This is the sixth in a weekly series of World Cup history lessons brought to you by our very own “Professor” Guy Bailey. He is not actually a professor; the only professor on staff is Jamie Clary. Well, sort of.
The 1958 World Cup
The venue of the 1958 World Cup was Sweden which infuriated the South Americans who expected it to revert back to them after Switzerland four years ago but they buried their hostility enough to be represented by Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Paraguay. For the first and only time, all four of the British home nations qualified and we saw the first entry for the Soviet Union. People forget just how vast the Soviet Union was – once it split in 1991, the remnants formed a total of 15 different countries including Russia.
The tournament retained its 16 qualifiers and four groups of four but now adopted the round-robin league format in the first phase with the top two teams in each group qualifying. Goal difference was still viewed with suspicion at this stage so any teams finishing on level points would have to play off for the quarterfinal place.
Group A saw the holders West Germany advance at Argentina’s expense and a play-off ensue between Northern Ireland and Czechoslovakia, who would later become two separate teams themselves. Despite finishing with the greater goal difference, the Northern Irish triumphed 2-1 after extra time with both goals coming from Peter McParland. McParland scored five goals in the tournament and went on to play for Aston Villa, Wolves and later the Atlanta Chiefs who he won the NASL title with in 1968.
Group B saw France and Yugoslavia go through over Paraguay and the Scots, with the dangerous French forward Just Fontaine scoring six in the group stage alone. He would later finish as top scorer for the tournament with 13 goals – a figure still unequalled to this day.
Group C saw the Swedish hosts leapfrog Mexico to go through and a shock exit for the still-useful but weakened by defection Hungarians at the hands of the Welsh making their World Cup bow. Goal difference would have put the Hungarians easily through but the Welsh added insult to injury, coming from behind to win the playoff 2-1 with goals from Allchurch and Medwin cancelling out the effort of the diminutive sounding Tichy.
Group D saw the ever-threatening Brazilians win with an unusual, for them, watertight defense scoring five and conceding nil, including a 0-0 draw with England. The Soviets and English finished level on three points each and also had exact goal differences four for and four against so in this instance a play-off was the fairest adjudicator. England lost 1-0 and joined the Austrians for an early exit. This was the first of the what if? World Cups for England but with good reason – only four months earlier, the core of the England team including its own teenage superstar, Duncan Edwards, perished in the Munich Air Disaster, decimating not only Manchester United but England’s hopes too. Tommy Taylor, Roger Byrne, David Pegg all died, as did Ireland’s Billy Whelan and three other stars. Johnny Berry had four England caps but never played again, nor did Jackie Blanchflower, brother of Spurs Captain Danny and a Northern Ireland international himself.
The quarterfinals saw France thump Northern Ireland 4-0, another two for Fontaine; West Germany inch past the Yugoslavs 1-0; Sweden continue to the semis past the Soviets 2-0 and Brazil overcome the plucky Welsh resistance 1-0 with a goal from a callow 17-year-old World Cup debutant called Pele.
The little-known Santos forward certainly laid his marker down in the semi final with a hat-trick as Brazil finally conceded a goal to France, from Fontaine of course, ending up 5-2 winners. In the other semi hosts knocked out holders as Sweden beat West Germany 3-1 with two goals coming in the last nine minutes. A cracking third/fourth place play-off saw France and Fontaine dispatch the Germans 6-3, Fontaine bagging four in the process.
The 1958 World Cup Final was played in Solna and saw the hosts into an early lead after four minutes. Brazil equalized and then took the lead on 32, both from Vava. Pele cemented his reputation with another in the 55th minute and Zagallo made this more comfortable in the 68th. The Swedes made the last ten minutes interesting by pulling it back to 4-2 but the last word went to that man Pele with a last minute clincher. The 5-2 final score secured Brazil’s first World Cup triumph and the first by a South American team in Europe.
Guy Bailey is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.