To celebrate 50 years of the World Cup, FIFA organised a tournament designed to be a tournament of champions. It was known as the World Champions’ Gold Cup, or Mundialito (Little World Cup).
Uruguay was chosen to host it, just as they had done in the inaugural edition back in 1930. In keeping with that tournament, all matches were to be held in the Centenario Stadium in Montevideo, the same venue as the 1930 final.
Preparations were underway from early 1980. The stadium was refurbished for the first time since 1956. A new pitch was laid, with new lights and a scoreboard installed. The country was starting to get excited. When Nacional won the Copa Libertadores in August, the first Uruguayan club to do so since 1971, excitement was ramped up even further.
The six previous winners of the competition were invited. Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, West Germany and England. However, with the scheduling being the first two weeks of 1981, England turned down the invitation. English clubs voiced their concerns over releasing players mid-season for a tournament in another continent.
This was not a concern for the Netherlands, who gladly accepted the offer as the replacement.
The curious thing about it was it was known as Mundialito 1980, yet only the opening game was played in 1980. The rest of the matches actually took place in 1981.
The six teams were split into two groups with the winner of each going through to a Final. Group A consisted of Uruguay, Italy, Netherlands and Uruguay. Group B was Argentina, Brazil and West Germany.
Each nation announced squads of 18 players. Argentina boss, Cesar Luis Menotti, decided Diego Maradona was ready for this ‘mini’ World Cup, having left him out of the 1978 World Cup.
Ramon Diaz was also included after he had shone with Maradona in the World Youth Cup in 1979. There was no place for Tottenham’s Ricky Villa.
Brazil had decided to bin coach Claudio Coutinho, despite leading the team to third place in Argentina. Tele Santana was his replacement, taking over in May 1980. From the few friendlies they’d played thus far under Santana, his preferred style of play was beginning to take shape. But then on the eve of the tournament disaster struck. Zico had a major muscle tear in his thigh and was ruled out. Socrates, Junior and Eder were in the squad, having all been handed debuts six months before.
When speaking about his injury, Zico couldn’t hide his disappointment as he felt he and Socrates were starting to put together a promising partnership. How right he was.
Another player who didn’t make the squad because of injury was Reinaldo. Regarded as one of the best strikers in the country, it would prove to be the case that the relationship between the player and his national manager wasn’t a comfortable one. It was claimed by Reinaldo that the reason Santana didn’t include him in his ’82 squad was down to his dislike of the company the player was keeping. Reinaldo was known to have homosexual friends and it is believed Santana took exception to this.
The world was denied an early glimpse of the midfield quintet of Socrates, Cerezo, Falcao, Eder and Zico. Falcao had just signed for Roma and the Italian club was unwilling to release him for too many Brazil matches, particularly this competition.
This seemed an odd decision given they allowed Enzo Bearzot to choose three Roma players in his Italy squad, including Carlo Ancelotti who would make his international debut.
Bearzot left Dino Zoff at home with Giancarlo Antognoni captaining the team. The old guard of Causio and Bettega also sat this one out with players such as Bruno Conti, Alessandro Altobelli and Guiseppe Baresi getting their chance.
The Netherlands were given a special invitation after their impressive performances in the previous two World Cups where they were runners-up in both. Austrian Ernst Happel, who was in charge in Argentina in ’78, had stepped down. Jan Zwartkruis took over and lead them to Euro ’80 where they were largely disappointing. They hadn’t faced the truth yet, but the Dutch national side was on the slide. Qualification for Spain ’82 had already got off to a dreadful start with defeats in Dublin and Brussels.
Gone were Neeskens, Rensenbrink, Krol, Rep and Haan, all of whom had been important characters during the ’70s. They would take some replacing. 13 of the 18 Zwartkruis selected were from AZ ’67 and PSV and there were concerns over their quality.
West Germany had come from a frustrating World Cup and hit back by winning Euro ’80. Jupp Derwall had taken over from legendary Helmut Schön. He’d been Schön’s assistant throughout the decade, but he set about changing the team. Gone were players such as Maier, Vogts, Flohe, Hölzenbein and Cullmann. Yet the new breed of Schumacher, Förster, Allofs and (Hansi) Müller looked very promising, although Real Madrid’s Uli Stielike was missing.
The hosts, Uruguay, were an unknown quantity for the European teams, having been absent in 1978.
But their form coming into the tournament was impressive, Finland (6-0), Bolivia (5-0) and Switzerland (4-0) were all seen off in the few months leading up.
They were managed by former keeper Roque Máspoli, who’d taken over the job after managing Peñarol. He selected seven players from his former club, with six others coming from Nacional.
Máspoli had been the in goal for Uruguay in the famous Maracanazo in 1950.
The opening game was between Uruguay and Netherlands on 30 December 1980. 65,000 turned up to see the hosts win 2-0, with both goals coming in the first half. They took the lead after 31 minutes. Through a combination of quick passing and willing runners, they tore the Dutch defence apart. Rubén Paz sent Julio Morales clear on the left of the area, where he cut the ball back between three defenders and Venancio Ramos tucked it home. Just before the break, they doubled their lead. Morales took an in-swinging corner on the right. With the Dutch defence stood like statues, the ball was headed on at the near post and Waldemar Victorino was free at the far post to head it in. That was the game over as a contest giving Uruguay a crucial win. Martin Jol was in the Dutch side, just months before he moved to England with West Brom.
URUGUAY 2 – 0 NETHERLANDS
Two days later Argentina and West Germany lined up in front of 60,000. The Germans were captained by Bernard Dietz, who earned his 50th cap in this game. Hamburg’s Horst Hrubesch put them in front four minutes before half-time. Stuttgart’s Hansi Müller took a corner from the left and Hrubesch rose highest to head it past Fillol. He’d scored both goals in the Euro ’80 Final and now had five in 10 appearances for his country.
The game was fiercely contested with many colourful challenges being thrown about. The Germans lead going into the final five minutes but then Hrubesch’s club colleague, Manny Kaltz put through his own net and Argentina were level. Ramón Diaz took a corner from the left. Daniel Passarella got his head to it first and Kaltz, on the line, swung a boot at it which denied Toni Schumacher the opportunity of collecting it. The spin on the ball took it over the line. With just two minutes to go, Argentina broke at pace. Leopoldo Luque put Diaz clear and from a tight angle, he fired it past Schumacher for the winner.
ARGENTINA 2 – 1 WEST GERMANY
Italy were next up to take on the hosts. They fielded eight of the team who would go on and lift the World Cup in ’82. But this team struggled to match Uruguay. Another hotly contested clash ignited midway through the second half. Victorino was tripped on the left-hand edge of the area and the referee pointed to the spot. The Italians were vociferous in their protests. The ref had to push Gentile away to get him out of his face. Giancarlo Antognoni was so incensed he kicked away the ball which had been placed on the penalty spot. The ref just ignored this act of petulance. Eventually, the box was cleared and Morales scored.
Italy just couldn’t break the South Americans down and with 10 minutes to go the lead was extended. Ramos did well down the right and crossed to the far post. Victorino took it down on his chest and fired a left-foot shot past Bordon for his second of the tournament. Two wins out of two for the home side and this qualified them for the Final, making the game between Italy and Netherlands irrelevant.
This was a bad-tempered match with the Italians particularly angry at the behaviour of the referee, Emilio Guruceta. Some may know Guruceta as the guy who was alleged to have taken bribes to favour Anderlecht in their UEFA Cup Semi-Final against Nottingham Forest a few years later. Either way, Enzo Bearzot stormed home after the tournament branding it a waste of time.
URUGUAY 2 – 0 ITALY
The next day came the game many had looked forward to when the draw was made. Brazil against Argentina. Brazilian manager, Tele Santana was without Zico and one of the country’s best strikers, Reinaldo. Socrates was recovering from a knee injury and on the eve of the match, Serginho was injured in training.
Argentina were well supported by boisterous, noisy fans. Their behaviour engendered the locals to fall on Brazil’s side. Victory for Argentina would mean they’d be through to take on the Uruguayans in the Final.
Both teams had chances to take the lead, but it was Argentina’s young starlet Maradona who opened the scoring on the half hour. He battled his way past Batista on the right, cut inside Oscar and shot past Carlos at the near post.
Early in the second half, Argentina failed to clear a corner and Edevaldo levelled things. The ball was laid on for him to run onto down the right of the area, and in the true tradition of Brazilian right-backs, he hit it first time giving Fillol no chance.
Argentina should’ve won it as Carlos in the Brazil goal made a succession of poor decisions when one-on-one with attackers. Valencia hit the post and Diaz blasted over, both with the keeper stranded. Socrates had the ball in the net, but the referee had already blown his whistle, presumably for what he considered a foul on Fillol who’d come out of his area to try and retrieve the ball. The game ended with some typically heated challenges and scuffles. A 1-1 draw meant Brazil would need to beat the Germans to stop Argentina from making the Final.
ARGENTINA 1 – 1 BRAZIL
The last game in Group A was between Italy and Netherlands. As neither side could progress, Bearzot handed debuts to Pietro Vierchowod, Carlo Ancelotti and Salvator Bagni. It took Ancelotti just seven minutes to score his first international goal. It was a good strike too, from 25 yards out.
The Dutch weren’t behind for long. They beat Italy in Argentina in 1978 with a long-range effort from Arie Haan. It seemed fitting their equaliser would also come from a long way out., with Jan Peters hitting it from about 30 yards. It was his fourth goal for his country, but considering he scored twice in a 2-0 win at Wembley in 1977 this wasn’t a particularly good return.
The fact there was nothing riding on the game was reflected in the attendance of just 15,000. The game was also a reflection of the futility of it and ended 1-1. After the match, Zwartkruis announced his resignation from a team that had gone seven games without a win.
ITALY 1 – 1 NETHERLANDS
The end of the group stage in Group B was now an important match, Brazil against West Germany. If Brazil were to usurp Argentina for a place in the final, they would need to win by two clear goals. They could still go through with a one goal advantage over the Germans, but they would need to score at least three themselves.
The Brazilian keeper, Carlos, was injured so Santana called up Joao Leite. Many in Brazil were expecting him to select Leao, but Santana’s continued rejection of the experienced keeper continued to puzzle the fans.
Brazil were the more ambitious in the first half. They should’ve taken the lead when German skipper, Bernhard Dietz attempted to head the ball back to his keeper. His header looped up giving Paulo Isidoro enough time to nip in before Schumacher could get to it. But at full stretch, his touch was too heavy and took the ball over the bar. Brazil then felt they should’ve had a penalty when Ze Sergio’s shot appeared to hit a hand, but it was far too close to be given by a ref in those days.
The Brazilians ramped up the pressure in the second half, with Socrates and Cerezo both heading just over. Ze Sergio was also involved in a couple of chances, but it was the Germans who took the lead. Rummenigge, with some good work down the right, crossed into the six-yard box where Allofs couldn’t get his head to it. It fell to Müller at the back post and he fired it back across goal where Allofs turned it in.
The lead lasted for just two minutes. Brazil had a free-kick in a central position just outside the box. Junior bent it beautifully up and over the wall, beyond Schumacher’s despairing dive.
Now they were hitting their stride and soon a second goal arrived. Edevaldo overlapped down the right and his ball into the area was met on the half-volley by Cerezo, arriving unmarked.
Serginho then came on for Tita and with 15 minutes to go, he made it 3-1. Socrates made a good run into the box and Cerezo found him. As he drew Schumacher to him, he calmly played it square where Serginho had the simplest of tap ins. Brazil were now heading for the final. The only way they could be stopped was if the Germans scored twice. But it was Brazil who scored the next goal. Serginho played Ze Sergio in, and he held off from Dremmler, took it past Schumacher and slotted it into the empty net.
BRAZIL 4 – 1 WEST GERMANY
The fall-out from the controversial Argentina v Peru match in ’78 when many felt Peru had been bribed to allow Argentina to score enough goals to reach the Final, was still in evidence.
Argentina manager, Menotti accused the Germans of not trying against Brazil,
“maybe this is revenge for what happened in our 6-0 win against Peru in 1978? I don’t know”
he told a specially selected group of Argentine journalists.
If FIFA had, had their wish at the start of the mini-tournament it was likely to be an Uruguay v Brazil Final. Memories went back to the infamous 1950 match when Uruguay overcame overwhelming odds to beat Brazil in their own backyard.
In the build-up to the Final, the Maracanazo was predictably mentioned a lot. It was the bleakest day in Brazilian football. But since then they had turned themselves around as a footballing nation. Changed their kit from blue to yellow and green, and won the World Cup three times. Uruguay, in comparison, had regressed as a major footballing power. Now they looked every bit the smaller nation, living off the glories of a distant past.
On 10 January 1981 71,250 filled the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo to see two giants of the World Cup lock horns. For Brazil, Santana was under pressure to give a starting place to Serginho. But he persisted with Socrates up front. Against the Germans, Serginho came on for Tita and Socrates stepped back into midfield and the side seemed more cohesive.
Uruguay boss, Roque Maspoli was forced into one change. Moreira was suspended so Victor Diogo came in. Maspoli added to the narrative as he was the Uruguay keeper in the 1950 Final.
To give a nod to the reason for this competition, Ernesto Mascheroni kicked the match off. He was the only survivor from the 1930 World Cup Final.
The first half was goalless with Rodriguez in the Uruguay goal making good saves from Junior and Cerezo.
Six minutes into the second half Ramos’ shot was parried by Joao Leite and Barrios, who’d come on for de la Peña in the first half, was there to turn in the rebound.
Santana immediately threw Serginho on for Tita again and within 10 minutes Brazil were level. They were awarded a penalty and Socrates made no mistake.
Then with just 10 minutes of the match remaining, Victorino scored his third of the tournament to put the home side back in front. It came from a free-kick on the right from Ramos. Morales came in at the near post but couldn’t get his head to it. This committed Leite and allowed Victorino to head it into an empty net. He’d scored the winner in the Copa Libertadores for Nacional against Brazil’s Internacional five months earlier. A month after this match he’d do the same against Nottingham Forest in the Intercontinental Cup. It proved to be the winner.
Santana once again made an immediate change, bringing on Eder for Ze Sergio, but Brazil looked tired and lacking energy.
Uruguay held on to win the tournament as they had done with the inaugural World Cup 50 years before. The place went nuts. The Uruguay players ran over to the moat and jumped in, and the fans invaded the pitch as the Brazilians sensibly made their exit.
URUGUAY 2 – 1 BRAZIL
Uruguay had once again beaten Brazil 2-1 in a Final and crowned themselves champions of champions. The country celebrated just as if they’d won the World Cup.
The joy didn’t last as Brazil and Uruguay’s fortunes swapped in the Spain ’82 qualifiers, with Uruguay going out to Peru and Brazil qualifying, going on to be one of the best sides not to win a World Cup.
Toninho Cerezo was voted player of the tournament by a jury that included 1950 World Cup winner, Schiaffino. The tournament marked the end for several people. Zwartkruis resigned as Dutch boss. Leopoldo Luque would never pull on an Argentinian shirt again, with the German Rainer Bonhof would suffer a similar fate.