World Cup Curiosities

All our World Cup curiosities and oddities...

1950 - Scotland try not to qualify

With the home nations refusing to participate in the pre-war World Cups, FIFA were desperate for participation from the home of football. FIFA made the very generous offer that the winners of the Home International Championship of 1949-50 could play at the Brazil World Cup of 1950. They also allowed the tournament to remain intact with no home and away qualifiers, unlike the rest of Europe. Amazingly they also offered a place to the runners up! With the kind of foresight we're so accustomed to in our football administrators, the secretary of the SFA, George Graham (no, not that one), declared that Scotland would only participate should they actually win the Home International Championships! Going into the deciding match between Scotland and England at Hampden both sides had won their previous two fixtures and thus a draw would suffice. Scotland would be declared joint champions (goal difference was a mere glint in the milkman's eye in 1950), pride would be intact and the SFA could start buying buckets and spades for the Copacabana. Unsurprisingly, Scottish hubris was completely undone when Roy Bentley scored the only goal of the game in front of the obligatory 360,000 Hampden crowd to give England, (who had no qualms about going as runners up) a 1-0 victory, and the title. Scotland captain George Young desperately tried to persuade the SFA that they had made a monumental error, but to no avail. The committee were men of principle and their imbecilic decision stood.

Two points arise from this. Firstly, maybe Graham was a man of vision. England were humiliated by the USA and came home after the group stage. Secondly, this was a splendid system of qualification and one that the home FA's should campaign FIFA to reinstate. If it was good enough for 1950 (and 1954 as well, when Scotland did accept a place via the runners up spot), it must be good enough for 2010. Lord Triesman, contact Herr Blatter forthwith. It is surely inconceivable that some foreign desk Johnny could possibly refuse this request from the motherland. And from a Lord to boot!

1950 - Not Quite the All-American Hero

The man whose goal lead to one of the World Cup's greatest shocks, the USA's 1:0 victory over the then mighty England, was in actual fact from Haiti. Joe Gaetjens, born in Haiti with a Haitian mother and Belgian father, was only allowed to play for the Americans because he'd declared an intention to become an American citizen. However, after the World Cup he moved to France and played for Troyes before returning home to Haiti in 1954 without ever having gained U.S. citizenship. The story ends with a terrible twist though - he was arrested by the country's secret police, the notorious Tontons Macoutes, in 1964 and is presumed to have been killed by one of their death squads.

1958 - Wales Qualify thanks to Middle Eastern Politics

Wales have only ever appeared in one World Cup, the 1958 edition in Sweden. With the great John Charles leading the line they performed heroics. Wales knocked out Hungary, finalists in 1954, on the way to a narrow quarter final defeat by eventual winners, Brazil (scorer Pele). But the story of their qualification is mired, bizarrely, in Middle Eastern politics.

The Welsh finished second in their three team group behind Czechoslovakia. However, they were given a second chance due to a succession of teams from Asia and Africa Section refusing to play the recently created Israeli state. Israel was initially due to play Turkey in a two legged tie, but the Turks seeing themselves as European, threw a hissy fit and refused to compete as an Asian nation and withdrew.

In the 2nd phase Indonesia refused to play in Israel and Fifa rejected their request to play the match on a neutral venue. Egypt wouldn't play them anywhere. This enabled Israel and Sudan to go forward to the Asia / Africa final qualifier. However, the Sudanese then decided they wouldn't play Israel which technically qualified them for the Sweden.

However, Fifa had ruled that no team could qualify without playing a match and so a hastily arranged play off was organised with a 2nd place team in Europe. Belgium was drawn out of the hat, but for reasons best known to themselves, they wouldn't play Israel either. Perhaps George Graham had left Hampden for the Belgian FA (see 1950). The Welsh had no such compunction and duly won the play off 4-0 on aggregate after 2-0 wins in Tel Aviv and Cardiff.

The Welsh have never qualified for the World Cup since. They've had close shaves but usually a missed penalty (1993) or a dodgy refereeing decision in Scotland's favour (1977 & 1985) puts paid to their chances. Perhaps benefiting from turmoil in the Middle East is their only hope.

1962 - Chile's Special pre-Match Meals

Back in 1962 the host nation came up with the strange idea of replacing their usual pre-match meal with something that reflected their opposition. So before the opener against Switzerland they had cheese (presumably with holes in) and before their next game against Italy they polished off some spaghetti (obviously). With the idea serving them well (they beat the Swiss 2:1 and the Italians 2:0) they took it into the quarter final clash with the USSR. However, not fancying a big plate of cabbage, they opted for a few swift vodkas, and it did them no harm whatsoever as they triumphed again, 2:1. The semi-final against Brazil was a pre-match binge too far though, with the mighty Brazilians winning 4:2, the strong coffee proving to be a weak substitute for footballing excellence.

1974 - Cruyff's Adidas Dilemma

Anyone watching a re-run of the 1974 World Cup might be forgiven for thinking that the sight of Johann Cruyff sporting an Adidas top with only two stripes was down to the grainy quality of 1970's videos. It wasn't. Cruyff had a lucrative deal with Puma and insisted that he wouldn't play in a shirt advertising their big rivals famous three-stripe markings, so the Dutch FA had a special shirt made with only two stripes on it. Everyone was happy again. Except Adidas.

1978 - The 1000th Goal

The World Cup's 1000th goal was scored during the 1978 tournament when under-rated Dutchman Robbie Rensenbrink opened the scoring after 34 minutes with a penalty in the epic game against Scotland in Mendoza.

1978 - More Oranje Controversy

Looking back on some of the controversial incidents that surrounded the Dutch team of 1978 it's pretty impressive that they managed to eventually get it together and nearly win the thing...
1. After helping the national team qualify for the 1978 finals in Argentina Cruyff then promptly announced that he wouldn't be attending the finals. Amongst the various theories for his absence were that he refused to play in a country that was now under the rule of a military dictatorship, that his wife had banned him from travelling to the tournament, and that he'd had enough of the financial and tactical disagreements that had come commonplace with the Dutch FA.
2. Whilst the loss of one of their top players may be considered unlucky, to lose two was downright careless. So when creative midfielder Wim van Hanegem legged it out of the pre-tournament training camp the Oranje fans back home wondered what on earth was going on. Another classic dispute between a player and the Dutch FA saw the latter claiming that van Hanegem was tired from a tremendous season with AZ67, whilst the player claimed that it was over disagreements regarding money. Whatever the reason. the Dutch had just lost another creative force.
3. After Cruyff had pulled the old "I'm not wearing 3 stripes" trick back in 1974, you'd have thought both the Dutch FA and Adidas would have got wise to it. They hadn't. This time not one, but two players refused to wear the trademark Adidas stripes, and so two special shirts were made for the Van de Kerkhof brothers. Cruyff may not have been there in person but it seemed he was still there in spirit.

1982 - One Rule for Diego...

As they'd done in previous World Cups, the Argentinian FA handed out shirts alphabetically to squad members, so Ossie Ardiles was handed number 1 despite being a midfielder, and defender Jose Van Tuyne was given number 22. However, under that system 21 year old prodigy Diego Maradona would have worn no. 12, so to keep him sweet he swapped with Estudiantes defender Patricio Hernandez so that he could appear in his favoured number 10.

1982 - West Germany 1:0 Austria - "de Nichtangriffspakt von Gijon"

Translating as the "non-aggression pact of Gijon", this was the name given to the dubious final group match between the neighbouring countries, the result of which allowed both teams to go through on goal difference ahead of Algeria. Horst Hrubesch put the West Germans one up after ten minutes, followed by a scandalous 80 minutes of non-football. The situation arose as Algeria and Chile had played their final game the day previous, allowing the Germans and Austria to work out exactly what situation was required for both to progress.

1986 - One Rule for Diego... and Daniel. And Jorge.

When the Argentinian FA announced in 1986 that they would be doing a repeat of 1982 and ordering the shirt numbers alphabetically, apart from Diego Maradona who would swap again to number 10, Real Madrid striker Valdano and captain Daniel Passarella pulled rank and insisted on keeping their own numbers too, so Passarella kept his favoured number 6 and Valdano wore 11, rather than the number 21 that he was originally pencilled in for.

1994 - Everyone's Happy, at last.

With the threat of multiple dummy's being thrown out of multiple prams, the Argentinian FA at last reverted to a 'sort it out yourself' squad numbering system, and, despite their being a number of players who hankered after the number 10 it's safe to say that none of them suggested having a game of scissors-paper-stone with Mr Maradona for it.

2006 - Swiss Miss

Switzerland were knocked out of the 2006 tournament in neighbouring Germany despite not conceding a goal in the entire tournament. A fine opening 0-0 draw with France was followed up by 2:0 victories over Togo and South Korea, a series of results that saw them top Group G. They then drew 0:0 with Ukraine in the 2nd round but went out 0:3 on penalties, proving that despite having a strong defence they couldn't hit a barn door with a giant Toblerone against the stronger footballing nations.

2010 - Honduran Brothers in Arms

Honduras became the first country in World Cup history to name three brothers in a World Cup squad. Tottenham's Wilson and youngest brother Johnny of Honduran club Olimpia has already been selected for the squad. However, a late injury to Torino star Julio Cesar de Leon meant a call up for their elder brother Jerry, who plied his trade in China with Hangzhou Greentown. Jerry dedicated the historic call-up to their younger brother Edwin who just 3 years previously had been kidnapped and subsequently murdered in their troubled homeland despite a ransom being paid for his release.