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Apr 25, 2006

World Cup 1982 - Hosts Spain

Espana '82 was an expanded tournament with 24 places now up for grabs for the qualifiers and a changed structure.

There was to be a second group stage once again but with the re-introduction of a semi-final stage. It was under this rather unwieldy format amid the blistering heat of summer in Spain that the finals were played.

The first stage, of six groups of four, saw a record scoreline when Hungary walloped El Salvador 10-1 and a surprise when Algeria defeated West Germany 2-1. Despite this win, the Algerians failed to reach the second round when a footballing anschluss of Austria and the Germans conspired to let the Germans win 1-0.

Newspapers around the world proclaimed the game as a carve-up and few of those who watched the stultifying fare on offer could disagree.

The heroes of the first round were Northern Ireland, making their first finals appearance since 1958. Including in Norman Whiteside the youngest player to feature in a finals tournament, they managed to qualify by beating Spain 1-0 with a famous Gerry Armstrong goal in Valencia.

The Spaniards also suffered the ignominy of drawing with Honduras and it was not to be a happy tournament for the hosts.

The other home nations - England and Scotland - suffered contrasting fortunes. The Scots were beaten 4-1 by Brazil, despite an iconic early goal from David Narey, and were eliminated by drawing 2-2 with the Soviet Union.

England were the form horses of the first round, beating heavily-fancied France 3-1 with Bryan Robson scoring the finals' fastest ever goal (27 seconds) and nodding in another.

Wins over Czechoslovakia and Tunisia gave Ron Greenwood's team a 100 per cent record but in the second round a failure to score against Spain and West Germany saw them return home empty-handed.

Holders Argentina, now featuring the limitless talents of Diego Maradona, had endured a tough time in their group, losing to the Belgians in the opening game, but had reached the second round groups of three. It was in a 'Group of Death' that they faced in Brazil and the Italians.

Brazil fielded their best team since 1970, with the talents of Falcao, Zico, Socrates and Eder. But a lack of a genuine striker - Careca missing out through injury - cost them dearly. The gangly Serginho was not up to the standard of the rest of the side.

The Argentinians flopped badly against the Italians and then were outclassed by Brazil in a 3-1 defeat that saw Maradona sent off for kicking out at Batista. Maradona, then just beginning his career at Barcelona, had failed in his adopted country. But the Brazilians, everybody's favourites to win the trophy, were soon to meet their Waterloo.

In a World Cup classic they were beaten by an Italian side waking up from the slumber of the first round. Paolo Rossi struck a hat-trick as Brazil, despite classic goals from Socrates and Falcao, lost out, with Serginho guilty of some glaring misses.

The semi-finals saw Italy face Poland, still featuring Lato but with star man Zbignew Boniek suspended. Rossi was again the man. His two goals put Italy into their first final in twelve years.

The other semi-final is often recognised as the modern World Cup's greatest-ever game. France had recovered from their opening defeat to play some fantastic football with fabled midfielders Michel Platini, Alain Giresse and Jean Tigana leading the charge.

With the scores at 1-1 on came substitute Patrick Battiston, who was almost immediately played through the middle.

Charging in on goal, he came up against German keeper Harald Schumacher, who, just as Battiston reached the ball clattered him with a forearm smash.

The ball trickled wide of the net but, amazingly, Dutch referee Charles Corver awarded a goal-kick as Battiston lay motionless on the field, having lost two teeth.

Despite having to restructure once again, when extra-time came, France stormed into a 3-1 lead with goals from Giresse and Marius Tresor.

But the Germans, showing typical resolve and dismissal of romance, fought back to equalise through Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, carrying an injury but on as an emergency substitute, and Klaus Fischer. So began the World Cup's first-ever penalty shoot-out.

As was to become the norm down the years, it was the Germans who were victors as Didier Six and Maxime Bossis both missed spot-kicks. Gigantic striker Horst Hrubesch smashed home the winner.

Germany, highly unpopular after the Schumacher incident, ran out of luck in the final. Both had started slowly in the competition but the Italians finished the stronger. Paolo Rossi opened the scoring and Marco Tardelli smashed in their second, celebrating in legendary fashion.

Substitute Alessandro Altobelli sealed it for the Italians in the 80th minute before Paul Breitner scored a late German consolation, his second in a World Cup Final.

In truth, Italy outclassed the Germans and having beaten the holders in Argentina, the favourites in Brazil and the pantomime villains in West Germany they were worthy winners.