Mexico 70: The 1970 World Cup Draw where two giants end up in the same group

Mexico 70 - 1970 World Cup

Welcome back to our day-by-day account of Mexico 70, the 1970 World Cup. On Tuesday, we set the scene a little about what you can expect over the next couple of weeks. On Wednesday, we explained how the UEFA teams qualified for the Greatest Show on Earth. Yesterday, we looked at everyone else’s qualification campaigns. Today, well today is the Mexico 70 Group Draw!

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FIFA has always had a rather complicated relationship with World Cup draws. Few seem to run smoothly. They don’t always help themselves either, changing their plans at the last minute.

In 1970 with Sir Stanley Rous as president FIFA were run predominantly in favour of European nations. The two previous World Cups had seen a seeding process but this was always problematic as they couldn’t settle on a seeding criteria.

It was expected they would adopt a similar system for the Mexico 1970 draw, but in the end, they made an extremely late decision to scrap that.

Instead, they decided to go down ‘geographical groupings’, but also taking into account teams’ strengths and even political considerations.

This is how they ended up with the holders, England meeting the best team in the world, Brazil, in the group stage. It was reasonable to expect the two to be in separate groups, but at least it gave us one of the games of any World Cup.

The 16 qualifiers were split into four pots. The idea, according to FIFA, was to make sure those in the same pot would not meet each other until at least the Quarter-Finals. This was the case with England and West Germany.

Naturally, with the majority of teams (nine) coming from Europe two of the pots were solely European. So there would inevitably be more than one European team in each group.

Initially, it was thought the European communist block countries, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Romania and the Soviet Union would all be in the same pot. But in the end, they were split up with only Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia together.

The other issue FIFA had to contend with was political tensions. The qualifying section had already seen North Korea withdraw as they refused to play Israel.

With the Israelis qualifying for the first time, Morocco, another debutant, were threatening to withdraw from the finals stage if they were drawn against Israel, in support of other Arab nations. Hence the two were in the same pot.

Israel and Arab nations were still causing a headache for the organisers 12 years after things reached a head in qualifying for Sweden ’58. Then a host of withdrawals allowed Israel to go through several rounds and end up as a qualifier from the African section, despite not kicking a ball. In the end, FIFA had to change their rules and devise a play-off just so Israel could at least play some football to qualify. Teams were put into a pot and one was drawn out to become Israel’s opponents.

Further complications ensued when that team, Belgium duly withdrew. Finally, Wales were drawn out and ended up playing Israel in the play-off. They won and that’s how Wales managed to qualify for their first-ever World Cup.

The Mexico 70 venues

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Five stadiums were to be used for the tournament. Prior to the draw only Mexico (Estadio Azteca, Mexico City) and England (Estadio Jalisco, Guadalajara) knew where they’d be playing. The groups they were drawn into would have all the matches played there.

Group Four would play all their matches in Estadio Nou Camp, León with Group Two being split between Estadio Cuauhtémoc, Puebla and Estadio Luis Dosai, Toluca. All the stadiums, with the exception of Puebla, would host a Quarter-Final too.

The altitude was expected to be an issue for many of the teams. Mexico City, Puebla and León were at least a mile above sea level. Toluca was 2,660 metres above sea level. England’s base at Guadalajara was the lowest at 1,500 metres.

Fearing this would become a huge factor, many of the teams arrived early in a bid to acclimatise. It was fascinating to see the different ways each nation prepared for their new adventure.

Another factor many were worried about was the heat. Some of the games would be played at temperatures of 35 degrees. Without today’s medical, fitness and nutritional knowledge this was something each team had to work out for themselves. The altitude could make recovery from sprinting difficult and add the searing heat into the equation it was expected the South American countries and Mexico would be able to deal with it best.

Pot 1

England, Italy, Soviet Union, West Germany

Pot 2

Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay

Pot 3

Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Sweden

Pot 4

El Salvador, Israel, Morocco, Romania

The draw took place at the Maria Isabel Hotel on 10 January 1970. This was to be FIFA’s headquarters during the tournament.

Monica Maria Cañedo, the 10-year-old daughter of the Mexican FA president Guillermo Cañedo, drew out the teams from four silver cups in front of about 1,000 delegates. The draw was also broadcast to the world.

Back in England, BBC1 showed the draw live as part of a “Match of the Day Special”. In direct contrast to now, England manager Alf Ramsey watched events unfold from the studio rather than travelling there in person.

Group One

To join the hosts in this group, the Soviet Union, Belgium and El Salvador were drawn out.

Group Two

Italy was drawn out from Pot 1 for this group. Then Uruguay, Sweden and Israel joined them.

Group Three

Along with England for this group, Brazil, Romania and Czechoslovakia were drawn out.

Group Four

West Germany, Peru, Bulgaria and Morocco were drawn into this one.

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The biggest cheer and discussion came when Brazil was drawn into England’s group. Some gasped, others began to chatter excitedly as the idea of two of the best teams in the world at the time would square up against each other early on.

As was customary back then the hosts would contest the opening match of the tournament. After this World Cup, the defending champions were given that honour.

Mexico against the Soviet Union would be the opening game on 31 May in the Estadio Azteca. To satisfy a European audience the game was scheduled to kick off at mid-day – the hottest time of the day. With Mexico City seven hours behind the UK and therefore eight behind most of Europe, this was the ideal time to allow the largest audience to view the competition. Only a handful of matches kicked off at this local time, many of them waiting a further four hours.

But the knockout matches all kicked off at noon, local time.

Television was an important consideration for this tournament, more so than any other before it. BBC had broadcast some matches in the 1950’s. ITV didn’t come into things until the 1960s and in 1962 with just BBC taking the pictures, technology was still so new the feed from Chile came through the US first then over to England. This meant many of the matches weren’t seen in this country until three days after they’d been played.

The rise of colour television in Europe meant this was the first World Cup audiences would be able to watch in that format, and with satellite technology now further developed, they had the prospect of being able to watch them live.

Join us tomorrow when we kick off the tournament with the opening game. We will go through each day so you can follow it as if you were around at the time. Watch it develop and decide for yourself whether it was the greatest World Cup ever.

As well as the match action we will be including quotes from players who took part, using the excellent “The Greatest Show on Earth: The Inside Story of the Legendary 1970 World Cup” written by Andrew Downie.