If you ask a football fan to name their favorite World Cups, their answers will likely be determined by where they’re from and who they support. Still, there is one World Cup where regardless of bias, everyone seems to agree on the marvel that was Mexico 1970.
World Cup in Colour
Mexico were awarded the World Cup in 1964. The consistent increase in worldwide interest in the World Cup was inextricably linked to the rise of television. As television became more common, the more people the tournament reached. The ’66 Final had a worldwide audience of 400 million and by the time 1970 rolled around television, coverage had entered the color era. Suddenly, the world saw Brazil in yellow rather than a shade of white, Italy were in blue and not a dark shade of grey, and all played out in glorious Mexican sunshine.
There was a major change on the pitch too, with substitutions allowed for the first time. The proud hosts who had beaten out Argentina to get to the tournament showcased five cities with the final to be held at the enormous Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.
The Football War
Qualification saw 75 teams enter the tournament with El Salvador, Morocco and Israel making up the trio of first-time qualifiers while France, Spain and Argentina were notable absentees. El Salvador had qualified by beating Honduras in a playoff. The two nations were already bitterly opposed to each other and after the first leg violent clashes broke out. The same happened after the second leg and ten days later El Salvador broke off diplomatic relations on the grounds their citizens were being attacked openly in Honduras. On July 14th 1969 El Salvador began air raids and an armed incursion into Honduras, the fighting lasted four days before a ceasefire was called on the 18th July. In all 3,000 people were killed and whilst the World Cup wasn’t the sole cause of the conflict it remains one of football’s darkest hours.
Mexico kicked off their own party against Olympic champions the Soviet Union in front of 107,000 at the Azteca, sadly the game didn’t measure up to the occasion and ended 0-0. In the other game Belgium marked their first World Cup match since 1954 by trouncing El Salvador 4-1, Wilfried van Moer scoring twice.
The Soviets then showed their quality by hammering Belgium, star striker Anatoily Byshovets giving them the early lead and completing his brace in the second half of a 4-1 win. The hosts needed lift off in their campaign and were expected to breeze past El Salvador. Mexico struggled to break down El Salvador and approaching halftime the game was still locked 0-0. Then referee Ali Kandil awarded El Salvador a free kick but Mexico took the free kick and played in striker Javier Valdivia for the opener, incredibly the goal stood. Valdivia rubbed salt in the wounds with his second just after halftime as Mexico went on to claim a 4-0 win.
Byshovets was on hand to guarantee the Soviet Union progressed with a brace against El Salvador to win the group. Mexico needed a point against Belgium to progress, an early penalty despatched by skipper Gustavo Pena settled Mexican nerves and secured a 1-0 win.
Group 2 was headed by one of the favourites, Italy. The Italians hadn’t progressed beyond the group phase since 1938 but were European Champions and had a formidable defence in ’70 lead by skipper Giacinto Fachetti and goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi who was looking to make up for his humiliation in ’66. Attacking creativity came from winger Angelo Domenghini whilst Gigi Riva was a prolific striker. They opened against Sweden in Toluca and Domenghini gave Italy a dream start with a goal after 10 minutes. Italy were happy to defend and their tight catenaccio system proved too tough for the Swedes as Italy won 1-0.
Meanwhile Uruguay faced newcomers Israel and were dealt a cruel blow when star midfielder Pedro Rocha was forced off after just 12 minutes. Uruguay regrouped and Ildo Maneiro’s first half strike gave them the edge before Juan Mujica made sure of the 2-0 win. Uruguay then faced Italy in an attritional battle of defences that ended in stalemate.
That gave Sweden the chance to close in on the top two when they faced Israel. In another tight encounter Sweden took the lead when Tom Turesson slid in to score in the 53rd minute. However Israel fought back and a vicious long range strike from Mordechai Spiegler found for the corner of the goal for a 1-1 draw.
Sweden now needed a win over Uruguay to keep their hopes alive. Sweden had the ball in the net in the first half but the goal was chalked off. Uruguay looked to have done enough for a point when Swedish substitute Ove Grahn rose highest to head home a 90th minute winner. Italy now needed a point against Israel to make sure and the ghost of North Korea hung in the air of the Estadio Luis Dosal, Italy took no chances and a 0-0 draw ensured they progressed as group winners despite only scoring one goal in the group.
Clash of the Titans
Group 3 was the most eye-catching featuring holders and favourites England along with previous winners Brazil, Czechoslovakia and Romania. England had what many believed to be a stronger squad than four years earlier with new talents in defensive midfielder Alan Mullery and new attacking options Francis Lee, Colin Bell and Allan Clarke. However England’s preparations were thrown into disarray when captain Bobby Moore was accused of stealing a bracelet from a hotel shop in Bogota. Moore was held whilst the rest of the team flew to Mexico but was eventually released without charge. England started against Romania and picked up where they’d left off with Geoff Hurst latching onto Bobby Charlton’s flick to work an angle and drive home the only goal of a 1-0 win
Brazil had been shaken by their torrid ’66 campaign and had appointed legendary player Mario Zagallo as manager, but Zagallo was gone in 1968 and Pele announced in 1967 he wouldn’t play another World Cup. Zagallo returned in 1970 along with Pele. Zagallo had other sublime talents to call on in striker Tostao, winger Jairzinho and freekick specialist Rivellino. Captain Carlos Alberto and canny midfielder Gerson provided an assured presence but doubts remained over the defence and in particular goalkeeper Felix. Brazil’s campaign got off to a poor start in Guadalajara when Ladislav Petras gave Czechoslovakia the early lead. Rivelino equalised with a bullet of a free kick. Brazil found their range in the second half and Pele gave them a 59th minute lead. Jairzinho quickly added a third and a late fourth in an emphatic 4-1 win.
Romania then claimed a 2-1 comeback win over the Czechs ahead of the most anticipated match of the group phase with England facing Brazil in the midday heat of Guadalajara. It became an epic battle but Brazil thought they’d got the first half lead when Jairzinho’s cross was met by a thunderous Pele header only to see Gordon Banks cover across and produce an astounding save to keep the scores level, it’s still widely regarded as the best ever save. The game ebbed and flowed but an intense period of pressure early in the second half and Tostao an angle to find Pele who laid it on for Jairzinho to score on 59 minutes. Alf Ramsey made changes taking off the ageing Charlton along with Lee and bringing on Jeff Astle and Bell. A mix up in the Brazilian defence saw Astle get a simple chance to equalise but he put it wide. Brazil held on for a narrow 1-0 win and not for the last time Alf Ramsey’s use of substitutions was questioned.
Brazil rounded off the group by beating Romania 3-2 thanks to a Pele double and a Jairzinho strike and England saw off the Czechs 1-0 thanks to a penalty from Clarke. Brazil and England went through with many anticipating the two would meet again in the final.
Gerd the Great
Group 4 was an eclectic mix in ’66 runners up West Germany, a creative Bulgaria, African debutants Morocco and Peru playing their first tournament since 1930. Peru managed by Brazil legend Didi opened the group against Bulgaria and in an open game Bulgaria took the lead when Dinko Dermendzhiev finished off a cleverly crafted free kick. Bulgaria’s star man Hristo Bonev was pulling the strings in midfield and then early in the second half his rasping free kick was mishandled by Peru ‘keeper Luis Rubinos for 2-0. Peru needed some inspiration and within a minute Teofilo Cubillas drove them forward, starting a move that worked the ball to the left wing where Alberto Gallardo lashed home to half the deficit. Five minutes later Peru were level when skipper Hector Chumpitaz fired home a free kick from inside the D, 2-2. Cubillas had the final word working a one-two to the edge of the box, taking the ball around the Bulgarians and firing the winner into the bottom corner.
West Germany were amongst the favourites with a core of surviving players from ’66 headlined by Franz Beckenbauer, Sigfried Held and veteran captain Uwe Seeler playing his fourth World Cup. There was steel in the defence provided by Berti Vogts and goalkeeper Sepp Maier, but the biggest addition was 24-year-old goalscoring sensation Gerd Muller. Opening against Morocco the Germans got an early shock when a defensive mix up let Houmane Jarir in for the opener. West Germany went forward and Muller was twice denied as Morocco went in 1-0 at the break. Seeler settled German nerves with a 56th minute leveller but West Germany struggled to find the winner. It finally came when a rebound fell invitingly for Muller to prod in ten minutes from time.
Peru’s free flowing style was making an impact and they gave Morocco the run around, but it took until the 67th minute to find a goal with Cubillas scoring twice in an entertaining 3-0 win. Next up West Germany again conceded an early opener, this time to Bulgaria. Winger Reinhard Libuda brought West Germany level and then Muller took over, scoring twice to put his team 3-1 up. Seeler made it 4-1 with Muller completing his hat-trick two minutes from time in a 5-2 win.
It all meant West Germany and Peru were both through with a game to spare. When they met in Leon, Muller grabbed a 39 minute hat-trick with Cubillas scoring a consolation for Peru. The man of the moment was Muller who already had seven goals to his name.
Last Gasp Uruguay
The four quarter-finals kicked off simultaneously with the Soviet Union having topped Mexico’s group playing at the Azteca against Uruguay. The match was cagey with clear cut chances at a premium, but Vladimir Muntyan went close with a fizzling long range effort. The game went to extra time and Bishovets thought he’d got the winner but was denied by the linesman’s flag. With three minutes left in extra time Luis Cubilla produced a wonderful piece of control on the byeline to hold possession and deliver a cross for substitute Victor Esparrago to glance home the winner.
Hosts Mexico headed to Toluca to face an Italy team struggling for goals. Mexico made a good start and took the lead when Jose Luiz Gonzalez breached Italy’s defence for the first time in the tournament. Italy were forced onto the front foot and got a lucky break when a speculative effort deflected off Mexico’s Javier Guzman and deceived goalkeeper Ignacio Calderon 1-1 on 25 minutes. Italy began to wear Mexico down and on 63 minutes Riva skipped a tackle to get a shot away and Italy were finally ahead. Giani Rivera soon added a third before Italy broke away and Riva added a fourth goal at the second attempt to seal a 4-1 win.
The two most flamboyant teams in the tournament met in Guadalajara as Brazil faced Peru. A poor clearance from Peru let Rivelino in to angle home the opening goal. A short corner was worked to Tostao who drilled in from a tight angle for 2-0. Not to be outdone Gallardo got Peru back in the game with a stunning shot from the left which Felix failed to handle 2-1. Early in the second half Tostao scrambled home Brazil’s third. Peru kept going an Cubillas volleyed in to keep his team alive on 70 minutes. Five minutes later it was over as Jaizinho got Brazi’s fourth.
The tie of the round was in Leon with a rematch of the ’66 final between England and West Germany. There was a shock for England on the morning of the game with star goalkeeper Banks taken violently ill with food poisoning. Ramsey was forced to turn to back up ‘keeper Peter Bonetti. England started well with fullback Keith Newton driving in a low cross which Mullery reacted fastest to for the opening goal. Lee then thought he’d won a penalty when he dribbled into the box but a foul was given the other way. Early in the second half another Newton cross found Martin Peters who added the second and England looked in control. Beckenbauer pushed forward and in the 68th minute burst forward and smashed in to give West Germany hope. Then Ramsey made an infamous substitution, taking off Charlton to save his legs for the next round, it released Beckenbauer from his defensive duties and England were on the backfoot. Charlton’s replacement Colin Bell produced a fine cross which Hurst nodded on but the ball fell agonisingly wide, at the other end Muller was clean through but Bonetti saved as the game became stretched.
As the pressure increased Ramsey’s last change saw him take off Peters in an attempt to slow the game, but it only invited pressure and a minute later Seeler’s backwards header sailed in for 2-2 with just eight minutes to go. Beckenbauer almost won it with a driving shot and just like ’66 it went to extra time. Unlike ’66 this time it was West Germany in the ascendancy with Beckenbauer going close again. In the second period of extra time substitute Jurgen Grabowski dribbled down the right and his deep cross was met by Hannes Lohr who nodded across from Muller to volley home and West Germany were ahead. England poured forward with Alan Ball going close but West Germany held on and the holders were out. Bonetti at fault on all three goals took the blame and England would not return to the World Cup for 12 years.
Game of the Century
West Germany’s reward for overcoming England was a trip to the Azteca to face Italy. Having won the easier quarter-final Italy made the better start and after just eight minutes Roberto Boninsegna worked himself into space as the Germans dithered and smashed in the opener. Italy made the most of the early running but couldn’t add a second, with West Germany needing inspiration Beckenbauer made a surging run through the Italian defence, forcing Facchetti into evasive action with Beckenbauer incensed not to win a penalty. West Germany began to find their range and Muller was unlucky when a brilliant volley on the turn fell just wide and Grabowski’s long range effort forced a fine save form Albertosi to maintain a lead 1-0 at the break.
Both teams produced chances in an end to end second half with Wolfgang Overath hitting the bar for West Germany. As the minutes ticked down Italy retreated and Seeler should have done better with a close range effort. Held then had a shot cleared off the line and Muller ballooned the rebound over the bar. Italy then almost gifted an equaliser when Albertosi’s quick goal-kick hit Grabowski and rebounded into the goalmouth with the goalkeeper scrambling the ball away from the feet of Muller. Finally in the 90th minute Grabowski’s pinpoint cross fed a perfectly placed Karl-Heinz Schnellinger to slot into the corner 1-1 and extra time.
The most dramatic extra time period ever witnessed began with West Germany on the offensive against the stunned Italians. A Seeler knockdown from a corner caused panic in the Italian box and Muller reacted quickest to poke in on 94 minutes, 1-2. Italy were forced onto the attack and four minutes later Berti Vogts gave away a cheap free kick, the ball fell kindly to Tarcisio Burgnich who blasted Italy level. West Germany looked the more likely to score with Seeler going close. In the final minute of the first period of extra time Italy broke down the left as Rivera found Domenghini whose cross picked out Riva who rolled in for 3-2.
Beckenbauer was playing on despite a dislocated shoulder as West Germany sought another equaliser with Held leading the attack. Libuda swung in a cross from a short corner, Seeler headed on and Muller nodded home, 3-3 on 110 minutes. From the ensuing kickoff Italy began to pass the ball around and released Roberto Boninsegna down the left whose low cross found an unmarked Rivera in the middle of the box to stroke home 4-3. Italy held on to win the best World Cup game ever, if not the best football match ever. Muller had the consolation of golden boot with 10 goals but as in ’66 West Germany had come up agonisingly short.
Brazil went into their semi-final as overwhelming favourites but the opposition sent a shiver down Brazilian spines; Uruguay the nation that had thwarted them in their own backyard 20 years previous. Uruguay started playing aggressively in defence and producing the better early chances. Brazil were looking carless at the back and were punished when Brito’s poor pass was picked off by Julio Morales who found Cubilla on the right who managed to squeeze the ball in for the opening goal. The ghost of 1950 now hung heavily over the Estadio Jalisco.
Brazil were stunned as Uruguay pressed for a second goal with Morales a thorn in Brazil’s side and the favourites forced to resort to some rough tackling of their own. Pele after a quiet start began probing Uruguay’s backline as Brazil began to find their range. Brazil were getting closer but the first half was drawing to a close when Tostao broke on the left and centred a ball for Clodoaldo to blast home for 1-1 at half time.
In the second half Brazil looked revitalised, Pele danced his way through the Uruguay defence only to be denied by a foul on the edge of the box. Uruguay were getting jittery and the normally reliable goalkeeper Ladislao Mazurkiewicz pinged a goal-kick straight at Pele to shoot on the half volley. The breakthrough finally came when Tostao fed Jairzinho down the right who stretched a tiring Uruguay defence and fired home in the 76th minute. Uruguay were forced to go for broke and Cubilla forced a fine save from Felix. In the final minute Pele broke away and drew Uruguay’s defenders before squaring to Rivelino who hammered home for 3-1. The demon of 1950 had been exorcised and Brazil were in the final.
Final Call for Jules Rimet
So to the final and the last time the Jules Rimet Trophy would be presented. The Azteca was packed with 107,000 fans to witness the ultimate clash of styles between Brazil’s attacking wizardry and Italy’s formidable backline. Riva had the first sight at goal but it was Brazil who made most of the early running with Rivelino struggling to find his radar from a couple of early free kicks. Just as Italy were growing into the game Brazil struck when a short throw in found Rivelino whose inch perfect cross was headed into the corner by Pele on 18 minutes. Brazil pushed for the killer second goal, but just as Brazil seemed to have Italy where they wanted them Boninsegna caught a very casual Clodoaldo in possession, Felix came rushing out and Boninsegna cooly slotted into an unguarded net. Buoyed by the equaliser Italy began to pour forward but then Pele had the ball in the net only to be denied because the half-time whistle had been blown.
Brazil started the second half the quicker and a Carlos Alberto cross was almost turned home by Pele. Italy survived the early pressure and began building threatening moves. Rivelino struck the crossbar with a free-kick, whilst at the other end the Riva and then Sandro Mazzola went close with headers. In the sweltering heat the pace dropped, then suddenly Jairzinho quickened to make inroads and laid the ball off to Gerson who hit a swerving drive from distance for 2-1. Now in the final quarter of the game Gerson hit a searching long ball which Pele nodded down and Jairzinho slotted home for 3-1 on 71 minutes.
Brazil began pulling out the party tricks as Italy struggled to regain a grip on the match, with Gerson pulling the strings and Rivelino going close again. Then in the 85th minute Tostao won the ball back deep in Brazil’s half, they began playing the ball around, Clodoaldo worked his magic and laid the ball down the wing to Rivelino who found Jairzinho who teased and found Pele in the centre, Brazil’s number ten waited and laid off the perfect pass for the onrushing Carlos Alberto to blast home the perfect team goal. At 4-1 Brazil were champions again, Italy had held them for most of the game but Brazil’s superior class had finally told and were World Champions for a third time.
Mexico ’70 set the bar all subsequent World Cups have been judged on. The tournament offered everything from superstar players to classic matches and all relayed around the world in glorious colour. Likewise Brazil’s 1970 team remains to many the greatest team ever assembled, the beautiful game has rarely dazzled so much. Pele retired from international football a year later, his legacy now complete. Brazil would keep the retired Jules Rimet trophy for good a testament to their brilliance, but it never before or since burned as brightly as it did in the Mexican sun.