and Niger, while Liberia also returned, however Libya were still absent, In final round Group 5, Sierra Leone’s game away in Gabon was also postponed and later cancelled, as the team were unable to leave Freetown due to events arising from the country’s long civil war (1991-2002), but they returned to defeat Ghana 0-2 in an inconsequential match at the end of the group (ending ahead of the Ghanaians despite playing one less game).

World Cup 1998

Group F

Germany
Iran
United States
FR Yugoslavia

While the US did not have to confront the issue of allowing “rogue nations” in at World Cup 94, their participation at the following edition in France threw up a whole group for them filled with political undercurrents. Joining the Americans in Group F were their former World War enemies/current militarily base ally Germany; a country with whom relations had been fraught since the 1979 “Islamic Revolution”, Iran; and a state that would soon feel the wrath of US-backed military might, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Of course with WW2 a distant memory, the first game against the Germans held little significance to most, although their inclusion in this group of American “enemies” can’t have been lost on some. After a 2-0 win for the Europeans, a more current affair was up next for USA with what FIFA themselves call the most politically charged match in World Cup history.

The US had previously supported the old Iranian government following a CIA-backed coup in the 1950s, until the aforementioned Islamic Revolution in 1979 removed the Shah and installed the Ayatollah’s Islamic Republic, breaking relations. Later that year the Iranian hostage situation at the American embassy in Tehran, followed by retaliatory sanctions, an American backing of Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War 1980-88, and American strikes on Iranian targets in 1988 including a commercial airliner, all contributed to the bad-will between the two countries.

Ahead of the game against Iran in Lyon on the Summer solstice, June 21st, 1998, there were concerns for both the safety of the American team from extremist attacks and for the possibility of dissident Iranians using the high profile occasion to protest against the own government. There was also a disagreement on the night before the match on who would walk towards who to shake hands before kick-off (approaching the other side with a sign of submission was out of the question for the Iranian authorities), with a compromise reached for a presentation of flowers instead and a joint team line-up to symbolise the uniting power of sport over nearly every other human division.


The US and Iranian teams join forces for peace ahead of their World Cup 98 first round match, 21/06/1998.

Not long into the game, rumours of protests became a reality as a whole section of Iranians unfurled political banners and flags against the regime, prompting clashes with some of their fellow supporters. Riot police moved in to surround the group and prevent them from invading the pitch, on which their team would go on to record a famous 2-1 victory over the Westerners.


Iranian political protestors make their presence felt during the World Cup 98 first round clash against USA, 21/06/1998.

A hat-trick of poor performances for the Americans was completed four days later against Yugoslavia, as another 0-1 defeat left them eliminated at the bottom of the group. This will have been particularly satisfying for the winners as, although US-led sanctions against the Yugoslavs during the Balkan conflicts had been lifted in October 1996 following the peace accords of 95, the sanctions had just been reinstated mere months before the match at the outbreak of the Kosovo War in March 1998.

Euro 2000 Qualifiers

Group 8

Croatia
Republic of Ireland
FYR Macedonia
Malta
FR Yugoslavia

Finally, and staying with the Balkan theme, Euro 2000 qualifying Group 8 produced what was definitely the ultimate grudge match of the of the decade: Croatia vs Yugoslavia, featuring the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (aka Forgotten Yugoslav Republic) thrown in for good measure. With the aforementioned Kosovo conflict in full flow also, the bewildered Irish and Maltese each had three separate trips to the war torn region to come over the next 13 months in what was one of the most politically tense groups of all time.

Since the initial break-up of the Socialist Federal Republic, the Serbian-dominated Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was determined to block any attempts at secession from the semi-autonomous region of Kosovo – inhabited by a majority of ethnic Albanians but with a sizable Serbian minority – prompting the Yugoslavian army to enter the territory in March 1998. With the situation degrading, the Irish went to a tense Belgrade in November for the first of their eastern journeys and were defeated 1-0 by the Yugoslavs.


Celebrations in Red Star Stadium as the home side take the lead, Yugoslavia vs Ireland, 18/11/1998.

As atrocities were committed in Kosovo under the guise of suppressing rebel forces – namely the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA – and international intervention loomed, on March 2nd, 1999, Red Star Belgrade agreed to move their remaining Champions League fixtures to Sofia, Bulgaria. It would only be the start of the turmoil that, in football terms, mostly happened to revolve around Group 8.

On March 23rd, NATO began it’s strategic bombing of targets in Belgrade. The next day, UEFA postponed three upcoming fixtures in the group that were set to take place in the Balkan area: Macedonia vs Ireland and Yugoslavia vs Croatia, both originally scheduled for March 27th, and Yugoslavia vs Macedonia on March 31st.

Proving that sport and politics definitely do mix, star defender Siniša Mihajlović pledged his support for president Slobodan Milošević while leaving the country on March 24th, before the Yugoslav football federation urged any players at clubs in NATO countries to boycott their employers. Real Madrid’s Predrag Mijatović, draped in the Yugoslav flag, and three others proceeded to protest outside Spain’s US embassy on March 27th/28th, while Crystal Palace’s Sasa Curcic picketed outside 10 Downing St in London – they were among 40 Yugoslav pros to strike around Europe.

On the 25th UEFA also postponed the imminent visit of Scotland to Bosnia-Herzegovina in Group 9, as flights to the area could not be guaranteed safety. On the same day, the Irish demonstrated their desire to take advantage of the tragic situation by outlining intentions to ask the governing body to have their defeat in Belgrade the previous November annulled and replayed on a neutral ground, should other countries fixtures away to the Yugoslavs also be moved out of the conflict zone.

As NATO’s operation intensified, UEFA were forced on March 28th to suspend more upcoming qualifiers in the area – Malta’s visit to Croatia, and Slovenia vs Albania from Group 2 – before on March 29th the saga continued to rock the world of football when Metz’ Serbian forward Vladan Lukić vowed to down tools for three months in protest against the strikes (which surely had NATO bosses shaking in their boots). And on April 1st, the Yugoslavs’ own league was suspended for the duration of the war.

Over the coming weeks, developments included Real Madrid issuing a £23,000 fine to Mijatović for his absence from the team, and Albania’s Group 2 qualifier with Latvia being moved from Tirana to the Latvian capital of Riga. The next area of contention would be far away from eastern Europe, however, as peaceful Dublin unexpectedly became the focus ahead of Ireland vs Yugoslavia on June 5th.

Adding an extra element to the fixture, in May the Irish government accepted more than 1000 Kosovar refugees from the 80,000 forced to flea the area (who were lucky compared to nearly 9000 Kosovo Albanians killed or declared missing during the 16 month disaster). Although Ireland wasn’t a member of NATO, the government held grave concerns about the situation in Kosovo and refused to grant visas to the Yugoslav squad for their upcoming visit (citing overwhelming public outcry in support of cancelling the match, which wasn’t exactly the case).

UEFA threatened Ireland with football sanctions of it’s own – including possible expulsion from the competition at worst – should the match not go ahead, while the Football Association of Ireland plead it’s helplessness in the face of the government’s decision (with one FAI official coyly commenting on how few international fixtures would be left if every state’s human rights records were held to account). Calls from Geneva (UEFA’s base) reiterated that sports and politics should not meet in their domain and hence there was no reason for the match to be cancelled, but some in the Irish media argued that accepting the Yugoslavs as guests would legitimise their regime’s war crimes.

Although on June 3rd Milošević accepted terms of a peace plan, it was too late and the match that weekend did not go ahead. But on June 8th, the Yugoslav players would be accepted into Greece for their game against Malta on the neutral soil of PAOK’s Toumba Stadium in Thessaloniki. With the War officially coming to an end a few days later on June 11th, Yugoslavia’s trip to Dublin was finally rescheduled for September 1st, as a light fine and reimbursement of the Yugoslavs’ original travel costs turned out to be UEFA’s only punishments for the Irish.


FR Yugoslavia vs Malta on neutral soil gets underway in PAOK's Toumba Stadium, Greece, Euro 2000 qualifier, 08/06/1999.

But before that, there was the small matter of the rescheduled first ever meeting between Yugoslavia and Croatia on August 18th, 1999, in Belgrade. The Croats’ victorious but brutal War of Independence against the Serbs had concluded less than four years previous, with the final months running concurrent to the national team’s own successful Euro 96 qualification campaign.

The country’s star debut at the Euros, followed by third place at World Cup 98, had put it on the footballing map ahead of their former federal partners, as Yugoslavia’s return to tournament was less inspired (one can’t help but wonder at far they might have gone had the original SFR Yugoslavia remained united, which was never going to happen of course). While on-the-pitch superiority mattered some, the approx. 15,000 dead or missing Croats between 91 and 95 (compared to less than 7000 Serbs) made the the two games to come in Group 8 as charged as any in football history.

If the crowd in Windsor Park in 1993 had been 99.9% home supporters, 100% of the nearly 50,000 in Red Star Stadium were there hoping to see Yugoslavia win. Of course, for their own safety, no away fans were permitted, as evident by the overwhelmingly booed Croatian national anthem. Despite the away side hitting the woodwork more than once, a 0-0 draw was played out in the hostile atmosphere.


The players line-up ahead of the history FR Yugoslavia v Croatia match in Red Star Stadium, with a flag hanging in the Serbian national colours visible on the left, Euro 2000 qualifier, 18/08/1999.

Croatian players sing their national anthem as boos reign down from the home Yugoslavian fans in Red Star Stadium, Belgrade, World Cup qualifier, 18/08/1999.

Over the coming weeks, an Irish win over Yugoslavia in Dublin, a Croatian win over Ireland in Zagreb, and back to back Yugoslavian defeats of the Macedonians (with all sides picking up maximum points against Malta along the way) meant that everything was to play for going into the last series of games. While a win for either side in the upcoming Croatia-Yugoslavia match on October 9th would guarantee at least a play-off place, with a draw favouring Yugoslavia, the Irish could top the group if they were victorious in Macedonia at the same time – a location where they had already infamously been defeated in April 1997.

Before the hot game in Zagreb, locals concluded that it was wise for no away supporters to be allowed at the stadium as their presence may have resulted in the use real weapons such as grenades and machine guns, rather that mere football hooliganism. Around the city anti-Serb graffiti was common sight, accompanied by the colours of Dinamo Zagreb, with the match set to take place in the very same Stadion Maksimir where the infamous riot in 1990 between home fans/players and Yugoslav police at a domestic game against Red Star had been credited by some as a pre-cursor to the war.


Anti-Serb and Dinamo Zagreb's Bad Blue Boys graffiti in Zagreb ahead of the Croatia vs Yugoslavia Euro 2000 qualifier, 09/10/1999.

On the evening of the match, the Maksimir filled up hours ahead of kick-off, with banners and songs celebrating the war plentiful. Particularly highlighted was Vukovar, the city that had been destroyed and taken by the Serbs in 1991 after a 87 day siege, before finally being handed back in 1998 as part of the Croatians’ 1995 Erdut Agreement with ethnic Serb leaders in the east of the country (working under instruction from Belgrade).


A huge Croatian flag commemorating the battle and siege of Vukovar in the war of independence against the Serbs, Croatia vs Yugoslavia, 09/10/1999.

The atmosphere builds inside the Maksimir Stadium ahead of the Croats vs Yugoslavia Euro 2000 qualifier, 09/10/1999.

When the teams emerged and lined-up for the anthems, the negative noise that greeted the Yugoslav’s ‘Hej, Slaveni’ (Hey, Slavs), which several of  the Croatian players had once stood for while representing Yugoslavia pre-1992, was even louder and more vitriolic than that heard at Red Star Stadium. Somewhat surprisingly, only Serbian patriot Mihajlović and captain Dragan Stojković sang their country’s song in the face of the torrent of abuse.


The Yugoslavian national anthem is played and sung in Zagreb ahead of Croatia vs Yugoslavia, Euro 2000 qualifier, 09/10/1999.

With the contest at last underway, the home side took the lead after 20 minutes thanks to a goal from Alen Bokšić, one of those who had been selected for Yugoslavia – at World Cup 90 no less – but never actually been capped for them. Besides a shared love of football, something that actually united Croats and Serbs was also a love for pyro, of which there was in abundance from the jubilant home fans.


Pyro on the pitch during Croatia vs Yugoslavia, Euro 2000 qualifier, 09/10/1999.

But only five minutes later, and again in six further minutes, the away team stunned Zagreb into silence twice with near identical goals: in-swinging Mihajlović free-kicks from the right met by glancing headers from Mijatović and Dejan Stanković, the latter of which agonisingly slipped through the hands of Croatia’s Dražen Ladić in goal. Mario Stanić equalised shortly after half-time to give his country hope, but 2-2 it remained until the end.


Disaster for Croatia as Stanković's header and Stanić's slip-up, as well as Macedonia's draw with Ireland, ultimately send Yugoslavia to Euro 2000, 09/10/1999.

Meanwhile down the road in Skopje, Ireland played out a living nightmare in the Gradski Stadium for the second time in successive campaigns by conceded a last minute equalisier against FYR Macedonia, dropping them into the play-off position. For Croatia this meant that not only had their mortal enemies knocked them out of the Euros, but a fellow-former Yugoslav republic – who also even had the word “Yugoslav” in it’s title – had contributed to Yugoslavia in fact topping the group by sheer luck on Croatian soil.

As Yugoslavia’s stars celebrated a ticket to the low-countries for the following summer on Maksimir’s cold pitch that night, Croatians could only wallow at being struck by an unexpected ghost of the break-up of the region years earlier. But it would turn out to be the last time that the fixture would take place in this form, as well as ‘Yugoslavia”s last ever qualification, as FR Yugoslavia morphed into Serbia and Montenegro in 2003 followed by an independent Serbia in 2006.


Yugoslavia's players celebrate Euro 2000 qualification, while Croatia's fans come to terms with the harsh reality that they won't be there, 09/10/1999.

With even Kosovo officially declaring independence from the Serbs in 2008, Croatia finally met this new streamlined Serbia in 2013 via World Cup 2014 qualifying, signaling the start of a new era. And with the renaming of FYR Macedonia to North Macedonia in 2019 (the reasons behind which we don’t have time to get in to even here), the last trace elements of Yugoslavia disappeared from the map, footballing or otherwise.

*

YouTube Links:

Northern Ireland vs Ireland, 1993
North Korea vs South Korea, 1993
Italy vs Croatia, 1994
USA vs Iran, 1998
USA vs Iran, 1998
Yugoslavia vs Ireland, 1998
Yugoslavia vs Malta, 1999
Yugoslavia vs Croatia, 1999
Croatia vs Yugoslavia, 1999
Croatia vs Yugoslavia, 1999
Croatia vs Yugoslavia, 1999

*****

 

Politics On The Pitch #6: Groups Of Death Part 3 – 1980-89

In this addition to the Politics On The Pitch series we come to the third installment of “Groups Of Death”, where qualifier/tournament groups and matches of dark political significance are discussed. Part 1 covered both the post-War period and the turbulent 1960s (also check out Politics #3 regarding 1950 World Cup qualifying as a “proto-Groups of Death”), while Part 2 looked at the even more turbulent 70s. Now, with plenty more hot encounters yet to come, the fascinating 1980s gets it’s turn.

  • World Cup 1982 qualifiers

AFC and OFC Final Round

New Zealand
Saudi Arabia
Kuwait
China PR

While most of the qualifiers for Spain 82 were devoid of political tension – apart from the now usual east vs west clashes in Europe – there was one strange situation in the Asian and Oceanian zone that caused matches to be moved to a neutral ground, due to a lack of diplomatic relations.

The zone was initially broken into four groups, with one side progressing from each:

1. The Southeast Asian and Oceanian group of Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Chinese Taipei (Republic of China), and Fiji, with the teams playing each other twice.

2. The Middle East group of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Qatar, Bahrain, Syria, with with the teams playing each other once.

3. The “we don’t like our neighbours” group of South Korea (to avoid North Korea) and Kuwait (the Middle Eastern country with the greatest freedom of expression and “liberal values”) combined with the “other south east Asians” (Malaysia and Thailand), with the teams again only playing each other once.

4. The Far East group of China PR (People’s Republic of China), Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, North Korea and Macau (competing under the flag of Portugal as a Portuguese dependent territory).

Perhaps due to the presence of North Korea, the last group was designed as a tournament with all the games played in Government Stadium, Hong Kong, from December 21st, 1980, to January 4th, 1981. A round of classification matches to determine seeds came preceded two groups of 3 and after playing each other once, the top two in each went through to semi-finals and a final to determine the winner – China PR.

But this Hong Kong-based Group 4 is not the neutral ground-affair to which we were referring to, as of course it was home soil for one of the teams anyway. The issue would arise due to the seemingly innocuous pairing of China PR – taking part for the first time in 25 years – with Saudi Arabia, along side Australia and Kuwait in a final group round from which the top two countries would qualify for the World Cup (a first for Asia).

The origins of the problem dated back to the Chinese civil war and the victory of communist forces in 1949, when the creation of the People’s Republic of China drove the government of the Republic of China – which had officially ruled since 1912 – to flee to the island of Taiwan. After original annexation from the Dutch by Qing Dynasty China in 1683, Taiwan had been under control of Imperial Japan from 1895 until their World War 2 defeat in 1945 when Republican China took control of the territory on behalf of the Allies.

Following their exile in 49, the Republican regime continued it’s own rule with what would go on to be variously known as the “Republic of China (Taiwan)”, “Republic of China/Taiwan”, “Taiwan (ROC)”, or, in sport, “Chinese Taipai” (see below). But the People’s Republic, who did not recognise the legitimacy of the island-isolated state, never gave up their own claim for Taiwan as part of China as a whole.


Flag of the Republic of China/Taiwan.

In the Middle East most countries established diplomatic links to the new “red” China, but there was one notable exception in Saudi Arabia who instead maintained their ties to the ROC. Taiwan was desperate not to lose the relationship due it’s reliance on Saudi oil and cited their respect for the country’s Islamic devotion, fittingly appointing a Hui Muslim general as Ambassador in the 1950s.

In 1971, the friendship held fast even as Taiwan was replaced on the United Nations Security Council, and in the UN altogether, by the People’s Republic as the only Chinese representatives (thanks to a motion by Albania, with Taiwan still no longer member at the time of writing). A trade-agreement between the two states was signed in 73, with agricultural, technological and construction-based assistance provided by the Taiwanese, with oil flowing in the other direction.

Throughout this time, Saudi Arabia and China PR were of course politically estranged, having found themselves on either side of the Cold War divide. Thanks to sport though, the two did find themselves having to interact through their national football teams, who first met at the 1978 Asian Games in neutral Bangkok (finishing 1-0 to China).

When the pair had then ended-up drawn together again for the World Cup 82 qualifying group, the games were due to be held on a home and away basis, but lack of diplomatic relations meant that this was impossible. A neutral venue for both matches was decided upon instead, with the south east once more deemed a suitable location as Malaysia was chosen.

The two ties were scheduled for November 12th and 18th, 1981, in Merdeka Stadium, Kuala Lumpur. The Chinese again proved the stronger of the two with 4-2 and 2-0 wins, amazingly on front of huge crowds of 40,000 and 45,000.


The Chinese and Saudi Arabian teams take to the field for the first of their two World Cup qualifiers in Kuala Lumpur, November 12th, 1981.

The victories weren’t enough in the end for China, as they finished 3rd in the group. But because their goal difference was level with New Zealand above them, a play-off was ordered, with the New Zealander’s superior goal’s scored tally and head-to-head record not considered tie-breakers in the rules of the time.

On front of another amazing 60,000 fans in Singapore New Zealand won 2-1 to send them to their first World Cup, along with fellow debutantes Kuwait as group winners, while China PR would have to wait until 2002. As of writing, Chinese Taiwan/Taipei have yet to make a World Cup finals, but we can’t wait for the inevitable, juicy Chinese derby at Brunei 2038 or something.

As for Saudi Arabia and Taiwan, the relationship did not last. As of 1989, the Saudis were the only Middle Eastern country yet to hold diplomatic ties with China PR, but tellingly, following the Tienanmen Square massacre, they had a change of heart. In July 1990, Saudi Arabia and China PR finally established relations, and in doing so ended over 40 years of the Saudi-Taiwanese alliance.

  • World Cup 1986 qualifiers

AFC Zone Group 4A

China PR
Hong Kong
Macau
Brunei

Staying with the China-theme, another interesting scenario arose in the next qualification campaign when the People’s Republic was again placed in an East Asian group with two Chinese territories currently ruled by European powers, along with Brunei. Macau on the southwestern Chinese coast had been a Portuguese trading post in the 17th century when still under Chinese rule, before Portugal were officially given power in 1887 (until 1999), while the islands and peninsula of near-by Hong Kong were taken by the British following the first and second Opium Wars in 1860 and 1898, respectively, but ultimately only for a 99 year lease.

Going into the qualifiers, China were undefeated against their Hong-Kongese cousins since the two first met in 1978, with three wins and one draw. The Chinese were heavy favourites to progress from the group, from which the winners would enter semi-finals and finals to determine one of two Asian representatives at the World Cup (or maybe three, due to the now separate Oceanian (supposedly) zone, but we’ll get to that).

While 495 watched Macau take on Brunei on February 17th, 1985, Hong Kong and China kicked off their own campaigns in Government Stadium, Hong Kong Island, on front of more than 20,000 supporters with the home side able to hold their much larger opponents to a scoreless draw. The Chinese showed their real strength in the games that followed, however, winning 0-4 away to Macau (on front of a swelling crowd of 1048), 8-0 at “home” to Brunei six days later (held also in Macau for convenience since Brunei were already there, on front of  960), 4-0 away to Brunei (but held in Hong Kong), and 6-0 finally at home to Macau, on front a far healthier 30,000 in Worker’s Stadium, Beijing, on May 12th.

Since Hong Kong had also won the rest of their matches (including another 8-0 thrashing of the poor Bruneians, three days before they suffered the same tally to China), this left the final group game between the two five days later on May 19th, 1985, as a virtual play-off for progression. As well as home advantage, the Chinese’ scoring prowess gave them the edge as their superior goal difference meant that a draw would be enough, leaving Hong Kong with the daunting task of needing a win in their estranged birth-father’s backyard.

80,000 citizens of the People’s Republic attended the “unusually tense” (according to the commentators) game in Worker’s Stadium and were duly shocked when Cheung Chi Tak gave the British colony the lead with a brilliant top-corner free kick on 19 minutes. Li Hui equalisied shortly after for the hosts, but, even more shockingly, the fabulously named Ku Kam Fai scored what would turn out to be the winner for Hong Kong on the hour mark.


The wonder-strike that put Hong Kong 1-0 up in Beijing, en route to the 2-1 scoreline that would eliminate China, May 19th, 1985.

After the heartbreak of the New Zealand play-off in 1981, China were again knocked out by the same scoreline, but his time it was on home soil and the disaffected Chinese supporters began to riot in the stadium following the full-time whistle. The People’s Armed Police were forced to move in to restore order, making 127 arrests. It was the first episode hooligan trouble in Chinese nation team history.


Hong Kong players celebrate their victory over China before trouble kicks off around the stadium, May 19th, 1985.

The affair would come to be known as the May 19th Incident, even by FIFA in their official video about the match which conveniently forgets to mention any of the trouble afterwards that actual made it an “Incident.” But in a move that would probably not have occurred in the west, both the Chinese manager and chairman of the Chinese Football Association resigned after in the wake of the defeat.

Hong Kong, meanwhile, were drawn against Japan in the semi-finals, where they were beaten 5-1 over two legs but with a very respectable turn-out of 28,000 in the home game when already 3-0 down. The territory was returned to China in 1997 upon completion of the British lease, but, in recognition of the distinctly separate entity that it had become, as a Special Administrative Region rather than a totally integrated Chinese province. This meant that Hong Kong were able to keep their international football team, with the 1985 victory over their now reunited father-land still the team’s most memorable football achievement to date.

AFC Zone Groups 1B and 2B

Iraq
Qatar
Jordan
Lebanon

Bahrain
South Yemen
Iran

Moving to the other side of the continent, the West Asian zone was comprised of Group 1A, 1B, 2A and 2B. An increase of participating nations had bloated the section, with teams like Oman, Lebanon, and North Yeman set to take part for the first time (the former pair actually withdrew before playing a match), and the return of Iran since their last appearance at the finals itself in 1978.

Iran had intended to take part in the 82 qualifiers, but, due to the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, had withdrawn before the campaign began. By the time the of the next qualifiers the war was still ongoing. however under the condition that their home games be played on neutral ground both Iran and Iraq were entered into the qualification system.

Of course, like others in similar situations, the rival-nations were kept apart in the carefully arranged groups: Iraq joined Qatar, Jordan and Lebanon in 1B, while Iran were placed in 2B alongside Bahrain and South Yemen. The South Yemenese were another side competing in their first, and –  as it would turn out – only qualifiers, having only been independent since 1967 and reunified with the North in 1990 following the collapse of communism.

Iraq started their campaign taking on the Lebanese in Kuwait City. Lebanon had been going through their own devastating civil war since 1975 (to 1990) and were also under orders to play on neutral soil, so the return game took place in the same venue three days later – both won by the Iraqi’s 6-0 (the Jordan vs Qatar match also oddly took place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia).

Following further thrashings at the hands of the Qataris (7-0 and 0-8, both held in Qatar) Lebanon decided enough was enough and withdrew, rendering all their matches so far void (not that it mattered much). Having won in Ammam, Jordan, but defeated in Doha, Qatar, Iraq finished the group with 2-0 and 2-1 victories over the same opposition in Kuwait, and, somewhat strangely, Calcutta, India, respectively, en-route to qualification for their first World Cup.


Iraq and Qatar play out their World Cup qualifier in Yuva Bharati Krirangan Stadium, Calcutta, India, May 5th, 1985,

Group 2B, on the other hand, couldn’t have been more of a different story, as Iran refused the condition of playing their home games on neutral ground. As a result, the Iranians had entered and left before kicking a ball for a second consecutive World Cup. But unlike 82, when they withdraw, this time elimination came via disqualification.

Oceanian Zone

Australia
New Zealand
Israel
Chinese Taipei

Perhaps with a view to keeping certain countries confined to a distant international wasteland/safe-haven for political reasons, but done under the guise of giving the OFC teams their own section, a new Oceanian qualifying zone was created. The winner of the single group of four would progress not to the World Cup, but a play-off against the runners-up of UEFA Group 7.

Australia and New Zealand of course entered, but this time no Fiji. Instead, the locations of other two teams in the group, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) and Israel, ranged from “not really near” to “nowhere near”, in relation Australia and New Zealand.

The reason was of course to keep Taiwan – competing as Chinese Taipai due to an agreement with China PR to recognise each other in terms of International Olympic Committee activities – away from China PR, for reasons we have discussed above. Meanwhile, Israel were still outcast from their Middle Eastern neighbours who had  refused to play them since the team evolved from the previous Palestinian British Mandate in 1948.


Chinese Taipai Olympic flag.

As we have seen earlier in the series this was not without precedent, after apartheid-South Africa’s (intended) entry to the Asia/Oceanian zone in 1966, Rhodesia in 1970, and Israel’s positioning in the east-Asian side of the draw throughout the 70s. For the 82 edition Israel switched back to UEFA, where they had last been in 1962 in one of the strangest qualification groups of all time (played as a mini-tournament) due to it’s additional inclusion of Ethiopia, alongside Italy Cyprus, and Romania.

As a weaker, visiting team in the zone, Taipei did not play any of their home games in Taiwan but instead used their opponent’s grounds, with the return game in the same location a few days later. They conceded 36 goals and scored 1 over the six encounters in September and October, 1985. Israel were not so willing to give up home advantage, meaning the Asian and Oceanian sides were forced to travel to the other side of the globe to play their away matches there.

Despite a 3-0 victory over New Zealand on the last day of the group, there would be no repeat of 1970 when Israel had qualified for the their only finals to date by defeating Australia in a two legged AFC/OFC final round. This time the Australians progressed in top-spot from this “island of misfit toys” zone, but still ended up losing out to Scotland in the inter-confederation play-offs.

  • World Cup 1986

Quarter-Finals

Argentina
England

Despite being one of the most famous matches of all time, it would have been remiss of us not to cover the clash between Argentina and England in the summer of 1986, which took place just four years after the Falklands War between the two countries (or more correctly, between Argentina and the UK). The Falkland/Malvinas Islands were first claimed by English settlers in 1764 and would go on to be a subject of dispute among British, French and Spanish colonialists, as well as by the near-by United Provinces of the River Plate – later Argentina.

By 1833 the United Provinces had appointed a Governor to the “Islas Malvinas”, as they called them, and curtailed sealing rights assumed by the US and UK, resulting in the arrival of an American warship and British military “task-force”. The Argentinians peacefully abandoned the islands, which would remain thereafter in the hands of the UK –  first as Crown Colony, later as a British Dependent Territory in 1981.

In 1976, an Argentinian military junta seized power after a right-wing coup d’état, murdering thousands of civilian opponents in the process. The finest moment for the new ruling generals would come two years later when the football-crazy country hosted the World Cup, and won – mainly, it is presumed, thanks to heavy government influence over officiating and at least one significant bribe.

But this “sporting” success and the patriotic euphoria that it brought weren’t enough to paper over the cracks in society, and by the early 80s – after two changes in dictator – civil unrest had grown amid dire economic stagnation. As is often the case, the solution was to appeal to nationalistic sentiment by retaking the Malvinas for Argentina, under the false assumption that the British had lost interest in the islands and would not respond to an invasion (the junta were also working with the CIA in Nicaragua and hoped, as a reward, that the USA would also turn a blind-eye).

Having already severed relations in the lead-up, the war began when Argentinian troops landed and occupied the islands on April 2nd, followed by the invasion of South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands (other near-by British possessions in the South Atlantic). The militarily-superior British responded rapidly, as the Falklands Task Force set sail on from England April 5th, and, after more than two months of fighting and hundreds of causalities one each side, Argentina surrendered on June 15th.

Contrary to what it had set out to do, the junta found it’s image shattered and in 1983 a general election restored democracy to Argentina. But one right-wing regime had in fact benefited from the conflict, as Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government surged ahead in the polls in the aftermath of her boy’s victory.

Thankfully for the footballing authorities, the two were not on course to meet at that summer’s 1982 World Cup in Spain – which had kicked-off two days before the end of the war – unless both reached the final. It was unlikely and proved not to be the case for either, but what a final that would have been.

Four years later in Mexico, the final again seemed like the only place that the two would meet, as the winners of Argentina’s Group A and England’s Group F would be placed on either side of the draw in the knock-out rounds. The Argentinians progressed in first place as expected, with wins over South Korea and Bulgaria while drawing with Italy, but in Group F a shock defeat at the hands of the Portuguese and a 0-0 draw with Morocco meant that England’s saving 3-0 win over Poland put them through in second.

A quarter-finals meeting was now a distinct possibility, which would be the first between the two in a World Cup finals match since a bitter affair on British soil in 1966 when England manager Alf Ramsey had infamously called the opposition “animals”. On June 16th, Argentina dismissed their Uruguayan neighbours to secure the first quarter-final spot, with England also warming up against South American opposition two days later when they defeated Paraguay to formally book the Falkland dream-match.

A stifling 114,580 filled Mexico City’s Aztec Stadium on June 22, 1982, for the much anticipated game, with Maradona the main-event on the pitch. But one problem off it was a lack of segregation in the stands, meaning that clashes between fans were inevitable.

With a combination of alcohol, heat, political-history, tension, football, and a ridiculous amount of people, various violent incidents broke out around the huge ground. Some were involving the more “normal fans” caught up in the occasion and arguing over flag space (with many thefts), while banners from such groups as Portsmouth’s 657 Crew and West Ham’s National Front division ominously displayed that English firms had made the long voyage across the Atlantic too.




Trouble in the terraces at Argentina vs England (above), while some Argentines prove they can take British flags if not their islands (below), June 22nd, 1986.

Flag of Portsmouth's "657 Crew" hooligan firm at Argentina vs England, June 22nd, 1986.

Along with the display of banners referencing the Falklands/Malvinas, national flags were burnt on both sides, as they had been before and after the match when more trouble erupted. In the worse sections of the stadium police eventually made lines where they could, while on the pitch Maradona established some sort of revenge for his people by stealing the show and sending England home.




Banners referncing the Falklands War, flag burning, and police line intervention at Argentina vs England, June 22nd, 1986.

It was to be the end of this period in the Anglo-Argentinian rivalry, as diplomatic links between the two countries were once again established in 1990. Of course in the 1998 World Cup a new chapter would begin, at least in football terms, before a fresh claim to the Falkands itself was briefly made by the Argentine government of 2007-2015.

  • World Cup 1990 qualifying

To briefly update two regions already covered in GoD parts 1 and 2: the World Cup 90 qualification system placed the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland together once again, nearly ten years to the day after their tense debut meeting in a Euro qualifier, while in Central America El Salvador had moved on from the Football War with Honduras in 1969 to continue it’s military dictatorship, before a brutal civil war began in 1979 which was still on going.

In Northern Ireland the “Troubles” were also still flaring, as heading into the first match at Windsor Park in November 1988 there had already been assassinations of IRA men in Gibraltar, murders at funerals and the bombings of military vehicles that year. Few if any fans from the 26 Counties (the Republic) made the journey up due to the obvious security concerns, where a tetchy 0-0 was played out, but the Irish finally enjoyed their first victory against the North in a more relaxed 3-0 encounter the following October in Dublin, en route to qualification.

In the Central and North American CONCACAF zone, meanwhile, El Salvador went into the qualifiers in June 1989 on the heels of right-wing paramilitary bomb attacks against trade-union workers. More violence would come later in the year with a renewed offensive by the left-wing FMLN guerillas in November, followed by the return of the opposing side’s ominously named “death squads” (infamously backed by the CIA originally) in 1990.

Prior to all this, the Salvadorians played their first match against Trinidad and Tobago in San Salvador, but then mysteriously shifted all their remaining home games out of the country to Honduras and Guatemala (although the latter was cancelled as both sides were already eliminated). We are honestly not sure what the exact reason was for this, but given the atmosphere in the country it seems likely to have been related to politics, violence, or some combination of the two.

*

YouTube Links:

China vs Saudi Arabia, 1981
China vs Hong Kong, 1985
China vs Hong Kong, 1985
Iraq vs Qatar, 1985
Argentina vs England, 1985
Argentina vs England, 1985

*****

Politics On The Pitch #5: Groups of Death Part 2 (1970-1979)

Last time out in Politics On the Pitch, Groups of Death part 1 provided a looked at some controversial match-ups and politically motivated withdrawals of national teams in the post-WW2 period, finishing off with the infamous Football War between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969. We continue now with a decade not short on classic international incidents, as well as classic international football matches: the 1970s.

  • 1974 World Cup Qualifiers

As the Cold War went on without any actual battle in Europe, UEFA’s qualifiers continued to pit different ideologies against each other on the football pitch. Like the campaign for World Cup 1958, staunchly anti-Soviet Finland were once again surrounded by communist countries in Group 4; this time Albania, East Germany and Romania replaced the USSR and Poland.

Poland in Group 5 found themselves in a similar but reversed situation, with the all-British opposition of England and Wales. Group 7 was perhaps the most extreme, as Tito’s socialist Yugoslavia fought it out with both Franco’s fascist Spain and a Greece ruled by a far-right military junta. Conversely, Group 3 of Belgium, Iceland, Netherlands and Norway was a northern European purist’s dream.

As with previous World Cups, one legged play-offs on neutral ground were used to differentiate first and second placed sides who had finished level on points and goal difference, determining who would get the sole qualification spot in the group. Upcoming World Cup hosts West Germany were a natural choice for the venues, with Sweden defeating Austria in Gelsenkirchen, and Yugoslavia triumphing over Spain in Frankfurt.

Such “emergency” fixtures were later rendered obsolete, as “goals for” became the more important tie-breaking factor, especially away from home (although in 1995 Ireland and the Netherlands would uniquely play-off in Liverpool for the last Euro 96 spot, as the two lowest ranked 2nd placed finishers in qualifying). One play-off that would survive from this time however (if not always involving UEFA these days) was the inter-confederation version, returning after having been dropped for the previous two World Cup.

For the first time ever, the play-off was to be between European and South American teams; a positive move as far as the less well represented continents were concerned. But surprisingly, the “real world” events of September 1973 made the coinciding qualification clash a rather problematic fixture.

UEFA–CONMEBOL Play-Off:

USSR
Chile

The Soviet Union had been in Group 9 of  UEFA’s qualifiers along with France and Ireland, coming out on top. The winner of this group had somewhat unfairly been pre-determined to enter the play-off, rather than being the lowest ranked group winner as in the years that followed.

Their opponents, Chile, had been in Group 3 of the South American system, with Peru as their only opposition after Venezuela withdrew. In April and March 1973, 2-0 wins for the respective home team in both group games meant another play-off was needed to separate the sides, won 2-1 by Chile on August 5th in Montevideo, Uruguay.


A young fan runs on the pitch in Montevideo to celebrate with Chilean players after their defeat Peru in a qualification group play-off, 05/08/1973.

***If you are interested in countries withdrawing and not playing games, then you’ll love our look back at the 1950 World Cup qualifiers.***

Like with Europe’s Group 9, the winner of this group had always been destined to enter the intercontinental showdown, the first leg of which was scheduled for 26 September in Moscow. But then, on September 11th 1973, Chile’s democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende (in power since 1970) was overthrown in a US/UK backed coup d’état and replaced by an authoritarian, right-wing military junta that would come to be led by army chief Augusto Pinochet.

The new regime quickly cracked down on any left-leaning organisations, banned any travel out of  the country, and, to quote Wikipedia, “thousands of people deemed undesirable were taken to the Estadio Nacional in Santiago, (and) tortured and killed”; the same Estadio Nacional where the second leg of the football was to be played in November. With the anti-communist stance of the junta, it was somewhat fitting that the first international encounter of any kind for the “new Chile” was set to see it face off against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.


Estadio Nacional, Santiago, Chile, turned into a detention, torture and death camp by the new regime, September-Novermber 1973.

The Soviets had been an ally of the Allende presidency and relations between the two countries were immediately severed following the coup. Less that two weeks later, the Chilean national team traveled to Moscow for the first leg with tensions high.

Many of the team were apolitical, or even harboured ties to the previous government, and the players were under strict order not to state anything of a political nature on the trip under threat of their families lives. Indeed the Chilean government only allowed the squad to travel in order to project a veneer of normality, while institutionalised terror reigned at home (an all too familiar tactic).

Upon their arrival in Moscow airport, no authority was on hand to receive the South American team and some players were detained due to supposed passport irregularities. Adding to the drama was the rumour that the Soviets would arrest Chilean players to later exchange with socialist prisoners of war.

On September 26th nearly 50,000 entered the Central Lenin Stadium for the game, but among them were no journalists or cameras, as ominously ordered by the authorities. Admirably, Chile – who had made several World Cup appearances already including a 3rd place finish on home soil in 1962 – were able to hold their large and intimidating hosts to a 0-0 draw, much to the humiliation of all involved on the home side (both of a sporting and political nature).

With the return leg in Santiago scheduled for nearly two months later on November 21st, the horrors of the oppressive Chilean dictatorship continued in the national stadium and only came to an end on November 7th. The USSR appealed to FIFA to have the game moved to neutral ground, fairly refusing to play in what had been turned in to a legitimate death camp. But both FIFA – who as we have discussed were equal opportunists to states of all political orientations and atrocities – and of course Chile themselves, denied any such move.


Chilean Dictator Pinochet giving a press conference in the stadium, Autumn 1973.

The Soviets traveled to South America anyway to play stand-by friendlies against neighboring countries, showing that they were serious about the match should the venue be changed. It was not to be, and in fact the “game” was to go ahead without any opposition as approved by FIFA; mostly in order to display a political show, but also to avoid the loss of income from refunding all those already purchased match tickets.


Soldiers keep watch outside the ground before the "match", Chile vs an absent USSR, 21/11/1973.

Come match day and 15,000 were in attendance, with many younger supporters unaware of the political significance of the situation, as Austrian referee Erich Linemayr blew the whistle to kick-off what was to be quite literally a one-sided affair. The Chilean players casually ran the ball down field to score into the empty net, after which the ref blew the whistle again to conclude the farce. A 2-0 walkover was awarded, and Chile qualified for the World Cup.


Chile score into an empty USSR net; with no opposition present to take kick-off, the referee would then blow the full-time whistle, 21/11/1973.

With their place on the moral high-ground firmly secured, it was later suggested by players from the time that the Soviet authorities were motivated more through a fear of losing the game to their political “enemies”, rather than a concern for human rights. Either way, having finished runners-up in the 1972 European Championships, the aborted play-off was to prove a negative turning point for the USSR as they would miss out on the following two World Cups and Euros respectively.


The stadium scoreboard following the only goal in the one team game, Chile vs absent USSR, 21/11/1973.

Chile, on the other hand, went to West Germany for the 1974 tournament where they had been drawn in a group with the hosts, along with East Germany and Australia. But attention to the grim situation in their country was drawn once again at their final game against Australia, when shortly after kick-off a group of political protesters carrying a large Chilean banner invaded the pitch, causing the match to be paused.


Political protesters on the pitch interrupting Australia vs Chile, World Cup, 22/06/1974.

It would not be until 1988 that democracy would return to Chile. When the Estadio Nacional was eventually renovated in 2010, one sector of the ground – Salida 8 – was left untouched, to serve as a memorial and reminder of what happened on the site.

AFC/OFC Zone A

Hong Kong
Japan
Malaysia
Isreal
South Vietnam
South Korea
Thailand

As we saw in Part 1, the Asian and Oceanic section was always interesting to keep an eye on due to the inclusion of exiled “colonialist African” teams (South Africa for 1966, Rhodesia for 1970), and because of the Israeli problem, with neighboring Arabic and Islamic countries refusing to participate against the Jewish state. To avoid a repeat of the resulting withdrawals in 1957, Israel had originally been placed in UEFA for the 1962 and 1966 qualifying campaigns; strangely in the former as part of a mini knockout tournament group with Cyprus, Italy and, for some reason, Ethiopia.

Now, for the second time in a row they were back in the AFC section, but like 1970 were placed in an otherwise all-east Asian zone. One omission was North Korea, who had also refused to play Israel in the previous qualifiers on political grounds and so were conveniently swapped into Zone B-Group 1 along side the Middle Eastern states of Iran, Kuwait and Syria, where Israel should rightfully have been.

(Note: all Zone B-Group 1 games were played Iran, while in Zone B-Group 2 Iraq were forced to travel to the other side of the world to play in/against Australia, along side New Zealand and Indonesia)

The entirety of Zone A was to be held in Soul, South Korea, beginning with three classification matches on May 16th and 17th 1973 to determine which teams would be placed in what group (with the hosts already allotted to Group 2). Israel took on and beat Japan 2-1 on the opening day, but only after another controversial country in the midst of it’s own war of destruction amazingly took part in their first ever World Cup game.

Vietnam had won autonomy within the French empire in 1949 as the “State of Vietnam”, but by 1954 shock military victories for local communist forces drove the colonialists out for good. This resulted in the division of the country, creating of the Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam – recognised by the likes of China and the USSR – and the formal foundation of the western-backed Republic of (South) Vietnam the following year. South Vietnam had quickly established a football team, participating in the Asian Games since 1954, and finishing a respectable 4th in the first two Asian Cups (granted, only four teams took part).


Flag of South Vietnam, 1949-1975.

But at home, with the Republic refusing to sanction elections that would potentially reunify the country as guaranteed by the Geneva Convention (which had formalised the partition but not been signed by South Vietnam), their strategy of US-backed force to retake the North began two decades of the Vietnam War. This didn’t stop participation of the football team in international competitions though, as they would continue to take part in Asian Games until 1970.

As the conflict went on and disaster unfolded, an embarrassed United States formally began withdrawing ground troops from the warzone in 1969, although air power and financial support were still used into the 70s to combat the North Vietnamese Army and it’s Viet Cong liberation front in the South. But in January 1973 the Paris Peace Accords were signed, officialy removing America from the war and creating a shaky ceasefire between North and South Vietnam.

Fighting still continued, however, and on March 15th, one day before South Vietnam were set to play Thailand in Seoul, President Nixon threatened more US military intervention should the North launch a new full offensive. Under this shadow, the team made it’s World Cup qualifier debut with a 1-0 win through an own-goal in the 83rd minute.

Throughout the rest of the month, the Zone A groups were played out with 1st and 2nd placed teams progressing to semi-finals, before a match to reach to an ultimate play-off against the winners of Zone B. Theoretically this could have ended with Israel coming up against a Middle Eastern team, but they were eliminated by the home side South Korea in the Zone A final.

South Vietnam, meanwhile, were unsuccessful in Zone A-Group 1, with 4-0 and 1-0 defeats to Japan and Hong Kong respectively. Along with the previous game against Thailand, they would turn out to be the only three World Cup games ever played by the state, as North Vietnam did indeed launch another offensive that year, and, far from successively intervening, the last US helicopter eventually left Saigon in chaos on April 30th 1975.


The US Embassy in South Vietnam is evacuated as Saigon is about to fall, 1975.

By the time the next qualifiers rolled around, the Republic of Vietnam was no more, now annexed into a unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam. It would not be until 1991 that a Vietnam side would once again take to a football field.

 

  • 1974 World Cup

Group 1:

Australia
Chile
East Germany
West Germany

We talked last time about how the short-lived post-World War 2 state of the Saar Protectorate – administered by the French, but German in every other way – took part in their one and only World Cup qualifying campaign (for 1954) in a group also featuring their West German countrymen. When the World Cup would come to West Germany itself twenty years later – by which time Saarland was long absorbed back into the Federal Republic of Germany (as the West was formally known) – it seemed inevitable that the remaining, third post-war German state would not only qualify for the first time, but also be drawn along side the hosts for a debut showdown between capitalist west and communist east.

The Democratic Republic of (East) Germany had been formed in 1949 and, under the Deutscher Fußball Verband der DDR governing body, participated in their first international football match against Poland three years later. As discussed back in in Politics on the Pitch #2, blue and white were chosen as kit colours to reflect the uniforms of the East German socialist youth organisation.


Flag of East Germany, 1959-1990.

After their entry to FIFA in 1952, 1958 to 1970 had seen fruitless World Cup qualifying campaigns before the aforementioned qualifying Group 4 brought real East German hope for the 1974 edition. Albania and Finland were like East Germany in having not yet made a tournament finals, leaving Romania – boasting three finals appearances back in the 1930s, and more importantly a spot at the recent 1970 World Cup in Mexico – as group favourites, although not exactly an elite squad either.

As they had done during World War 2 against the Russians, the Finns did the Germans a favour early in the group with a heroic 1-1 draw in Helsinki against Romania in September 1972. It would prove a vital slip up, as Romania would go on to take “all two points” (awarded for a win instead of three until the 1998 qualifiers) against East Germany in Bucharest the following May; ultimately the latter’s only dropped points in the group.

The most crucial group game came on September 26th 1973 in Leipzig for the return fixture, with a 2-0 win for East Germany putting them back in the driver seat. Still with a chance to go through, Romania would take their revenge over Finland at home with a desperate 9-0 drubbing in October, but it was to be in vein as a 4-1 East German victory away to Albania in November delivered top-spot by a point.


East Germany clinch World Cup qualification for the first time with a 4-1 away win over Albania, 03/11/1973.

While no internationals had yet taken place between the two divided halves of Germany, a number of friendlies did occur between club sides from East and West in the 1950s before the wall. The introduction of European competitions later resumed such encounters, starting with Dynamo Dresden vs Bayern Munich in 1973 for the 73/74 European Cup, and Fortuna Düsseldorf vs 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig in the UEFA Cup of the same season.

And so the stage was set in January 1974 for the final World Cup draw in Frankfurt. Seemingly admitting the fallibility of grown men in the 70s, FIFA used the “innocent hand” of a young, local choir boy to draw the teams, eliminating any element of potential dirty play from a morally corrupted adult.

With West Germany automatically placed in Group 1 as hosts, the dramatic moment came when East Germans were also drawn in the group, drawing first a moment of hushed shock from those in attendance before emotional, spontaneous applause. Even though it had always been a possibility, along with the fact that the tournament was on “enemy” soil anyway, it was later falsely rumored that the East German regime would withdraw the team to avoid the overtly political encounter.


Group 1 with the two Germanys, World Cup 74 draw, Frankfurt, 31/01/1974.

Adding to the intrigue, one of the locations for games in the group was the enclave of West Berlin, amazingly meaning that East Germany would play a World Cup game in a city entirely surrounded by itself. Unfortunately, the all-German clash wasn’t scheduled for here, but both sides fittingly took on none other than Chile in the Olympiastadion, less than 10 kilometers from the Berlin wall.


World Cup 74 opening ceremony in the Olympiastadion, Munich, 13/06/1974.

The political atmosphere was matched by surprisingly poor June weather for the tournament, with particularly dreary and wet conditions – perhaps the worst ever (at a World Cup that is, not of all time). As Chilean protesters attempted to grab the attention of the world with regards their country’s dictatorship in the match against Australia in West Berlin (three out of three at the venue for Chile, who technically could still progress), most fans and non-fans alike were concentrating on what was to come that evening across the country in Hamburg for the final group game.

On June 22nd more than 60,000 crammed into the Volksparkstadion – where West Germany had also taken on Saar in 1953 – for the 19:30 kick-off and thankfully the setting sun shone low in the sky. There was a respectful silence for the DGR’s national anthem and a section of East German supporters was visible in the ground.


East German team and fans after their national anthem, vs West Germany, World Cup, 22/06/1974.

East Germany, who had been primarily using white shirts and blue shorts as a first preference by this time, were the official “home team” in the tie, but had graciously emerged in their change kit of blue shirts and white shorts allowing West Germany to continue wearing their usual home white jerseys. Interestingly, the East Germans were in short sleeves while the hosts were in long sleeves.


Short sleeved blue shirts of East Germany vs the long sleeved white shirts of West Germany, World Cup, 22/06/1974.

Finally the time came and the heavy favourite western professionals kicked-off against a team who all had day jobs back in the East. Early on West Germany were close to opening the scoring, but it remained 0-0 until the 77th minute when Jürgen Sparwasser – a member of the 1. FC Magdeburg side that had just impressively beaten AC Milan to win the Cup Winners Cup in Rotterdam – broke through the West German defensive to score for East Germany.


Sparwasser scores the most famous goal in East Germany history, vs West Germany, World Cup, 22/06/1974.

The TV cameras went to the celebrating away supporters in the crowd, who were doubtlessly all involved in the East German government in some way rather than regular fans who may have taken the chance to defect. Permits had been in effect since 1972 that allowed younger East German citizens to cross the border (pensioners, who were less valuable to the state, had been able to visit the West since 1964), although in reality they were only usually granted to ruling party elites and their ilk.


East German players and social elite supporters celebrate the only goal of the game, vs West Germany, 22/06/1974.

The shocked home crowd looked on as the clock rolled down before the final whistle confirmed it: the lowly East had conquered the West. Granted, West Germany’s two prior victories against Australia and Chile had already secured them a place in the next round, but, like in qualifying, East Germany ended the group in pole position.


Classic graphics after a replay of the winning goal, East Germany vs West Germany, 22/06/1974.

In the end the result was possibly the best thing that could have happened for the hosts, as they entered a manageable Round 2 group alongside Poland, Sweden and Yugoslavia, while the unfortunate East were placed in the far tougher group with Argentina, Brazil and the Netherlands. Elimination came after two defeats, with respectable 1-1 draw against the Argentinians in the other game.

West Germany of course went on to secure their second World Cup trophy in the tournament, but East Germany had won the arguably more important all-German cup final, and would always have that. Well, until the 3rd of October 1990 at least, when the state would formally cease to exist.

  • 1980 European Championships Qualifiers

Group 1

Bulgaria
Denmark
England
Northern Ireland
Republic of Ireland

In the 1958 qualifiers, Ireland had met their former colonialist masters of England for the first time in a competitive setting. But following the the Irish War of Independence in 1921, not all of the country had been freed from the British crown.

Before it would happen to Germany, Korea or Vietnam later in the century, Ireland was partitioned as part of it’s independence treaty, with the Anglo-Scots-dominated north-east becoming “Northern” Ireland and remaining in the United Kingdom. As we have discussed before, Northern Ireland inherited the old Belfast based Irish Football Association that had been established under British rule, while a new organisation – the Football Association of  Ireland – was founded in Dublin to represent what would become the Republic (first the Irish Free State).

As with East and West Germany, there had been no football meeting of any sort between the two going in to the 1970s; a decade that would show the world that tensions on the island had not gone away. Sparked by civil rights protests from the discriminated ethnic Irish population, conflict between Irish nationalist paramilitaries, their British equivalents and the British Army exploded, with civilian atrocities from all sides along the way.

As things escalated and the body count rose, the slightly less significant soccer qualifiers for Euro 80 brought the Irish and English football teams into direct competition once again in Group 1. But this time, Northern Ireland were thrown in to the mix to create truly the “Group of Troubles” (not an official UEFA title), with Bulgaria and Denmark filling up the rest of the “non-Troubles” spots.

Ireland started the group away to Denmark with a thrilling 3-3 draw on May 24th, 1978; typically it was the home side who had clawed back the point from 3-1 down after 79 minutes. This would be followed by 3-4 and 2-2 affairs at home for Denmark against England and Bulgaria respectively, showing that Copenhagen was an unusual place to play at the time.

But next was to be the inaugural all-Ireland clash (at least in an association football sense, rather than the Gaelic games version) with Dublin as the location on September 20th for the first of the two ties between Republic and North. As soon as the Northern Ireland team bus had crossed the border it was joined by a police escort, which stayed all  the way to the stadium – the indomitable Lansdowne Road.

By the standards of the time, a heavy police presence was on hand at and around the historic ground also, as “football special” trains from the North arrived at the nearby station with groups with energetic away fans. Unease was in the air as Union Jacks were waved and unionist songs sung en mass in Dublin for the first time in about 57 years, but, despite some minor confrontations, no violence broke out.




Northern Ireland fans arrive by train near the stadium for the match vs Republic of Ireland, 20/09/1978.

Minor confrontation between home supporters with large Irish tricolour and Northern Ireland fans chanting "The Ulster" (province of Ireland within which Northern Ireland is located) on the way to the match, 20/09/1977.

Inside the ground, the traveling contingent occupied a large section of the North Terrace, which remained unsegregated. Like many of the continent’s major stadiums, imposing fences had at least been installed around the Lansdowne Road that year in an attempt to prevent any potential rowdies from taking their trouble away from the stands where it belonged.


Northern Irish away fans singing "Protestant songs" (according to the BBC News report) in Lansdowne Road's North Terrace ahead of the match with Ireland, 20/09/1977.

Even though green was worn by the Northern Irish team for historical reasons, many of their fans chose the blue, white and red colourscheme of Belfast’s Linfield, Glasgow Rangers and the Union Jack. With the Republic also of course usually in a green, sportspersonship akin to East Germany choosing not wearing white against West Germany seems to have been displayed, as the home side donned a fetching all-white change kit with delicious green and yellow trim.


The captains before the match with Ireland's white change shirt being worn at home, vs Northern Ireland, 20/09/1977.

The sense of anti-climax for those who had come to witness any potential trouble will have been matched by those who came solely for the football, as an Ireland containing stars like Brady, Giles, Highway, Lawrenson (who’s bloodied shirt suggests the tone of the game) and Stapleton were held to a 0-0 draw against a North led from the back by legendary goalkeeper Pat Jennings. Apparently nothing further of note occurred among supporters either, but things may not have been so serene had the events of the very next day – when the Provisional IRA bombed an RAF airfield in Derry destroying a terminal, two hangers and several planes (although no lives were lost) – happened slightly earlier.

Ireland next kept their streak of draws going with a somewhat satisfactory 0-0 in Lansdowne against England, while the North picked up excellent back to back wins at home to Denmark and away to Bulgaria, spurred on by striker Gerry Armstrong. Despite more good performances from the the Republic, results like England 4-0 Northern Ireland, Denmark 4-0 Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland 1-5 England, put the North out of the running going into the final series of games, with an unbeaten England looking set to claim the sole qualifying spot and their first tournament appearance in ten years.

Following a 3-0 win over Bulgaria in October 1979, Ireland still had a mathematical chance to pip the English in the unlikely event that the Bulgarians went to Wembley and won, followed by Ireland doing the same in February 1980. But first on November 21st would be a trip to Belfast’s Windsor Park, home of Linfield FC, for a Northern Ireland keen to kill any any Irish hopes in lieu of their own failed prospects (and not for the last time).

Unlike in Dublin, it will have been very unlikely that many, if any, away supporters traveled north of the border for the encounter, due to the potential “security risks” for those with caught with a “southern” accent among a certain type of hardcore British loyalist. In the 13 months since the reverse fixture, there had many more bombings, high profile assassinations, and civilian casualties from Northern Ireland to London and even The Hague, meaning the game was even more emotionally charged than before.

Keeping in the spirit of fair play though, the North returned the kit favour of the year before by emerging in their away strip. Minorly problematic was the fact that their white/green/white created an “overall clash” against Ireland’s green/white/green, an effect previously negated by Ireland’s use of all-white in Dublin.


Northern Ireland in white/green/white at home to Republic of Ireland, 21/11/1979.

With 15,000 creating an intimidating atmosphere in the small fortress of a ground, that man Gerry Armstrong popped up on the 54th minute to give the home side a lead they would hold on to until the end, thus dashing Ireland’s theoretical qualification hopes (had England not gone and defeated Bulgaria the next day anyway). Again blue was the most prevalent colour of those celebrating on the caged terraces.


Gerry Armstrong scores for Northern Ireland, vs Republic of Ireland, 21/11/1979.

The Windsor Park terraces celebrate the only goal of the game, Northern Ireland vs Republic of Ireland, 21/11/1979.

Unlike the Germanys, this would not be the last time that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would be drawn together before one ceases to exist. And with the Troubles not ending any time soon in our timeline, we shall quite possibly see the tie rise again when Groups of Death continues into the 80s…

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Video Links:
Chile vs Peru, 1973
Estadio Nacional, Chile, 1973
Chile vs USSR, 1973
Chile vs USSR, 1973
Australia vs Chile, 1974
Albania vs East Germany, 1973
1974 World Cup draw
East Germany vs West Germany, 1974
East Germany vs West Germany, 1974
East Germany vs West Germany, 1974
Republic of Ireland vs Northern Ireland, 1978
Northern Ireland vs Republic of Ireland, 1979

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