DAY FIFTEEN,15 June 1986
Welcome back to Mexico, folks. We hope you enjoyed your rest day. You needed to, because the action is back and we have a great day of football ahead for you. The hosts are back on the field and then the USSR and Belgium serve up an absolute feast of football for you to devour.
THE SECOND ROUND
Estadio Azteca, Mexico City, 114,580
MEXICO (1) 2 (Negrete 34, Servin 61)
BULGARIA (0) 0
MEXICO: Larios; Amador, Quirarte, Cruz, Servin; España; Muñoz, Boy (de los Cobos), Aguirre; Negrete, Sánchez
BULGARIA: Mikhailov; Arabov, Dimitrov, Petrov; Yordanov, Gospodinov, Sadakov, Zdravkov; Getov (Sirakov),Pashev (Iskrenkov), Kostadinov
The second phase was kicked off appropriately by the hosts. They were in the same half of the draw as the holders, Italy, the runners-up last time, West Germany, and Brazil. But first, they were up against Bulgaria, who made it to this stage without winning a match.
Mexico made two changes from the side which struggled to beat Iraq. Back came Hugo Sánchez and Miguel Muñoz. Luis Flores had played all the group games but was now injured. Carlos de los Cobos dropped to the bench.
Bulgaria made five changes. Sirakov, who scored their equaliser against Italy, dropped to the bench. Mladenov had played in all their group matches but he was now injured. Aleksander Markov, Plamen Markov (no relation) and Zhelyazkov were also left out. In came Atanas Pashev and Kostadin Kostadinov, who were strike partners with Trakia Plovdiv. Pashev was making his first appearance in the tournament. Nikolay Arabov and Zhivkov Gospodinov returned, having sat out the Argentina defeat.
The biggest crowd of the tournament filled the Azteca Stadium and the hopes and aspirations of the host nation resting on the 11 who took the field.
Bulgaria had the first chance of the game. A free-kick on the left touchline was taken by Getov who he went straight for goal. It had Larios scrambling to guard his near post and went wide.
Soon after the hosts themselves had a free-kick. This was in a dangerous position, about 25 yards out to the right of centre. Negrete hit it against the wall with his left foot, then hit the rebound with his right and Mikhailov had to pull off a smart save to tip it over the bar.
Mexico’s two best players then combined to test the keeper again. Tomás Boy curled a ball from the halfway line on the right and found Sánchez on his own on the left of the area. He met it first time with his right foot and Mikhailov had to get down quickly to push it away.
The game was only seven minutes old and already both keepers had been called into action.
This was the first time a Bulgarian side had made it out of the group stage at a World Cup at the fifth time of asking. They didn’t seem particularly overawed by their opponents, who themselves appeared slightly more at ease with proceedings than they had in the group games.
Then came the best chance of the match so far. Carlos Muñoz swept the ball from left to right, finding Felix Cruz in plenty of space. His cross into the area was superbly taken down by Sánchez on his chest. He created room for himself but once again Mikhailov was equal to it as he blocked it.
With ten minutes of the first half remaining Mexico put together a lovely move and we had another candidate for goal of the tournament. It was flicked up towards Negrete, about 25 yards out. He controlled it twice with his left, then flicked it on to Aguirre. As if playing their own version of keepy-uppy, Aguirre knocked it back to Negrete before it bounced. Negrete then acrobatically threw himself at the ball to volley it left-footed into the corner of the net. Three touches without the ball hitting the ground, and it was in the back of the net. 1-0.
Just before the break, Negrete almost made it two. From a corner, Mikhailov tried to push it away. The ball fell to Negrete who hit it with power but Bulgarian skipper, Dimitrov stood firm and blocked it.
On the hour the home side did double their lead. An inswinging corner from the right into the Bulgarian six-yard box. Before the keeper could deal with it, Servin came charging in and headed it into the net. 2-0.
This game looked done. Pashev immediately had a chance to get one back but Larios saved from close range.
With 15 minutes to go Larios pulled off a brilliant save. A cross from the right was headed down by Kostadinov from about eight yards out. It was deflected slightly and Larios, having already committed himself to making the save with his left hand, found he had to suddenly stick his right hand out and tip it over.
With the game reaching a conclusion, Aguirre should’ve made it three. Servin had a shot from long-range crash back off the crossbar and Aguirre put it over with the keeper still on the floor and the goal at his mercy.
In the end, Mexico were good value for their win. Possibly their best performance of the competition and they were into the Quarter-Finals. For Bulgaria, they had played four matches, scored just once and not tasted victory.
Estadio Nou Camp, León, 32,277
USSR (1) 3 (Belanov 27, 70, 111 pen)
BELGIUM (0) 4 (Scifo 56, Ceulemans 77, Demol 102, Claesen 109)
USSR: Dasaev; Besonov, Demianenko, Kuznetsov, Rats; Bal, Yaremchuk, Yakovenko (Yevtushenko), Zavarov (Rodionov); Aleinikov, Belanov
BELGIUM: Pfaff; Gerets (L van der Elst), Renquin, Grün (Clijsters), Vervoort; Demol, Vercauteren, Scifo, Ceuleman; Veyt, Claesen
USSR had won their group, beating France into second place. They looked like one of the sides to watch, especially after their demolition of Hungary. After all the changes they made for the Canada game, when most of the side which had played the first two matches were rested, all but Nikolay Larionov returned. Andrey Bal, who’d replaced him, kept his place.
Belgium went through as one of the best third-place teams from Mexico’s group. They made just one change from the side which beat Paraguay. The vastly experienced, and former skipper, Eric Gerets returned in place of Hugo Broos.
This was one of the best games of the tournament. Many had expected the Soviets to come in and be a bit dour, but many of the exciting moments we’d had in this tournament had come from them.
They were immediately on the attack. Yakovenko forced Pfaff to push the ball out for a corner with a fierce long-range effort.
Belgium’s best chance of the early exchanges came when Veyt found space down the right. His cross to the far post was headed just over by Vercauteren, under pressure from Bal.
Midway through the half, the Soviets took the lead. It was a typically incisive move and was finished in real style. They played the ball through the middle, from the back. Kuznetsov found Zavarov, who in turn found Belanov on the edge of the area. He moved it out to the right and from 20 yards out fired the ball high into the top corner, giving Pfaff no chance. It was a stunning strike and no less than they deserved. 1-0.
Belgium pushed forward and Vervoort produced a lovely left-foot volley from just outside the left of the area, which grazed the bar and went over.
Another sweeping move from the Soviets saw Belanov wide on the left, cross to the Zavarov but his header was straight at Pfaff.
Belgium once again came back. Ceulemans fired a long-range shot just wide. It was real end-to-end stuff, but the Soviets went in a goal up at the break.
Not content to sit back, the Soviets were in the attack from the off in the second period. Their pace continued to worry the Belgian defence, who were getting pulled all over the place. This created space and soon Yakovenko found Rats free on the left. His cross into the penalty area was headed against the post by Belanov. The ball came back out to Yakovenko on the edge of the area and his left-foot shot beat Pfaff, but Vervoort blocked it on the line. It was stirring stuff. Just what knockout football can give you that we denied four years before.
The Belgians just couldn’t get hold of the ball, and in the heat, it was becoming an issue. But what if the Soviets running about started to tell later on? The difference was still only one goal.
Ten minutes into the second half and Belgium finally had some time on the ball. Vercauteren, wide on the left, floated a lovely cross in towards the far post. We then saw the evidence of what altitude can do to the ball. Demianenko was sure he had it covered, but the ball just didn’t come down and floated over his head. Enzo Scifo controlled it beautifully and stabbed it past Dasaev. 1-1.
At that point, it seemed unlikely Belgium would’ve been the next scorers, but it showed how the Soviets really should’ve taken their chances when they came.
The goal appeared to have taken the wind out of the Soviets’ sails, as Belgium were much more comfortable knocking the ball around, making their opponents chase it
But the attacking pace threat of the Soviets was always there under the surface. With 20 minutes to go the Belgians casually played the ball out from the back. Ceulemans came deep to receive it, but Yakovenko got a foot in and diverted it to Zavarov, who was away and running at the defence. He beat Gerets with ease, then passed it to his right where Belanov was unmarked. As Pfaff came out he cooly slipped it over the keeper’s legs and inside the far post. 2-1.
Belgium would have to do it all again. Within minutes the Soviets should’ve been out of sight. They broke quickly after Scifo was dispossessed deep in the Soviet’s half. USSR had the man advantage in attack but as the ball was played out to Rats he chose to go for goal rather than look for the three men up with him. The ball sailed over the bar and the chance was gone.
He had cause to regret that as just seven minutes later Belgium were back level. The build-up looked to be going nowhere as the Soviets were defending deep. Then Demol played a long ball from just inside his own half, and again the ball seemed to hang in the air longer than Europeans were used to. This allowed Ceulemans to ghost into the area, unmarked. He took it on his chest, then hooked it right-footed past Dasaev. 2-2.
The Soviets thought they’d caught him offside. The linesman put his flag up, then put it down again. TV replays weren’t conclusive but given how far the ball had to travel, it seems unlikely he was off.
The Belgians had ridden their luck, but once more the Soviets would have to go again.
Lobanovsky shuffled his pack, taking off Yakovenko and Zavarov who had both been inventive throughout. He brought on the Spartak Moscow forward, Rodionov and another Dinamo Kyiv player, Yevtushenko.
With only a few minutes to go the substitutes almost combined to win it for the USSR.
Claesen gave it away deep in his own half on the Soviet’s right-wing. Aleinikov gleefully accepted it and found Rodionov in a fairly central position just outside the ‘D’. Rodionov, full of running, went on a mazy run into the Belgian area. He squared it but it was just behind Yevtushenko, so he laid it off into the path of Yaremchuk. His left-foot shot thumped against the crossbar, but unfortunately for the Soviets, it bounced up and then over.
Not to be outdone, the Belgians came back. Scifo was quick enough to keep them in possession just outside the area. He found Claesen on the left. He turned inside and floated a cross, right-footed towards the far post. Scifo, as if able to read Claesen’s mind, had made his way there and his header was well stopped by Dasaev.
The save from the Soviet keeper was good enough to earn applause from Scifo, emphasising the great spirit the game had been played in.
Then just as people were hoping to catch their breath, there was more drama. The game moved into injury time, and don’t forget there was no indication to anyone watching how much the ref was adding on in those days. The ball was played forward to Belanov and he received a nudge in the back, right on the edge of the area. He went down and the ref blew for a free-kick. There looked barely time enough to take it.
Unfortunately for the Soviets, and many watching, they fluffed their lines for the set-piece trying to be too clever and the ref had, had enough. He blew for full-time.
On we went with extra time.
The Soviets were soon on the attack and Guy Thys were concerned enough to make his first change with Clijsters replacing Grün at the back. But then Belgium had an opportunity.
Ceulemans played a good ball down the left to put Vercauteren away. His cross into the six-yard box looked ideal for Claesen to put it away, but at the last moment, Besonov got a challenge in to deny him. It was nervy, desperate stuff.
Now it was the Soviets’ turn to put the pressure on. They worked the ball out well to the left where Rats provided the overlap. His ball was into a dangerous area right on the penalty spot. But just as Rodionov was thinking he could put it in, Pfaff came out and dived full length to punch it away.
Yet the Soviets had it back and Aleinikov found Belanov on the right. He played it back into the area and Rodionov came under pressure from Renquin, making a shot impossible. The ball ran on towards Yevtushenko, but once again Pfaff got a firm hand to it right at the feet of the Soviet.
It was breathless stuff and not just because of the heat. Belgium immediately went on the attack like a boxer sensing their opponent had punched themselves out. Ceulemans found Veyt on the right but his cross was a little too firm for Claesen. The Soviets had it back again, and once more they surged forward. But the chance ended in the Belgian keeper’s hands and at last, everyone could take a breath.
Ceulemans pounced on a loose pass in the centre circle and once again he was off surging towards the goal. He played Claesen in on the right but the two had attacked with such pace there was no help available. Besonov gleefully headed it out for a corner.
Vercauteren took it quickly and Gerets came up from the back to offer support. He looked up then calmly crossed it to the far post where the Demol ghosted in unnoticed. Right on the six-yard line, his bullet header gave Dasaev no chance. 2-3.
It was a great moment for the Anderlecht man. He’d only made his debut six weeks before and this was his first goal for his country. Now he’d put them in front for the first time in the match.
Into the second period of extra time and finally, there were signs of players becoming tired. Belgium had a corner which the Soviets failed to deal with and it went out to the left where Ceulemans kept the attack going.
Clijsters joined the attack and played a one-two with Claesen. Clijsters nodded it on and Claesen watched it drop then volleyed it on the turn. It flew into the corner for a fourth goal. 2-4.
They’d come from two-one down to lead and surely that was it, wasn’t it?
The Soviets weren’t finished. Bal’s cross deep on the right was just missed by Rodionov, but we soon discovered why. As he’d gone for the header he was pushed in the back. The ref pointed to the spot.
Belanov took it. His run-up was quick and determined and his shot soared into the roof of the net. Belanov had a hat-trick but they still trailed. 3-4.
As the Soviets poured forward Belgium had a chance on the break. Leo van der Elst, who’d come on for Gerets, raced into the area, turned inside the defender and beat the keeper at his far post. But the ball just went wide.
Then with barely seconds remaining, Belgium had another counter-attack. Vercauteren found Veyt on the edge of the area, in loads of space, but Dasaev got down well to save his shot.
The final effort from the Soviets came when Yevtushenko tried the chip the keeper and Pfaff just managed to get a hand to it to tip it over.
The ref immediately brought proceedings to an end. It had been a fantastic game, played at a great pace throughout. It was a shame one team had to lose. But the Soviets, who had looked one of the best sides in the group stages, went out to a Belgian side who just wouldn’t lie down.
Sensational stuff. Possibly the best game of the tournament so far.
Tomorrow promised to be equally enthralling with three South American teams in action.
Brazil v Poland
Argentina v Uruguay