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.

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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

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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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Politics On The Pitch #4: Groups of Death Part 1 (1950-1969)

Back in Politics On The Pitch #3 we looked at how the football world adjusted to life after World War 2, with carefully selected qualification groups removing the chance of “politically awkward” clashes. Now we take a look back to when this was not necessarily the case, and at some historical competitive fixtures with a non-sporting significance that could not be ignored.

Background:

Despite being widely recognised as one of the most corrupt organisms on the face of the planet, and turning their flagship tournament into a money making facade where sport is basically an afterthought (it is on this site too to be fair), FIFA is responsible for some good.

The World Cup’s hideous over-commercialisation can always be countered by the fact that the festival of football does bring simple folk from random corners of the world together when their teams are drawn. The often good-natured affairs, as well as the conscious global gaze upon each match, displays through the medium of football that no matter where somebody’s from, their class, race or if they’re religious, humans do have common ground through our unifying love of the game.

Even teams representing states of competing ideologies and their fans can come together in friendly rivalry, as an average population can often be far less enthusiastic about hating their fellow members of the species than their national regimes, or stereotypes, might lead you to believe. With countries like Cuba and North Korea joining the USA and it’s allies in the organisation’s ranks, the case of FIFA’s corruption is at least equal opportunity corruption.

But of course FIFA’s global inclusiveness also creates the opposite situation, where two peoples with a genuinely tense political or ethnic history (or present) are occasionally brought together for a sporting manifestation of their international grudge. At times this will be deemed concerning enough an issue for a country to not play altogether, as was the case when the British nations withdrew from FIFA in 1919 in protest at the continued inclusion of the Central Powers teams after World War 1.

Many times these games have gone ahead though, which inevitably creates interesting situations in the stadium, and on some occasions the simple novelty or expectation of an interesting draw is enough to secure its place in history. In this vein we will now look back at some of the most noteworthy groups, tournaments and match-ups from the 20th century that had elements beyond mere football competition.

  • 1954 World Cup Qualifiers

Group 1:

Norway
Saar Protectorate
West Germany

For the 1954 World Cup qualifiers, FIFA itself rather than it’s regional confederations was still arranging all qualification groups. They were organised by geographical consideration, although not necessarily by continent as Egypt and Italy proved in Group 9. Groups 7 (Hungary and Poland) and 8 (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Romania) comprised solely of eastern European communist representatives.

However it was Group 1 that stood out for it’s inclusion of a small side making it’s one and only appearance in a competitive campaign, and another much larger new state making it’s first in it’s current form. The group did not actually pit sworn rival nations against each other, quite the contrary. But the two referenced participants were born out of the greatest period of slaughter the world has known.

Located in southwest Germany, the Saarland (after the River Saar, which flows from northwest France into Germany) had become the French and British ruled Territory of the Saar Basin in the aftermath of World War 1. A plebiscite with 90.4% in favour returned the region to German hands in 1935, but ten years later the Allies would be back and again take control of the now renamed Westmark of the Third Reich. Following the end of World War 2, the region was partitioned from the rest of Germany and placed squarely under French control, becoming the Saar Protectorate in 1947.

The mostly ethnic German population still considered their land as part of Germany and never intended Saar to become it’s own country. Never the less, such national symbols as a flag (paying homage to both nations involved with the colours of the French flag divided by a white Nordic cross) and an international football federation were created. The clubs of Saar competed in the local Ehrenglia league, with the strongest club 1. FC Saarbrücken competing and winning in France’s Ligue 2 as guests in 1948/49.


Flag of The Saar Protectorate.

Three months after the Saar Fussball Bund was admitted to FIFA in 1950 (having rejected merging with it’s French equivalent the previous year), the Deutscher Fussball Bund also rejoined, now representing the Federal Republic of Germany, aka the partitioned state of West Germany, but claimed mandate over Germany as a whole. Both teams were placed in Group 1 of the upcoming World Cup qualifiers along with Norway, whose status as part of the Nazi occupied lands in WW2 under the puppet Quisling regime officially made this the “Reich group”.

By the time the qualifiers were to begin in 1953, Saar had already played a number of friendlies and had participated in several other sports at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. But as stated, they preferred not to be referred to as their own country, and in football the term “selection” was more commonly used than national team. Given the area’s German self-identification, it seems slightly frustrating that one of their few shots at international football competition was “wasted” on their follow countrymen, and not someone more exotic.

The Saarlanders would go on to display the prowess of German football even if  confined to a very small area, by defeating Norway 3-2 away from home and earning a 0-0 draw in Saarbrücken. Logically then, their bigger, but no more proudly Germanic neighbours would prove impassable. A 3-0 home win in Stuttgart on 11 October 1953 was followed by the last game of the group in March 1954, as West Germany again scored three (with the home support politely applauding each goal) but Saar at least grabbed a consolation penalty on home soil.


Interesting section of Hamburg's Volksparkstadion, West Germany vs Saar Protectorate, World Cup '54 Qualifier, October 1953.

The West German’s 5-1 demolition of Norway also guaranteed that Saar would not finish bottom of the group, securing a German one-two final positioning. As West Germany went on to win the World Cup they had qualified for, the people of Saar doubtlessly would have been rooting for them and over joyed at their success. As the following year, 20 years after the original plebiscite to join Nazi Germany, another referendum was held with the same result. The Saar Protectorate was absorbed into West Germany and once again became the region of Saarland in 1957, ending it’s brief adventure in international football.

 
The crowd applaud the home side's goal in a 3-1 defeat, Saar Protectorate vs West Germany, World Cup '54 qualifier, March 1954.

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  • 1958 World Cup Qualifiers

CAF/AFC Second Round

Egypt
Indonesia
Israel
Sudan

For the next World Cup, FIFA handed over responsibility to the regional confederations for the organisation of their own qualification systems, and enforced defined geographical zones. This proved particularly problematic in Africa/Asia (with the CAF and AFC sections combined for this campaign), first as Turkey withdrew in protest at not being included in Europe. They had been scheduled to play Israel, who progressed automatically into a second round group (somewhat surprisingly Cyprus were also in Asia, giving it three different teams who would later “become” European)

This created another issue due to the Arab League boycott of Israel, the current iteration of which being in effect since the end of the Arab-Israeli War in 1949. The Arab League members of Egypt and Sudan hence refused to play Israel – who had actually previously competed as Palestine British Mandate before their independence in 1948 – and withdrew. It was to be the first of two successive World Cup qualification campaigns from which the pair would withdraw without playing a game, as for 1962 – with Egypt then competing as United Arab Republic –  FIFA refused their ultimatum to reschedule matches to avoid the monsoon season.

Another mostly Islamic state in Indonesia was the remaining team left in the group, and although they were prepared to play the Israelis, they were not prepared to travel the entire length of Asia to do so. Like Israel, the Indonesians had once competed under their pre-independence colonial name: the Dutch East Indies. But this time FIFA refused the Indonesian request for the game to be played on neutral ground which forced them to also withdraw, meaning that Israel had made it through two rounds to an intercontinental play-off without touching a ball. Here they would be at last stopped, as Wales were happy to play and defeat them for a place at the tournament.

UEFA Group 6

Finland
Poland
USSR

Back in the UEFA section itself, countries were also still placed in groups rather than drawn by seed. Cross Iron-Curtain encounters were now becoming more common, although still somewhat regional with Finland going to the USSR and Poland, Greece to Yugoslavia and Romania, but again slightly further afield for Wales who were placed with Czechoslovakia and the newly created East Germany (who’s entry during the years of Saar existence meant there had been three different German federations in FIFA at one point).

Group 6 with Finland, Poland and the USSR was the most emotionally charged on paper with both the Finns and Poles being former colonial subjects of Russia, and much more recently the Soviets’ (unsuccessful) Winter War against former and partition of the later (as well as events such as the Katyn Massacre, although Poland was by this time a satalite-state of the USSR). But knowing the steadfast resolve characteristic of all three peoples, it was surely business as usual as the Soviet Union ultimately made it to their first finals (Poland had previously competed too at 1938).


Finland vs USSR, World Cup '58 Qualifier, August 1957.

UEFA Group 1

Denmark
England
Republic of Ireland

On the other side of Europe, the Republic of Ireland met their own former colonial masters of England for the first time in a competitive setting, along with Denmark in Group 1 (with the English coming out tops). Although distrust of Englishness remained for many, with 36 years having elapsed since the Irish War of Independence the encounter was perhaps now not as significant as it would become later in the century when tensions on the island of Ireland dramatically increased once again.

At this time Ireland was also somewhat sportingly-divided between football and it’s own native Gaelic sports, with the rules of the latter forbidding those who played, or indeed watched, the “foreign” (English) sport of soccer from their ogranisation. Those who preferred football were sometimes scornfully looked down upon as “less-Irish” than those involved in Irish games, with more nationalist types therefore likely avoiding international football altogether.

  • 1964 European Nations’ Cup Qualifiers

Preliminary Round

Greece
Albania

Greece are a country well-known to hold national rivalries with the likes of Turkey and Northern/FYR Macadonia, but a third, less remembered country with whom tensions have arisen throughout the years is nearby Albania. The two have shared a border since Albania’s declaration of independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, after which disputes arose due to ethnic Greeks now being stuck on Albanian soil and declaring their own short lived republic before Italy and Austria-Hungary intervened.

During World War 2, Italian-occupied Albania assisted in the Greco-Italian theater, resulting in Albanian and Greek forces coming into direct conflict. Furthermore, in the aftermath of WW2, the Greeks callously expelled thousands of Cham Albanians from the Epirus region of northern Greece under the accusation of collaborations with the Nazis.

The new Yugoslav-backed (until 1948) People’s Republic of Albania (later People’s Socialist Republic) meant that a Cold War-divide had also been created. During the Greek Civil War of 1946-49, southern Albania had acted as a base for communist gorillas with several invasions launched from across the border, followed by retreats flowing back the same way.


Flag of the People's Socialist Republic of Albania, 1946-1992.

This all meant that diplomatic links between the two states were non-existent going into the 1960s, when Albania would enter continental football competition for the first time in the form of the 1964 European Nations’ Cup. Greece were slightly more experienced, have unsuccessfully attempted to qualify for World Cups since 1934 (apart from 1950, due to the Civil War) as well as the first Euros in 1960, while the Albanians’ team had existed since the 30s but only played their first international against Yugoslavia in 1949.

Twenty-nine countries entered the 1964 Euro qualifying Preliminary Round with three drawn to progress automatically (Austria, Luxembourg, USSR) and the rest to play each other on a home and away basis (or a third game, in the case of two draws). This would be followed by a First and Second Round played out the same way, with the four winners at this point progressing to the finals proper in Spain.

Unlike World Cup qualifying groups at this time, which were carefully selected rather than drawn due to the many politically tense situations that existed between countries around the world, UEFA decided to create the ties randomly. The first two names out of the hat were Norway and Sweden – “so far, so good”, thought the bureaucrats – but of course next came the not-so-friendly neighbours of Greece and Albania.

Instead of using sport as a stepping-stone to reach out to their politically-estranged opponents, the wounds of the past were deemed too deep and Greece withdrew from the competition, leaving Albania free to progress to the next round. There they met a Denmark side who had no problem facing and defeating them – 4-0 in Copenhagen on June 16th, 1963, before a respectable 1-0 consolation win for the Albanians months later on October 30th in Tirana.

A few years later in 1971, Albanian-Greek relations were finally re-established when Albania’s communist regime of Enver Hoxha and Greece’s right-wing military junta surprisingly came together over economic and strategic co-operation. Football would again prove a contentious point, however, when in 2014 nationalist Albanians attacked ethnic Greeks following the abandonment of the Serbia vs Albania Euro 2016 qualifier – but that is a story for another day.

  • 1966 World Cup and Qualifiers

World Cup Semi-Finals and Final

England
Portugal
USSR
West Germany

The ’66 World Cup in England was somewhat of a reunion for several of the major players from World War 2. While England, the USSR and West Germany had all qualified for the previous two editions, the West Germans had avoided their old regime’s two European enemies in ’58 (who played each other in the group stage) and all three had been knocked out in the quarter finals of ’62 before having a chance to meet.

But in 1966 the Germans would finally come up against their former double-fronted foes, first beating the Soviets in a Goodison Park semi-final before the famous final defeat to the hosts, which also crucially involved a Soviet linesman erroneously awarding England’s third goal.


Many men in suits and ties watch West Germany vs the Soviet Union in Goodison Park, World Cup 1966.

Asia/Oceania Qualifying Group

Australia
North Korea
South Africa
South Korea

The other stand-out thing was the appearance of North Korea, although the authoritarian dictatorships present in their fellow qualifying countries of Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Hungry, Portugal, Soviet Union and Spain at the time makes it not so novel. Their surprise debut at the finals was helped by the withdrawal of their South Korean cousins, citing logistical reasons in the combined Asian/Oceanian qualifying group. Given that few states held political ties with the North Koreans, all games were to be hosted by their allies Cambodia, but South Korea had been expecting Japan and left the group after the decision.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the group was also to contain South Africa (a weak Australia was the fourth team). Kicked out of the Confederation of African Football in 1958 due the apartheid regime’s player policy – by law only an all-white or all-black team could be selected – South Africa were in fact admitted to FIFA in the same year and placed in the Asian zone for the time being. But FIFA did give them one year to comply with their own anti-discrimination laws, which of course wasn’t done.

While the rest of the African teams boycotted the qualifying system entirely due to the lack of an automatic qualifying spot – as well as the original acceptance of South Africa into FIFA – South Africa were banned before their group games started (formally expelled in 1976 following the Soweto uprising) and wouldn’t play another international until 1992. This left North Korea with just two easy games against the Australians to qualify.

  • 1970 World Cup Qualifiers

AFC/OFC Second Round, Group 1

Australia
Rhodesia 

The following tournaments qualifiers saw a similar situation: this time the unrecognised state of Rhodesia switched continents to play in the Asian/Oceanian section. Like South Africa, the country was ruled by a white minority elite, who had broken away from the British Empire in 1965.

But as Rhodesia agreed to FIFA’s regulations regarding mixed-race squads, they were allowed to stay in. Their only group opponent was Australia, with both games (and a third play-off game after two draws, won by Australia) played in Mozambique after the Rhodesian players could not attain Australian visas.

AFC/OFC Second Round, Group 2

Israel
New Zealand
North Korea 

Israel were also back in Asian/Oceanian having played in the UFEA zone for geographical reasons at the previous qualifiers (and originally Syria too before withdrawal). Although no other Middle Eastern side was involved this time, their presence still caused an issue as now North Korea refused to play them on political grounds and withdrew.

Victories over New Zealand and Australia meant that Israel were now going to their first World Cup, but under the initiative of Kuwait they would be expelled from an AFC with more middle eastern influence in 1974, and return to playing European and, later, more Oceanic opponents in the following decades.

CONCACAF Semi-Final Round, Group 2

El Salvador
Honduras

One of the most famous war related match-ups occurred during this campaign in the semi-final round of the North/Central American and Caribbean CONCACAF section, when El Salvador were drawn with neighbours Honduras. It is often said that their violent three games (again a play-off was needed and held in neutral Mexico City) sparked what is known as the Football War between the two countries, a 100 hour conflict (and so also known as the 100 Hour War) that remains officially in dispute at the time of writing.

While intense rioting had occurred at the two regular group games (as it was considered a group of two as opposed to a two-legged knock-out game), as well as violent play on the pitch, it was more a case of perfect timing rather than the actual cause of the war, as tensions had already been growing between the countries for bigger reasons. With the backing of large American fruit corporations, harsh new land and tax laws had come into effect in Honduras, that were particularly threatening to the large, undocumented El Salvadorian ethnic minority in the country.


Supporters of both teams and riot police, El Salvador vs Honduras, World Cup '70 qualifier, June 1969.

By the day of the play-off on 26 June, 1969 (3-2 to El Salvador after extra-time), the smaller but more populous El Salvador officially cut of ties with Honduras and would invade on July 15th starting the war. The situation was resolved through negotiation from the Organization of American States, lasting 100 hours, but the reluctance of El Salvador to withdraw meant their troops remained occupying part of the country until August. The bad blood between the two states, who share a common language, religion, general look and very similar flags, proves that not matter how close groups of humans seem, we can always find other reasons to hate each other.

*

Youtube Sources:
West Germany vs Saar, 1953
Saar vs West Germany, 1954
Finland vs USSR, 1957
USSR vs West Germany, 1966
El Salvador vs Honduras, 1969
El Salvador vs Honduras, 1969

*****

Politics On The Pitch #3: World Cup 1950 Qualifying

To be honest, the following episode of Politics On The Pitch was originally intended as a Football Special Report. But as politics, war, and global history are so intertwined in the 1950 World Cup qualifiers, it seemed more than appropriate to transfer the post to Politics On The Pitch. One of the main tenants of this time was the inability of many teams to actually travel to the World Cup in Brazil, whether they had qualified of not. This was of course in large part due to the proximity of the World War 2, who’s shadow from 5 years before still loomed large and had left many nations in poverty.

Background:

One of the great things about mid-20th century tournaments was the random stuff like extra unscheduled play-off games as tie breakers; groups of four instead of a final game; and coin-tosses to decide things. But the first three FIFA World Cups were actually fairly straight forward affairs: four groups of 3 with the winners progressing to the semi-finals in 1930, and straight knock-out tournaments of 16 teams in ’34 and ’38 (eventually 15 in the latter after the the withdrawal of Austria due to the “Anschluss” with Germany).

Thankfully, the introduction of World Cup qualifiers for the ’34 edition onwards did provide some classic old-school chaos. As this was in the days before regional federations such as UEFA, all potential World Cup candidates were divided into 12 groups based on location. The pre-WW2 system was marked by:

  • The frequent withdrawal of participating nations.
  • Groups of mostly two or three teams, arranged by region rather than drawn.
  • Host nation Italy forced to qualify for their own tournament in 1934.
  • Automatic ’34 qualification for Czechoslovakia from a group of two as a result the Polish government’s denial of visas for their own team to travel.
  • ’38 qualifiers Group 1 containing four teams while the rest contained two or three.
  • The abandonment of games if teams had already mathematically qualified/could not qualify.
  • No British teams, who were currently on boycott of FIFA.
  • Egypt being the only African nation competing in either campaign, as most were not yet independent.
  • Participation of historical states such as pre-Soviet Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia, the Irish Free State, the Second Spanish Republic (withdrawn by the ’38 qualifiers due to the Spanish Civil War), Palestine-British Mandate (made of Jewish and British players), Dutch Guiana and Dutch East Indies.

For no apparent reason, FIFA decided to take a break for the next two would-be tournaments. But with the World Cup set to return in 1950, new qualifiers were scheduled for ’49 and ’50. Some big countries would compete for the first time, while others disappeared. A world which had been ravaged and changed by World War 2 (economically and politically if not physically and emotionally) was entering a new era, and so with it came a new era for the tournament, and more importantly for us, it’s preliminary rounds.

***

The 1950 World Cup Qualifiers

Info:

  • The 12-Group system of the pre-WW2 years was reduced to 10.

  • Groups 1-6 were to be of (mostly) European composition, with Groups 7-9 for the Americas and Group 10 for Asia.

  • Groups were arranged roughly by region, not drawn, with mostly different qualifying rules for each.

  • Two points were awarded for a victory rather than three.

  • 14 qualifying spots were available, with both Brazil (upcoming hosts) and Italy (champions in 1938) qualifying automatically to make 16.

  • West Germany, East Germay and Japan – still occupied after World War 2 – were not permitted to take part.

  • Eastern Block states such Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Hungary refused to take part.

  • No African teams were participating; the only currently independent African states were Egypt, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Liberia.

  • Other notable countries to not take part included Canada, Australia, New Zealand and China.

  • The first game of qualifying (Sweden vs Ireland) was played on 02/06/1949, and the last game (Scotland vs England) on 15/04/1950, just over two months before the World Cup kicked-off.

*

Group 1

England
Scotland
Wales
Ireland-UK

***For the purposes of continuity, we shall refer to the team now known as Northern Ireland as “Ireland-UK”, but at the time of 1950 qualifiers it was just “Ireland”. We will come back to this later, but for some in-depth information regarding why, check back to the Northern Ireland section of Politics On The Pitch #2.***

This campaign was the first that saw the appearance of the the UK sides in FIFA competition. All had been members of FIFA since near the beginning of the century (England-1905, Scotland and Wales-1910, Ireland-UK-1911), but tension was already evident following a brief period of withdrawal (1920-1924) in protest at the continued inclusion of the Central Powers following World War 1.

A “permanent” split from FIFA was to come for the four federations in 1928, as a result of the new FIFA law requiring football associations to pay compensation to their athletes who played at the upcoming Olympics football tournament. But time heals all wounds, rules change and stubborn people die. Some combination of these meant that the UK nations rejoined FIFA in 1946, perhaps now craving more global competition in the absence of the recently completed World War 2.

Two qualification spots were up for grabs, and since the groups weren’t randomly selected, Group 1 could also double as the 1949/50 British Home Nations tournament; an ingenious practice that would return for the 1954 qualifiers. The combination was dropped following the introduction of non-local qualifying groups for 1958, but it was delightfully revived for Euro 1968 when that competition went to a group based qualification system, incorporating both the 66/67 and 67/68 Home Nations tournaments.

With each team to play each other once, Ireland-UK vs Scotland kicked off the group in Belfast on October 1st with a classic old school scoreline of 2-8 to the visitors. This would have been the highest scoring game in the entire global qualifiers, except for the fact that England then beat Ireland-UK 9-2 at home the following month on front of nearly 70,000 fans in Manchester. Crowd shots displayed the alarmingly dangerous density of the audience, doubtless desperate for any entertainment in this post-War rebuilding era.


Disturbingly packed terrace at Maine Road for England vs Ireland-UK, November 1949.

As Wales didn’t fare much better than Ireland-UK – only scoring one goal in their three games – England traveled to Scotland on April 15th, 1950 with both sides assured of qualification following two wins each,  but with top-spot and the Home Nations championship yet to decide. A nauseating 133,300 spectators compressed into Glasgow’s Hampden Park, with footage showing one of (presumably) many fans who had to be stretchered away from the crush. Men in traditional dress playing saxophones, along with dancing girls (reminiscent of a Nazi Youth rally) also entertained the masses.


One fan is stretched away from the Hampden crush at Scotland vs England, April 1950..

Pre-match entertainment.

A 1-0 away win secured the honours for England, now destined for their first ever World Cup appearance. Scotland in the second qualifying position could have joined them, but declined the opportunity, apparently as they had vowed only to travel if they had won the Home Nations. As we shall see, it would be a reoccurring theme.

ENGLAND QUALIFY

***

Group 2

Turkey
Syria
Austria

Now you can see why we said Groups 1-6 were “mostly” European, as here we have what is basically the Middle Eastern qualifying section, plus Austria of course. The rules of this group, as well as Groups 3 and 4, were that the lesser two sides would play each other home and away in a First Round, before the winner would play the seeded team in the same way with a qualifying spot up for grabs.

Both Turkey and Syria were competing for the first time. Turkey had been set to take part in the 1934 qualifiers in Group 12, along with Egypt and Palestine-British Mandate, but had withdrawn before playing a game. Syria, meanwhile, had itself been a French Mandate until 1946 and were set to play their debut match as an independent state in the qualifiers.

In the first of many vintage Cold War black-ops moves, an American led military coup had overthrown the democratically elected Syrian government in  March, 1949. But eight months later, the country’s new authoritarian overlords will have been disappointed as their nation’s footballing representatives slumped to a 7-0 debut defeat at the hands of their Turkish neighbours to the north. Perhaps because the result was now a foregone conclusion – or due to the utter shame doubtlessly emanating from the generals – Syria withdrew before the return leg could be played, leaving Turkey to advance.


Players and officials at the end of Turkey's 7-0 defeat of Syria.

Turkey and Austria shared a history of their own, as the Ottoman Turks had been at the gates of Vienna more than once in the post-Middle Ages. This was probably not on the mind’s of their country’s footballers hundreds of years later, but even still the Austrians also withdrew before the games could be played.

Turkey thus qualified automatically for their first World Cup. Or that is they would have, if not for the fact that they TOO then withdraw. The Syrians were no doubt asking why the Turks couldn’t have just done this in the first place before humiliating them out of the competition.

NO QUALIFIER

***

Group 3

Yugoslavia
Israel
France

Here we have a group that doesn’t even pretend to be geographically logical, but would actually perhaps look like the beginning of a modern UEFA qualifying group if not for the fact that Yugoslavia doesn’t exist any more. France were World Cup veterans having competed at all three previous tournaments, with Yugoslavia also making an appearance as one of the few other European representatives at Uruguay 1930, and now becoming the first Socialist state in the continent to take part.

Like Syria, Israel was a newly sovereign post-WW2 nation having been created in 1948. The Israeli  national team debuted against the USA later that year, but can trace it’s footballing lineage back to the aforementioned Palestine-British Mandate who competed in the ’34 and ’38 qualifiers. Like in later years, it maybe made more sense not to place the Irealis in a group with some of their more hostile neighbors, with this perhaps explaining why Austria were in Group 2 instead of this group, and vice-versa for Israel.

The first round took place over August and September, 1949, and the obvious gulf in quality seen in Group 1 and 2 continued as Yugoslavia beat Israel 6-0 in Belgrade and 5-2 in Tel-Aviv. The Yugoslav’s following games against France in October would prove more evenly balanced as both games ended 1-1, and since this was not a modern two-legged affair (sensible tie-breaking mini-games such as extra-time and penalties were distant future dreams at this point, and players in the ’40s would have undoubtedly been too unfit to play another half an hour anyway), the only solution was for the two sides to play each other yet again in a play-off on neutral ground.


Unique stadium, Israel vs Yugoslavia.

Italian news reel reviewing France vs Yugoslavia with crowd in the background.

The deciding game took place in Florence in December, with Yugoslavia finally running out 3-2 winners and qualifying for their second World Cup. Classically, after all that, France were also offered a place in the finals but declined, rendering the previous 270 minutes of football utterly pointless.

YUGOSLAVIA QUALIFY

***

Group 4

Switzerland
Luxembourg
Belgium

Group 4 makes a little more sense geographically speaking, with the epic clash of central-west Europe’s richest, smallest, neutralist countries with long names in the first round. Compared to Groups 1-3 we finally get a bit of normality here, as all three countries had existed for some time before the qualifiers and would continue to exist to the present day.

On the pitch there was nothing too surprising either, as the Swiss picked up a 5-2 result at home in Zurich in June, 1949. Their advancement was sealed with a 3-2 win in Luxembourg, capital city of Luxembourg, in October. A nice, solid and dependable group so far, very relaxing compared to earlier. I have a good feeling that nothing can possibly go wrong.

But of course things would not be complete without a good-old withdrawal, and we get just that before another ball can be touched. Belgium had taken part in the first three World Cups, but the streak was broken through this self-imposed expulsion, graciously leaving Switzerland to qualify for their third successive tournament.

SWITZERLAND QUALIFY

***

Group 5

Sweden
Ireland
Finland

Group 5 was set to be a refreshingly straight-forward affair, comprising of a straight round robin of home and away matches between the three teams and the resulting top side qualifying for the World Cup. While Norway had competed in the 1938 qualifiers, there was no sign of them here, leaving Ireland to take what presumably would have been their spot in the token Nordic group (Denmark and Iceland had yet to take part).

“But wait” you exclaim, “another Ireland!?” Yes, here we have our second Ireland of the qualifying system. Of course this team is now referred to as the Republic of Ireland, but at this stage they were just known as “Ireland”, same as Ireland-UK  from Group 1. Ireland-UK – as the successor team of the “original Ireland” that had competed while Ireland was still fully under British rule – were still calling themselves “Ireland”, and in-fact selected players from all over the island, despite only claiming league jurisdiction over Northern Ireland.

Amazingly, some players who represented Ireland in Group 5 ALSO played for Ireland-UK in Group 1 (Ireland had also previously capped Ireland-UK capped players). Both teams also wore green shirts with near identical shamrock themed crests, adding to the uniquely confusing situation.

Anyway, back to the group, and as mentioned earlier Sweden defeated Ireland in the first game of the entire qualifying system with a 3-1 win in Stockholm in June. They followed this up with an 8-1 trouncing of Finland in October, this time in Malmö to shake things up. Ireland had also beaten the Finns 3-0 in Dublin in September, and the return fixture, eight days after the 8-1 game, saw a 1-1 draw in Helsinki.

At this point, the poor old Finns (for whom we harbour a particular affinity) saw the writing on the wall and in typically logical fashion withdrew from the group instead of facing their final, meaningless group game (and in doing so conserved energy as well as avoiding another possible thrashing on home soil). This left Ireland’s home game against Sweden in November as a virtual play-off to get to the World Cup, even though Finland’s premature exit meant Ireland would have played an extra game than Sweden. The Swedes ran out 3-1 winners, qualifying for their third successive World Cup having finished fourth at France ’38.


More pack terraces at Ireland vs Sweden in Dalymount Park.

Ireland would have to wait another 40 years to make it to the finals but this need not have been the case as, in the wake of all the withdrawals, they were in fact invited to take part anyway by FIFA. But off course money doesn’t grow on trees, especially in economically struggling, post-“Emergency” Ireland (as WW2 was known there) and the offer was turned down due to the traveling costs. This really raises the question: what was point in attempting to qualify in the first place, or were they just not thinking that far ahead?

SWEDEN QUALIFY

***

Group 6

Spain
Portugal

With their internal political issues well and truly resolved, a new Spain returned following their absence for 1938. Like the ’34 qualifiers they were placed in the “Iberian Group” with Portugal, with FIFA clearly deeming that one of the two simply needed to be at the World Cup.

In the previous version, Spain had breezed through with a 9-0 win at home propelling victory. This time Franco’s men didn’t score quite as many, but a 5-1 win in Madrid in April 1950 did basically the same job. Portugal at the time were in the midst of their own fascist dictatorship, or “corporatist authoritarian regime”, and they welcomed their peninsular pals to Lisbon eight days later. A 2-2 draw was played out allowing Spain to reach the finals as expected with little fuss.


Spain score the first of 5 goals against Portugal, on front of  a huge crowd.

Spain score the first in the 2-2 draw away to Portugal, in a ground devoid of side stand.

That is except for the fact that Portugal, of course, were then also invited to play at the World Cup, as a replacement for Turkey. And of course they declined, meaning all six European groups contained some sort of withdrawal or declination to play. This left FIFA throwing their hands up and shouting “Why do I even bother!” before bursting into tears, and then finally saying “fine then”, deciding to just leave the World Cup short of teams instead of inviting anyone else, dashing any last Luxembourgian hopes in the process.

SPAIN QUALIFY

***

Group 7

Bolivia
  Chile
Argentina

After the mess that was Europe, we now come to the Americas where things are always calmer and more settled. The three teams were set to play home and away, with the top two progressing to the final. Would a nice competitive group, played to completion with the winners going through and the losers definitively not going through, be too much to ask?

The answer is yes, as 1930 finalists Argentina withdrew leaving Bolivia and Chile (also both present in 1930) free to qualify automatically without a single second of football being played. Obviously their scheduled games to be played against each other were cancelled, as they would have been utterly fucking pointless.

BOLIVIA AND CHILE QUALIFY

***

Group 8

Uruguay
Paraguay
Ecuador
Peru

The intuitive among you (as well as those who look at nature and society in a deeper way and notice patterns) may well have already guessed the outcome of this group. And sure enough, Ecuador and Peru withdrew from the group faster than you can say “unstable puppet government propped up by the CIA”. They really could not wait to withdraw.

1930 champions Uruguay had boycotted the previous two tournaments, first in 1934 as an act of retribution against the European teams who had refused to travel to their home tournament in 1930, then along with Argentina in anger at FIFA’s decision to stage World Cup 1938 again in Europe rather then a return to South America. Paraguay had also made their only previous appearance in 1930. Both qualified again without a ball being kicked.

URUGUAY AND PARAGUAY QUALIFY

***

Group 9

USA
Mexico
Cuba

As with the British Home Nations tournament of Group 1, Group 9 also doubled as the 1949 North American Football Confederation Championship; the last time that competition would be played until 1990. However, unlike the Home Nations, all the matches would be played in a host nation – in this case Mexico – and all take place over the month of September 1949, more in lieu with a traditional tournament. The teams would play each other twice with the top two advancing to the World Cup, as well of course as North American Football Confederation Championship glory to the country on top.

The group was like the ill-fated Group 7 in that all teams had previously played at World Cups. Mexico had been statistically the worst team in their only appearance to date in 1930. The US had also taken part, both then and in ’34 where they replaced Mexico as poorest performing participant.

A pre-Castro Cuba can boast not just a finals appearance, but an oft-forgotten World Cup quarter final to their name in 1938. This is slightly less impressive when you remember that they only had to win one game to make the quater-finals, but slightly more impressive again by the fact that they drew 3-3 with Romania after extra time and then beat them 2-0 in a replay. However, the 8-0 drubbing received at the hands of Sweden in the quarter final itself does slightly take the shine off things.

Things didn’t go so well for Cuba this time though, as their only point of the Group came from a 1-1 draw with the US. The return game saw the Americans run out 5-2 winners. But the top side had not been in doubt since day one when hosts Mexico had destroyed the USA 6-0, and proceeded to put the same number past them when the sides would meet again while conceding their only two goals of the campaign. Comfortable 2-0 and 3-0 wins against Cuba, including on the last day of the group, gave Mexico the NAFC crown and qualification, along with the USA in second.

And there it is, finally after nine groups we have found one that was actually played to completion, and with the agreed upon rules adhered to through to the end. The real miracle here is the the Cuban revolution thankfully held off for a few years, for if it had happened in 1949 it would have undoubtedly disrupted the group.

MEXICO AND USA QUALIFY

***

Group 10

Burma
Indonesia
Philippines
India

Group 10 contained the only Asian side to have previously made a World Cup appearance in Indonesia, who played at the 1938 finals in their previous form of the Dutch East Indies. This feat is again made less impressive by the fact that they only reached said finals due the withdrawal (surprise, surprise) of their one opponent Japan. Tragically, after coming all the way to Europe for the World Cup, they were promptly beaten 6-0 by Hungary and sent straight home. Still, their name is in the history books. Well, their name when it was a different name.

India, meanwhile, had played their first game while still a British possession in 1938, and in 1948 had made their first appearance as an independent state. The Philippines had been around a surprisingly long time in comparison, with their first international dating back to 1913, but had not previously had the chance to qualify for a World Cup. Burma went into the qualifiers yet to take part in an international fixture of any sort.

And unfortunately this would remain the case, as wouldn’t you just know it, Burma, Indonesia and the Philippines all withdrew before the group drew could even take place. This left India to qualify by default in the one available spot, and you wouldn’t have it any other way, would you?

Except there is one last twist in the tale as India, true to these qualifiers to the very end, gave one final withdrawal. They powerfully withdrew from their default position of World Cup qualifier, amazingly with a view to prepare for the next Olympic games instead, proving that the World Cup was not exactly the global phenomenon it is today.

The infamous rumored reason had been that FIFA would not allow India to play barefoot at the World Cup, which seems too “sexy” of a story to be true and with more than a hint of racism. But while it apparently did not have a baring on their decision to pull out, they had in fact played barefoot to great effect at the 1948 Olympics, and would do so again at the 1952 edition.

NO QUALIFIER

***

Total Qualified Teams (13):

Bolivia

Brazil

Chile

England

Italy

Mexico

Paraguay

Spain

Sweden

Switzerland

United States

Uruguay

Yugoslavia

*

And there we have it, qualifying done and dusted. Out of the 32 teams that entered, 11 out of the originally intended 14 qualified to join the hosts and champions, 15 either withdrew during qualifying or declined an invitation to the finals, and 9 didn’t play a game at all. Fair to say a roaring success as far as this time period goes. As for the actual 1950 World Cup, well you’ll just have to Google that for now, as it’s a story for another day (we mean that rhetorically, there are currently no plans for us to cover the 1950 World Cup).

*****

 

Politics On The Pitch #2: The Non-Flag Kit Colours Of Europe

Last time, for the inaugural edition of Politics On The Pitch, we took a frankly fascinating look at how the break up of communist Europe influenced World Cup ’94 qualifiers. Now we go in a more historical direction as we examine the national teams of Europe who have represented their country wearing a primary kit colour that is NOT featured on their national flag – and hopefully explain why.

Sport is something that people will try and distance from politics, but of course nearly everything is political on some level. This extends to what the athletes are wearing, specifically the colours and badge, as one person’s national flag can be another person’s “butcher’s apron”.

As all world states are political entities, the national football teams that represent them are inherently political. In romantic theory, these teams embody the spirit of their state, sometimes including it’s political system or ideology, and this is reflected most prominently through the kits. For example, when the USSR was created what else but red would their football team have worn?

But of course some of the world’s most prominent national sides play in colours that are nowhere to be seen on their country’s flag and can survive several regime changes. So used to these seemingly random colourways are we that the general football fan probably rarely thinks twice about them, but the reasons are often of a deep, historically political nature. More interesting still is why certain colours, despite maybe appearing on a states flag, are unavailable or unacceptable to use.

*****

Germany/West Germany

The modern German national side can trace it’s lineage back to 1908 and a first international vs Switzerland. The black, red and gold of the future national flag (conceived in 1848 but officially introduced with the Weimar Republic) was still 11 years away. Instead, the 1908 side was representing the German Empire who’s flag was made up of black, white and red horizontal bars.

But by far the largest and most dominating kingdom within the Empire was Prussia and it was their traditional white and black colours, the “Schwarz und Weiss”, that were the inspiration for the national team kit. The shirt originally featured black more prominently with a Prussian imperial eagle and sometimes with white shorts (Germany at the 1912 Olympics), but soon the famous white shirt and black shorts combination was settled on (originally with black socks, later white) and retained by the team of the new republic after the collapse of the German Empire in 1918.

It would remain to the present day (with all-white occasionally also seeing action), having transcended the the Nazi and West German states that were to come, and eventually be inherited by modern, reunified Germany in 1990.


The "Weimar" German national side in Prussia's black and white, vs Hungary, 1920.

Germany continued to use white shorts in the early years, vs Uruguay, Olympic Games 1928

"Third Reich" Germany, away to England, 1935.

First official match of West Germany, vs Switzerland, friendly, 1950.

West Germany in all-white strip to avoid clash with the home sides dark shorts, away to Argentina, friendly, 1982.

First match of reunified Germany, vs Switzerland, friendly, 1990.

As well as their home shirt, Germany is famous for an away shirt that also is not reflected in their flag and while the colour is not exactly political in itself, the reason for it’s need is. Black and then red were originally used as away shirt colours, which continued into the Nazi era. But after World War 2, the red associated with the previous regime was not no longer acceptable and similarly black was the colour of the SS.

Neutral green was decided upon instead, often incorrectly attributed as a tribute to Ireland as the first non-German speaking side to play West Germany after World War 2. The colour had in fact been adopted by the Deutscher Fußball-Bund in 1926 and, in the same vein as the Prussian colours on the home shirt, it has been theorised that green was chosen to reflect the flag of the state of Saxony giving another possible political link. But perhaps green had been favoured by the DFB simply as a nod to the grass on which their sport was played.

As for the Ireland myth, it appears that West Germany had already worn green in their three proceeding games of 1951, including vs Turkey which also blows the German speaking part of the story  (the other two games were against Switzerland and Austria). But in the absence of colour footage we cannot be sure. Whatever the case, West Germany’s alternate green (used with several shorts and sock combinations, as well as finding it’s way into the home kit on one notable occasion to avoid a World Cup sock clash, see below) would be a welcome, vibrant staple of many international fixtures to come, occasionally giving Ireland fans a brief glimpse of what it might have looked like if their team was at international tournaments.


West Germany most likely in green away shirts before a month beofre playing Ireland, vs Austria, friendly 1951.

West Germany in green shirts and black shorts, vs Turkey, World Cup 1954.

West Germany classic away kit, away to England, Euro '74 qualifier, 1972.

West Germany in away shirt and shorts but home colour socks, away to Bulgaria, Euro '76 qualifier, 1975

West Germany in home shirt and shorts but away colour socks due to World Cup clash rules, vs Mexico, World Cup 1978

West Germany in a rarely seen green/green/white kit combination, vs Turkey, Euro '84 qualifier, 1983.

West Germany in all green, vs Argentina, friendly, 1984.

***


East Germany

You can’t talk about West Germany without East, and like their western neighbours, East Germany also adopted the Weimer flag upon their creation in 1950 with the addition of the state’s coat of arms. But the foundation of the East German national football team in 1952 (and their federation who would go on to be known as the Deutscher Fußball Verband der DDR, great name) also saw the need for a new shirt colour. As with West Germany’s away shirt, black was not an option due to the Nazi link and while red with it’s connection to socialism maybe could have still worked despite it’s fascist connotations in Germany, it was also already the home shirt colour of the Soviet Union.

Obviously the white and black retained by West Germany was out of the question, and a side representing a new worker’s republic wouldn’t have made much sense taking to the field in the colours of the old Kingdom of Prussia anyway. Very few options remained, with even an obscure choice like green also snapped up by the West.

It would seem by this process of elimination, the only reasonable colour left available to choose was blue – which would also worn be East German athletes in other sports. But the use of blue was in fact not so random and actually had a direct link to the state. We can thank read Lucas for enlightening us by sending the following fascinating explanation:

East Germany wore blue because was the colour of the uniforms worn by the youth of the then-ruling party, the SED (Unified Socialist Party).

White trim was used, with white shorts and blue socks, and a reversal of this colour scheme was used for the away kit and later as first preference. Combinations such as white/blue/blue, white/white/blue and all-white were also used when required. The blue and white palette would be employed from their very first (unofficial) international in 1952 against Poland until their last ever match, vs Belgium in 1990.


East Germany in early blue and white strip, away to Czechoslovakia, World Cup '58 qualifier, 1957.

East Germany in all-white, vs Yugoslavia, friendly, 1962.

East Germany in white and blue, vs Italy, World Cup '70 qualifier, 1969.

East Germany vs West Germany, World Cup 1974.

East Germany vs Greece, friendly, 1983.

East Germany vs Belgium, Euro '84 qualifier, 1983.

East Germany's last match shirt, away to Belgium, 1990.

***

Italy

Back in Aesthetically Please Moments From Video Game Football History #6, we briefly examined how wrong it would look for Italy to wear the green, white and red of their national flag. When an Italian side first took to the field, vs France in 1910, white shirts and black shorts were worn. But within a year, vs Hungary in 1911, the Azzuri we know today was birthed as they graduated to blue and white, along with the red shield/white cross of Savoy as the crest.

Like with Germany, the relevance of blue predates the Italian state as it was the royal colour of the House of Savoy as early the 14 century. Savoy united Italy into a kingdom in 1868 with blue becoming the national colour and it was adopted by many sporting, political and military bodies including the football team. I have also seen it said that until the 90’s the national football team was technically part of the military, with representing the country counting as national service, and this was why blue was “allowed” to be worn on the kit/uniform. This is unverified, but noteworthy to include as at least a fun theory.

During the years of fascist rule, the coat of arms of Savoy was accompanied by the “fasces” associated with Mussolini’s regime. The symbolism went a step further at the 1938 World Cup, where at the quarter final vs host nation France there was one notable exception to Italy wearing blue or white. In the midst of political tension between the two countries and anti-faicst protests in France, Italy wore a fascist inspired all-black strip instead of their usual white away, apparently at the behest of Mussolini himself.

After the fall of both fascism and the monarchy – and the start of the modern Italian republic in 1946 – the coat of arms was removed from both the flag and the national team shirt. But blue remained as the national colour with any royal connotation now long forgotten to the sporting world. White shorts have most often been used with the blue shirt, with an occasional all blue strip, but black shorts have continued to be worn at times adding another colour not seen on the flag.


Italy wearing white and black for their first international match, vs France, 1910.

Italy in blue and white, with the "fasces" on the crest accompanying the coat of arms of Savoy signifying the fascist era, circa 1935.

Italy's "blackshirt" strip, vs France, World Cup 1938.

Italian goalkeeper shirt with "fasces and Savoy" crest more visible, World Cup Final 1938.

Italy in blue and black, vs North Korea, World Cup 1966.

Italy in all blue, vs Hungary, World Cup 1978.

Italy in familiar blue and white, away to Romania, Euro '84 qualifier, 1983.

***

Netherlands

Like Germany and Italy, the Netherlands started international football in white and black, but with the colours of the Dutch flag sashed across the torso of the shirt (the popularity of white and black can also be attributed to the ease of production at the time compared to other colours). This was worn for their first international, vs Belgium in 1905, and the look was later revived as the inspiration for their 2006 away shirt. Black shirts were also used in the early years, as seen at the 1908 Olympics.

But post World War 1, at least by the 1924 Olympics, the famous orange was adopted. The origins of orange can be found in the southeastern French commune (municipal region) of Orange. It had been a principality in medieval times and the Prince of Orange title was eventually inherited by the German-Dutch House of Nassau in 1544.

Prince William of Orange led a successful revolt against Hapsburg rule in the Netherlands in 1581 and his grandson, the infamous/famous (depending on where you’re from) William III became ruler of the Netherlands, Britain and Ireland by 1689. The symbolic use of the colour orange relating to these events would have connotations long into the future, including the Orange Order, orange featuring on the Irish flag, why carrots are orange, and of course ultimately the wearing of orange by the Dutch team as the national colour of the Netherlands.

White shorts and blue socks were originally used but the black element seen in the early years was brought back by the 70’s to create the look most associated with the Netherlands, and used intermittently since then.


Netherlands in orange shirts, white shorts and blue socks, away to Belgium, friendly, 1925.

Netherlands in black shorts and orange socks, away to Luxembourg, Euro '72 qualifier, 1971.

Netherlands in white shorts and orange socks, away to Ireland, World Cup '82 qualifier, 1981.

For more recent writings on all things Dutch, specifically their amazing World Cup ’78-era kits, click here for our Netherlands special Champagne Kit Campaigns #2.

***

Northern Ireland

So, where to start with this one. First off, the team of “Ireland” became the 4th ever national side to appear  in football history (after the three British nations) when they took to the field for the first time in 1882, welcoming England to Belfast in a 13-0 loss. Their Belfast based federation, the Irish Football Association (IFA), had been founded two years before. Of course this is when Ireland itself as a whole was still part of the United Kingdom, so the political entity that the team represented was not in the interest of an independent, sovereign Ireland. Hence, we shall refer to this team as “Ireland-UK”.

In these early years, Ireland-UK wore blue shirts – “St.Patrick’s blue”- and white shorts. The use of blue stems from the Anglo-Irish “Order of St. Patrick” (again, an organisation not in the interest of Irish freedom) who adopted it in 1780. It became an unofficial national colour during this time of British rule, along with the more traditionally Irish and well known green. Of course Ireland did not have a national flag of it’s own back then and was instead represented on the Union Jack from 1800 with the red diagonal cross of St. Patrick, another British invention. But the blue on the Jack coincidentally meant that Ireland-UK were playing in a colour that technically did appear on their state’s flag.

With the conclusion of the Irish War of Independence in 1921, the country was partitioned into the mostly-autonomous Irish Free State and the smaller Northern Ireland, which remained in the UK. But this did not apply to the IFA, who continued to claim jurisdiction over the whole island and field teams as Ireland-UK while still wearing blue. This was coupled with the need for a new national team to represent independent Ireland, and it’s governing body – the Football Association of the Irish Free State (FAIFS) – was created in Dublin and accepted into FIFA in 1923. Of course this side wore green shirts.

In 1931, Ireland-UK switched from blue to green jerseys also, apparently to avoid clashes against the navy-blue of Scotland. The socks remained blue for some years before also becoming green and blue would later be commemorated and return as a third colour on some future kits. Meanwhile, the Irish Free State became “Ireland” in 1936, the FAIFS became the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) and, like with Ireland-UK, players from “north” and “south” were selected. The IFA had withdrawn from FIFA along with the other UK “Home Nations” in 1928 after long running disputes, meaning that by the mid-30’s there were two Ireland’s, both wearing green, one in FIFA and the other outside of FIFA.

As the official flag of Northern Ireland remained the Union Jack, Ireland-UK were now playing in a colour not seen on their flag (and this later remained true even considering the well known, but unofficial, flag of Northern Ireland, the red and white “Ulster Banner” introduced in 1953, see above). The crest, originally a Celtic-cross and harp motiff, was changed to a shamrock badge, similar to what Ireland were using adding another parallel.

During World Cup 1950 qualifiers, after the UK teams had rejoined FIFA, amazingly the two Irelands participated in different groups with certain players representing both. After this farcical situation, FIFA enforced in 1953 that from now on Ireland-UK be designated as “Northern Ireland” (although they remained Ireland-UK within internal British competition until the 70’s) and Ireland as “Republic of Ireland”. Players could now only be picked for one side based on the political boarders, and the IFA also changed it’s badge back to the original concept.

But as the century went on, and the political situation in Northern Ireland between British loyalists and Irish nationalists deteriorated, the use of green to represent the Northern Irish team became slightly odd. As divisions of identity widened, old symbols which acceptably represented “Ireland within the UK” in previous eras (what today would be called “cultural appropriation”) became unusable as the of the likes of the Celtic-cross, harp and shamrock were now more associated with the fight for Irish independence and unity, as well of course as the colour green. The blue, white and red of the Union Jack , or the orange of the Orange Order referenced earlier, became the “national colours” of Northern Ireland with some hardcore loyalists even known to “ban” green from their houses.

Despite this, the green shirt with it’s “typically Irish” crest remained for Northern Ireland and in replica form has doubtless been the only green garment worn by many an Ulsterman. But to them, the tradition of this green represents a golden age when the green of Ireland came with the caveat that it was the green of an Ireland happily loyal to the UK. Humorously, the use of the more loyalist orange on the shirt is basically out of the question as along with the green and white, this would create the colour palette of the Republic of Ireland flag. Especially ironic since the orange on said flag is there as symbol of peace to the Orangemen who despise it.


Northern Ireland (still referred to as "Ireland" in the British Pathé newsreel) in green shirts, with Celtic-cross badge visible, white shorts and green socks, vs Italy, World Cup '58 qualifier, 1958.

Probably the only instance of "The Troubles" era where Northern Irish loyalists were on the side of "green" against "orange" and not vice versa, vs Netherlands, friendly, 1977.


For even more reading on Northern Ireland, some of which relates to the above, click here for People On The Pitch #4: Linfield vs Glentoran, 1983.

***

Extra Time: Honorable Mentions or Non-Political

Republic Of Cyprus

Like Ireland, Cyprus is an island divided into “Republic of” and “Northern” regions. A slight majority of the country is made up of the historically ethnic Greek Republic of Cyprus, who claim the entire island, while the de facto state of Northern Cyprus is of mostly Turkish blood. A British colony as a whole until 1960, Cyprus was partitioned in 1974 following the Greek military junta’s failed attempt to unite the island with Greece and the resulting invasion of Turkish troops.

As Turkey is the only state that recognises Northern Cyrpus, their football team obviously is not in UEFA or FIFA. The Cyrpus that is a member – originally one of Europe’s weakest footballing nations until the introduction of micro states such as Andorra and Faroe Islands – wear white shirts, which is the colour of their mostly white flag (apart from an orange map of the (whole) island and two wreaths). But they do pay homage to their Hellenic heritage with blue trim and shorts, and with blue as the away shirt colour. A Greek white cross on a blue background is also the country’s naval jack.


Cyprus in blue shirts, away to England, Euro '76 qualifier, 1975.

Cyprus in their home white shirts and blue shorts and classic pitch/stadium, vs Yugoslavia, Euro '80 qualifier, 1979.

***

Slovenia

Like many states in the region, the flag of the former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia features the pan-Slavic colours of white, blue and red, and these were the colours of Slovenia’s shirt, shorts and socks respectively for their first international football match, post-Yugoslavia, vs Estonia in 1992. But by the time of their first qualifying campaign as a UEFA member in 1994
(for Euro’96) they had graduated to green as a secondary colour with the removal of blue and red, giving them a distinct look from their neighbours.

As well as featuring prominently on the flag of capital Ljubljana (quite similar to Wales), green is said to represent the mountains and countryside of the lush Balkan state. It is also used by other national sports teams such as basketball, but in recent times has been abandoned by the football team.


Slovenia in green shorts, vs Italy, Euro '96 qualifier, 1994.

Slovenia vs Yugoslavia, World Cup '02 qualifier, 2001.

***

Belgium

While all three colours of their flag often appear on their kits (the black, yellow and red of the historical Duchy of Brabant), Belgium share a trait with Romania in that both teams wear a shirt colour that is featured on their flag but not the “first” colour. By normal logic, Belgium would wear black as a home colour insread of red and Romania would wear blue instead of yellow.

But Belgium also have used white as a fourth colour and for away kits, and in the 1970’s their devotion to white went a step further. White became the colour of their first strip in 1970 and for the rest of the decade the previously red devils could be seen in white-hot kits at home, until the normal mostly red and black ensembles returned for the 80’s. This seems to have been a purely aesthetical change, but worthy of inclusion as an unexpected side to have worn a non-national flag colour at home. But like Cyprus’ blue, the Belgian naval ensign does actually feature white, perhaps giving us a deeper link after all.


Belgium in all white, vs Portugal, friendly, 1971.

Belgium vs Norway, World Cup '74 qualifier, 1973.

Belgium, vs Norway, Euro '80 qualifier, 1978.

*****

Politics On The Pitch #1: Changing Eastern Europe and the World Cup ’94 Qualifiers

We had originally planned on only briefly discussing the topic for this very first edition of Politics On the Pitch (yes, another POTP acronym) as a prelude to an upcoming Champagne Kit Campaign (For the debut of Champagne Kit Campaigns, focusing on Norway in the same time period, click here).

However, it quickly became apparent that an in depth look was needed as we felt more and more compelled to delve into the crux of where politics and football met leading up to the UEFA qualifiers for the 1994 World Cup (We have no idea if one can “delve into a crux” or not but we’re bloody well doing it).

We look back on this campaign as THE all-time classic qualification phase in Europe, partly due to age and nationality, but the changing political face of the world at the time also created some unique situations and contributed to the general magic.

On December 8th, 1991, thirty seven national teams were entered into the UEFA section of the draw to decide groups for the upcoming World Cup ’94 qualifiers. Political turmoil in eastern Europe meant that three of these countries would either not compete in their current form or not take part at all: the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

But a further three in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were freshly reformed nations competing for the chance to play at the tournament for the first time in decades. One side had already disappeared since the last World Cup as East Germany had been reunified with West on October 3rd, 1990.


Sepp Blatter and Franz Beckenbauer at the FIFA World Cup draw in 1991 for UEFA.

Some other former communist states such as Poland (1989), Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania (all 1990) had also already completed the transition to new “democratic”, capitalist regimes. These changes were first evident at an international tournament when Romania competed at World Cup ’90 under a restored, pre-communist flag and played in shirts devoid of a badge, the previous one being synonymous with the recently booted government.


Romania kit at World Cup '90, sans a crest.

Romanian supporters also displayed the banner of the revolution against President Ceaușescu; a Romanian flag with the coat of arms of the old regime literally cut out of the middle. Eight years earlier at a World Cup ’82 in a match against the USSR, Polish fans had displayed banners of the anti-communist Solidarity movement showing a sign of what was coming down the line, until Spanish police forced their removal upon pressure from Soviet TV.


Polish banners of the Solidarity movement at World Cup '82.

But the above were all nation states that had not been absorbed into into bigger unions. For countries within these unions, it would take a little more time to reemerge on to the international stage. Elections had taken place across the various republics of the USSR and Yugoslavia in 1990, but a complex sequence of events would still need to take place before independence could be achieved.

Eventually, after the chaos of the failed August 1991 coup, a weakened Soviet Union recognised the independence of the Baltic states on the 6th of September,  in time for them to join UEFA and enter the draw for World Cup qualifying.

On January 1st, 1992, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. The other former Soviet countries were not as lucky as the Baltic nations and would not be entered into World Cup qualifying, but a more pressing matter was the fact that the failed state had already qualified for the upcoming European Championships in Sweden.

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) had formed in December ’91 by the soon to be former Soviet republics as a loose international confederation, but on January 11th, 1992, a football association of the CIS was also formed and swiftly accepted into UEFA to replace the USSR at the European Championships.


CIS shirt at Euro '92.

The CIS team represented the following 12 countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia (despite not entering the actual CIS until 1995), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. But at the Euros the team contained mostly Russians and Ukrainians, with one Georgian and one Belorussian.


CIS supporters celebrate a goal against Germany at Euro '92. The white flag with the red star, hammer and sickle, and blue bar at the bottom, is the former Soviet naval ensign.

Meanwhile, the situation in Yugoslavia had deteriorated into war. The Balkan state had been out been outside the Warsaw Pact and had been led by what may be as close to a benevolent dictator the 20th century had seen in Tito, and throughout the Cold War some eastern European players had used away games in Yugoslavia as a chance to defect to the west. Despite this, it’s exit from the communist era was the bloodiest of all and the ramifications of this rippled through to the sporting world.

Like the USSR, Yugoslavia had qualified for Euro ’92 in the midst of it’s socialist state dissolving. As Croatia, Slovenia and FYR Macadonia broke away, the remaining territory became the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, later known as Serbia and Montenegro.

Their football team was set to take the place of the original Yugoslavia at the Euros but just ten days before the tournament, on May 31st, 1992, the team was banned from competing and replaced with eventual winners Denmark. This was in accordance with the UN Security Council’s Resolution 757 which placed sanctions on the country as the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina went on.

The ban lasted until 1996, meaning Yugoslavia were also out of World Cup qualifying. They had originally been Pool 2 seeds and drawn in Group 5, fittingly along with top seeds the Soviet Union.


The original World Cup Qualifying Group 5, featuring the USSR and Yugoslavia.

The CIS concluded it’s brief existence in international football losing to Scotland at the Euros on June 18th, 1992. Ukraine had proposed a new tournament for the teams who had made up the CIS so they would have something to compete for in lieu of the World Cup. This was supported by Armenia and Georgia, but blocked by Russia.

In August, Russia was officially recognised by FIFA as the USSR/CIS successor state and take it’s place in qualifying Group 5 along with Greece, Iceland, Hungary and Luxembourg, but without the stricken Yugoslavia.

Most interesting to note was that in Russia’s first international since 1914, a friendly against Mexico in August ’92, they would in fact continue to wear what was previously the white away shirt of the USSR, now apparently repurposed as a home shirt. The only difference in the kit was that the Adidas trefoil-era shorts of the Soviets (white with red trim) were replaced with shorts of the new Adidas Equipment line (plain white but for a black brand logo).


 Left: USSR vs Italy, October '91. Right: Russia vs Mexico, August '92.

Russia playing in Soviet shirts vs Mexico, August '92.

The shirt would again be worn when Russia made their World Cup qualifying debut at home to Iceland in October but with blue shorts and red socks, amazingly meaning that the Soviet shirt was now part of an overall Russian flag. By the following game at home to Luxembourg, Russia finally wore their own shirts, albeit very bare.


 Russian kit vs Iceland, October '92.

Although plain, Russia finally gets it's own shirt against Luxembourg, October '92.

This unusual kit sequence clearly needs it’s own article, which will happen in due course. But back to the actual group and the absence of Yugoslavia, along with Russia’s smaller talent pool than it’s predecessor, meant that it was far weaker than when originally drawn. This paved the way for Greece to top the group and qualify for it’s first World Cup, with Russia joining them in second.

While their fellow former Soviet republics were denied the right to play competitively until Euro 96 qualifiers in 1994, the Baltic states were all happily placed as bottom seeds in Pool 6 of the draw.


Sepp Blatter draws Estonia as the first country out of the hat after the top seeds had been assigned their groups.

After original independence from the collapsed Russian Empire in 1917, Estonia had first competed as a national team in 1920, with Latvia following suit in 1922 and Lithuania the following year. Estonia and Lithuania had taken part in qualifying for the 1934 and 1938 World Cups, with Latvia also competing in the latter, so it would not technically be new ground for any of the three. However, as all were annexed by the USSR in 1940 and as UEFA did not form until 1954, the 1994 campaign would be their first as UEFA affiliated countries.

Estonia were drawn in a tough Group 1 along with Italy, Switzerland, Portugal, Scotland and Malta. Unsurprisingly, they only managed one point from a 0-0 draw away to Malta and only scored one goal in the entire campaign during a 3-1 defeat to Scotland.


Estonia score their lone goal of the campaign away to Scotland.

Latvia and Lithuania had been drawn against each other in a group of two back when they last competed in 1937. Since both were bottom seeds, it should have been impossible for the neighbours to clash this time. However, due to the uneven amount of teams in the draw, fate would have it that after the long wait to rejoin international competition they would again be drawn together in Group 3, along with an eastern country that we have not mentioned yet in Albania.

Spain, Ireland, Denmark and Northern Ireland made up the rest of the group, creating the unusual situation where this group had seven teams, while due to Yugoslavia’s suspension Group 5 only contained five (the other 4 groups had six each).


Albania, Latvia and Lithuania drawn together in Group 3.

Albania had originally been a Warsaw Pact member but broke away in 1960 and remained a deeply secretive and less well known state. Despite this, it had been a founder member of UEFA in 1954 and competed in Euro and World Cup qualification in the ’60s.

But then, due to internal political reasons, the country would not compete at all in ’68 and ’69, and again from ’74 until ’80 (apart from three Balkan Cup games against Yugoslavia in ’76 and ’77, and one friendly against Algeria in ’77). They would return for the World Cup ’82 qualifying campaign and remain in competition ever since.

Like the rest of the region, Albania held democratic elections by 1991, but the transition from communism was difficult and the country remained poor. The turmoil was evident when they visited Dublin to play Ireland in May 1992 without a kit (a shame as they had worn some beautiful kits in the 80’s and very early 90’s). For more information on this episode, and Lithuania ending up in a similar situation away to Ireland the following year, check out this Museum of Jerseys piece.


Albania in a hasitly prepared kit away to Ireland, May '92.

Lithuania, Latvia and Albania would unsurprisingly finish 5th, 6th and 7th in the group, mostly taking points off each other. But delightfully, Latvia did manage respectable 0-0 draws at home to both Denmark and Spain.


Latvia holding Spain to a 0-0, September '92.

Lithuania 1-1 Latvia, October '92.

The last of the former communist states to cover is Czechoslovakia. Over the course of ’89-’90, the communist government collapsed and the country formally transformed on April 23rd, 1990, from the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic to the Czech and Slovak Federalist Republic. This was seen in effect at the World Cup draw the following year as “CSFR” was used to represent the country on the group board.


Democratic Czechoslovakia of '89-'92, aka CSFR, seconds seeds in Group 4.

They were drawn in Group 4 along with Belgium, Romania, Wales, Cyprus and the debuting Faroe Islands (San Marino in Group 2 and Isreal in Group 6 were the other new sides added to UEFA’s system) and would compete as Czechoslovkia for the first three matches. But as 1992 progressed, Slovakian calls for greater autonomy resulted in the break up of the federation, and on January 1st, 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovkia both came into existence as independent states.

Like the the USSR becoming the CIS in ’92, the team completed the group as a new entity, the Representation of Czechs and Slovaks (RCS). Unlike with the CIS though, this was purely a sporting union and not representative of an actual political body.

Most notable was the team’s away shirt which saw use away to Wales in September ’93, a template also infamously used for Arsenal’s ’91-’93 away shirt.


RCS away shirt away to Wales, September '93.

A win on the last day of the group away to Belgium would have meant qualification through 2nd place, and presumably the continued existence of RCS until at least the following summer after the World Cup. However, the game ended 0-0 and Belgium took 2nd instead with RCS finishing 3rd.

Slovakia had previously competed while a Nazi puppet state in the World War 2 era and fielded unofficial teams again from 1992, but they would officially reemerge in February ’94 away to the UAE. The Czech Republic would go on to be official successor of the Czechoslovakian and RCS teams and play their first match, away to Turkey, three weeks after their new neighbours, in a way putting an end to the era we have disucssed.

Only 2 of the 6 groups for the World Cup ’94 qualifiers did not contain the results of states breaking up or gaining independence since the 80’s. This continued fragmentation meant that the draw for Euro ’96 qualifying would rise to 47 countries with the addition of the other post-Soviet European countries and former Yugoslav states. This would increase even more into the future as the Balkans further divided, and the likes of Kazakhstan eventually joined.

As Europe and the world in general continue to evolve rapidly, who knows how differently qualification groups of the future may look compared with today, as the addition or removal of even more states is as inevitable as it always has been. That is, of course, should the concept of modern states continue to even exist.