The remainder of these will be spread out this blog throughout the remainder of the tournament, in case you were wondering. It was a tall order, but I feel as if I’ve at least made a reasonable start on it. Obviously, I need to switch to the more pressing issues of this year’s tournament from today on.
The tournament stayed in Europe in 1958. Sixteen teams again, and this time we’d finally reached agreement over the tournament layout that would remain until 1974. Still no goal difference, though. Teams on level points would have to go through a play-off match.
Group Stages: For the first and only time (so far), all four home nations had qualified for the finals. Northern Ireland lined up in tight group with West Germany, Argentina and Czechoslovakia. After an opening victory against the Czechs, they were beaten by Argentina, and then edged through to a play-off with a surprise 2-2 draw against West Germany. They were lent a hand by both of their opponents, who beat Argentina. The Irish then beat the Czechs 2-1 in the play-off. The Germans qualified with them. Scotland, setting a pattern that lasts to the present day, under-achieved in Group B. Just one point from three matches, with the real eye-opener being a 3-2 defeat by Paraguay. France, for whom Just Fontaine scored scored six goals in the group stage alone, led the way, whilst Yugoslavs moved into second place. The hosts qualified comfortably from Group C with two wins and a draw, whilst the Welsh surprised everyone by drawing all three of their matches and forcing a play-off against Hungary. The Hungarian team had largely been broken up after the abortive 1956 uprising at home, and were in decline from the team that had so nearly won the tournament four years previously. That said, it was still a major shock to see them beaten 2-1 by Wales in the play-off match. Group D was a nightmare group for England, as they were drawn alongside Brazil, the USSR and Austria. They managed a creditable three draws, but lost their play-off match, 1-0 against the Soviets. Brazil were in ominous form, brushing aside Austria and the USSR. They unleashed Pele on the tournament for the final group match against the Soviets.
The Quarter-Finals: Given the superlatives that accompanied (and continue to accompany) their performance in the final, it’s worth remembering that Brazil were pushed all the way by Wales, with Pele’s first World Cup finals goal being the only one of the match. France brushed Northern Ireland aside 4-0 (there’d be echoes of this in 1982), with Fontaine scoring another two, to take his tally to eight in four matches. Elsewhere, the Swedes were playing above themselves as they beat the USSR 2-0, and West Germany edged out Yugoslavia 1-0. Helmut Rahn, one of the survivors of 1954, scored the only goal.
The Semi-Finals: All were present and correct for the semi-finals. The most attractive team of the tournament (France), the hosts (Sweden), the favourites (Brazil) and the holders (Germany). In the first match, Sweden recovered from going a goal down to beat West Germany 3-1. It was a huge achievement for a country whose fitness to host the tournament had been questioned in some circles. In the other match, Brazil found their form, in brushing aside the French 5-2. Just Fontaine scored (again!) to level a first minute goal from Vava, but Didi relaimed the lead for Brazil just before half-time, and an awesome second half hat-trick from Pele saw Brazil through. Fontaine would still carve a small place in World Cup history, though. He scored four times against Germany in the third place play-off – 13 goals in the finals is a record that may never be beaten.
Brazil had improved with every match throughout the tournament. Sweden, to be charitable, had played above themselves to get past the quarter-finals. In theory, it should have been the most one-sided final ever, and this it what it turned out to be, but not before the Swedes had given Brazil an almighty scare when Nils Liedholm, a 36 year old who’d been left out for much of the tournament, scored from the edge of the penalty area after just four minutes. As would set a pattern for future Brazil teams, though, it was simply an invitation for them to come out and to the same thing back. Watching it on DVD, Garrincha looks like the superstar that he became. He put in two identical crosses for Vava to score twice from, and Brazil were up and running. In the second half, Pele flicked, lobbed and volleyed his way to immortality with a dumbfounding third goal. Mario Zagallo got the fourth after a mix-up in the Swedish defence and after Simonnsen had pulled one back for the Swedes, Pele headed a fifth. There wasn’t too much wuestion anybody watching, or indeed to this writer watching it 48 years later, that football was about to enter a new era.