Fearless?

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (September 7th 2014)

Facts

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Facts have a habit of being pesky, especially when trying to defend the seemingly indefensible. Englandʼs performance against a far from impressive Norwegian line-up was poor. Victory by a single goal at home while hardly testing the Norwegian goalkeeper Ørjan Håskjold Nyland was uninspiring and did not bode well for the test to come on Monday, a far better Switzerland, who impressed at the World Cup.

Hodgson, a former manager of Switzerland knows the strengths of the Swiss. England needed a confidence-boosting victory to take to the Alpine nation. Hodgson talked Norway up, describing them as good opposition – better than Perú – but there was no disguising the fact that Norway was ranked 53 in the world for a reason and were rebuilding too.

Hodgsonʼs Plea

Although his annoyance seized the headlines Hodgson had valid points too, but not in his defence of Englandʼs performance, which was quite frankly drab. Switzerlandʼs new manager Vladimir Petković, who succeeded Ottmar Hitzfeld will have seen little to instil fear in him prior to Mondayʼs qualification tie in Basel. However, the old guard has retired, or been retired and the new breed will take time to settle in.

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Some of these players are top-class players in the making, but the players are in the making”, Hodgson said. “You canʼt play five or six games for England and be a regular at Liverpool for six or seven months and then be David Beckham. You canʼt be Phil Jones with all the injuries he has had and nail down a place in the Manchester United first team and then become John Terry. You canʼt be Jack Wlishere, who has lost all that football through injury and then all of a sudden be Bryan Robson. Letʼs be fair on all of these things. Thatʼs all I am asking”.

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Nevertheless, with the players available to him England should be beating Norway comfortably.

They were humiliated 6-0 by France just before the World Cup and face a difficult task qualifying for the Euro2016 despite the expansion from 16 to 24 teams.

Denial

Norway was a team that England should have beaten comfortably. Thereʼs no disguising that fact, however much Hodgson wanted media and fans to believe that England had beaten a good team with a performance to match. It simply wasnʼt the case.

If we had played badly, if a lot of players had had really poor performances, if the quality of our passing and our movement was nothing like I wanted to see and if our defending wasn’t as compact, aggressive and organised as it was for large periods, I would be the first to say so”, Hodgson said. “But I am not going to say it’s not that, just because we had a bad World Cup”.

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An uncomfortable fact was that despite the possession and even domination that Hodgson pointed to in his defence of the performance Joe Hart, captain for a few minutes, after Rooney was substituted, was the busier keeper, twice denying Joshua King with good saves. Norway was a pale shadow of former glories, but Hodgson was having none of it.

You have just seen an England team dominate for 45 minutes against a good opponent – an opponent thatʼs hard to beat and you have seen them work very hard to create chances”, Hodgson said. “Donʼt hit me with statistics. Two shots on target? Donʼt give me that one. What about the ones they threw themselves in front of? We had that much possession and you talk about two shots on target. The performance was quite good”.

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The Long Hang-Over

Fresh from a disappointing display at the World Cup, Hodgson needed a good performance to regain the trust of fans. It wasnʼt forthcoming, but Hodgson defended thought that England had in fact played well. There was a lot of euphoria before the World Cup”, he said. “Allow me to be excited about what they can do and allow me to stand up and say I think my team played well at a press conference when I think they have”.

It didnʼt convince, but Hodgson was far from finished.

We were getting 75,000 people to see us play Perú, who, with respect, were nowhere near as difficult an opponent as Norway and now we have 40,000”, Hodgson said regarding a match that had simply failed to entice support after what was considered a poor showing in the World Cup.

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Belligerent

The normally mild-mannered and softly-spoken Roy Hodgson had had enough. Sensing stinging criticism coming the England manager got his retaliation in. The facts showed that only two shots on goal registered. Wayne Rooneyʼs goal from the penalty spot and Danny Welbeckʼs shot from about 15 yards out, which Nyland saved.

I canʼt put that right because I canʼt turn the clock back, but what I can do is analyse what I have seen and judge that through my eyes, and not judge it because someone is going to tell me: ʻWell, you only had two shots at goalʼ, because for me, that is absolute f*****g b******s; Iʼm sorry”, Hodgson said.

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Even if there were shots that were blocked England have to deliver better against such teams, but Hodgson refused to accept that the performance was below par. “You have seen us work very hard to create chances”, he said. “You have seen players get in behind defenders in wide areas and miss crosses and, yes, I am not terribly happy about that. I would have liked the crosses to be a little bit better. I would have liked two of three of those shots to get past the blocking player and whiz past the goal. I would have liked Daniel Sturridge’s magnificent effort, from that wonderful pass, not to land on the roof of the net”.

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But that shot didnʼt go in. The crosses were not as good as they should have been and shots were blocked and the performance was not up to the standard expected.

I saw a 10-to-15-minute period in the second half when I thought we were nowhere near what I wanted to see. I thought we lost the aggression in our defending and we didn’t attack anywhere near as well. Joe had to make a good save from a corner, and Norway almost scored again from a Gary Cahill back-pass. But we saw a different system then. We changed it around and I saw some very positive moments”.

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Drab

by Satish Sekar at Wembley Stadium © Satish Sekar (September 3rd 2014)

Below Par

There was more excitement in the normally unflappable Roy Hodgsonʼs press conference than on the pitch tonight. Hodgson was terse in his defence of a dreary performance with few positives. Nevertheless, Hodgson, true to form, found positives. The obvious were the displays of Man of the Match Raheem Sterling and his Liverpool team-mate Daniel Sturridge.

“Donʼt hit me with statistics”, Hodgson snapped. “Two shots on target? Donʼt give me that one. What about the ones they threw themselves in front of? We had that much possession and you talk about two shots on target. The performance was quite good”.

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The facts told a different story. Norway is ranked 53 in the world for a reason. Before the World Cup they were thrashed by France. Their main striking threat Joshua King is struggling to make an impact at Blackburn Rovers. Contrary to Hodgsonʼs claim that Norway was a good team, the rankings are not lying in this case. Norway are not that good. In a qualifying group that contains Italy, Croatia and Bulgaria, even Norwegians talk about fighting Bulgaria for third place.

An ambitious England team should be looking to win convincingly against such opposition. Hodgson thought they were a higher quality than Perú, but were they. Perú held their own in the first half before tiring and paying the price for tiredness and notable absentees. Norway have much to prove. Their tactics were obvious – they would absorb pressure and hope to profit later.

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Hodgson gets Retaliation in

You have just seen an England team dominate for 45 minutes against a good opponent, an opponent thatʼs hard to beat and you have seen them work very hard to create chances”, Hodgson said. “There was a lot of euphoria before the World Cup. We were getting 75,000 people to see us play Peru, who, with respect, were nowhere near as difficult an opponent as Norway. And now we have 40,000”.

Rooney scores

The normally placid England manager refused to take criticism of the performance, taking great exception to a question about just two shots on goal – Rooneyʼs penalty and Danny Welbeckʼs shot from just inside the penalty area, both in the final quarter of the match.

I canʼt put that right because I canʼt turn the clock back, but what I can do is analyse what I have seen and judge that through my eyes, and not judge it because someone is going to tell me: ʻWell, you only had two shots at goalʼ, because for me, that is absolute f*****g b******s, Iʼm sorry”.

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Satisfaction?

Hodgson praised new skipper Wayne Rooneyʼs performance, although barring the match-winning goal from the penalty spot there was little to enthuse about from Manchester Unitedʼs captain. In just over 20 minutes new Arsenal signing Danny Welbeck posed more questions than Rooney. A stinging shot from 15 yards out was parried by Norwegian goalkeeper Ørjan Håskjold Nyland and after a neat interchange on the left of the area with Sturridge, Welbeckʼs centre lacked only the finishing touch.

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Bar a twenty minute period in the second half Norway was content to defend. Joshua Kingʼs header from a corner brought a fine save out of Joe Hart – heʼd been little more than a spectator up to that point, bar a slight fumble of Per Ciljan Skjelbredʼs cross/shot. King almost punished Gary Cahillʼs error on the right flank. King cut into the area before shooting from an acute angle that Hart had covered.

A sumptuous pass by Sterling found Sturridge in the area, but his lob from 10 yards out nestled on the roof of the net. Jack Wilshere and Sturridge looked puzzled either side of the interval when sent tumbling to earth by Håvard Nordtveit. Portuguese referee Jorge Sousa was unimpressed on both occasions. However, after Norwayʼs most attacking period, it proved third time lucky. Omar Elabdellaoui fouled Sterling to concede a 67th minute penalty. Rooney converted it for the only goal in an uninspiring match.

Positives

Less than half full Wembleyʼs famed atmosphere was lacking – toned down by a defensive performance. Norway came to frustrate and they did. Hoping to grab something on the counter-attack, the plan almost worked, but for Hart. Manager Per Mathias Høgmo bemoaned the naïve defending that cost his team a penalty. His concern was to boost confidence – achieved – and learn the lesson when defending against quality attackers like Sturridge and Sterling.

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In defeat they claimed a moral victory. Few thought Englandʼs display – two shots on target, Welbeck and Rooneyʼs penalty – posed any threat to Switzerland next week, but Norway showed enough to suggest that despite losing they could frustrate Italy, Croatia and Bulgaria in a harder group than Englandʼs.

But Hodgson was having none of it. Allow me to be excited about what they can do and allow me to stand up and say I think my team played well at a press conference when I think they have”, Hodgson said. He was satisfied with the performance, believing in spite of the evidence to the contrary and other peopleʼs opinions that England had played well.

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Robbery

 

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 9th 2014)

Reprise

Tonight Louis van Gaal’s Dutch team get the opportunity to claim revenge for an act of football robbery – one that had dire consequences. When Argentina was awarded the World Cup of 1978 it was a democracy – a weak and ineffective one, but a democracy nonetheless. By the time the ticker-tape World Cup got under-way Argentina was ruled by one of the most despicable men to pollute twentieth century despite stiff competition for that tag.

General Jorge Videla Redondo was a thoroughly reprehensible person. He was not prepared to leave anything to chance. The budget was raised to ten times the original, but the extent of poverty and brutal repression was hidden from foreign observers and on the pitch the fix was on. FIFA gave Argentina an unfair advantage of playing their second round matches after rivals Brasil, meaning they always knew what was needed.

The last of those matches was the most infamous. Needing to win 4-0 to progress at Brasil’s expense, Perú capitulated in the second half after a half-time visit to their dressing room by Videla accompanied by his guest Henry Kissinger. But complaints mean little after the fact. Videla got what he paid for, but the Dutch were a different matter. There would be no rolling over for Argentina.

The fouling was persistent and dirty, but the gamesmanship started before the game had even started. It was delayed as Argentina objected to a plaster cast worn by René van der Kerkhof to protect a wrist injury. But FIFA must take responsibility for scandalous cowardice. A respected official Abraham Klein had been selected for the final. Argentina objected and were rewarded with the referee of their choice being appointed.

The Italian Serio Gonella gave a performance of shameful bias, allowing blatant fouling to go unpunished. Despite the gamesmanship and unpunished fouling the Dutch came close to pooping Videla’s party anyway. Rob Rensenbrinck and Dick Nanninga hit the woodwork. Nanninga equalised Mario Kempes’ goal to force extra time, but Kempes scored another and Daniel Bertoni got the other.

Videla had his victory, but football and the human race had lost a whole lot more. Videla and his thuggish junta clung to power, bolstered by the World Cup triumph, committing atrocity after atrocity. The Netherlands were robbed on the pitch. Argentinians lost a whole lot more. They remain by far the biggest victims of one of the most corrupt World Cups ever.

Betrayed

By the time FIFA arrived with its entourage one of the best players the world had ever seen Johan Cruijff refused to play, protesting against the vicious dictatorship that had seized power in Argentina, although he now says that the real reason was a kidnap attempt in Barçelona a year earlier.

While Cruijff sacrificed the chance to win the World Cup and cement his legacy – his country still hasn’t won football’s ultimate prize – FIFA lacked such principle. General Jorge Videla Redondo was a vicious tyrant, responsible for the kidnap, disappearance, torture and murder of thousands of people.1 Videla was absolutely determined to exploit the World Cup and to their eternal shame FIFA acquiesced.

Never forget that Argentinians were far and away the people who suffered most from the military junta that imposed the Dirty War against its own people long before the Falklands War (Malvinas). Videla ended his days in prison after being convicted of an orchestrated campaign to kidnap children and have them brought up by military personnel. It was one of Argentina’s biggest scandals as it confronted the amnesia that had characterised the post dictatorship years.

Tyranny

Videla had learned well from his fellow fascist despot Benito Mussolini. Winning the World Cup bolsters the popularity of the incumbent government, whether illegally in power or not. Isabel Martínez de Perón will never be remembered as a great President of Argentina. She succeeded her husband General Juan Perón upon his death in 1974. She made the grave error of trusting and promoting the tyrant in making Videla.

Martínez de Perón’s husband provided refuge to Nazi war criminals after the Second World War. Argentina had been awarded the tournament in 1966. Videla seized power a decade later. He spent a fortune to exploit the World Cup – some of it necessary. Roads linking host cities were needed, but colour television was not a priority except to Videla.

Slums were hidden behind huge walls and taking no chances Operación El Barrido was unleashed to disappear dissidents at an alarming rate. Videla and his uniformed thugs would stop at nothing to prevent the truth about the repression and economic chaos being revealed by enterprising journalists. The 1978 World Cup was a disgrace, but the greatest victims of it was not Brasil, nor even the Netherlands – it was Argentina. The ranks of the Disappeared, tortured and murdered swelled to thousands. That tournament has blood on its hands, especially of Argentinians.

 

Restorative Justice

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 30th 2014)

Shameful

Thirty-two years ago a shameful injustice occurred in Gijón. West Germany and Austria played out a disgraceful match to ensure that both progressed to the second round. The fix was as obvious as it was shameful, but FIFAʼs response was even worse. Both Austria and West Germanyʼs teams did what they had to in order to suit their own interests – they cheated the fans and football itself.

Not only was the match fixed, giving both the result that suited themselves, but they preserved energy that their next opponents did not have the opportunity to do. It was as ungentlemanly conduct as could be imagined and Algeria – the victims of the fix – went home. Adding insult to injury FIFA rubber-stamped the fix by dismissing Algeriaʼs complaint about it.

The Previous Fix

FIFA had the opportunity to prevent this shameful episode in its history. West Germany and Austria had the opportunity to engineer the fix because of an anomaly. Algeria had played earlier, so both knew exactly what result suited them both before their so-called match. That should never have happened as four years earlier an even more notorious fix occurred.

Brasil had played earlier, so Argentina knew that they had to beat Perú by at least four goals. They won 6-0. Over the years more and more came out about that disgraceful fix. The then dictator of Argentina – one of the vilest men of the twentieth century General Jorge Videla – visited Perúʼs dressing room at half-time to ʻremind them of their dutiesʼ.

The Condor Moment

There were further allegations that the fix resulted in economic ʻfavoursʼ for Perú and that it was part of the infamous Operation Condor – a despicable agreement where various South American dictatorships tortured, disappeared or murdered political opponents. On May 25th 1978 thirteen Peruvians were the victims of ʻextraordinary renditionʼ before the term became commonly used to Argentina.

Their lives were saved by a journalist reporting their arrival in Argentina. Years later after the fall of Videla and the end of Perúʼs military dictatorship details of alleged deals for Perú to throw the match against Argentina that would allow Argentina to reach the final at Brasilʼs expense – something Videla needed to exploit the popularity of the football to legitimise his tyranny – began to emerge.

Too Little Too Late

Argentinian judge Norberto Oyarbide demanded the extradition of Perúʼs former dictator Francisco Morales Bermúdez over the rendition of the 13 Perúvians in 1978. Perú refused to extradite the former general. Meanwhile, ʻcoincidencesʼ abound. Shortly, after the match secured the result that Videla needed Argentina signed a food aid aid deal with Perú guaranteeing 23,000 tonnes of wheat per year.

The truth about the fix has never been established as FIFA has yet to investigate it. The allegations surrounding the 1978 World Cup remain raw over 35 years later, but one question rarely gets asked. Why werenʼt the crucial matches played at the same time? That would have prevented the shameful fix from happening at all.

Solutions

And even more importantly, in the four years after Argentinaʼs World Cup why had FIFA failed to initiate changes that could prevent repetition. If FIFA had not dropped the ball so shamefully after Videlaʼs interference West Germany and Austria would never have been in a position where they could cheat Algeria and football itself.

Tonight Vahid Halihodžić will have no trouble with motivation. Islam Slimani and his team-mates have already made history this campaign. They have the opportunity to make some more and avenge the injustice of Gijón too.

 

Fine-tuning

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 7th 2014)

Last Chance

England will take on Honduras this afternoon in the searing heat of Miami’s summer. The match kicks off at 4.45 local time. It will be hot and humid – hopefully similar to conditions in Manaus. “We have to make sure we can play 90 minutes in the heat”,England’s manager Roy Hodgson said.

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That still left the question of why Miami rather than in Brasil itself where conditions would be what England will experience in the World Cup, rather than similar? Hodgson had previously defended the choice of Miami rather than Brasil for the friendlies.

The best known of Honduras’ players are Wilson Palacios and Maynor Figueroa, although the youngest member of the squad Andy Najar plays for Anderlecht. Both teams will be looking to avoid injuries and go to the World Cup equipped to progress. Honduras has never progressed to the second round and nor has Ecuador – they meet in Curitiba on June 20th.

Defensive

Hodgson was defensive of Raheem Sterling, even though the Liverpool winger is banned for this match after his red card against Ecuador. Hodgson belatedly accepted that Sterling’s challenge on Ecuador’s captain Antonio Valencia was reckless and that the American referee was entitled to send Sterling off for it.

The starting line-up will be far closer to the team likely to play in Brasil. A back four of Leighton Baines, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Glen Johnson will aim to ensure that Joe Hart has little to do. Steven Gerrard and club colleague Jordan Henderson will anchor the midfield. In attack Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge didn’t feature against Ecuador and Adam Lallana may be due a run out too. Wayne Rooney is expected to start as well.

The Promise of Youth

Hodgson faces a difficult decision or two. He clearly rates both Sterling and Everton’s Ross Barkley, but Hodgson has to decide whether this tournament has come too soon for them. He believes that they will be part of England’s future for the next decade. The question is are they part of England’s present?

Sterling has shown the impetuousness of youth, but Hodgson refused to say that Sterling showed a lack of discipline. Instead, Hodgson chose to stress that Sterling was trying to help out the defence with his pace and that he was not worried about discipline.

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After the match against Ecuador Hodgson seemed irritable when Barkley’s performance was singled out for praise, stressing that Barkley had made mistakes giving the ball away – mistakes repeated in training yesterday, along with the skills that had singled him out for praise.

Hodgson was keen to set the record straight. He was determined to protect Barkley as an investment in England’s future. “If I try and protect Ross Barkley I make no apologies about that,’’ Hodgson told journalists at yesterday’s press conference. “I have seen people praised to the skies after a good performance and then brought back down to earth with a massive bump and I don’t want that to happen with Ross or Raheem or Luke [Shaw] because I think they have a lot of England games ahead of them. We are talking 10 to 12 years”.

While Sterling definitely won’t play against Honduras, Barkley may get some playing time – not a bad option as Hodgson will have to make a decision on how he fits into his World Cup plans, or even if he does at all. Captain Steven Gerrard is excited about the young players too.

But while England have a talented group of youngsters coming through they hardly compare to Belgium’s current crop. Thibaut Courtois excelled again for Spanish champions Atlético de Madrid. Eden Hazard has turned the heads of a few top clubs in Europe with his displays for Chelsea and Romelu Lukaku isn’t short of top clubs chasing his signature either and all three are fixtures in Belgium’s first team.

Style

While Hodgson’s focus is rightly on his squad, Ecuador and Honduras were chosen as opponents because Hodgson believed that there is a South American style of football and a Central American one too. Recent opponents in friendlies at Wembley have included Chile and Perú. They have also played Brasil home and away recently too. Interestingly, Honduras are the only Central American opponents England will face within a year of the World Cup.

Perhaps they rue a missed opportunity. The first match Wales played after the tragic death of Gary Speed was against Costa Rica. What price now to have had a friendly against them then? But at least there are videos of Wales’ match against them available for Hodgson and his team to study.

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The coaches of both opponents of England’s pre-World Cup tour of Miami, Ecuador and Honduras are Colombians. Luís Fernando Suárez and Reinaldo Rueda know each other well. Both say there is no specific style of South American football or Central American football, even though England chose these opponents with Uruguay and Costa Rica in mind.

In the end it [comparison] doesn’t really exist”, Rueda said at his pre-match press conference. “These are preparation games and teams are not really the same”. Suárez agrees. “There is no central American style”, he said yesterday. “I respect all the type of football the Hondurans play. It is fast and strong, but there is not a specific style of football in Central America. The Colombian coaches have not changed the way they play – only implemented our tactics. That’s the way we Colombian coaches work – with tactics”.

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In short, Honduras will play a Honduran style based on its culture and philosophy with Colombian tactical acumen. Just how similar that is to Costa Rica remains to be seen.

 

More Despicable People and the World Cup (Part Three) – Archive

Editor’s Note:

With the World Cup just days away, we publish these articles on the abuse of football’s most prestigious tournament again. They are particularly timely as Brasil has been polarised by hosting the tournament. Demonstrators will once again take to the streets in major cities throughout the country to demand social changes – ones that should have been delivered after last year’s Confederations Cup.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 18th 2008)

The Victims of the Fix

While Dutch complaints over the 1978 World Cup have garnered numerous column inches they were not the victims of the notorious fix that occurred in that tournament. They may have experienced unsporting conduct – being kept awake at night, but the victims of the fix was Brasil. If Perú had played to the height of their form and ability – remember they topped a group that included the Netherlands – then Brasil and not Argentina would have reached the final.

Even now 30 years later it defies logic that such a good team could have conceded not only the four that Argentina needed, but an extra two as well. No Brasilian will ever accept that this result was anything but a deliberate fix to cheat them of the ultimate prize – winning the World Cup in Argentina. That would have been the sweetest victory of all five of their World Cups.

It would have benefited Brasil’s dictatorship, which had appointed its man Ernesto Geisel as ʻPresidentʼ in 1975. Geisel represented the militaryʼs party ARENA. Geisel favoured a slow return to democracy. The worst excesses of the previous dictatorship were not repeated, but Geisel was a tyrant too. Nevertheless, despicable as he undoubtedly was, Videla was far, far worse than Geisel. A Brasilian triumph in Buenos Aires could have been the greatest blessing of all for Argentina – the catalyst to oust Videla.

Insurance

Videla was not about to risk that happening. He entered the Perúvian dressing room at half time in the crucial match. There had been no sign of the capitulation that would follow Videla’s visit in the first half. Some say that Videla or his cronies threatened the Perúvian players with what would happen to them if they refused to throw the match.

Others believe that it was a betting scam and bribery, or benefits for the Perúvian economy were offered that persuaded the players to throw the match, but some point out that no concrete evidence ever emerged. Conspiracy theories flourished, but what really happened?

It is certain that Videla went into the Perúvian dressing room and in the second half the talented Perúvian team collapsed to guarantee that Argentina progressed to the final. Many conspiracy theorists point accusing fingers at goal-keeper Ramón Quiroga, but there was little that he could do about many of the goals that Perú conceded.

Even the fact that he worked as a coach in Argentina years later was used against him, but what did it prove? Quiroga was born in Argentina after all, so why should he not work there, or anywhere else for that matter? The conspiracy theories will continue and something odd certainly happened in the second half, but the full truth of why an impressive Perú team meekly surrendered in the second half may never be established.

If it was by foul means as seems most likely the victims on the pitch was Brasil and sadly there were many more victims off the pitch. The Argentinian nation continued to suffer the horrors of Videla and his thugs in uniform for three more years and the junta survived until the ill-judged Falklands War brought the criminal régime down.

Principles

Argentina deserved to host the World Cup – it was their turn, – but Argentinians deserved human rights and justice more. They needed FIFA, football and the world to stand up for them and ostracise the repulsive Videla and his martinets more than they needed to host the World Cup – a tournament that they could have hosted and possibly won when the fascist thugs had been overthrown. Simply put, they deserved far better than football gave them.

History had already shown that despots knew how to take advantage of sport to gain legitimacy at home and abroad – something both FIFA and the International Olympic Committee should have prevented. Hitler had used and abused the Olympic Games in 1936 and Mussolini had shown two years earlier exactly how to manipulate public opinion, sport and officials to bolster a despicable régime.

Mussolini had given a virtuoso exhibition of how to manipulate domestic public opinion and international opinion too by shamelessly rigging the World Cup in 1934. It was a lesson other despots of any political affiliation learned well. Jorge Videla had learned well.

He was far from the first despot to exploit the prestige of hosting and/or winning the World Cup – Mussolini and Brasilian dictator Emilio Garrastazú Médici had paved the way, but Videla remains one of the most bestial and odious tyrants ever to be allowed to exploit the World Cup. Mussolini would have been proud to see his political heirs – despicable people – were also adept at using the world’s most popular sport to serve their own political needs.

 

 

 

 

 

More Despicable People and the World Cup (Part Two) – Archive

Editor’s Note:

With the World Cup just days away, we publish these articles on the abuse of football’s most prestigious tournament again. They are particularly timely as Brasil has been polarised by hosting the tournament. Demonstrators will once again take to the streets in major cities throughout the country to demand social changes – ones that should have been delivered after last year’s Confederations Cup.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 18th 2008)

Ill-Gotten Gains

The 1978 World Cup will always be remembered with regret and shame. Football allowed itself to be used yet again by a vicious tyrant and to make matters worse the tournament proved easy to manipulate in Argentina’s favour on the pitch too. Perú had qualified impressively for the second stage, topping a group that included eventual finalists, the Netherlands.1

But Perúʼs second half capitulation to Argentina in the second phase has set tongues wagging ever since. Brasil had beaten Poland 3-1 in their final match in that phase, so Argentina knew that they had to beat Perú at least 4-0 to advance. Brasil had every reason to feel confident. Perú was a good team – they had proved that earlier. What was the likelihood of them being thrashed?

The match that followed is one of the most scandalous in the history of the World Cup. Argentina won 6-0, amid accusations of bribery: corruption, intimidation or worse. There were even accusations that Perúvian players were threatened by General Jorge Videla Redondo and his cronies at half time and Perú’s goalkeeper Ramón Quiroga, who was born in Argentina, was part of a deliberate fix.

 

His goalkeeping in that match was bizarre at best. Although nothing has ever been conclusively proved, the dismal performance displayed by Perú especially in the second half caused many to believe that it was a blatant case of match-fixing. It is a scandal that remains raw 30 years on.

Fix

The full truth of the ʻfixʼ may never emerge. Osvaldo Ardiles played in that tournament for Argentina, but even he could not rule out the possibility that something wrong had happened. Some Perúvian players and officials from that tournament have subsequently accused Videla’s regime of serious threats to their welfare.

It remains a source of deep shame in Perú. Few, if any, doubt that Videla was capable of all that and more, but there is no conclusive proof that it happened, even now that Videla has fallen from grace. FIFA must take some blame too. Argentina should not have been allowed to know the result they needed to qualify in advance of that match.

Another ʻfixʼ was allowed four years later when West Germany and Austria cheated Algeria by securing a result to benefit both in a match that should have resulted in both teams being expelled for unsporting conduct – gross unsportsmanlike behaviour actually. That match resulted in the rules being changed, but Algeria had great cause for complaint. After the Argentina versus Perú ʻfixʼ the rules should have been changed. That would have prevented the disgrace in Spain from happening.

Missed Opportunity

Argentina progressed to the final as did the Netherlands. There were also accusations of doping in the tournament and intimidation of Dutch players before the final. However, nothing was proved and one of the best teams never to win the World Cup came second again. Even now three decades later, it still grates with Dutch supporters who believe that they were cheated. Perhaps, but it pales in comparison with Brasilʼs grievances.

Dutch legend Johan Cruijff claims that he was informed that there would be a kidnap attempt on him, but Cruijff chose to retire before the World Cup Finals in Argentina. Videla and his thugs were capable of all this and more, but despite the hatred and scorn piled on them now no concrete evidence has emerged to prove that either Perú or the Netherlands were victimised by Videla directly or his lackeys.

However, itʼs certainly believable – likely even, but the smoking gun has yet to emerge. Perhaps it will. But with or without it, questions remain. Why were Videla and Henry Kissinger allowed into Perúʼs dressing room at half time? Why did such a talented team play so badly after it? We still await credible answers.

But for all the Dutch anger, the real victims of that tournament was Brasil. And if they had won the World Cup on Argentinian soil, perhaps Argentina could have celebrated a far greater triumph – the downfall of Videlaʼs despicable dictatorship and the appalling military junta that continued afterwards until defeat in the Falklands War.

1  The threat of a boycott petered out, but legendary Dutch player Johan Cruijff brought forward his international retirement to protest the atrocities committed by Videla’s government.