Mexico 70: Sunday 14th June 1970 and the USSR face Uruguay for a place in the semis

Mexico70 1970 World Cup USSR Uruguay

Welcome back to our day-by-day account of Mexico 70, the 1970 World Cup. If you have missed any of this fantastic series so far you can catch up here. Every single day, Pete Spencer will be telling you the story of the Greatest Show on Earth.


Sunday 14th June 1970

As I’ve been saying all the way through this, FIFA hadn’t got to grips with scheduling and television. Each day’s group games had kicked off at the same time, and this was the case going into the knockout stage. TV companies had to pick their match of choice and with other games going on at the same time, their viewers would just accept it.

But for the benefit of this piece, we will cover them one by one.

The USSR were up against two-time champions, Uruguay. The Soviets had called correctly at the coin toss to meet Uruguay rather than Italy. They felt they had a better chance against the South Americans. The irony of this was they had to go through the same agonising process two years earlier at Euro ’68. Then the toss of a coin was to decide whether they, or Italy, would progress to the Final after a goalless draw after extra time. They lost that and had to settle for fourth place after losing to England. Seems incredible doesn’t it?

The Soviets also had the advantage of being familiar with the Azteca, having been unbeaten there in the three matches to this stage.

Uruguay had an impressive World Cup pedigree at this stage. They’d reached at least the last eight stage in all but one of the six tournaments they’d taken part in. They were knocked out at this stage four years earlier.


Estadio Azteca, Mexico City, 26,085

USSR (0) (0) 0

URUGUAY (0) (0) 1 (Espárrago 117)

USSR: Kavazashvili; Afonin, Dzodzuashvili, Kaplychnyi, Khurtsilava (Logofet), Shesternyov; Asatiani (Kiselyov), Muntyan; Byshovets, Yevriuzhikin, Khmelnytskyi

URUGUAY: Mazurkiewicz; Ubiña, Ancheta, Mastosas, Mujica; Maneiro, Cortés, Castillo, Cubilla; Fontes (Espárrago), Morales (Gómez)

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Uruguay coach, Juan Hohberg, chose this crucial stage to select Julio Morales for the first time in the tournament. The 25-year-old had just won the league with Nacional and had the daunting job of leading the line alongside Dagoberto Fontes, who’d only come on as a sub in the defeat to Sweden.

Losada and Zubia were dropped as Cubilla returned, having missed the Sweden game.

USSR coach, Gavril Kachalin made three changes. Asatiani, Yevriuzhikin and Kaplichny all returned having sat out the El Salvador game.

In 35-degree heat the game was pretty even. The Soviets have since spoken of how physical the Uruguayans were. Two of them were booked in the opening 17 minutes.

Muntyan forced a good save from Mazurkiewicz when he shot from wide on the right, about 25 yards out and it flew like a rocket through the air, but the keeper just got his fingertips to it.

In the second half, at the same end, Soviet keeper Kavazashvili had to do likewise when Maneiro volleyed a shot from outside the area on the right.

The game was goalless after 90 minutes, so extra time was required. Uruguay replaced both strikers in an attempt to break the deadlock.

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Still no goals as the game went into the second period of extra time, finally the ball was in the net. Asatiani played the ball forward, Byshovets nodded it back to the Soviet midfielder who cushioned a pass over the defence for Byshovets to go clear. He took one touch and placed it past Mazurkiewicz.

The linesman immediately put his flag up, and although the camera angle isn’t level he looked onside.

But that wasn’t the most controversial moment of the game. It came just a few minutes later at the other end.

A cross-field ball from the right into the box, went towards the far post. Montero got up and the ball came off his head and was bouncing out for a goal-kick. Cubilla got to it, turned towards the bye-line. Afonin tried to shepherd it out for a goal-kick. The ball looked to be out and the Soviets had definitely stopped, expecting the referee’s whistle to blow. But Cubilla then dragged the ball back and crossed it for Espárrago to head it into the empty net.

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The Soviets were incensed. They were certain the ball had gone out. Watching the replays, Afonin was stood right over the ball and stopped as if it’s gone over the line. Given that shepherding the ball out was not a common tactic back then, I think he just didn’t expect Cubilla to nip in and drag it back. It’s just not clear that it had gone out.

There were only three minutes left and they just couldn’t shake the feeling they’d been cheated. Ultimately, they made one of the most basic errors you learn early in football. Always play to the whistle.

Needless to say, there wasn’t time for the Soviets to come back and Uruguay were through to the Semi-Finals. There was little doubt they had cause for complaint, but it was the officials who ruined it for them, not Uruguay. They lodged an official complaint but it fell on deaf ears.

Uruguay now waited to hear who won between Brazil and Peru.

Just two months earlier Peru had beaten Uruguay 4-2 in a friendly in Lima. But you had to go back to 1949 for the last time Peru beat Uruguay away from home.

For the organisers, Brazil v Uruguay was the one they really wanted. Two arch rivals forever linked with the events in the Maracaña in 1950 when Uruguay came from behind to win their second World Cup. It had been almost 10 years since they last beat Brazil, so they were conflicted over which opponent they preferred.

Join us tomorrow for the second quarter-final.