Mexico 70: Sunday 14th June 1970 and the hosts face Italy in the second quarter-final

Mexico 70 1970 World Cup Italy vs Mexico quarter final

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

The second match was between the hosts, Mexico and Italy. Mexico had come second best in the coin toss with the Soviets and were annoyed at having to move away from Mexico City. But they were still at home.

Italy had been poor in almost all their matches. But later players would argue once they won their opening match they just shut up shop to make sure they reached the knockout stage. Once there they would show the real Italy.


Estadio Luis Dosai, Toluca, 26,851

ITALY (1) 4 (Guzmán 25 og, Riva 63, 76, Rivera 70)

MEXICO (1) 1 (González 13)

ITALY: Albertosi; Burgnich, Cera, Rosato, Facchetti; Bertini, Mazzola (Rivera), De Sisti; Domenghini (Gori), Boninsegna, Riva

MEXICO:  Calderón; Vantolrá, Peña, Guzmán, Pérez; González (Borja), Pulido, Munguia (Diaz), Valdivia; Fragoso, Gutiérrez

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The hosts weren’t happy to move away from the Azteca, especially as it meant playing in front of just under 27,000 people. On the one hand, they’d avoided Brazil in the knockout stages, but there was the prospect of taking on England or West Germany.

Toluca was almost half a kilometre higher than Mexico City, but any advantage the hosts might have of familiarity was balanced by the fact the Italians were playing their third match there.

Mexican coach, Raúl Cárdenas announced an unchanged side from the one which beat Belgium. The whole country was rapt by their team’s performances as they reached the knockout stages for the first time.

Italy too were unchanged, as coach Feruccio Valcareggi named the same side for the third game running. They’d scored just once in the group stages and many were starting to wonder if the European champions were going to have another disappointing World Cup.

Valcareggi had a selection headache throughout the tournament. Italy possessed two of the best players in Europe at the time, Sandro Mazzola (Inter) and Gianni Rivera (Milan). Valcareggi had decided he couldn’t play the two together. Both were attack-minded midfield players but Rivera was more deep-lying than Mazzola.

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Rivera had not been feeling well for the opening game, so Mazzola played. Italy won and Valcareggi decided to shut up shop for the remainder of the group matches and kept the same side. Rivera came on as a sub after half-time in the final group game against Israel. But he came on for one of the strikers, Domenghini.

In the knockout stages the Italian coach hit upon a novel idea he would play the two in either half. It became known in the Italian press as the ‘staffeta’.

In Andrew Downie’s book “The Greatest Show on Earth” Rivera is quoted as not being a fan;

“The staffeta was a totally political choice; there’s no way to justify it technically. It doesn’t make any sense to decide what substitutions you will make before the game starts.”

Rivera, at his third World Cup, was the European Footballer of the Year in 1969.  Mazzola had won three Serie A titles with Inter and was at his second World Cup. Both men were part of the Italian side which lifted the European Championship in 1968.

The focus on these two shadowed the real threat in attack from Italy. Gigi Riva had been Serie A top scorer with 21 goals as little Cagliari won their only Scudetto. But he was yet to get off the mark in this tournament, having come into it with a record of 19 goals from 16 appearances.

The early exchanges were tough and fiercely contested. Valdivia went close with a stunning strike from about 20 yards out, which went just over.

Then in the 13th minute, the crowd erupted. Mexico, in their unfamiliar red shirts, poured forward again. Fragoso, in the box, passed it to his right and Gonzalez came in and with the outside of his right foot beat Albertosi.

He only scored four goals in his career for his country and 50% of them had come against Italy.

With the crowd right up for this one, the Mexicans seemed transformed. Padilla had a couple of shots from outside the area, one of which forced Albertosi into a smart save low down at his near post.

Mexico had been quite comfortable in defence but then midway through the first half it all began to unravel. Riva, wide on the right of the area, hit a shot to the far post which Calderón said he had covered. Then from nowhere Guzmán stuck out a foot which deflected the ball to the keeper’s left. Stranded, unable to move his feet quick enough, Calderón just got a hand to it but it wasn’t enough to stop the ball going in for the equaliser.

It was the first goal he’d conceded in the tournament and he wasn’t best pleased it was an own goal. Riva wasn’t too happy either, as he still hadn’t been credited with a goal in the competition.

Some of the Mexican players have talked about how they lost it mentally from then. They were very much in the game up to that point but went in at half-time level.

True to his word, Valcareggi brought on Rivera for the second half. Mazzola had woken up in the morning complaining of the famous ‘Montezuma’s revenge’ but managed to play one half. It wasn’t long before Rivera made his presence felt.

Guzmán tried to redeem himself for his earlier faux pas with a shot from almost 30 yards out which fizzed just wide. Facchetti then nearly put through his own net when trying to intercept a ball into the box.

Then just after the hour, Rivera played Riva in. He moved to his left and then skewed the ball inside the keeper’s left-hand post to give Italy the lead. Finally, Riva had his goal.

Seven minutes later Rivera was sent away into the area. The keeper forced him wide. He had two goes but both were blocked by men on the line. Domenghini tried but his shot too was blocked and this time it came back to Rivera. He hit a right-foot shot to the keeper’s right and Italy were 3-1 up.

From looking like the most boring, toothless attacking force in the competition, Italy had now become a team that could score at will. Six minutes later the game was done. Rivera put Riva in again. The keeper held him up for a moment but Riva got the ball past him. Peña couldn’t stop him and he even managed to crown Guzmán’s day by nutmegging him on the line for the fourth goal.

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Italy had managed to tempt Mexico into their web. Defend, encourage them to attack, then hit them on the counter.

Riva’s double gave him 21 in his international career from 20 matches. In Andrew Downie’s book his teammate, Tarcisio Burgnich waxed lyrical about his talents;

“In the training matches it was always up to me to mark him. I had a great friendship with Gigi; it was hard to mark him, it was hard to keep up with him, it was hard to dispossess him. Riva was physically strong and he was involved in so many goals. Gigi was a serious boy. His strength, in addition to power, was his sense of positioning and knowing where the goal was. He was always in the right position at the right time.”

Italy now looked every bit the European Champions they were as they marched into the Semi-Finals. They would meet either England or West Germany.

Join us tomorrow for the third quarter-final.