Football is a simple game: one ball, two goals, 22 players, in the end ze Germans win. And, ever since 1930, 16 teams from around the world compete every four years to determine their champion. On three occasions that contingent of 16 teams was not even fully exhausted, but that magic number should become obsolete. For 24 teams would be there in Spain 1982.
Qualification is very much automatic for most of the big sides these days. The doldrums of international weekends will only increase as the World Cup is expanded even further. One can’t help but think that even just qualifying and competing in the tournament just used to mean so much more.
In 1978 hosts Argentina and holders West Germany were already qualified, which meant only 14 spots were up for grabs. Just shy of 100 countries competed in qualifying. And so here the coming expansion very much does make sense. No wonder the list of teams missing out in ‘78 included illustrious sides such as the European Champions Czechoslovakia, Argentina’s arch-rivals Uruguay, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and, for the second time running, England.
On the other hand Austria were back first time since ‘58. France, Hungary and Spain hadn’t made it through since ‘66. Hungary even had to beat Bolivia in a two-legged Intercontinental Play-off for the final spot, but did so convincingly with a 9:2 aggregate win. They were rewarded with a place in Group 1, which today would carry the moniker “Group Of Death”. It featured the hosts, France and Italy – the latter having bested England in qualifying by way of superior goal difference.
France had booked their passage picking up five points in four matches against Bulgaria and the Republic of Ireland. On the second matchday in Argentina they met the hosts at El Monumental. And already had their backs to the wall.
France feel the pressure, open strong
Having gone up within the first minute, France had nevertheless lost their first match against Italy, 1:2. The same scoreline saw Argentina winning their opener against Hungary. Italy set the tone for the second matchday as the trounced Hungary in the early afternoon kick-off: Gli Azzurri were 3:0 up after an hour, with 3:1 the final score. Thus a second loss for France would ensure an early exit. Continue reading