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1970: the greatest World Cup of all time! Kinshuk Biswas recounts the story of the last edition of Jules Rimet Cup

This journey into the various incidents of the FIFA World Cup tournaments started in 1930 from the streets of Montevideo. The series comes to an end with the 1970 World Cup – a tournament widely regarded as the best till date. The journey was memorable, and I hope I have been able to bring forward a few unknown facts and lesser known incidents which have shaped this great tournament over the years. This is not the end as the journey will continue with other stories of this ‘beautiful game’.

The choice of venue for the 1970 finals was made in 1964. Mexico edged out Argentina to win the right to host the tournament. The Mexicans were already going to host the next Olympics and a massive stadium named Azteca opened in 1966. This stadium could seat 107,494 people, the largest then, with the exception of the Maracana stadium in Brazil.

A total of 75 teams entered the qualification tournament for the final 16 spots in the tournament. For the first time, a team each from Africa and Asia Zone were confirmed an automatic place in the final tournament. Mexico being the hosts, another team from North and Central America was also guaranteed a place in the finals. Europe would have 9 teams including England who qualified automatically as defending champions and South America would have three representatives. There were some surprises in the qualifications as Portugal finished bottom of their group which was won by Belgium. Hungary, the Olympic champions were tied on points with Czechoslovakia but the latter won the play-off match 4-1. Belgium qualified ahead of the fancied Yugoslavia and Spain. Argentina was eliminated by Peru in a tense 2-2 draw in Buenos Aires where reportedly 15 minutes of injury time was played. The Asian group was dominated by Israel and Australia with the former winning in Tel Aviv and hanging on to a draw in Sydney to qualify. Interestingly Rhodesia, an African country, played in the Asian zone as the other African nations refused to play against a country governed by a racial regime. Morocco qualified from Africa winning against Tunisia by a toss of the coin en-route. El Salvador qualified from North and Central America after defeating Haiti. Before that they had been involved in a bitter contest with neighbouring Honduras which they won in a play-off. This resulted in a war between the two nationals which led to 3000 lives lost. This war known as the ‘Football War’ had more to do with Honduran land reforms and subsequent mass population immigration into El Salvador than the game which was the final flash point.

The champions England still had a very strong team and had lost only 4 out of the 35 matches they played between the two World Cups and all of them to a single goal margin to very good teams. Bobby Moore, Bobby and Jack Charlton, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters and Gordon Banks were all back. In place of Nobby Stiles there was Alan Mullery who was better with the ball and equally combative off it. Brazil had put behind the horror showing of 1966 and scored 23 goals and won all their matches in an emphatic qualifying campaign. Tostao, Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto were all in the peak of their careers. Pele was still impressive with new players like Clodoaldo and Rivelino coming to the fore. They had Joao Saldanha, famous sports journalist and former Botafogo player as manager during qualification. Saldanha had to resign when he was asked to pick the favourite players of the President of Brazil. He responded by giving the President suggestions on his choice of cabinet ministers. In a military dictatorship like Brazil, it was not a wise move and eventually led to his dismissal as manager. Mario Zagallo, the player of 1958 and 1962, was selected as manager in his place. Italy had recovered from the Korean debacle of 1966 to win the European Cup and had a good bunch of players in Giacinto Facchetti, Luigi Riva, Sandro Mazzola and Tarcisio Burgnich. They were managed by Ferruccio Valcareggi – one of the best of those times. West Germany had the same side as 1966 with the prodigious goal-scoring talent of Gerd Muller and goalkeeper Sepp Maier, the newcomers in a strong side.

The format was the same as the last tournament with four groups where the top two teams from each group would advance to the quarter-finals. In case of two teams tied on points, the team with the better goal difference would progress. This was the first use of goal difference instead of goal average which was used in the earlier tournaments. This was the first tournament to feature yellow and red cards and a total of two substitutions were allowed for every match irrespective of injuries, which meant that tactical switches could be made. This was also the first tournament to be telecast in colour. The altitude of venues was a big factor. The organisers had scheduled the matches for prime time telecast in Europe which meant that the teams would have to play under the intense mid-day sun. The draw was done on a geographical basis without any seeding. After the draw the Groups were:

Group 1

Group 2

Group 3

Group 4

Soviet Union



West Germany









El Salvador




Group 1

The opening match between the hosts and Soviet Union, on May 31, was a dour and bruising encounter where both teams played a listless 0-0 draw. There were very few chances, five yellow cards and Anatoliy Puzach became the first tactical substitution made after half-time. In the other match, Belgium dominated El Salvador and won 3-0. The star Belgian striker Paul Van Himst (most famous for starring in the film Escape to Victory), however, struggled with the altitude. Wilfried Van Moer scored a brace and Raoul Lambert the other. The second round of matches featured Belgium against the Soviets and the hosts against El Salvador. The first match was dominated by the Belgians in the opening 15 minutes. Van Moer’s header was saved by Anzor Kavazashvili, the Soviet keeper. Van Moer hit rebound against the bar; the Soviets cleared the ball and counter-attacked. Anatoliy Byshovets hit the target from thirty yards out. After that it was the Soviet show with Byshovets scoring another goal, and further strikes by Kakhi Asatiani and Vitaliy Khmelnytsksyi gave them a four-goal lead. Lambert scored a consolation for Belgium making the final score 4-1 in favour of the Soviets. In the other match, the Mexicans dominated against El Salvador but could not score till the end of the first half. The state of the match changed in the 44th minute when the Salvadoreans thought they had been awarded a throw-in by the Egyptian referee Ali Kandil. Instead the Mexicans took a quick free-kick. Aaron Padilla crossed, Enrique Borja missed the open goal but Javier Valdivia stroked the ball into goal. All this when their opponents had stopped playing. Pandemonium followed with the El Salvador team surrounding the referee who astonishingly let the goal stand. In the second half the El Salvador team was so dejected that they tried to kick the Mexicans more than the ball. The hosts helped themselves to three more goals from Valdivia, Javier Fragoso and Juan Ignacio Basaguren who were on target. Basaguren became the first substitute to score a goal. The Mexicans won 4-0 and Kandil never refereed another World Cup finals match. In the last round of matches, Soviet Union defeated El Salvador 2-0 with a brace from Byshovets. The crowd were disappointed that the Soviets did not give a chance to their 40-year-old reserve goalkeeper, Lev Yashin who was still a very popular figure. The Mexicans defeated the Belgians after a very controversial penalty converted by their captain Gustavo Pena enabling them to win 1-0. The Soviets topped the group on the basis of the more number of goals scored as they had identical points and goal difference as the hosts who were the other team to advance.

Group 2

The opening match of the group was between Uruguay and Israel. Uruguayans were quite comfortable in the altitude but were cautious in their approach against the Israeli amateurs. They won 2-0 easily with goals from Ildo Maneiro and Juan Mujica. The other match featured the European champions Italy against Sweden. The match was played in Toluca, 8744 feet above sea level, and the thin air affected the performance of both teams. Luigi Riva tormented the Swedish defenders and was unlucky not to score. The only goal was scored in the 11th minute when Angelo Domenghini took a short corner on the left, got the return ball from Facchetti and hit a hopeful shot at the near post which the goalkeeper Ronnie Hellstrom tried to gather by cupping in the chest but the ball slipped under his body. Italy won 1-0. Second round of matches featured a predictable 0-0 draw between Italy and Uruguay in a match which was bereft of chances and very listless. The other match was a surprising 1-1 between Sweden and outsiders Israel. The Swedes took the lead in the 54th minute when Tom Turesson side-footed a cross into the back of the net. Three minutes later Mordechai Spiegler equalised from an explosive long range shot. In the last round of matches, Sweden needed a two-goal victory against Uruguay to advance. They nearly took the lead through a Leif Eriksson shot in the first minute which bounced off the post. After that the Uruguayans shut shop and did not allow the Swedes too many chances. Eventually the Swedes scored through Ove Grahn in the 89th minute but it was not enough. In the other match, Israel held Italy to a 0-0 draw. Italians dominated but could not score. Gianni Rivera was introduced in the second half but had a very quiet game. Italy topped the group to advance to the quarter-finals. Uruguay qualified second making Sweden the first team to be eliminated on goal difference.

Group 3

The most attractive group of the finals featured England playing Romania in the first round. The match was marked by cynical tackling of the Romanians which left Keith Newton unable to continue. Geoff Hurst eventually scored off a left-footer in the 64th minute off an Alan Ball cross from the right to give them a 1-0 victory. In the other match, there was a lot of expectation on Brazil who were facing Czechoslovakia in a repeat of the 1962 World Cup final. Tostao had undergone a retina-detachment operation in his eye and there were questions on his fitness. It started awfully with Clodoaldo loitering in defence with the ball for too long, was promptly dispossessed by Ladislav Petras, the Czech forward who dragged it past Brito, the Brazilian defender, and scored by beating the goalkeeper Felix by a clipped shot in the 11th minute. Brazil woke up and Pele missed an open net after a cross from Rivelino. In the 24th minute, Brazil got a free-kick just outside the box and Rivelino took a fierce curling shot aimed at Jairzinho who was standing in the wall. He ducked and the ball went into the net with a desperation touch from the keeper. The famed Brazilian ‘banana kick’ was unveiled. At the stroke of halftime, Pele tried an audacious shot from inside his own half to catch out the keeper which missed just to the right of the goal. In the 59th minute, Gerson’s magical left foot picked out Pele with a superb aerial ball over the defender which was chested down and volleyed into the net. Then another long pass from Gerson found Jairzinho who ran on, flipped the ball over the keeper and shot it hard into the net. Jairzinho completed the scoring going past two sliding tackles and putting in a cross-shot into the net. The Brazilians had served notice with the emphatic 4-1 victory. In the first of the second round matches, Romania faced Czechoslovakia. Petras gave the Czech’s an early lead yet again with a header in the third minute. The Romanians equalised in the 53rd minute through Alexandre Neaugu. Neagu was fouled in the penalty box in the 78th minute and Florea Dumitrache converted the penalty to give them a 2-1 win.

Bobby Moore (L) and Pele (R) after the group stage match

The other second round match was between the two tournament favourites – Brazil and England. The match had many incidents which have become famous in the annals of the game. First ‘the save’ – Carlos Alberto hit a superb pass which beat Terry Cooper and reached Jairziho who managed to cross the ball towards Pele who out-jumped Tommy Wright and headed the ball down and into the goal…  not as Gordon Banks jumped to his right and finger-tipped the ball over the bar. Banks had later said that he had made better saves in league matches but Tostao thought it was very special as he stood with his hands raised in disbelief for some period of time in front of goal. Bobby Moore was having a great game as he executed a copybook tackle to take the ball off the feet of Jairzinho in the penalty box where a slight error could have resulted in a penalty. Moore found a solution to Rivelino’s banana free-kick by standing behind Jairzinho in the wall and thus did not let the ball through. In the 62nd minute, Tostao worked hard to retrieve the ball off a rebound off Moore’s shin and took the ball to the left by beating Wright, and crossed into the penalty box. Pele trapped and passed out in a single movement to take out two defenders and find an unmarked Jairzinho who took a fierce shot to beat Banks and give Brazil a deserved lead. Ball later clipped the top of the Brazilian crossbar. The match finished 1-0 in favour of the Brazilians and the everlasting memory of this match is the respectful interaction between Pele and Moore at the end of the match. The English media started writing things like the final will be replayed with the same teams again, but it was a long way to go. In the last round of matches, Brazil defeated Romania 3-2 in a match which they dominated much more than the score suggests.  Pele scored the first goal from a free-kick and the third with a delightful toe-poke. In between, Jairzinho had scored from the near post. Emerich Drembrowski and Dumitrache reduced the margin for Romania. In the last match, England defeated Czechoslovakia 1-0 where they scored through a contentious Allen Clarke penalty. It was a poor performance from England for whom Jack Charlton was never capped again. Brazil topped the group with a 100% record followed by England who also qualified.

Gerson (C) was a revelation for Brazil

Group 4

In the first match Peru played Bulgaria. The Peruvians were reeling from the shock earthquake which had devastated their homeland a few weeks before. The Bulgarians started brightly going into a 2-0 lead through Dinko Dermendjiev in the 13th and Christo Bonev in the 49th minutes. Peru kept on attacking and Alberto Gallardo scored off a long ranger in the 51st minute. Hector Chumpitaz equalised in the 56th minute by scoring off a free-kick. Teofilo Cubillas, a 20-year-old played a superb one-two with Ramon Mifflin and scored in the 74th minute. The Peruvians dominated and eventually won 3-2 in a great match. In the other match, West Germany started slowly against Morocco. The West German manager, Helmut Schon accommodated both Gerd Muller and Uwe Seeler in the team by playing Seeler in the midfield. Seeler went on to have a brilliant tournament in this position. However, in this match he was still getting used to his new role when the Moroccans took the shock lead in the 22nd minute through Houmane Jarir. The African goalkeeper, Allal Ben Kassou had a superb game keeping out waves after waves of West German shots on goal. Eventually the West Germans equalised in the 56th minute off a goalmouth scramble. Muller scored in the 78th minute from a rebound off the bar after a Seeler header. The West Germans won 2-1. In the next round of matches, Peru crushed Morocco 3-0 with two goals from Cubillas and another from Roberto Challe. In the other match, West Germany fell behind again to Bulgaria from an Asparuh Nikodimov penalty in the 12th minute. Schon introduced a new German winger, Reinhard Libuda who was brilliant tearing the Bulgarian defence to bits and equalising in the 19th minute.  Then he set up Muller with a cross to score with a volley. Libuda was fouled in the penalty box and Muller promptly dispatched the penalty. Seeler scored the fourth off a Muller cross and Muller completed his hat-trick by heading in from a free-kick. Todor Kolev got a consolation to make the final score 5-2 in favour of West Germany. In the last round of matches, West Germany played Peru to decide who would top the group as both teams had qualified. Muller scored an easy hat-trick within 38 minutes to settle the match. Cubillas scored from a deflected free-kick. The West Germans were far superior and the deserving (3-1) winners. West Germany qualified top of the group with an all-win record followed by Peru. The quarter-final lineup was complete with Soviet Union facing Uruguay, Italy meeting the hosts Mexico, a South American clash between Brazil and Peru and the repeat of the 1966 World Cup final between West Germany and England.

Gerd Muller – the highest scorer with 10 goals


The first match was a very dreary affair in which the Soviets and Uruguayans committed 70 fouls. Byshovets was specially singled out by the Uruguayan for some very rough tackles. There were very few chances and the match went into extra-time, goalless. Three minutes from the end, Atilio Ancheta, the Uruguayan defender went up the field and took a glancing header which was going out of play being shielded by the Soviet defender Valentin Afonin. Luis Cubilla managed to steal the ball between Afonin’s legs and hit a near post cross which was headed in by Victor Esparrago. The Soviets surrounded the referee claiming the ball had gone out of play. The video shows that the ball did not go out of play. Uruguay was into the semi-finals (1-0). They were very defensive but to be fair their best attacking player, Pedro Rocha was out with an injury before the tournament started.

In the second quarter-final, Mexico took the lead against Italy with a goal from Jose Luis Gonzalez in the 13th minute. After that the Italians equalised in the 25th minute from a low driving shot by Domenghini which turned into his own net by the Mexican defender Javier Guzman. The Italian manager Valcareggi got his tactics right with his staffetta system of relay-substitution by bringing in Rivera in place of Mazzola at half-time. Then Riva came to the party scoring two goals. Rivera scored a fourth to give a 4-1 victory to Italy. The European champions had finally arrived in the tournament.

 Brazil easily defeated Peru 4-2 with Gerson returning after missing last two matches to orchestrate the mid-field. Both goalkeepers were very poor. Two goals from Tostao, one from Rivelino and one from Jairzinho sealed Peru’s fate. Cubillas and Gallardo scored for Peru capping off a very successful tournament for both and their team in general. Brazil was, however, a class above and in control of the match.

Muller scores to eliminate England

The last quarter-final was between bitter rivals West Germany and England – a repeat of the last World Cup final. Gordon Banks was out with food poisoning. The reserve goalkeeper, Peter Bonetti had helped Chelsea win the FA Cup and in his six England appearances had a 100% winning record. England started playing like true world champions and the West Germans were on the mat for an hour of the match. Mullery had given England the lead in the 32nd minute.  Martin Peters extended the lead to 2-0 in the 50th minute. England was coasting to a semi-final against Italy. They again forgot that their opponents were the comeback kings of football. In the 67th minute, Franz Beckenbauer received the ball on the right, beat Mullery and unleashed a right-footer which beat Bonetti into the goal. Eight minutes before the end, a West German free-kick from a central position outside the box was headed backwards by Seeler in the right side of the penalty box facing his own goal. The looping header beat Bonetti and nestled into the goal. Repeat of the Wembley stadium as the match went into extra-time 2-2.  Alf Ramsey’s wing-backs were getting tired in the Mexican heat.  Juergen Grabowski, the right-winger went past Terry Cooper and crossed. Hennes Loehr headed the ball back in from the far post and Muller was in hand and stabbed in a volley to give the West Germans a 3-2 lead. The English could not reply and the world champions had been knocked out. The semi-finals were continental match-ups between Brazil against Uruguay and West Germany facing Italy. Three of the four teams had won the World Cup twice before and as per FIFA rules a third time champion would take permanent possession of the Jules Rimet trophy.


In the first semi-final, Brazil struggled in the first half. A chip from Uruguayan Julio Morales found Cubilla in the right side of the penalty box in the 17th minute. He put the ball into the back of the net with a lifting shot which the goalkeeper Felix watched. Brazil were not at their best but managed to equalise in the 44th minute. Clodoaldo passed to Tostao in the left wing then ran on to take the return pass in the left side of the penalty box and smashed in a left-footer. Brazil came out after halftime looking a completely different side. Pele beat the goalkeeper with an audacious dummy only to shoot wide. In the 69th minute, Pele and Tostao touched the ball into the path of Jairzinho, who ran ahead of the attending defender on the right side of the penalty box and scored with an angular shot off the far post. In the 89th minute, Pele laid a ball out from the left side of the box to Rivelino just outside. He took a fierce left-footer which was valiantly touched by the goalkeeper on its way to the back of the net. The final score was 3-1 in favour of Brazilians who were in position to lift their third trophy.

The teams before ‘The Match of the Century’

The other semi-final was a classic known as Partita del Secolo in Italy and Jahrhundertspiel in Germany, or simply as The Game of the Century. For 90 minutes, this game was very predictable. Roberto Boninsegna scored with a shot from the edge of the box in the eighth minute. In the rest of the match, the Italians setup their defence to preserve their lead. Wolfgang Overath hit the bar with a left-footer otherwise Italy was in control. In the 70th minute, Beckenbauer dislocated his shoulder after a foul by Giancarlo de Sisti. West Germany had made their two substitutions and he continued after his hand was put in a sling. It seemed that the famed Italian defence would take them to their first final since 1938. But the West German ‘comeback kings’ had other things in their mind. In injury time, Grabowski held off two challenges in the left wing and crossed. Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, the West German left-back who played for the Italian club AC Milan, jumped towards the ball and hit a flying volley with his right foot into the net. It has to be said that both the teams were very tired and in no shape to play in the extra half hour to follow which was one of the greatest ever in football history. In the 94th minute, Italian defender Fabrizio Poletti and goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi got involved in a terrible mix-up which enabled Muller to get in-between and score to give the West Germans the lead. In the 98th minute, Rivera chipped in a ball too long while taking a free-kick into the opposition box. Siegfried Held, the West German defender headed the ball down but it fell to Burgnich who scored (2-2). In the 104th minute, Riva received the ball in the opposition penalty box from the left, fooled Schnellinger with a turn and scored with a left-footer to give Italy a 3-2 lead. In the 110th minute, the Germans crossed into the Italian penalty box from the left and Seeler headed the ball back towards Muller who scored with a delicate header past Rivera who was guarding the near post with Albertosi looking on (3-3). From the subsequent kick-off, Boninsegna ran down the left wing, cut inside the box and pulled back a pass for Rivera to arrive and slot the ball into the middle of the goal with Maier diving to his left in the 111th minute (4-3). The last nine minutes were like watching both teams at the end of their energy and Italy held on to book a meeting with Brazil. A plaque commemorates this great match outside the Azteca stadium.  The Jules Rimet trophy would be permanently claimed by a team, whatever the result. West Germany defeated Uruguay 1-0 with a goal from Overath to claim the third position. This match would be repeated in the similar stage of a World Cup four decades later with the same result, and with the same margin with four more goals.

Plaque outside the Azteca stadium commemorating the match of the century


Giacinto Facchetti (L) , Rudi Scheurer (Linesman), Rudi Glockner (Referee) and Carlos Alberto (R)

In front of a huge crowd at Azteca stadium who were backing Brazil, Italians tried to win back some crowd support by distributing bouquets of roses to the spectators. Italy started brighter with Riva forcing a good save off Felix with a 25-yard shot from the right wing. The Italians were always defensive by instinct and fell back allowing the Brazilians to come at them. In the 18th minute, Brazil got a throw-in on the left which was received and hooked a cross-in by the left foot of Rivelino. Pele beat Burgnich in the air and headed the ball into the net in the far post (1-0). Brazil allowed Italy back in the contest by conceding a silly goal in the 37th minute. Clodoaldo tried a back-heel which was intercepted by Boninsegna. He held off Brito’s challenge and with Felix off his line prematurely, stabbed in the ball from the left into an empty net with Riva waiting in case he missed (1-1). Rivelino hit the bar off a free-kick taken amazingly by his weaker right foot. Brazil posed more menace but Italy held fort as the teams went into halftime tied 1-1.

Pele celebrates at the final whistle

Italians did not bring on Rivera at the start of the second half which was a tactical error as he could have tested the shaky Brazilian defence. Brazil kept attacking but Italian defence was resolute. Jairzinho, who had outmuscled other defenders, found no quarter from Facchetti who gave him no time and space on the ball. Jairzinho was tackled superbly by Facchetti in the 66th minute just outside the box. The ball fell to Gerson who took the ball left and unleashed a thunderous left-footer to beat Albertosi to his left (2-1). Five minutes later, Gerson took a long free-kick which came to Pele in the opposition penalty area; he beat Burgnich to lay a header to Jairzinho who for once had managed to get free of Facchetti. The ball hit Jairzinho’s thigh and went into the net (3-1). Rivera was introduced in the 84th minute but the match was already decided. Brazil put an exclamation point to their performance in the 86th minute. Gerson passed to Jairzinho who was again not allowed space by Facchetti so he passed to Pele. Pele, thirty yards out in a central position, laid a superb square pass to the right which was thumped in by the captain Carlos Alberto (4-1). A fitting end to a great team performance. Brazil became the permanent holders of the Jules Rimet trophy which was lost after being stolen a few years later. It was a tournament which was a celebration of huge crowds and great goals. Experts believe that the Brazilians could not have played so well if not for the altitude and thin air of Mexico City which affected the European players more. However, it is all hypothetical and it was a great tournament.

Carlos Alberto with the trophy
Kinshuk Biswas

About Kinshuk Biswas

Kinshuk Biswas is an architect by education, a consultant by profession, a quizzer, writer and an absolute football fanatic by choice. Follow him at