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Of the great World Cup upsets – the USA's victory over England in 1950,North Korea's over Italy in 1966 and Algeria's over West Germany in 1982 probably push it close – this one stands alone in myth and memory. It was not a perfect match but it was an irresistible narrative, as the World Cup champions, led by the great Diego Maradona, were vanquished by an unheralded team largely assembled of journeymen players from the French lower divisions – though for some of them even that was either an impossible dream or a distant memory.

In the space of 90 minutes African football, once derided for being all about juju magic and Zairian defenders with a limited grasp of free-kick regulations, became credible. The result was celebrated not only inCameroon, where impromptu street parties erupted across the nation and a reporter from the Telegraph wrote, intriguingly, that "a lady in a floral dress and turban did a hand-stand", but across Africa and beyond. When they were finally knocked out a woman in Bangladesh committed suicide, writing that "the elimination of Cameroon means the end of my life".

"No one thought we could do anything here against Maradona, but we knew what we could do," the goalscorer, François Omam-Biyik, said after the game. "We hate it when European reporters ask us if we eat monkeys and have a witch doctor. We are real football players and we proved this tonight."

The match is best remembered for the moment, two minutes from the end, when Claudio Caniggia, Argentina's flaxen-haired substitute striker, went on a run down the right. Italia 90 was something of a festival of simulation during which neither Caniggia nor any other Argentinian was to become known for their refusal to go to ground under any kind of challenge, but with his side trailing and time running out he stayed up when an imprecise tackle came flying in, kept going despite a second attempt to bring him down, and was promptly taken out in the most emphatic style by Benjamin Massing, an assault that sent the tackler's right boot, and possibly a few body parts, flying across the pitch, and earned Cameroon their second red card of the day. As Pete Davies put it in his peerless book about the 1990 World Cup, All Played Out, it was "a kind of full-pelt, waist-high, horizontal flying bodycheck. The general intention seemed to be not so much to break Caniggia's legs, as actually to separate them from the rest of his body."

The opening match set the tone for a tournament that was to feature precisely twice as many red cards as the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, which itself had seen more than any previous finals. "Cameroon neutralised Maradona mainly by kicking him," wrote Matthew Engel in The Guardian. "He spent much of the game horizontal despite wearing calf pads as well as shin pads. His 10 team-mates seemed too stunned to make any trouble but they were kicked as well, if they got in the way."

Though the first red card, shown to the goalscorer's brother André Kana-Biyik for a foul on Caniggia, was harsh the French referee, Michel Vautrot, had little choice but to follow Fifa's newly handed-down guidelines for ultra-strict arbitration. Brian Glanville, in his Story of the World Cup, insists that "a bruising game was made worse by [his] draconian refereeing" but in the following day's Express, James Lawton proclaimed his victory over "a rising tide of wild and often cynical tackling" as "perhaps the greatest triumph" of the night. Sepp Blatter, then Fifa's general secretary, boasted before the tournament began that, as a result of their fair play initiative, "players will behave in a decorous manner in all phases of the match". The players, it turned out, hadn't really been listening. "I'm unhappy the referee was forced to intervene as he did, but I'm pleased that he did," Blatter said after the match, having criticised the behaviour of players who "want to destroy the game of soccer instead of letting creativity and genius flow".

But though a recording of this match will never be of much use to anyone learning the art of clean tackling, there was significantly more to Cameroon than studs and muscle. "I don't think they had any intentions of beating us up to win the game," said Maradona. "I cannot argue, and I cannot make excuses. If Cameroon won, it was because they were the best side."

"This was no fluke, the better team won," wrote David Lacey in The Guardian. "They won, moreover, after finishing with nine men on the field … Such was their superiority that the Africans still finished looking as if they had more men on the pitch than their hapless opponents."

Argentinas-Diego-Maradona-009.jpgArgentina's Diego Maradona juggles with the ball as he runs past Cameroon's Benjamin Massing. Photograph: Daniel Garcia/AFP/Getty Images

Napoli, with Maradona their inspiration, had just won the Serie A title from Milan by two points, and the local fans delighted in his downfall, so much so that the Argentinian, who had been suffering from an ingrown nail and played with the aid of a protective carbon fibre "bionic toe", claimed he had "cured the Italians of racism". "The whole stadium was shouting for Cameroon," he observed. "Wasn't that nice?"

They say in Douala that "l'impossible n'est pas camerounais", and never has the saying seemed more true than for those three weeks in 1990. For the Cameroon team that redefined the way the football of their continent was perceived arrived as if intent only on reinforcing stereotypes. Their preparations were shambolic, their squad divided, their players unappreciated, but for all that it took the unequalled penalty-earning skills of England's Gary Lineker to beat them in the quarter-finals, when England came from behind to win 3-2 just as it was starting to look like Cameroon would be swept irresistibly to a showpiece reunion with Argentina on a wave of supple-hipped, corner-flag-bothering hysteria.

To say they were underestimated before kick-off would be to wrongly suggest that they were estimated at all. "The Soviet Union is a tough opponent, but I'm generally pleased," the Argentina manager, Carlos Bilardo, said after the draw the previous December. "Our group is not the easiest but we should have no problems in qualifying for the second round." Cameroon were widely quoted at 500-1 to win the tournament, among the rankest of outsiders.

A couple of years earlier Paul Biya, the country's president, had asked the Russian FA to send over a few coaches who wouldn't mind helping out for a while. The first to arrive was Valeri Nepomniachi, an unexceptional ex-player whose only experience of first-team management had been a single season at the helm of an obscure Turkmenistani club in Russia's third division. Biya appointed him national team manager, even though he spoke no French and almost no English. At the World Cup his team-talks were translated by the man normally employed as a driver at the Cameroon embassy in Moscow, and by various accounts freely disregarded by the players. Nepomniachi only just made it to Italy, having come close to the sack after the country's hapless displays at that year's African Cup of Nations, where as reigning champions they lost to Zambia and Senegal and were eliminated in the group stage.

After that failure, and just a few weeks before the World Cup, Biya made another intervention. He called Roger Milla, a 38-year-old who had retired from international football three years previously and moved to Réunion, a tiny French-controlled speck in the Indian Ocean, where he played for a team called Saint-Pierroise. Biya demanded the striker's return; Milla announced that he was "always ready to be called to my country's colours" and back he came.

Cameroon's pre-tournament training camps in Bordeaux and Yugoslavia not only featured frequent defeats to obscure club sides in warm-up matches, but also intense bickering, both about Milla's arrival and the delayed payments of bonuses due to the players. The goalkeeper Joseph-Antoine Bell became the voice of the players' demands for cash. Perhaps, having just come second in the voting for France's footballer of the year, he felt his position in the team was secure enough to survive a little controversy. But then, on the eve of the tournament, he criticised his team-mates in a newspaper interview, saying they had "no chance of coping with Argentina, or any other team" and that they "will go out in the first round without much glory". Even though his place had, he insisted, been absolutely guaranteed by Nepomniachi, he was dropped. "I used to believe that he selected the team," he said. "I don't any more."

Bell seems to be an unusually divisive figure. In 2011 he published a memoir, Vu de ma Cage, with a controversial section on the 1990 World Cup that was dismissed by the defender Stephen Tataw as "500% lie". "I don't do reflections, I write about facts. The book tells what I have done, it tells the facts of my life," insisted Bell. "Every time he spoke his tongue dripped with the poison of selfishness," countered Tataw. Bell returned to the team for the 1994 World Cup; when Cameroon were eliminated in the group stage fans back in Douala burned down his house.

Until just a few hours before kick-off in Milan Thomas N'Kono had considered himself unlikely to even be in the matchday squad – Bell didn't like him, and wanted the relatively inexperienced Jacques Songo'o on the bench instead. Suddenly he was first choice, a decision taken so late, and so unexpectedly, that his wife missed his moment of glory having decided to go shopping instead. "I thought it was a very bad team and we were going to lose," N'Kono told Jonathan Wilson in the latter's book on goalkeeping, The Outsider. "Suddenly the coach said I was going to play. Five hours before the game. I said no way. I had no confidence in the coach. The federation, the minister of sport, seven or eight people were telling me I had to play and I was saying I didn't feel ready. They said if I wasn't going to play they would play Songo'o, and if he didn't want to play they would put an outfielder in goal. I went to talk with the president of Cameroon, and eventually I agreed to play."

The replacement's performances at the World Cup proved so good that a promising 12-year-old midfielder from Tuscany decided that he'd prefer to be a goalkeeper all things considered, and bought his first pair of gloves. "It was N'Kono and his spectacular saves that made me fall in love with the position. He became my hero," the kid said, many years later. As an adult, he named his son Thomas in the Cameroonian's honour. The young Italian's name was Gianluigi Buffon.

Argentina shared a few of their opponents' problems, including controversial team selection – Jorge Burruchaga was surprisingly chosen ahead of Caniggia – and goalkeeping issues. Still, their evening did not start so badly. "Everything was under control until Cameroon went down to 10 men and we got disorganised," said the Argentina manager, Carlos Bilardo. Six minutes later Cameroon scooped a free-kick into the penalty area, Cyrille Makanaky flicked it on and Omam-Biyik rose unfeasibly high, while his nominal marker Nestor Sensini hesitated. His header flew low towards goal, though neither very hard nor very far from the goalkeeper, but Nery Pumpido, a World Cup winner in 1986, inexplicably shovelled it into the net. Eleven minutes into their second match Pumpido broke his leg, and he would never play for his country again. Like N'Kono his replacement, Sergio Goycochea, went on to have a fabulous tournament, excelling in the penalty shoot-outs that took Argentina through the quarter- and semi-finals even if he was beaten by the one penalty that really mattered, Andreas Brehme's in the final.

Bilardo called this defeat "the worst moment of my sporting career", and after it Carlos Menem, the Argentinian president, and his predecessor Raúl Alfonsín both phoned him to recommend certain tactical tweaks. "Everyone called me to tell me what to do," Bilardo said. "I heard from the president, two former presidents and the opposition leader." The politicians clearly had some decent ideas, as Argentina made five changes for their next match, and improved sufficiently to reach the final. "I have never seen anything like it before in my life," said Bilardo. "I have never seen anything unify the nation like that. Not politics or music or anything. Everyone was watching and hoping for the team. And when we came home, they were happy for us. We were proud to have reached the final."

Milla played only the final nine minutes of this game, but settled into his role as Cameroon's supersub and scored twice against Romania in their second game and twice again against Colombia in the second round, becoming one of the sensations of the tournament. He returned in 1994, where he broke his own record as the World Cup's oldest goalscorer by grabbing his side's consolation in a 6-1 thrashing by Russia at the age of 42 years and 39 days. "I'll tell you something," he told France Football after Cameroon were finally knocked out in 1990, "if we had beaten England, Africa would have exploded. Ex-plo-ded. There would have been deaths. The Good Lord knows what he does. Me, I thank him for stopping us in the quarter-finals."

Having played for Laval in the French second division, Omam-Biyik's performances earned him offers from some of the biggest clubs in Europe, but he refused to break an agreement to join Rennes. Shortly after the tournament he was asked in an interview with the Guardian whether his match-winning goal against Argentina had been the best moment of his career. "It was one of them," he replied. "The best 'moment', if I can stretch the definition of the word, was the whole of that wonderful time we spent in Italy – the experience we gained, the atmosphere, and the money."

The team returned to a rapturous welcome, with the government announcing a national holiday to enable everyone to celebrate. "When we arrived at Douala airport, the aeroplane had to pull up and come around again," said Omam-Biyik, "because the runway was totally flooded with people." The players' victory parade lasted two full days, and ended with President Biya conveying honours not only upon the players, but their coaches, the support staff, and even journalists.

Twelve years later the holders were again beaten 1-0 by unheralded Africans in the opening game of the World Cup finals, France falling to Pape Bouba Diop's goal. But while 11 of Cameroon's 22-man squad in 1990 played for domestic clubs and not one outfield player was based at a European top-flight team, by 2002 all but two of Senegal's 23 was based in Europe and 16 of them played in the French top-flight. "No team could ever again do what we did in 1990," said Milla. "The element of surprise is not there. Everybody knows everything about all the teams now."

What The Guardian said: David Lacey, 9 June 1990

The fanfare for Diego Maradona was drowned by the drums of Black Africa in Milan last night as Cameroon defeated Argentina, the World Cup holders, to open the 1990 tournament by destroying a whole package of preconceptions.

This was no fluke, the better team won. They won, moreover, after finishing with nine men on the field, the result of Michel Vautrot's determination to obey Fifa's guidelines in dealing with persistent and cynical fouls. The French referee sent off two Cameroon players but such was their superiority that the Africans still finished looking as if they had more men on the pitch than their hapless opponents.

This result, the biggest shock in a World Cup since Algeria's 2-1 defeat of West Germany in the opening phase in Spain in 1982, has immediately thrown the new tournament off its predicted course.

Argentina's chances of winning Group B already look slim. On last night's evidence one would not give much for their hopes of defeating either the Soviet Union or Romania. Maradona began brightly but when he faded the whole team fell away, losing rhythm and confidence and looking just another poor side.

England, if they finish runners-up in Group F, will meet the second-placed team in Group B in Genoa in the second phase. Now Bobby Robson might prefer it not to be Cameroon. Better even Maradona than the inspirational Francois Omam-Biyik, who scored the winning goal five minutes after Kana-Biyik had been sent off and departed blowing a farewell kiss to an adoring crowd.

The Third World has long since threatened to arrive on the wider footballing stage in style but nobody seriously expected Cameroon to make the entrance they did on a balmy Milanese evening after half an hour of noisy pomp and ceremony had made it a natural setting for Maradona.

Long after the finish, in a stadium empty except for reporters, the PA system suddenly burst forth into the theme music from Ben Hur. Certainly this was one race which had seen several collisions and the finish that the majority wanted. The Milan supporters, remembering the way Napoli had pipped their team for the Italian championship, made sure that Maradona did not feel at home by whistling and jeering every time he touched the ball.

Cameroon, and in particular the tall muscular figure of Benjamin Massing, one of four French League players in the side, fouled Argentina's new ambassador for sport at almost every opportunity. Maradona must have felt he was encountering a distant relative of Claudio Gentile.

Massing became the second Cameroon player to be dismissed when Vautrot showed him the red card two minutes from the end after he had taken out Caniggia, sent on by Argentina's manager Carlos Bilardo in the second half to give his struggling team an extra attacker, thigh-high. Massing had been the first of three Cameroon players to be cautioned, so he had to go.

And so did Kana-Biyik, without the preliminary of a caution, for coolly tripping Caniggia just past the hour. To him fell the distinction of being the first player to receive a red card in the opening game of a World Cup since referees started carrying red cards.

Fifa had been specific in its instructions on how to deal with this sort of offence and Vautrot set the sort of disciplinary standards the World Cup needs to heed, otherwise there will be anarchy.

While there was a natural inclination to rejoice with Cameroon, ugly images of their tackling lingered in the mind's eye. But when all is said and done it was a joyous occasion which did not lack a sense of irony. Four years ago, when Maradona sent Burruchaga clear to score the winning goal in the last World Cup final, their green-shirted opponents West Germany collapsed in the centre circle in despair. When the game ended last night the green shirts, what was left of them, dissolved into a celebrating heap, leaving Argentina to wonder if the new roof of the San Siro had not fallen in on them.

Cameroon never looked like a side which had been sent into the opening match to play stooge to Maradona. Their man-to-man marking system was tighter, they were first to the ball in all parts of the field, they created space with greater ease and opened up ever widening gaps near goal as the holders' defence became threadbare.

From the start Omam-Biyik's willingness to run at a retreating defence looked like causing Argentina problems. Not only that, Cameroon had more skiil on the ball than their supposedly superior opponents.

There was little hint of a shock at the start, which was an anticlimax after all the hype. A couple of touches from Maradona might have given Argentina two goals had not N'Kono, keeping goal instead of the more experienced Bell, somehow blocked the danger.

A goal then might have settled the holders. As it was, they became unsettled by Cameroon's close marking and hard tackling and never got their act together thereafter.

Midway through the first half Burruchaga was just able to flick the ball away from an empty Argentina net after Omam-Biyik had caught them square with an early through ball. Seven minutes before half-time the same player produced a sudden shot from a narrow angle that nearly went in under Pumpido's body.

When Cameroon scored Pumpido was badly at fault. Ironically the goal followed a gratuitous Argentinian foul by Lorenzo, who conceded a free-kick on the right.

Cameroon-players-pile-on--011.jpgCameroon players pile on top of each other as they celebrate the only goal. Photograph: Bob Thomas/Bob Thomas/Getty Images

As the ball came across, Lorenzo rose with Makanaky and it spun off the defender high to Omam-Biyik, whose header was well aimed but should not have carried the power to beat a goalkeeper of international class. However Pumpido appeared confused by its direction, reacted like a dosing slip fielder and allowed the ball to squeeze under his right hand and over the line.

Argentina could not believe it, the crowd could not believe it, the world television audience probably did not believe it and even now it seems like something out of a fantasy. It is one thing to beat Argentina with a full side but to finish on the attack with nine men is rather rubbing it in.



they had a similarly brilliant series for the Olympics in 2012 and think for Ashes last year as well and hopefully this will follow suit. 2 have already been published and this is 1st



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I think one issue with recent world cups is that even the smaller teams from far flung places now have their players playing in Europe and are already well known.


You don't get these crazy stories of teams coming out of no where so much any more.

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This world cups mystery team is Costa Rica. Apart from 1 player I don't think Europeans will know much about them. Should be a nice easy 3 points for England.


really? Ruiz, Navas, Oviedo(he might be fit), Campbell, Diaz are all playing in decent european leagues, Bolanos as well nearly signed for Liverpool a few years back as well plays in Copenhagen

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Zatman your knowledge on the European leagues is alot greater then your average fan. Of their 23 man squad that they pick in May/June, I would say most people in Europe would only know 1 or 2 of the players.

Edited by Voinjama
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I think one issue with recent world cups is that even the smaller teams from far flung places now have their players playing in Europe and are already well known.


You don't get these crazy stories of teams coming out of no where so much any more.



We did get a pretty similar occasion with Senegal beating France in the opening game of 2002.



EDIT: Next time I'll finish the article before commenting 

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I thought of a player from every country at the World Cup and the hardest to do were Honduras, Iran, Algeria and Costa Rica.


I could only really think of:


Honduras - Palacios

Iran - Dejageh

Algeria - Feghouli

Costa Rica - Oviedo and Ruiz

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Zatman your knowledge on the European leagues is alot greater then your average fan. Of their 23 man squad that they pick in May/June, I would say most people in Europe would only know 1 or 2 of the players.

And I guarantee whoever the co-commentator is will know even less than that :D

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Zatman your knowledge on the European leagues is alot greater then your average fan. Of their 23 man squad that they pick in May/June, I would say most people in Europe would only know 1 or 2 of the players.

And I guarantee whoever the co-commentator is will know even less than that :D

Joe Kinnear is the only man for the job.

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These are great!  Here is number 2.


Looking forward to the next one.




World Cup: 25 stunning moments … No2: Uruguay's 1950 triumph v Brazil
Britain's papers buried the story, but Uruguay's Rio win was one of the most far-reaching and dramatic games ever played
Juan Schiaffino scores for Uruguay against Brazil at the 1950 World Cup. Photograph: PPP

Monday 17 July 1950, and the front page of the Manchester Guardian was still given over to classified advertising. Buy your new Bendix home laundry appliances at Fred Dawes, 90 London Road, Manchester; Miss Newgrosh of Princess Street, Blackburn is offering a German/Polish translation service at competitive rates; the Lancashire County Fire Brigade are selling off a 1930 Leyland fire engine, 55 hp, no guarantee attached, sold as seen, the County Council accepts no responsibility for any unexplained mechanical combustion.

Even taking the idiosyncrasies of old-school newspaper layout into account, one of the day's biggest stories had been inexplicably squirreled away. The edition's lead story on page five (just go with it) was fair enough: a report on the Battle of Taejon, the first big stramash in a war in Korea that had begun a month beforehand. But here's a few of the day's other top tales: three yachts were caught in a squall near Bridlington; lightning struck a house in Wigan; the Yorkshire Winding Enginemen's Association called a strike ballot in a pay dispute with the National Coal Board; 1.39 inches of rain fell in Hull.

And after all that, there in the bottom corner, was a brief five-paragraph report of the greatest, most dramatic, far-reaching, resonant football match ever to be played ...

All attendance records were broken at Rio de Janeiro today for the world championship 
 football game: more than 160,000 people attended, paying the equivalent of about £120,000.

More than five thousand policemen, supported by special units of the Army, Navy, and the Air Force, stood by and every precaution was taken to prevent scenes like those that took place last Thursday, when two people died and more than 260 were injured in a rush for seats. The police made a final appeal to the crowd not to use fireworks to welcome the teams or to celebrate the scoring of a goal. They banned the sale of oranges and bottles of soft drinks, as these are handy weapons for anyone who disagrees with the referee.

But the police appeal was ignored. When the Brazilians trooped on to the field thousands of fireworks and rockets – both banned by the police – were let off. Clouds of confetti swept over the stands. Thousands enthusiastically waved small Brazilian flags and chanted "Brazil, Brazil, Brazil."

But it was Uruguay that won – by two goals to one – and when the final whistle blew the Brazilian players, who had expected to obtain gold medals and thousands of pounds for a win bonus, walked slowly off the field, their heads bowed low.

In the huge white-and-blue concrete stands, women were prostrate with grief, and the announcer was so thunderstruck that he forgot to broadcast the result of the other cup match between Spain and Sweden to decide minor placings. Stadium doctors treated 169 people for fits of hysteria and other troubles. Six were taken to hospital seriously ill.

Some of this report was repeated verbatim halfway down the sports section on page six, along with additional information of a celebratory samba, Brazil the Victors, which had remained unsung, and of joyous Uruguayan players hugging match referee George Reader of England as he whistled his whistle for the final time. That, however, was your lot. A couple of broad brush strokes, and no detail about the actual game. We've got to take this one on the chin: the Guardian lost the news!

Though in fairness, we were far from the worst offenders. The Times buried the story at the very bottom of the sixth column of page seven, a seven-liner consisting of the bald facts and nothing else, below the racing results from Sandown, Doncaster and Hamilton, and news of a rugby friendly between a British team on tour in New Zealand and a combined Waikato-King Country / Thames Valley side. (For the record, Britain won 30-0, a remarkable scoreline considering the state of the pitch.) The Daily Mirror hid news of the "World Soccer Cup" away on page 12, in a small piece which gave no details of the match but did at least add a splash of colour with a jazz riff on that presumptuous Brazil the Victors ditty. "It will probably become known as the Silent Samba," they lyrically predicted. The Daily Express did mention the match on its front page, fair's fair, though only in a four-line snippet at the end of a column otherwise concerned with the recall of farmer Harold Gimblett, Somerset's hard-hitting batsman, to the England Test team after an 11-year absence. Britain's coverage of what would become the most storied match in the entire history of football just wasn't cricket. We weren't that interested.

More fool us. There have been World Cups which brought better teams, greater players and higher skill levels, most of it captured in modernity's blistering Technicolor for added glitz and glamour. But the IV Campeonato Mundial De Futebol gave us the most jaw-dropping collection of stories. Reigning champions Italy, feared of flying in the wake of the Superga disaster, sailing to Brazil, rolling down the gangplank like gnocchi, then jetting home in a sulk after an early exit. The home-based amateurs of Sweden, denying themselves the Milan-based Gre-No-Li geniuses but making it to the Final Pool anyway. England beating the USA 10-1. Hooray! (That was according to one British agency, blithely assuming a rouge 1 had been lost over their wires.) The newly-built Maracanã raining concrete from its roof during the opening ceremony's 21-gun salute. Even the teams who didn't make it contributed unforgettable twists to the narrative: India, refusing to wear boots and thus being ordered to do one by Fifa; Scotland, refusing to engage their brains and turning down a runner-up's qualification spot behind England in the Home Championship.

And then there's the final, the greatest story the World Cup has ever told, its circumstance a perfect storm of biblical proportion, the eventual outcome a sporting tragedy worthy of Shakespeare. The deciding match of the 1950 World Cup, between hosts Brazil and neighbouring minnows Uruguay, wasn't, of course, technically the final: it was merely the last round-robin rubber in a ridiculous four-team Final Pool, the bureaucrats at Fifa having lost the thread completely. But fate would save them, and the tournament's historical integrity, as Fifa's pão landed jam side up, and they got away with the ludicrous decision to do away with a set-piece final. Thanks to the way the first four matches of the Final Pool panned out, the Brazil-Uruguay tie was effectively a winner-takes-all final, though Brazil's better record against the Pool's floaters, Sweden and Spain, meant they had the draw in the bag as well. Looking back, that caveat, ostensibly to Brazil's benefit, ramped up the narrative possibilities. And so a match which, in theory, could so easily have ended up as a damp-squib irrelevance turned out to be the most dramatic 90 minutes of association football ever played.

Going into the final showdown, Brazil were hot favourites to get the job done. They'd been fancied from the get-go. As well as being hosts, they were the reigning South American champions, having won the 1949 Copa América. They bagged the trophy by scoring 46 goals in eight matches, a run which included a 9-1 win against Ecuador, a 10-1 victory over Bolivia, a 7-0 evisceration of Paraguay (their nearest challengers in the league-based tournament), and a 5-1 thrashing of ... yes, you knew it, Uruguay.

Still, the 1950 World Cup wasn't all plain sailing for Brazil, who suffered some group-stage judders. They conceded a late equaliser to draw 2-2 against Switzerland. And would they have subsequently registered a 2-0 win over Yugoslavia in a tense winner-takes-all group game had the Yugoslav captain Rajko Mitic not missed the start after cracking his head open on an exposed girder in the still-half-finished Maracanã? But Flavio Costa's team made it through, and got their act together in the Final Pool in a style which was unprecedented and arguably since unmatched. They beat Sweden 7-1 in their first Pool game, then spanked Spain 6-1 in their second. The front three of Ademir, Chico and Zizinho had caught fire, coming at opponents from all angles, their many goals punctuating 90-minute showcases of dainty flicks, delicate feints, mazy dribbles, pacy runs, fluid bicycle kicks, vicious volleys, thundering headers and cute finishes. According to legend – no telly cameras, you see – one of Ademir's four against Sweden came about when he gripped the ball between his feet and somersaulted over the keeper. The Seleção's soccer was anything but a one-note samba.

Uruguay on the other hand had struggled to get to a stage where the last match in the Final Pool remained alive and decisive. Having sauntered into the Pool by beating Bolivia 8-0, their only group game in a ludicrously lopsided tournament – Fifa couldn't be bothered to rearrange their showpiece after India and Scotland had let it down – it took them a while to get their chops up against proper opposition. (Spain and Sweden were no mugs, which only goes to demonstrate Brazil's excellence.) Uruguay had to battle to salvage a draw against Spain in their first match, their captain, the obdurate Obdulio Varela, scoring a late equaliser which stood more as a testament to sheer will than skill. They then needed two goals in the last 13 minutes to turn a looming loss against Sweden into last-gasp victory. Avoiding defeat against Brazil appeared to be a pipe dream – and thanks to that dropped point in the draw against Spain, they needed a win. Good luck, lads!

By common consent, it seemed they were going to need it. Uruguay were walking into the lion's den with neither whip nor chair. The Maracanã bounced with anticipation and expectation. The early edition of O Mundo newspaper screamed "Brasil Campeao 1950!" A celebratory samba, Brazil The Victors, had been composed, the house band ready to strike it up the minute Brazil had made it three out of three in the Pool. The mayor of Rio got in first with a paean to Costa's XI: "You, players, who in less than a few hours will be hailed as champions by millions of compatriots! You who have no rivals in the entire hemisphere! You who will overcome any other competitor! You, who I already salute as victors!" An official world-record crowd of 173,850 – but in truth closer in number to 210,000 – spent the time leading up to kick-off in full party mode. 'Brasil! Brasil! Brasil!' There were approximately 100 Uruguayans in attendance. Good luck, lads!

And when the first whistle sounded, it seemed they were going to need it. Brazil flew out of the traps, Zizinho haring straight for the Uruguayan box and winning a corner that was fizzed straight through the six-yard box by Friaca. By the time 180 seconds were on the clock, Ademir had whistled two shots down the throat of Roque Maspoli in the Uruguayan goal. Within another couple of minutes, Jair had sent a free-kick close.

It seemed only a matter of time: 7-1 against Sweden, 6-1 against Spain, 5-1 against Uruguay in the Copa América the previous year, the Uruguayan goal now under fire at machine-gun pace in the opening skirmishes. But all this didn't quite tell the whole story, and may explain why Uruguay didn't simply give in. For a start, the Uruguayans were, in their own heads at least, still the reigning world champions. They'd won the 1930 version, after all, then refused to compete in the 1934 and 1938 tournaments in political pique. So as things stood, they were still unbeaten in World Cup competition – and as such, it was their title to lose. Brazil who?

Uruguay also had three of the best players in the world lining up in their team: inside forward Juan Alberto Schiaffino, winger Alcides Ghiggia, and the domineering (and aforementioned) box-to-box midfielder Obdulio Varela. The trio played their club football for Peñarol, who had been scoring goals at a preposterous rate: on average, they were rattling home 4.5 goals per league match. All three Peñarol players would have a major say in the way the game panned out.

It should also be noted that Brazil's status as champions of South America and recent 5-1 bosses of Uruguay wasn't all it seemed. Since that thrashing in the Copa América, the two countries had met three more times, Uruguay winning one game 4-3 and narrowly losing the other two. Additionally, the way Brazil claimed the 1949 Copa América title was instructive, certainly in retrospect: they had only required a draw in their final game against closest challengers Paraguay to top the tournament's league system, but lost 2-1, and were forced into a play-off against the same side. Which they admittedly won 7-0, but the affair illustrated that this brilliant Brazil could suffer from crippling nerves at the business end of tournaments along with the best of them.

Brazil remained on top throughout the first half. They had 17 efforts on goal, Ademir with five of them, the best being a thumping header from Chico's cross which Uruguayan keeper Roque Maspoli, his back arched, tipped over the bar in spectacular style. (This was Ademir being kept quiet! A state of affairs thanks in no small part to the close attention afforded him by Varela.) But Brazil couldn't score. And the half wasn't quite the one-way traffic it has been often since painted as. Ghiggia caused a fair bit of trouble down the right, where the left-back Bigode – in English, literally, Moustache – was just about holding his own. Meanwhile, for all Brazil's dominance, it was Uruguay who actually came closest to scoring, when Omar Miguez hit the post with a shot eight minutes before the break. Ten minutes earlier, Ruben Moran – making his debut in a World Cup final (!) – had missed an open goal by spooning an effort over the crossbar.

Uruguayan-goalkeeper-Roqu-011.jpgUruguayan goalkeeper Roque Maspoli leaps to touch the ball over the bar. Photograph: Popperfoto

But the defining moment of the half came on 28 minutes, when Bigode, suffering his continued tussles with Ghiggia, nudged his adversary in the back. A cheeky foul. Varela, stationed nearby but getting mighty closer at speed, motioned to give Bigode a friendly pat on the head, then issued a little cuff round the defender's ear. The Moustache bristled. The English referee George Reader, mindful that he was dealing with two adults, told them both to stop being so bloody effing stupid, and to shake hands. The players reluctantly embraced, with Bigode looking visibly shaken. Varela wandered off, gathering the front of his sky blue shirt into his fist, a gesture which celebrated the recording of a little victory.

A little victory that would have big repercussions.

Brazil came out for the second half in a similar manner as they did the first, Zizinho firing straight at Maspoli. And within two minutes of the restart, they were finally ahead. Ademir, in the middle of the park, spotted Friaca making good down the inside-right channel, and released him with a reverse pass. Rodriguez Andrade tried to muscle in over Friaca's left shoulder, but he didn't get there in time. Friaca bobbled a not wholly convincing shot towards the bottom-left corner. Maspoli arguably should have got a hand to it, the ball crossing his body, but for once the keeper – who had been in astonishing form during the first half – was found wanting.

Brazil, a goal up when a draw would do, could touch the trophy. The Maracanã erupted. Varela, very cutely, engaged the linesman in vociferous debate. Ostensibly he was demanding an offside flag, but it would later become clear that he was simply playing for time, letting the 200,000-plus crowd scream themselves out, in order to take a little heat out of the situation. Not that he was of a mind to sit back and wait for things to happen, mind you. Uruguay now needed two goals if they were to win the World Cup, and there wasn't too much time to waste. It was therefore appropriate for Varela to announce his strident manifesto. "Let them shout," he told his teammate Rodriguez Andrade before Uruguay restarted the match. "In five minutes the stadium will seem like a graveyard, and then only one voice will be heard. Mine!"

The stadium was destined to seem like a graveyard all right, though Varela's timescale proved a bit ambitious. Uruguay did respond to going a goal down with a positive mindset, Schiaffino shooting wide almost immediately after the restart, Ghiggia embarking on a couple of pacy dribbles, getting right up in an increasingly flustered Bigode's grille. But it was Brazil who came closest to scoring the second goal of the game, Ademir sprinting into the box just after the hour and being clattered to the turf by Juan Carlos Gonzalez. Different times, different standards: while the player himself cried for a penalty kick, even the commentators on Brazilian radio were admitting that although "the play was ... of great violence" it was also "lawful".

On 63 minutes, Jair sent a wild free-kick sailing miles over Maspoli's crossbar. It would prove to be Brazil's last meaningful attack until the whole atmosphere had changed and the panic was on. Upon seeing his side take the lead, Brazil coach Costa had instructed his players to sit back a little, in the hope that Uruguay, desperately flooding forward, would leave spaces open at the back for deadly counter attacks. The flaw in the plan was that Uruguay were too good to be teased and manipulated in this way. Varela, now with fewer defensive duties, stepped up to augment the attack. On 66 minutes, he slid a pass to the right for Ghiggia, who turned Bigode inside out and tore past the lumbering defender on the outside, before whipping a ball to the near post, where Schiaffino stepped ahead of Juvenal to roof the ball home past goalkeeper Moacyr Barbosa.

The Maracanã didn't quite fall silent – yet – but for the first time doubts were creeping in and the atmosphere became oppressively muted. Varela, just before Brazil gingerly kicked off, stood in the centre circle with his shirt bunched in his fist again, filling the air by shouting to nobody in particular. Brazil were still on course to win the World Cup, but suddenly their passes were no longer sticking. Ghiggia danced past Bigode again and crossed once more for Schiaffino, whose header clanked wide. Ghiggia-Bigode III saw the usual depressing result for Brazil, Uruguay's scintillating winger finding the byline with ease. Schiaffino headed the resulting cross down for Moran, but before the new boy could send the ball fizzing goalwards, Augusto hacked upfield.

Bigode, who had just about kept up with Ghiggia in the first half before being cuffed by Varela, was now a shell of a man. And on 79 minutes he crumbled, as the visitors delivered the killer blow. Brazil were attempting a rare sortie upfield - they had not had a shot at goal since Schiaffino's equaliser, an astonishing shift in momentum given the stats of the opening period – but Danilo's searching pass for Jair was intercepted by Julio Perez. After one-twoing with Miguez, Perez then sashayed to the right, where he executed another one-two, this time with Ghiggia on the halfway line, before slipping a pass down the flank for the winger to chase. Ghiggia had been given the spring on the leaden-footed Bigode, and drifted inside and into the area, homing in on Barbosa. The keeper was in two minds. Should he close Ghiggia down? Thing was, Schiaffino was hovering in the middle. The indecision was fatal. Ghiggia cracked a shot low towards the near post, the ball flying into the bottom-right corner, Barbosa unable to drop to the floor in time to smother.

The Maracanã fell silent, at least 200,000 jaws agape, swinging sadly in the breeze. Make that at least 200,001, for Gonzalez appeared to be as stunned at Uruguay's turnaround as the hundreds of thousands of emotionally battered Brazilians: his keeper Maspoli had to forcibly shake him back into the land of the living. Gonzalez was far from the only one to have lost focus. Brazil, frightened but with ten minutes left to scramble out of a hole, came back at Uruguay in body, but without any real conviction in mind. Jair, Zizinho and Ademir poured forward, but Varela made a couple of easy blocks, and Maspoli gathered other speculative efforts calmly. "I will dribble them all!" Zizinho was heard to jabber at one point. Brazil were literally in a flat spin: Ademir sent one shot ballooning out for a throw by the corner flag. The Maracanã offered volume again, but the screams within were desperate where they had once been joyful.

The 90 minutes were up, but there was still time for one moment of time standing still. With the clock kaput, Friaca – who for 19 minutes looked like being Brazil's hero – forced a corner down the right and quickly took the kick himself. Jair challenged Maspoli for the high centre. The ball dropped loose at the left-hand post, where Zizinho, Ademir and Danilo were hanging. But the Uruguayan defender Schubert Gambetta got there first – then grabbed the ball with both hands! "What are you doing, you animal?!?" screamed team-mate Rodriguez Andrade. However there would be no penalty. Gambetta was one of the few people who had heard referee Reader's final whistle in the hubbub. It was over. The match was over. The 1950 World Cup was over. For Brazil, everythingwas over.

The Uruguayans took turns to hug and kiss referee Reader. Fifa president Jules Rimet, ushered on to the field by hysterically crying policemen, let the winning captain and man-of-the-match Varela get his hands on the trophy, though he was advised against raising it. Varela made do with going out drinking in Rio that night, the king of Uruguay, the king of Brazil, the king of the world. No celebratory samba had been performed. Elsewhere in Rio, there were suicides. The country, almost as one, resigned themselves to the fact that they would never win the World Cup. This was seismic. The world of football would never be the same again. Meanwhile on the other side of the planet, three yachts were caught in a squall near Bridlington, lightning struck a house in Wigan, the Yorkshire Winding Enginemen's Association called for a strike ballot in a pay dispute with the National Coal Board, and there was 1.39 inches of rain in Hull.

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3rd edition released today. World Cup darkest footballing moment as a sport and probably the darkest team to go with the Battiston "tackle"



You have to pity the youth of today. They were born to banter, they think it's normal behaviour to tell complete strangers on the internet what they have had for their tea. And worst of all, they have never experienced proper World Cup villainy. There was Luis Suárez's handball in 2010, yes, but that was a fleeting moment from an individual rather than an extended body of work shared between a whole squad. The World Cup – which is about great stories as much as great football – is so much richer when a team leaves the rest of the football world raging with impotent frustration.

That has not occurred since 1990, when Argentina found umpteen different ways to prod the football world in the chest, most notably when they defiled Italy's dreams on an operatic night in Naples. Four years earlier there were Uruguay, as close to a gathering of sociopaths as has been seen at the World Cup. The Scottish FA chief Ernie Walker called them "the scum of world football".

Then we have West Germany 1982, who have two entirely different and equally notorious crimes on their rap sheet. In the semi-final against France, the goalkeeper Harald Schumacher assaulted Patrick Battiston with an appalling and unpunished challenge. If that was shockingly violent, the lack of aggression was the source of criticism earlier in the tournament. West Germany's 1-0 win over Austria – in which both sides settled for a result that put them through and eliminated the tournament's darlings Algeria – became known as Nichtangriffspakt von Gijón (the non-aggression pact of Gijón).

It is not just those two incidents that rubbed people up the wrong way, or ensured that some of us would remember this particular German side with such guilty fondness. It was the way they did it. At times it seemed they were trying to exceed the most extreme German stereotype. They were imbued, individually and collectively, with the most magnificently preposterous arrogance in the history of the entire known universe. They did not so much have a squad of 22 players as a squad of 22 managers in addition to the official coach, Jupp Derwall. (The day before the World Cup final, for example, Derwall said in an ITV interview that the injured Karl-Heinz Rummenigge would only be fit enough for the bench in the big match. The next interview was with Rummennigge, who breezily confirmed that he would start. He started.) The entire squad was almost too German to function.

That arrogance manifested itself most deliciously in a masterclass of misplaced hubris before their first group game against Algeria. West Germany were the European champions and had qualified with eight wins out of eight (including two over Austria), scoring 33 goals in the process. African sides, by contrast, were not taken at all seriously, despite Pelé's assertion in 1977 that an African side would win the World Cup before the year 2000.

Soccer-World-Cup-1982-Ger-001.jpgAustrian forward Walter Schachner (2nd from right) is stopped by German defender Hans-Peter Briegel (right) while Goalkeeper Harald Schumacher (below left) gathers. Photograph: dpa/Corbis

In 1978, Tunisia's forgotten trailblazers became the first African side to win a World Cup match, beating Mexico 3-1. They also drew 0-0 with West Germany in the final game; a 1-0 win would have put them through instead of the Germans. By 1982, the Germans had forgotten about that. "We will dedicate our seventh goal to our wives, and the eighth to our dogs," said one player before the Algeria game. Another reportedly said he would play the match while chewing on a cigar. Derwall declined to show videos of Algeria to his players because he thought they were laugh at him, and said he would get the next train home if West Germany lost. Algeria won a thrilling game 2-1, one of the great World Cup shocks.

Algeria lost their next game 2-0 to Austria, with West Germany walloping Chile. Then, in the final group game, Algeria romped into a 3-0 half-time lead in their final game against the eliminated Chileans, including a gorgeous first goal. At that stage Algeria were guaranteed to become the first African side to reach the second round of a World Cup, unless there was an absurd result (4-3, 5-4 and so on) in the West Germany/Austria game that would be played a day later. In the second half, however, Chile fought back to lose 3-2. Although Algeria had won again, they were now in jeopardy.

They would still reach the last 12 of the tournament if Austria avoided defeat, or if West Germany won by three goals or more. An already complex situation was exacerbated by the hatred between West Germany and Austria. At the previous World Cup, Austria had pulled off one of their most famous victories – the Miracle of Cordoba – against West Germany, even though the match was essentially a dead rubber. "My players always find a special motivation against Germany," said the Austria manager, Georg Schmidt, ahead of the match in Gijón four years later.

West Germany, on two points, were out unless they won, and started the match accordingly. In the 11th minute their clumsy striker Horst Hrubesch, whose put the hee haw in Gijón, unwittingly bundled a Pierre Littbarski cross into the net. The story goes that the game simply stopped at that point, with both sides declaring and settling for a score that would put them through ahead of Algeria. The video of the game is thus a surprise. You expect side-to-side stuff, players standing around picking spots and scratching backsides, not giving 10% never mind 110; the greatest sham on turf. That only really happens in the final quarter of an hour, when the game properly livens down, and even then it is no more brazen than subsequent examples of two teams settling for a specific score.

The 10 minutes after Hrubesch's goal would even be described as exhilarating in some cultures, with Wolfgang Dremmler forcing a fine save from Friedich Koncilia (the second and final shot on target in the match) and Paul Breitner missing two good chances. The game slows down towards half-time, principally because the hitherto dominant Germany start to play on the counterattack, There is still enough intensity. Just before half-time Manny Kaltz hares round the pitch chasing the ball like a particularly dumb dog; in the same attack, Dremmler slides two-footed through both the ball and Herbert Prohaska. A free-kick in 1982, and even that disputed by the Germans; maybe a red card in 2013.

At half-time, one of the German players makes a beeline for an Austrian (it's hard to tell who they are on the video), puts an arm round his shoulder and engages him in discourse. It looks meaningful in the context of what we now know, and the google translation of this pagesuggests a declaration at 1-0 was discussed by some players during the interval. Yet many of the players still say now that was not the case.

It certainly seems safe to conclude there was no formal agreement. The video suggests there is no single point at which both sides switch off, more that the whole thing develops through osmosis and that the teams run (or rather don't) with the developing mood of the game. At the start of second half there is still plenty of purposeful if unaccomplished attacking, interspersed by some periods of unpressurised passing. Both teams only become defensively active when the other crosses the halfway line. There is a significant element of keeping up appearances, of course, but it is not just that. In the 51st minute, for example, Josef Degeorgi waves his hands angrily at Karlheinz Forster, accusing him of diving.

It's as if the crowd are wise to what is going on almost before the players. The first audible unrest occurs after 52 minutes, when Rummenigge plays a long pass back to the halfway line, and again three minutes later when Austria's Hans Krankl, on the right wing, wafts a 40-yard pass with the outside of the foot back to the sweeper.

Yet at that stage those were isolated incidents. Hrubesch would have had a clear shooting chance in the 57th minute had he not hopelessly miscontrolled Felix Magath's expert chip. As late as the 77th minute, when the game was losing what edge it had, Bernd Krauss broke into the box and forced a desperate clearance from Hans-Peter Briegel. A goal then would have put West Germany out.

Pierre Littbarski, the youngest and most innocent player on the pitch, went on a series of intrepid solo runs in the second half. Austria's Walter Schachner was sufficiently piqued by a free-kick against him to be booked for dissent with 12 minutes remaining. Getting yellow-carded in this match was quite the achievement, akin to not getting lucky at a Bacchanalian orgy. Reinhold Hintermaier was also booked in the first half for a rugged foul on Littbarski.

The second half was, we should stress, hardly an end-to-end classic. Opta have a detailed archive of every World Cup game since 1966, and there are some belting statistics for those 45 minutes. There were only three shots, none on target. West Germany made only eight tackles, around one every six minutes. Both sides had an overall pass-completion ratio in excess of 90%, a level usually reserved for people like Xavi and Paul Scholes – and, more tellingly, Jamie Carragher, the king of the no-risk pass. Austria had a 99% success rate with passes in their own half; West Germany's was 98%.

The last 10 minutes are terrible, like watching Spain 2012 play against themselves, and hard to defend. The outcome gave a whole new meaning to winning ugly. Yet while there are periods of the game that could have been soundtracked by Brian Eno, there isn't the constant state of inertia we expected.

Sport-001.jpgHorst Hrubesch celebrates scoring with Pierre Littbarski. Photograph: Colorsport/REX

Then again, the reality rarely lives up to the spook story. At the time, almost everybody was disgusted. The Austrian TV commentator Robert Seeger told viewers to turn their televisions off and said nothing for the last part of the game. The German commentator Eberhard Stanjek said: "What's happening here is disgraceful and has nothing to do with football. You can say what you want, but not every end justifies every means."

The thousands of Algerian fans in the crowd were appalled, with money shouting "It's a fix!" Some waved money through the fences or burned it, an enduring image of España 82; others, in full why-I-oughta mode, took a running jump in a failed attempt to get over the fences and on to the field. Neutral Spanish supporters were similarly unimpressed. One German fan in the stadium burned his country's flag.

As the match reached its conclusion, ITV's Hugh Johns expressed his disgust. "A few seconds on Bob Valentine's watch between us and going-home time. And what a relief that's going to be. Breitner for Briegel for Stielike, names that run off my tongue at the moment and leave a nasty, nasty taste. Stielike … quality players who should all be in the book of referee Bob Valentine for bringing the game into disrepute. This is one of the most disgraceful international matches I've ever seen."

The outrage was even greater after the game. The Algerian FA protested straight away, describing it as a "sinister plot". West Germany were savaged by their own press, with one headline shouting "SHAME ON YOU!". One Spanish newspaper called it "the Anschluss". A Dutch newspaper described it as "football porn", inadvertently obliterating the received wisdom that the Dutch were world leaders in bongo.

The former German international Willi Schulz said all 22 players were "gangsters". There was certainly an omerta after the game, with nobody accepting culpability or even acknowledging what had happened, apart from the Austrian manager Schmidt. "It was," he said, "a shameful showing". His opposite number Derwall summoned the righteous indignation of which only the guilty are capable. "This was a grave and serious insult," he said. "We will answer any charges."

In the eyes of those involved, the end justified the meanness. "We wanted to progress, not play football", Derwall said later, while the substitute Lothar Matthäus added: "We have gone through. That's all that counts." Austria were similarly unrepentant. "We made the next round.," says Krankl. "And I don't give a damn about the Germans." The commentator Seeger says some of the Austrian players tried to get him sacked.

When a group of West German fans went to the team hotel to forcibly articulate their interpretation of the game, the players bombarded them with water bombs from the balcony.

That was nothing on the reaction of Hans Tschak, the head of the Austrian delegation, a man who made Alf Garnett seem enlightened. "Naturally today's game was played tactically," he said. "But if 10,000 'sons of the desert' here in the stadium want to trigger a scandal because of this it just goes to show that they have too few schools. Some sheikh comes out of an oasis, is allowed to get a sniff of World Cup air after 300 years and thinks he's entitled to open his gob."

Others realised the world has six other continents. The problem was not just with the cynicism shown by Germany and Austria; it was compounded by its unapologetic nature and the identity of the victims. Algeria had the charm of underdogs, played lovely football, and were from a developing football continent. West Germany and Austria had not only killed Bambi; they had sent a video of the slaying around the world and cackled maniacally at the end of that video.

Algeria's appeal was rejected after a three-and-a-half hour meeting, in which the Fifa organising committee deemed that a result "could not be altered by any outside body" because, er, it just couldn't. Thereafter Fifa ensured final group games would be played simultaneously, a lesson they should have heeded after Argentina's controversial 6-0 win over Peru in 1978. When goal difference was replaced by head-to-head scores, the chance to theoretically fix games reappeared with inevitable conspiratorial consequences.

You wonder what might happen now, in this era of faux outrage and social-media bullying. Fifa would probably bow to public pressure. Back then, Algeria made their complaint and, when it was rejected, got on with their life. "We weren't angry, we were cool," says Chaabane Merzekane, the sensational right-back, in this excellent piece by Paul Doyle. "To see two big powers debasing themselves in order to eliminate us was a tribute to Algeria. They progressed with dishonour, we went out with our heads held high."

"Our performances forced Fifa to make that change, and that was even better than a victory," added Lakhdar Belloumi. "It meant that Algeria left an indelible mark on football history."

Algeria, Austria and West Germany – like all the other countries – went to that World Cup hoping to do something that would be talked for ever. As with Lupe Velez's death, their wish came true.

The biggest sufferers were arguably the West Germans. The country fell out of love with their international team for a while. In the book Tor!, Uli Hesse says the coach Derwall "unknowingly taught the country that there are things more important than winning".

It is certainly remembered more as a German crime, almost as if Austria had a gun to their head. On one viewing of the game – and we'd obviously like to watch the entire match a few more times to be sure – there is a powerful argument that Austria are the principal culprits: they showed significantly less attacking intent and also had a greater safety net than the Germans, who were only one goal from humiliation for the last 80 minutes.

Austria ignored the chance of immortality, too; imagine if, having lulled West Germany into a false sense of security, they scored a late equaliser. The Gijón grift would have been 100 times more famous than the Miracle of Cordoba.

Similar if slightly less prolonged examples of such cynicism, with neither team trying to score, have been evident in many big games since. Ireland and Holland did it at Italia 90, a risky tactic in the circumstances, while Manchester United won a championship in this manner in 2011, when they played 174 passes in their own half in the last 10 minutes (plus injury time) of a match at Blackburn.

In 1995 Mark Bosnich did unto Jürgen Klinsmann as Schumacher did unto Battiston; the fact he did not receive anywhere near as much criticism as Schumacher was only partially because Eric Cantona was being slaughtered for the perceived crime of kung-fu kicking a gobby cockney on the same night.

It seems that, when it comes to cartoon villainy, it's not just what you do but the way you do it. And nobody did it better than the 1982 West Germans.

With thanks to Cris Freddi, whose World Cup history is definitive, and Paul Doyle.

Rob Smyth and Scott Murray are authors of And Gazza Misses The Final, a collection of minute-by-minute reports of classic World Cup games. West Germany v Austria might be in the second volume.


What the Guardian said: Algerians protest after phoney war

By Stephen Bierley, 25 June 1982

According to West Germany's manager, Jupp Derwall, games between his country and Austria are traditionally contested with all the ferocity of an England v Scotland match. Yesterday's final Group Two match in Gijon was about as passionate as a testimonial, but neither side was complaining. At the end of a suspiciously tame encounter both progressed to the second phase, thereby squeezing Algeria into third spot and out of the Cup.

The Algerian FA president, Hadg Sekkal, described the teams' performance as "a sinister plot" and immediately registered a protest to Fifa. Even the Austrian manager, Georg Schmidt, seemed embarrassed and admitted to "a shameful showing." But Derwall was having none of it, calling the Algerians' talk of an arrangement a "grave, serious insult".

Hermann Neuberger, a Fifa vice-president, said he did not expect any action to be taken against either team. "There are no Fifa rules which say teams cannot play as they please. Fifa cannot sanction a team if they did not fight properly," said Neuberger, who is also president of the West German Soccer Federation.

So the rumours of West Germany's death were, after all, greatly exaggerated. Their opening Group Two defeat by Algeria has registered 10 on the Richter scale of Cup shocks. The world has gone daft.

In the El Molinon Stadium sanity returned or at least what passes for sanity in these lumbering opening stages of the competition. The Germans needed to win; Austria to avoid a heavy defeat. Nods and winks were duly exchanged as the two teams walked out.

Any semblance of tensions lasted precisely 11 minutes. At that point Friedl Koncilia was beaten for the first time in 191 minutes. Littbarski, flirting with offside, took full advantage of a linesman's stiff arm and Horst Hrubesch bent to head home. In fact, he missed, but the ball struck his knee and went in anyway. End of contest.

After that it was "after you Wolfgang" - "no, after you, Bruno." This was European cooperation taken to ridiculous limits. Walter Schacher occasionally gave the impression that Austria were in any way interested in crossing the half-way line but for the majority of the second half students of World Cup football had little to ponder on, unless it was that the Germans were setting an all-comers' record for back-passes.

The Algerians were not pleased. There is a growing feeling among the so-called Third World countries that Europe, Fifa and indeed referees are out to stitch them up. They may be right. Certainly there was no doubting the intentions of Austria and the West Germans. The result was the thing and to hell with entertainment.

A crowd of 40,000 responded accordingly whistles of derision ringing around the stadium. Off came Rumenigge, off came Hrubesch. On and on went the match until mercifully Bob Valentine, the Scottish referee, blew for time.

Edited by Zatman
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Cheers Zatman, really enjoying these.







Naturally today's game was played tactically," he said. "But if 10,000 'sons of the desert' here in the stadium want to trigger a scandal because of this it just goes to show that they have too few schools. Some sheikh comes out of an oasis, is allowed to get a sniff of World Cup air after 300 years and thinks he's entitled to open his gob




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