KEIR RADNEDGE in MOSCOW —- A match this week some 36 years ago explains why the last two matches in all eight of the groups at these current World Cup finals are being played simultaneously.
Nowadays it seems perfectly logical that none of the teams involved, with second round qualification at stake, should have the advantage of knowing their target – win, lose or minimal draw.
But it was not always so.
In on June 25 the 1982 finals, in northern Spain, West Germany faced their south-eastern neighbours Austria in Gijon in the last match of Group 2. The Germans, surprisingly, had lost their opening game to Algeria who, on the day before the Gijon meeting, had also defeated Chile 3-2.
That meant a West German team coached by Jupp Derwall and including the likes of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Paul Breitner, needed to beat Austria in El Molinon to proceed to the second group stage. The Austrians could afford to lose by two goals and still progress themselves with a better goal difference than Algeria.
In those circumstances, Algeria would fall from first to third in the group and fly home.
In the 10th minute Hamburg centre-forward Horst Hrubesch headed West Germany into the lead. That was sufficient. All the players knew it and any attempts at attacking moves faded out. Very quickly the 40,000 fans realised all they would see was 70-plus minutes of keep-ball.
No-one said so specifically but it was a fix in plain sight. No “Ole!” for each pass, only jeers and then sympathetic cheers for Algeria. A number of Algerian fans threw coins on to pitch to express their disgust.
Helpless in the middle of it all was Scottish referee Bob Valentine. Years later, he told The Scotsman: “It was my first ever World Cup tie. As you can imagine it was a huge occasion for me. And it was a massive game to be given – it was like Scotland v England, a local derby.
“When I was handed the game [before the finals] it obviously was not known that Algeria were going to beat West Germany. It took me about 30 minutes to realise that the game was not going anywhere. I refereed the game in front of me. It’s all I could do.”
FIFA opened an inquiry and closed it quickly, taking no action. After all, no rules had been broken. Austria were eliminated in the second round groups while West Germany went on to reach the final where they lost 3-1 to Italy in the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid.
Years later players from both sides acknowledged what everyone knew and saw. Germany’s Hans-Peter Briegel said: “I can only apologise to the Algerians because they deserved to qualify for the next round.”
The scandal led directy to FIFA’s order that concluding group matches had to be played simultaneously.
In fact, FIFA should have come that conclusion four years’ earlier. In Argentina, in 1978, the last games in second round Group B had kicked off on the same day but three hours apart. Brazil defeated Poland by 3-1 so, an hour later, hosts Argentina knew they needed a four-goal win over Peru to reach the final.
Peru hit the post in the opening minutes but Argentina went on to win 6-0. All sorts of conspiracies theories have been advanced about a fix but no solid proof has ever emerged.
Oscar Ortiz, the Argentina left winger, recalled the match in an interview this week with Clarin, saying: “Everyone has their own idea [about the game]. The fans think the Peruvians sold it. I didn’t see anything so there’s nothing I can say. In the March we had beaten them twice, both here and in Lima.
“On the day we needed four goals, not six. It’s not unusual in football. Barcelona managed it not so long ago.”
FIFA (president Joao Havelange, general secretary Sepp Blatter) failed to heed the lesson. Had they done so, the match defined variously as the ‘Disgrace of Gijon’ or El Anschluss or Die Schande von Gijon could never have happened.
Now, in Russia, if teams finish level on points they can be separated by goal difference, goals scored, mutual match record and then fair play record (yellow/red cards). They cannot fix it among themselves, out on the pitch.