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Apr 18, 2006

World Cup 1966 - Hosts England

No prizes for knowing the outcome of this World Cup. Even Alf Ramsey knew the final result when in 1963 he proclaimed that England would win the tournament they were set to host.

But beforehand the outcome was anything but a forgone conclusion. Brazil possessed many of the stars of 1962, Portugal had their greatest-ever team featuring Eusebio, Jose Torres and Mario Coluna while both the Germans and Russians had their best teams in a generation.

England, whose status as host was chiefly down to Sir Stanley Rous' Presidency of FIFA, were also given the slightly unfair boon of being able to play all their home games at Wembley. Nevertheless they initially struggled, with Uruguay providing solid opposition in a dour 0-0 opening draw.

Ramsey was still looking for the right combination in attack and midfield. He had also lost predator supreme Jimmy Greaves to a nasty gash on his shin in a 2-0 win over Mexico in the second match.

Ramsey was soon to abandon wide attackers, thus creating the legend of his 'wingless wonders', in a formation which gave full-backs George Cohen and Ray Wilson licence to bomb forward and provide service to his strike force.

Against a decent France side it was Liverpool's Roger Hunt who benefitted twice from the new system as England again won 2-0 to qualify for the quarter-final stage.

The last eight brought the challenge of Argentina, who had qualified from a group also containing West Germany, who in Franz Beckenbauer had a young player of almost infinite talent.

But the most exciting group was that with champions Brazil, a resurgent Hungary and the glittering Portugese, who featured many of the Benfica side that had been one of the best teams in European club football for half-a-decade. Bulgaria made up the numbers but played a crucial role in Pele's tournament.

In the group's opening game, the Bulgarians took it in turns to foul Pele and he was eventually carried from the pitch. The sight of him covered in a blanket on the touchline remains one of that tournament's enduring images.

The following game saw Hungary rip the Brazilians apart, with Florian Albert and winger Bene shining. Brazil's first defeat in the competition since 1954 blew the destiny of the trophy wide open in many observers' eyes.

In the following game Portugal's Eusebio eclipsed Pele, who again came in for harsh treatment from opposing defenders. A 3-1 Portugal win sent Brazil home and Pele swore never to play in a World Cup again.

Italy, meanwhile, were another side whose clubs were dominating Europe. And they would come an even bigger cropper than Brazil. Despite having been beaten by a crack Russian outfit, they seemed in little danger from their last group opponents - North Korea.

But Pak Doo Ik is a name guaranteed to wake followers of the azzurri sweating in the night and his goal sent the Italians home to a volley of rotten tomatoes.

And a similar fate seemed likely to befall the Portuguese when after 22 minutes the Koreans found themselves 3-0 up in the quarter-final. But Eusebio again grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and scored a record four goals in just over half-an-hour. Though the Koreans would remain men of mystery, their impact on the tournament will never be forgotten.

West Germany made worringly short work of the Uruguayans in a 4-0 win while the Russians got the better of Hungary in a 2-1 win. England's clash with Argentina would become notorious.

Though Geoff Hurst, Greaves' eventual replacement, scored a header from a superbly executed Martin Peters cross, the English were held back by some South American-style spoiling with referee Kreitlein a constant target for abuse from the Argentinian captain Antonio Rattin.

Rattin eventually paid the price and was dismissed for a second yellow card. After ten minutes of consternation the game was restarted and Hurst grabbed his goal.

Ramsey refused to let his team swap shirts with their opponents after victory was secured and labelled Argentina 'animals'. It was not to be the last infamous World Cup incident between the two countries.

Portugal were the next opponents but, in England's best display of the tournament, they, and especially Bobby Charlton, were too much for a team for whom Torres and Eusebio again excelled.

In the other game, Russia's Lev Yashin, a goalkeeper regarded as the world's best and playing superbly, made a calamitous error to let Helmut Haller score. He wasn't the only one to make a mistake. A nine-man Soviet outfit were well beaten.

The final hinged on two moments. England had, after the early setback of a Haller goal, looked likely to win the game through Martin Peters' 78th minute strike. But in the last minute Weber equalised after England failed to clear a free-kick.

Ramsey's famous stated belief in his pre-extra-time pep-talk that the Germans were 'finished' proved to be correct. Alan Ball's outstanding running put the tired Germans to the sword.

Hurst's second goal remains much disputed. Did it cross the line or didn't it? Russian linesman Bakhramov, the man who said 'yes', remains a legend in English football. Hurst, of course, completed his hat-trick with a blistering goal in the last minute and the cup was England's.

The tone was set for 40 years of remininiscing and Scottish disquiet.