Mexico 70: How everyone qualified for the 1970 World Cup – part one

Mexico 70 - the 1970 World Cup

Welcome back to our day-by-day account of Mexico 70, the 1970 World Cup. Yesterday, we set the scene a little about what you can expect over the next couple of weeks. Today, we explain how the teams qualified for the Greatest Show on Earth.

Mexico 70 qualifying

This was the biggest qualifying campaign so far for any World Cup. 75 countries entered from five Confederations to determine the 14 qualifiers joining holders, England and hosts, Mexico.

The share of the places were; UEFA: 8, CONMEBOL: 3, CONCACAF: 1, CAF: 1, AFC/OFC: 1


30 nations were split into eight qualifying groups. Five groups of four teams and three groups of three. Each group winner would qualify automatically. There would be no play-offs for further places.

Group One – Greece, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland

You may have expected Portugal to be favourites in this group, given they’d finished third in 1966. But since then they’d only won two matches, and a long way off the pace in Euro ’68 qualifying. Switzerland was the team with the best pedigree in World Cups, having been at six of the eight tournaments held thus far. Romania hadn’t been seen at a World Cup since the War and Greece had never made one.

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Switzerland started off beating Greece by a solitary goal in Basel, before Portugal thumped Romania in Lisbon. The game was a personal triumph for Benfica’s Jacinto Santos who scored twice in only his second game.

But anyone thinking this would set the scene for the group were mistaken when the following round of matches reversed the results. Romania beat Switzerland 2-0 in Bucharest before the Greeks came from a goal down to beat Portugal, 4-2. This was the first-ever meeting between the two sides and the Greeks could be very proud of playing so well against a full-strength Portuguese team containing Eusebio, Torres and Coluna.

Greece then faltered as they drew 2-2 with Romania. This handed the opportunity to the other two as they met in Lisbon. Portugal had just played out a goalless draw at home to Mexico, and continued their winless run as Switzerland won 2-0. George Vuilleumier scoring both, having never previously scored in international football.

This put the Swiss on top at the halfway stage.

The two matches in May 1969 would be crucial. In Porto, Greece found themselves two goals up with just 15 minutes to go. But Eusebio and Peres saved the home side’s blushes for a draw. Then in Lausanne, Bruno Michaud’s own goal handed Romania the win against Switzerland.

This now moved Romania to the top, with two matches to play.

Portugal now had to win both their matches to stand any hope of making it to Mexico. But they were both away from home, starting in Bucharest. Nicolae Dobrin scored the only goal of the game to give Romania the win and put the Portuguese out.

This left the Greeks and Swiss needing to win their remaining matches to try and catch them. They lined up against each other in Thessaloniki.

Koudas and Botinos put the home side in front before half-time. Then with just two minutes before the break, Giordios Sideris increased the lead. That goal saw him become his country’s leading scorer. Greece ran out 4-1 winners to put the Swiss out.

The game between Switzerland and Portugal in Bern became irrelevant, and perhaps suitably ended in a 1-1 draw.

November 1969 in Bucharest was the scene for the group decider. The Romanians could afford a draw and took the lead in the first half. Dimitrios Domazos levelled in the second half but Greece couldn’t find a winner. The game ended 1-1 and Romania had booked their passage to Mexico.


Group Two – Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Hungary, Republic of Ireland

Hungary and the Czechs were expected to fight things out in this group. Hungary had been at the last four tournaments and both nations had competed at six of the eight World Cups. Neither Denmark or Ireland had been anywhere near.

Hungary were the defending Olympic Gold medallists from Mexico ’68.

The Czechs were especially buoyant having beaten a Brazil side containing Carlos Alberto, Rivellino, Jairzinho and Tostão in a friendly. They began their campaign in style beating Denmark home and away.

The game between Ireland and Denmark at Dalymount Park got as far as the 50th minute before it was halted due to fog. The game had to be replayed the following October.

Before then they were beaten at home by the Czechs, who were then in full control of the group. If they could beat Hungary in their next match, it would be very tough to wrestle it from them.

The two met in the Nepstadion with the home side under pressure to win. Hungary were a long way from the days of Puskas but they had reached the Euro ’68 Quarter-Finals in Italy. Antal Dunai was one of four debutants and he crowned his start with the opening goal. His was the only goal of the game until Florian Albert made it 2-0 just before the end. A crucial win in Hungary’s first game.

In their second game they won in Dublin. The Irish had also been beaten in Denmark. So when Hungary turned up in Copenhagen they were expected to walk off with a comfortable win. Their five previous meetings with Denmark had seen them win them all with an aggregate of 23-1.

It was some surprise then when Ole Sorensen put the Danes in front in the third minute. Ferenc Bene soon equalised. Ten minutes before the break Ulrik Le Fevre put the home side back in front, only for the visitors to again level things.

But when Ole Madsen put the home side in front for a third time just after the hour, they were able to hold onto their lead to register a famous win.

This really shook things up and handed the onus back to Czechoslovakia. The two then met again in September 1969 in Prague. A win for the Czechs would see them qualify. Ferenc Bene put the visitors in the lead early on. Vladimir Hagara equalised but Antal Dunai restored Hungary’s lead before the break.

Laszlo Fazekas scored his first international goal to extend their lead in the second period. The home side managed to come back with two goals of their own and the game was tied 3-3.

Czechoslovakia then finished their campaign with a 3-0 win over the Irish. Adamec scoring a hat-trick.

Hungary then needed to win their final two matches. They were both at home so this wasn’t expected to be too difficult. And so it proved as they beat Denmark 3-0 and Ireland 4-0.

Groups weren’t decided by goal difference so the two countries met in neutral Marseille for a decider. The Czechs took the lead just before the break from the penalty spot. Then two goals in five minutes just after the hour took the game away from the Hungarians. They eventually won 4-1 despite having Ladislav Petras sent off on his debut. This was the first time Hungary had failed to qualify for the finals since 1950.

QUALIFIER – Czechoslovakia

Group Three – East Germany, Italy, Wales

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Euro ’68 winners, Italy were expected to breeze through this three-team group. They were keen to restore their World Cup pride too having been humiliated by North Korea in England. Wales had only ever been to 1958 World Cup, and only made that tournament after a manufactured play-off. East Germany had never competed in a tournament since they split from the West.

But the Italians stuttered to begin with. They only beat Wales by a Gigi Riva goal in Cardiff, and had to come from behind twice to earn a point in East Berlin. Riva scoring both goals.

East Germany then won home and away against Wales to give themselves a fighting chance of reaching their first-ever World Cup. After a Riva hat-trick against the Welsh in Rome, Italy took on East Germany in Naples.

If the Germans could pull off an unlikely win they’d be through but a draw would see the two sides meet again in a play-off. The home side were three up in the first 36 minutes and the game was over as a contest. Riva had scored seven of Italy’s 10 goals and Italy were off to the finals.


Group Four – Northern Ireland, Turkey, USSR

The Soviet Union were the overwhelming favourites for this group. The Irish and the Turks had only ever been at one World Cup each. The Soviets finished fourth in England and the last eight in the previous two finals. They were unlucky not to go further than the Quarter-Finals at Euro ’68 too.

Northern Ireland and Turkey met in Belfast in October 1968. The Turks took an early lead but then goals from George Best, Eric McMordie, Derek Dougan and Billy Campbell gave the Irish an impressive 4-1 win.

The two met again in Istanbul two months later. Despite the absence of Best, Southport’s Terry Harkin scored twice in a 3-0 win. Now if the Irish could beat the Soviets they’d qualify.

The first meeting between the two nations occurred in Belfast in September 1969. Best was back but he couldn’t inspire his team to more than a goalless draw. They would have to win in the return match if they were to go through.

The Soviets easily saw off Turkey in Moscow before Northern Ireland arrived at the same venue in October. Best was again absent as goals in each half from the Soviets saw them win and take control of the group.

The final match in the group was in Istanbul. The Irish had to hope for an unlikely Turkish victory. The Soviets scored after three minutes to ruin that dream. Turkey equalised but the Soviets won 2-1 to confirm their place in the finals.


Group Five – France, Norway, Sweden

Sweden and Norway found themselves drawn into the same group as they had been for Euro ’68. Then Sweden had won their home meeting, 5-2. This time they scored five again, but without reply. Bengt Ove Kindvall, who was then playing his football with Feyenoord, scored a hat-trick. They scored three goals in five minutes in the second half to secure the win.

Norway surprised everyone by winning in Strasbourg. Odd Iversen, Steffan’s father, scored the only goal of the game. France were favourites for the group having competed at England ’66 and reaching Euro ’68 Quarter-Finals.

Sweden again hit Norway for five when they met in the return fixture. France then finally got some points on the board winning in Oslo, Hervé Ravelli hitting a hat-trick.

This left the two meetings between Sweden and France to decide the winner of the group. Sweden held the advantage and were at home first. Kindvall scored another brace to take his tally to six in the group. Sweden won 2-0 to secure their place in Mexico. France won the final game but few cared. Jean Djorkaeff, Youri’s Dad, scored twice.


Group Six – Belgium, Finland, Spain, Yugoslavia

None of these teams had made the last finals but Yugoslavia had every right to consider themselves favourites having been losing finalists at Euro ’68. When they thumped Finland 9-1, this seemed to confirm that view. Slaven Zambata and Vahidin Musemic both scored hat-tricks.

This came after Belgium had won in Helsinki, and the Belgians then kept up their perfect record when they won 6-1 at home to the Finns. Odilon Polleunis helping himself to a hat-trick.

Belgium and Yugoslavia then met at Anderlecht’s ground with the home side winning comfortably. Spain then entered the fray and earned a draw in Belgrade and then at home to Belgium.

When Belgium and Spain met in Liége the 2-1 win for the home side put them further ahead in the group. Yugoslavia could only overhaul them on goal difference. But when they visited the Nou Camp they were beaten by Spain, handing the qualification spot to Belgium.

Yugoslavia ended their campaign with five goals against Finland and a 4-0 win against Belgium, but it was too little too late. Spain also put six past the Finns, but that came after losing to the same opponents in Helsinki.


Group Seven – Austria, Cyprus, Scotland, West Germany

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West Germany were overwhelming favourites to win this group. None of these teams made it out of the group in Euro ’68, but of course, the Germans were runners-up in ’66.

Austria opened things up with Erich Hof scoring four as they thrashed Cyprus, 7-1. But when the Germans visited they were beaten 0-2, with Gerd Müller on target.

Next up for the Austrians was a visit to Hampden Park. They took the lead in the second minute too, but Denis Law soon equalised. Things were decided when Billy Bremner hit the winner for the Scots 15 minutes from time.

During Euro ’68 group stage the West Germans were surprisingly held to a 0-0 draw in Albania. When they took on Cyprus in Nicosia there were concerns they were going to be humbled again as the game was goalless going into the final minute. Müller finally grabbed the winner to spare the visitors’ blushes.

Three weeks later Scotland visited Cyprus and made a far better fist of things. Tottenham’s Alan Gilzean and Rangers’ Colin Stein both hit doubles in a 5-0 win. The Scots played in training shoes, such was the hard nature of the pitch. A downpour in the second half turned the gravely pitch into something more like concrete.

It was clear the meetings between the Scots and the Germans would decide the group. Müller was again on target as the Germans arrived at Hampden Park. With five minutes to go Celtic’s Bobby Murdoch got a crucial equalised for a point.

Austria won in Cyprus to keep in the hunt but they’d need to beat the Germans and Scots. So when they lost to another Müller goal in Nuremburg.

Scotland then pulled off one of their biggest-ever wins when they thrashed Cyprus 8-0 at Hampden. Stein hit four with Eddie Gray and Tommy Gemmell scoring their first international goals.

The Scots now lead the group on goal difference. This lasted four days before West Germany beat Cyprus 12-0 in Essen. Müller scored another four with Wolfgang Overath hitting three. The Germans were two-up inside the opening five minutes, and four-up inside twenty. By the 51st minute, they’d scored ten. The Scots goal difference advantage had gone.

Scots had two games to go with the Germans just one. But that one was the most crucial. In Hamburg, if the Scots could earn a point, they stood a chance of qualifying by beating Austria a fortnight later.

Things began well for the visitors as Jimmy Johnstone scored in the opening three minutes. They held the lead until seven minutes from the break when Klaus Fichtel scored his first for his country.

Then came the inevitable Müller goal on the hour, but instead of the visitors fading, Gilzean levelled almost immediately. Moving towards the last ten minutes had the teams still locked at 2-2 but then Reinhard Libuda hit the winner for the home side and Scots hearts were broken. Victory for West Germany meant they qualified. Müller scored an extraordinary nine goals in six matches to see them there.

The final game in the group was academic but as it was Austria won 2-0 as Scotland handed three new caps.

QUALIFIER – West Germany

Group Eight – Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland.

Bulgaria were the dominant force amongst these teams around this time. They’d competed in the last two World Cups and also reached Euro ’68 Quarter-Finals.

The Dutch were a long way off the team they would be for the next tournament. They were involved in the first three matches in the group as they beat Luxembourg twice, but Bulgaria showed their strength beating the Dutch in Sofia. Cruyff missed the first two games but returned to score in the second Luxembourg win. It was only his ninth game for his country.

Poland entered proceedings when they took on Luxembourg in Krakow. Wlodzimierz Lubanksi scored a hat-trick in the opening 35 minutes. Future Man City player, Kazi Deyna hit two within a minute just after the break. Lubanski returned to add two more and take his personal tally for five as they won 8-1.

But their outing saw them lose in Rotterdam. Sjaak Roggeveen came off the bench and scored the winner in the last minute. This was only his second appearance for his country having scored twice on his debut. He never played for the Netherlands again.

Bulgaria then went top of the group with a comfortable 4-1 win over Poland. The Poles would now need to win all their remaining matches to challenge Bulgaria. They entertained the Dutch in Chorzow and despite going behind they came back to win 2-1. This was a significant result as Bulgaria now had a real advantage.

Poland then went top of the group with a 5-1 win in Luxembourg. They’d beaten their opponents by an aggregate of 13-2 over the two matches. They were ahead of Bulgaria on goal difference but the Bulgarians had two games in hand.

The Netherlands then took on Bulgaria in Rotterdam. It ended 1-1 to send Bulgaria top. The Dutch had finished their campaign on seven points. Bulgaria were also on seven with two games remaining, one against Luxembourg. Poland were on six points with just a game against Bulgaria to go.

In Warsaw Poland took on Bulgaria. The visitors only needed a point to qualify, but as their last match was against Luxembourg they could afford a defeat. The Poles had no choice but to go for the win. Andrzej Jarosik scored twice with Deyna adding a third and Poland pulled off a famous 3-0 win.

This forced Bulgaria to have to win in Luxembourg as a draw would mean Poland went through on goal difference. They took a while to score against a side which had already conceded 21 times in five matches. Dinko Dermendzhiev got the goal ten minutes before the break. But within two minutes they doubled their lead. Dimitr Yakimov scored it to give them some breathing space at the break. They ran out 3-1 winners to confirm their appearance at their third successive World Cup.

QUALIFIER – Bulgaria

UEFA qualifiers: England (holders), Romania, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Soviet Union, Sweden, Belgium, West Germany and Bulgaria.

That’s it for part one. Join us tomorrow for part two where we will look at the other Confederations to see how their qualifying section turned out.