This is the 12th 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 1986 World Cup
The 1986 World Cup was originally going to be held in Colombia for the first time but due to a severe economic crisis unfolding at the time, they reluctantly withdrew and Mexico stepped forward to accommodate FIFA, becoming the first country to hold the tournament twice. Canada and the USA also offered their services but FIFA opted for a country with more football-specific stadia. Mexico’s standing as hosts was also in doubt after the country suffered critical Earthquake damage a mere eight months before the tournament but the country pulled together and the tournament went ahead with the requisite 24 teams.
The participating countries were divided up into six groups of four with the top two from each group qualifying automatically and the four best third place teams also going through to a knock-out second round. Holland missed out again but three debutants appeared in the form of Canada, Iraq and Denmark. What was more impressive about Iraq’s qualification was that they had to play every fixture away due to the ongoing Iran/Iraq war.
Group A saw holders Italy play Argentina, led by Maradona and fancied to win it all, along with Bulgaria and South Korea. The two giants drew 1-1 in their match but Argentina advanced as unbeaten winners over South Korea and Bulgaria. Italy drew with the Bulgars but edged South Korea 3-2 to seal their qualification in second. Bulgaria snuck through in third with two draws.
Group B saw the hosts led by Real Madrid’s acrobatic striker Hugo Sanchez face local rivals Paraguay, Belgium and Iraq, who gamely lost every match but at least scored once against Belgium. Mexico won the group with two wins and a draw and were accompanied by Paraguay and Belgium in third.
Group C saw goals galore as the Soviet Union and France used Canada for target practice and the Soviets whipped Hungary 6-0 to eliminate them. France and the Soviets drew 1-1 for good measure.
Group D was always interesting as Brazil started against Spain and won 1-0, Dr. Socrates scoring the winner although the Spanish had a legitimate equalizer ruled out. A lackluster Northern Ireland drew with Algeria but it was the only point either minnow would gain as the big boys beat up on them both – top level strikers Careca of Brazil and Emil Butrageuono of Spain and Real Madrid opening their accounts in the tournament.
Group E was this tournaments Group Of Death as West Germany faced uncompromising Uruguay, tough Scotland and unknown Denmark in their first World Cup. The football world soon woke up to the dazzling Danes as they won each game, scoring nine in the process including a 2-0 win over old foes Germany and a crushing 6-1 thrashing of a fancied Uruguay. Scotland lost 1-0 and faced Uruguay in a 3rd place decider, West Germany going through behind the Danes. Uruguay were down to 10 men from the first minute and proceeded to bully, hack, cajole, threaten, intimidate and ultimately deny the Scots second round qualification for the first time despite buckets of chances. The Scots are still waiting to this day.
Group F started with a sensation as unfancied Portugal beat England 1-0 with a late winner. England then spluttered again, drawing 0-0 with Morocco, so it all came to a last game playoff between England and Poland. The maths were simple, win and go on, lose and go home. Fortunately, Gary Lineker, having scored 30 goals the previous season for Everton, took up the gauntlet and smashed in a hat-trick within 36 minutes. England’s World Cup was up and running and they qualified second behind the Moroccans, with Poland going through in third.
One of the vagaries of the best of the worst qualifying system for the 3rd place teams saw Bulgaria and Uruguay go through without winning a match whilst Hungary, who at least beat Canada 2-0, were eliminated after leaking six against the Soviets. Sucks to be them.
The second phase began with hosts Mexico further winning back national pride as they eliminated Bulgaria 2-0 in the vast Azteca Stadium in front of a crowd of 114,000. Belgium beat the Soviet Union 4-3 after extra time despite a hat-trick from Igor Belanov; Brazil were starting to look like their old selves as they beat Poland 4-0 and in a typically hard-fought local derby, Argentina bested Uruguay 1-0.
France overcame the holders Italy 2-0 with one from Platini who was enjoying a renaissance, while England continued their suddenly rediscovered form with another 3-0 win, this time over Paraguay with Lineker scoring twice. Denmark were starting to be viewed as dark horses but stumbled at the second round – and how. Despite leading Spain 1-0 and going into half-time level, they collapsed in the second half as Spain ran out 5-1 winners, with a Butragueno hat-trick in the second 45 to add to his first half late equalizer.
The first Quarter Final was another classic featuring Brazil, this time facing the purring French who were starting to look like the real deal themselves. The contest stood at 1-1 after extra time, but was one of the best draws you’ll ever see, with Careca and Platini scoring. The match went to penalties and, though they feared the worst again, France got off to a great start with Socrates missing his kick. The score was 3-3 as Platini stepped up on his 31st birthday and the most gifted midfielder of his generation put the ball over the bar. He got a present moments later as Julio Cesar missed for Brazil and Fernandez scored the winner for the French – another sublime Brazilian team going home early. The other quarter that day was a duller affair, a 0-0 draw between Mexico and West Germany which saw the Europeans through, France’s old mate Toni Schumacher saving two of the Mexican efforts.
Argentina played England in the Azteca and 115,021 pairs of eyes saw Diego Maradona punch the ball into the net on 51 minutes. The only ones who didn’t – the ref and linesmen – awarded the goal and glorious insult was added to painful injury four minutes later as Maradona danced through the decimated England defense to score one of the best goals in World Cup History. England dug deep and Lineker scored with nine minutes to go, securing him the Golden Boot as top scorer and a move to Barcelona after the tournament. Minutes later, he missed a carbon-copy chance and Argentina went through, gaining some measure of revenge for the Falklands conflict and their 1966 exit to the eventual winners. The goal was later dubbed the Hand of God but to this correspondent looked remarkably like a Cheating Argie Sod.
Belgium and Spain drew 1-1 in the final Quarter Final which also went to penalties and Spain bowed out 5-4 as the Belgians went on to face Maradona and co.
The little genius continued where he left off, scoring both goals in their 2-0 victory and the brave French met their German nemesis once more, losing 2-0 with an early and late goal to snuff out their admired artistry for another tournament. They rallied to beat Belgium 4-2 in the 3rd place play-off leaving the stage set for the clash of the titans which followed.
Argentina returned to the Azteca to face West Germany on June 29, 1986 and got off to the best start with a goal from the Welsh-descendent, Jose Luis Brown. They added to their lead on 55 minutes with Valdano and seemingly looked to be set up for a coronation but as we should have learned previously, never, ever write off the Germans. Six minutes was all it took for Karl Heinz Rummenigge and Rudi Voller to equalize and Argentina looked dead on their feet as the pendulum of momentum swung back towards the Europeans. Maradona dug deep and ran at the German defense, drawing men to him before releasing an inch-perfect pass to Burruchaga to beat Schumacher on 83 minutes and win the cup for Argentina for the second time. The only missing details was Maradona was unable to score and claim a share of the Golden Boot but no matter, this was his World Cup as much as one can belong to one player.
Guy Bailey is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.