What happened at the 1970 World Cup?

In the weeks leading up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, we'll set the scene for the next instalment of the greatest sporting event in the world by reliving each of its predecessors. We continue the build up today with the ninth World Cup, and the first to be played on a continent other than Europe or South America.

Who: 16 squads from Africa (1), Europe (10), North America (2) and South America (3).

What: The ninth World Cup, and the first to be held outside of Europe or South America.

Why: Football and a whole new continent.

When: May 31, 1970 to June 21, 1970.

Where: Five cities across Mexico.

The Final: Brazil 4 - Italy 1

In the 18th minute, Pelé headed in a cross from Rivelino to put Brazil up. However, they’d go into the half tied with Italy after a series of back line blunders allowed Italian forward Roberto Boninsegna to equalize. The match remained level until the 66th minute when Gérson restored Brazil’s lead with a powerful shot from distance.

After that, the floodgates opened. Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto scored two of what could have been a half dozen goals. Brazil's attacking play beat Italy’s staunch defense to win the country’s third World Cup, an honor that meant they could permanently keep the Jules Rimet trophy.

How Did It Happen?

Once again, Argentina were thwarted by the lobbying efforts of another nation. Despite brutal summertime playing conditions, and the subsequent protests of delegates in the know, Mexico was selected to host the 1970 tournament. It was claimed that Argentina’s economic conditions played a role in the decision, but — if we’re being honest — only in as much as it pertained to their inability to bribe officials.

Golden Boot

Gerd Müller - West Germany (10 goals).

Major Innovations

  • Substitutes were finally allowed (two per side);

  • Red and yellow cards were introduced;

  • Matches were televised in colour; and

  • Teams level on points at the end of the group stage were separated by goal difference.

The More Things Change

It turns out that Mexico is pretty close to the equator. Around noon, the temperatures get especially high during the summer months. These two bits of common knowledge didn’t stop officials from insisting some matches start at 12:00 PM to cater to television viewers in Europe.

The policy proved incredibly unpopular with players and managers who had to risk dehydration, and couldn’t manage to compete to the best of their ability under the sweltering conditions.

Similarly, organizers for Brazil 2014 have been criticized for start times scheduled for when the temperatures are at their highest.

The Controversy

Mexico's 4-0 victory over El Salvador in the group stage was a strange one. Nearing the end of the first half, Egyptian referee Hussain Kandail awarded a free kick to El Salvador, but instead, Mexico quickly took it as if it had been awarded to them. When they scored a goal from the resulting play, El Salvador went wild in protest. Despite how overwhelmingly unfair the goal seemed, it stood, and Mexico scored three more times in the second half to win the match.

This Means War

Rioting followed two separate qualifying matches between El Salvador and neighbours Honduras, leading to "The War of Soccer" breaking out in the summer of 1969.

Best Match: Italy 4 - West Germany 3 (Semifinals)

After going up 1-0 within the first ten minutes of the match, Italy played its characteristically cautious brand of football, even bringing on an extra defender at the half to guard their victory. The move backfired, as it gave the West Germans all the space they needed in the midfield to bombard the Italians with an attack.

Remarkably, the Italian defense held strong for more than 45 minutes, until West Germany finally equalized three minutes into added time. Then came extra time, wherein five goals were scored in what could accurately be described as the most exciting fifteen minutes in World Cup history.

The West Germans went up in the 94th minute, but two unanswered goals from Italy put them ahead only ten minutes later. West Germany equalized five minutes after that, but the Italians went ahead for good a single minute later on a long shot from Gianni Rivera outside the penalty area.

Timing Is Everything

While in Columbia, just before the start of the tournament, England captain Bobby Moore was arrested on charges of theft. He wasn’t released until the eve of the competition, after the rest of the squad had already travelled on to Mexico without him.

Preparedness Is Next To Restfulness

Ahead of the group stage encounter between defending champions England and tournament favorites Brazil, many anticipated it to be the match of the tournament, and perhaps a preview of the inevitable final. None moreso than Brazilian fans, who gathered outside the England hotel and chanted and sang all night in a deliberate bid to disrupt the team's sleep.

Whether that was the cause or not, Brazil won the uneventful match 1-0.

The Program

Been There Done That

Brazil's Mario Zagallo became the first to win a World Cup as a player (1958 and 1962), and as a manager (1970). Germany's Franz Beckenbauer (spoiler alert: 1974 and 1990) is the only other player/manager to do so.


Brazil’s winning squad from 1970 is largely considered the greatest football team of all time. It’s remarkable that they emerged the victors of a tournament that seemed so set up to fail. Despite intense heat, poor infrastructure and the general prevalence of defensive tactics among the tournament’s competitors, Brazil’s talented attack overcame everything, and looked great doing it.

As Brian Glanville suggests in his wonderful book ‘The Story Of The World Cup,’ Brazil’s final win in 1970 over the defensive minded Italians almost acted as an allegory for the entire tournament. It was attack beating defense, the positive supplanting the negative and the creative topping the destructive.

With their third World Cup, Brazil laid claim to the title of the greatest soccer nation.

What happened at the 1970 World Cup?
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