1982 Football World Cup

Page 3 – Playing in the finals

The 1982 World Cup finals

logo for 1982 World Cup

1982 World Cup logo

It would have been easy for the All Whites to approach the finals in Spain as if they had already won their own World Cup.

Qualifying had been an arduous achievement, and the team had fought back from the brink of elimination on numerous occasions. The number of teams competing in the finals had been increased to 24, and there was a fear that the gulf between the traditional powers of world football and the so-called minnows would lead to some lopsided results. New Zealand was determined not to be one of those letting the standards drop. The team was adamant that they were not in Spain for the sun and the sand.

The New Zealanders were given little hope against their opposition in Group 6, which was dubbed the ‘pool of death’. This group included the cup favourites Brazil, plus powerful sides from the Soviet Union and Scotland. Against opposition of this quality, anything less than a 100% effort could result in humiliating defeats. As testament to the professional attitude adopted by the team, captain Steve Sumner was fined for sleeping in and missing a team run prior to the first match. But the team’s preparations were disrupted when influential midfielder Grant Turner was injured in a practice match six days before the opening game and was ruled out of the tournament.

Team coach John Adshead showed there would be no room for sentiment when he announced the team to play Scotland. Goalkeeper Richard Wilson, ever-present in the qualifying stages, and veteran striker Brian Turner, who had scored nine times on the road to Spain, were both relegated to the bench.

Game 1: Scotland 5, New Zealand 2 (15 June, Malaga)

For New Zealand football fans raised on a diet of British football through TV shows such as Big league soccer or publications such as Shoot magazine, Scotland was a mouth-watering opponent. This was a side packed with players from famous clubs such as Liverpool, Celtic and Nottingham Forest – up against men from Miramar Rangers, Invercargill Thistle and Gisborne City.

In front of 36,000 fans at Malaga’s Estadio La Rosaleda, New Zealand’s fairy tale appeared to be turning into a nightmare. Aberdeen’s dynamic Gordon Strachan set up Liverpool’s Kenny Dalglish and John Wark of Ipswich Town (who scored twice) as the Scots swept to a 3–0 half-time lead. But as Strachan tired in the second half, the game was turned on its head.

New Zealand pulled back two goals with strikes from Sumner and Steve Wooddin. At 3–2 just after the hour mark, it was game on. Adshead believed that for 10 minutes they had the Scots worried. But in the end Scotland pulled away with further goals to Nottingham Forest’s John Robertson and Tottenham’s Steve Archibald. The All Whites had certainly proved they were not here just to make up the numbers.

Game 2: Soviet Union 3, New Zealand 0 (19 June, Malaga)

The Soviet Union was regarded as the second strongest team in Europe, and featured Oleg Blokhin, a former European footballer of the year. Some described the first half of this game as the ‘best first 45 minutes by a New Zealand team in international football’. But to use the most telling of football clichés, it is a game of two halves. And as the New Zealanders were about to find out, it can be a cruel game.

On 21 minutes Kenny Cresswell had a good opportunity, but his header was saved by the outstanding Soviet keeper Rinat Dassaiev. Instead of being a goal up, the All Whites fell behind three minutes later to a streaky goal by Yuri Gavrilov. His initial shot hit one of his own players, wrong-footing the New Zealand keeper, Frank van Hattum, but falling kindly for the Soviet striker to score at the second attempt. The All Whites went into half time-trailing 1–0.

Luck ran the Soviets’ way again in the second half when Ramaz Shengelia missed the ball in front of the goal only for it to run into the path of Blokhin. With the defence wrong-footed again, he made it 2–0. Sergei Baltacha completed the scoring on 67 minutes. The margin flattered the Soviets. New Zealand had been unlucky, but as Adshead conceded, if you don’t get ‘those breaks you suffer’. Now effectively eliminated from the tournament, New Zealand still had a game against the glamour side, Brazil, to look forward to.

Game 3: Brazil 4, New Zealand 0 (23 June, Seville)

While the Brazil game was a formality, the All Whites’ management were aware that anything less than a top performance could result in a defeat of embarrassing proportions. Consequently, they maintained a hard-nosed policy in terms of team selection.

The most telling example of this was the treatment of goalkeeper Richard Wilson. He had established a World Cup record during the qualifying rounds when he kept nine consecutive clean sheets, but in Spain he did not even get on the field. Adshead felt that van Hattum ‘looked sharper, keener and more aggressive in training’. Wilson had also at times clashed with the abrasive Fallon, which cast a cloud over Adshead’s explanation.

The Brazilians, with players of great attacking flair such as Zico, Socrates, Falcao and Eder, appeared on the verge of returning to the glory days of 1970 when they won the World Cup for the third time in emphatic style. They entered the tournament as favourites, and superb victories over the Soviets and Scots had only enhanced their reputation. They also chose to field a strong team for this final group match, played at Seville’s Estadio Benito Villamarín in front of 43,000 fans.

Brazil gave a dazzling display of attacking football. Zico opened the scoring in the 29th minute with a memorable overhead kick and added a second in his side’s 4–0 victory. Adshead described the Brazilian players as being from another world.

While the New Zealanders were well beaten, they were not disgraced. Despite failing to register a point, most felt the team had gained respect on the field and had ‘risen to heights previously unknown for a New Zealand soccer team’.

Final standings in Group 6 

Team Played Won Drew Lost GF GA GD Points
Brazil
3
3
0
0
10
2
+8
6
USSR
3
1
1
1
6
4
+2
3
Scotland
3
1
1
1
8
8
0
3
NZ
3
0
0
3
2
12
-10
0

Brazil crashes out

As is often the case, being the favourite can weigh a team down. In their last match of the second-round group stage, the highly favoured Brazilians met Italy for a place in the semi-finals. Twice Italy took the lead through Paolo Rossi, and twice Brazil came back. At 2–2, Brazil would have been through on goal difference, but on 74 minutes a poor clearance from an Italian corner was returned to Rossi who completed a memorable hat-trick to dump Brazil from the competition. This game is widely regarded as one of the best World Cup matches ever.

Italy went on to defeat West Germany 3–1 in the final.

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