Argentina © Getty Images
Argentina… the winners of the 1986 World Cup © Getty Images


The football World Cup, held every four years since 1930, generates immense passion and excitement around the globe, and often cricket takes a backseat among even die-hard aficionados. However, often there have been some very notable cricketing contests during the periods when the focus of the world has been solely on football.  In this four-part series Arunabha Sengupta looks at the cricketing action that has transpired during the course of the World Cup tournaments over the years.


Beckenbauer to Maradona


1974, West Germany


With the Julet Rimet in the permanent possession of Brazil —  well, not quite permanent given what transpired later — the new trophy was created by the Italian sculptor Silvio Gazzaniga.


In the Waldstadion, Frankfurt, defending champions Brazil started the proceedings but could not do so with the familiar flair and flourish. They were held goalless by Yugoslavia.


Earlier that day, a lean, lanky university student with spots on his face lorded over the bowling of Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkataraghvan to notch up 160 for Oxford and Cambridge Universities at University Park, Oxford. The previous day, Imran Khan had preceded his batting feats by capturing four wickets as India had been dismissed for 252.


On June 14, the hosts defeated Chile by a solitary goal in West Berlin as Carlos Caszely of the Latin American side became the first player to be sent off with a red card in a World Cup match. Further up north, in England, Eknath Solkar and Sudhir Naik added 219 to set up an Indian win from behind in that encounter against the University students.


Four days later, the Indians won against Gloucestershire through the heroics of Bishan Bedi, Prasanna and Bhagwath Chandrasekhar. It was followed by contrasting matches in Group 2. Brazil were held goalless for the second successive match, this time by Scotland, while Yugoslavia pumped the Zaire citadel with as many as nine goals.


The main drama of the first round was reserved for June 22. That was the third day at Lord’s and in reply to England’s 629, India were bowled out by Chris Old and Mike Hendrick for 302. By the end of the day, they were two without loss in the second innings after following on. They would enjoy a day of rest and would come back on the fourth morning to be bowled out for that ignominious 42. At Bath, the Pakistanis, the second visitors of the summer, took on Brian Close led Somerset and enjoyed a hundred by Mushtaq Mohammad and fifties by Sadiq Mohammad and Asif Iqbal.


However, the focus of the entire world was Volksparkstadion in Hamburg. The frost of the Cold War seeped over the Berlin Wall as the two German teams clashed in one of the most politically charged encounters. Touted as the clash between world powers and ideologies, it was watched by 60,350 spectators. When East Germany won through a late goal by Jürgen Sparwasser, the hosts could not hide their embarrassment. Yet, arguably, the introspection and adjustment resulting from this defeat ultimately won West Germany the Cup.


On June 26, as India sat recovering from the shock of 42 all out, and the Pakistanis engaged in a two-day match against University Athletics Union, the second round got underway. Johan Cruijff’s band of Dutchmen exhilarated the world with their flavour of total football, as they thrashed Argentina 4-0. West Germany were back to their winning ways with a 2-0 triumph over Yugoslavia.


On June 30, Nottinghamshire were engaged in their match against the Indians and wicketkeeper-opener Mike Harris scored a century before losing his wicket to, of all people, Sunil Gavaskar. At Lord’s, Pakistan spent their rest day against Middlesex after no play had been possible on the first day. The World Cup saw a series of important round two results. At Hanover, Brazil beat Argentina 2-1. At Gelsenkirchen, Netherlands continued their excellent run by defeating East Germany by a brace. In the other group, West Germany won a see-saw battle against Sweden at Düsseldorf by 4-2.


On a rain affected first day, Sadiq Mohammad and Zaheer Abbas struck half centuries against Northamptonshire on July 3, as India geared up for the third Test to start at Birmingham on the morrow. That evening saw Brazil crash out of the World Cup as Johan Neeskens and Johan Cruijff scored in the second half to give Netherlands a 2-0 win.


By the time Poland and Brazil met in the third place play off, India were looking down the barrel once again, on the verge of 3-0 capitulation. David Lloyd had scored 214 and England had piled up 459 for two in reply to India’s 165. In the second innings, at the end of July 6, India had lost Gavaskar and Abid Ali for 12. At Canterbury, Colin Cowdrey had turned the clock back as he had struck the ball with divine timing to score 105 in Kent’s match against Pakistan. That afternoon, as India struggled in the final session, Grzegorz Lato scored in the 76th minute to ensure the third place for Poland.


The following day did not see any cricket. England would complete the cricketing 3-0 rout on July 8. That afternoon the world tuned in to the Olympiastadion, Munich. It was a clash between megastars, Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruijff.


The match was hardly one minute old when Cruijff broke into a solo attack and was brought down in the penalty area. Johan Neeskens scored to put the Dutch one up, and at that time no German player had yet touched the ball. In the 26th minute, Bernd Hölzenbein tumbled in the penalty area, and referee Jack Taylor awarded a controversial spot-kick. Paul Breitner converted the penalty and it was 1-1. The German methods of earning penalties would go through a long and chequered history. Gerd Muller, that prolific goal-scorer, struck with minutes left in the first half to make it 2-1. The second half saw plenty of chances and none were converted. The hosts clung on to the slim advantage to emerge as winners.


Years later, FIFA President Joao Havelange claimed that the 1966 and 1974 World Cups were fixed. This was also the last of World Cup tournaments that ended without any match going into extra-time.


1978, Argentina


The World Cup was hosted by a country under military dictatorship. Argentina had suffered a military coup in 1976 during the National Reorganisation Process. There were statements that thousands of people had disappeared; a concentration camp holding prisoners of the unrest was located in the Naval Mechanics School — just a mile away from the River Plate Monumental Stadium. Prominent countries, most notably the Netherlands, publicly weighed whether they should participate. However, in the end all the teams joined the party.


The controversies did not end there. When Argentina played Peru in the second round, they needed a four goal margin to qualify for the final. In the end they won 6-0. The Brazilian media pointed out that the Peruvian goalkeeper was born in Argentina. There were accusations that the Argentine military dictatorship played its role in the result, with shipment of grain bartered for the goals. However, the tournament went on.


It started on the same day as the first Test match between Pakistan and England at Birmingham. On a gloomy, rain-truncated day, Chris Old picked up six of his eventual seven wickets as Pakistan finished on 162 for nine. In Buenos Aires, Poland held defending champions Germany to a goalless draw.


As Clive Radley and Ian Botham hammered centuries, England took a huge lead over the next couple of days. The evenings saw Italy, Argentina and Austria register slim wins, Brazil and Sweden locked in 1-1 draw, and Netherlands put three past the Iran defence – two from penalties. Tunisia became the first African country to register a win in the World Cup with a 3-1 win over Mexico.


England wrapped up the Test by June 5. On the evening of the scheduled last day, West Germany thrashed Mexico 6-0.


Hampshire and Pakistan were locked in a balanced tussle when Peru routed Iran 4-1 and Scotland registered a 3-2 upset over the Netherlands. This resulted in Peru topping Group 4 with Netherlands coming second. However, Scotland’s Willie Johnston was expelled from the World Cup for taking a banned stimulant during the opening game against Peru.


Another surprise was Austria finishing ahead of Brazil in Group 3, the fancied team making it to the next round by the skin of their teeth.


In the second round, it was an all-European Group A — with the Netherlands, Austria, West Germany and Italy, while Group B consisted of Argentina, Brazil, Poland and Peru. On the eve of the second Test at Lord’s, the Netherlands trounced Austria 5-1, while Italy drew goalless with West Germany. In the other group, the same evening saw Brazil beating Peru by three goals to nil and Argentina winning against Poland by a brace.


The next set of matches were played on June 18, the day of rest during the Test match. By then, Pakistan was already out of the game in spite of a day lost to rain, Bob Willis and Phil Edmonds dismissing them for 105 after England had piled up 364.In the World Cup, Netherlands drew 2-2 with West Germany and Italy pipped Austria by a goal. In Group B, Brazil and Argentina played out a tense and fracas ridden goalless draw.


It was the eve of Pakistan’s match against the Combined Universities when the teams met for the final matches of the second round. Austria surprised Germany 3-2 with the help of an own goal, while the Dutch moved into the final with a 2-1 win over Italy. Ernie Brandts of the Netherlands strangely scored for both the teams.


With their match controversially starting one hour after the other matches, Argentina knew the final scoreline between Brazil and Poland by the time the second half started. Leading 2-0, they needed two more goals to go into the title round and managed to score four more. It led to all the controversies and allegations already stated.


Three days later Brazil beat Italy to take the third place after a remarkable equaliser from Nelinho. Coach Claudio Coutinho remarked that the team was the moral champions, not losing a single match in the tournament.


There was no cricket on view as Argentina met Netherlands in the final. The match got off to a delayed and controversial start as the hosts took their time to take the field. According to the Dutch players, offsides and blatant hand balls were ignored as Argentine players ran up the flanks.


Mario Kempes scored for the hosts and Argentina clung to the lead before Dick Nanninga equalised in the late stages. In the extra time a Rob Rensenbrink volley thundered back from the post before Kempes scored again. Five minutes from close, Daniel Bertoni netted one more to make it 3-1. Demoralised by the controversies and bad refereeing the Netherlands players refused to attend the post-match ceremonies after the match ended.


1982, Spain


The tournament started with an upset as Belgium defeated defending champions Argentina by a solitary goal at Barcelona. It was the rest day of the Lord’s Test as India struggled in the second innings after following on 305 runs behind.


The following day, Dilip Vengsarkar blazed away at Lord’s, scoring 157 runs of class and arrogance against Ian Botham and Bob Willis. After he was dismissed, Kapil Dev launched into the bowling, plundering 89 runs off just 55 balls. All this left England just 65 to win, but Kapil followed up his heroics with the bat to capture three wickets by the close of play, the runs on the board just 23. Following the engrossing day, Brazil came back from being a goal down to beat Russia through two late strikes, while Italy were held goalless by Poland.


The following morning Allan Lamb and David Gower ensured the English victory with no further hiccups. The evening witnessed a splurge of goals as Scotland beat New Zealand 5-2 in Group 6 while Hungary pummelled El Salvador 10-1 in Group 3.


The next day England beat arch rivals France by three goals to one.


By the time India played the second Test at Manchester, the standings of all the groups were more or less finalised. After Ian Botham had slammed a hundred to lift England from 161 for five to realms of serious respectability, England beat Kuwait in their final group match to finish ahead of France.


The second round started on the day after Sandeep Patil had hammered Bob Willis for 24 runs in an over. In the matches played in curious groups of three, Poland, Italy and France got off to good starts while West Germany and England played out a cautious goalless draw.


As the game between the Indians and Essex drifted to a meaningless draw, the most crucial match of the second round got underway at Estadio de Sarrià, Barcelona. It proved to be one of the greatest soccer games ever played.


In a showdown for a spot in the semi-final, Brazil’s attacking line of Zico, Socrates and Falcao were put against the Italian mid-fielders and defenders. Paolo Rossi, the striker who had not scored in the tournament, headed in Antonio Cabrini’s cross in the fifth minute. Barely seven minutes later, Socrates equalised. Rossi struck again in the 25th minute, latching on to a pass and stepping past Junior. They held the lead for 43 minutes before Falcao volleyed in a pass from Junior to make it 2-2. A draw would take Brazil through to the final. However, six minutes later, a corner kick dipped threateningly in front of the Brazilian goal and the feeble clearance resulted in the ball between Rossi and Francesco Graziani on top of the six yard box. Both attempted the shot, Rossi connected and got his hat-trick, and Italy were through. It is still known as A tragedio do Sarrià in Brazil.


There was tragedy for the Englishmen as well. Later that evening, Spain held them to a goalless draw and West Germany went through to the semis.


Allan Lamb and Ian Botham plundered the Indian attack on the first day of the final Test at The Oval. Towards the dying stages of the day the match between Italy and Poland kicked off. Rossi made it five in a row as he netted twice in Italy’s 2-0 victory.


The real drama came later that evening. West Germany and France remained locked at 1-1 after 90 minutes, a superb contest marred by the broken jaw rendered to Patrick Battiston by the West German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher. Eight minutes into the extra time, the French went ahead by two goals. At 3-1 the match looked all but over. But, the just fielded substitute Karl-Heinz Rumennigge scored from a near impossible angle in the 104th minute and Klaus Fischer equalised with an opportunistic bicycle kick four minutes later. The first ever penalty shootout in a World Cup match remained locked 4-4 after the initial five kicks, and West Germany won on the first strike on sudden death.


The enthralling drama perhaps spurred on Ian Botham who completed his only double century in Test cricket the following day. Half centuries by Ravi Shastri, Sandeep Patil and Gundappa Viswanath took India to 284 for five on the third day. That evening, in the third place play off, France shot ahead early in the match but lost 3-2 to Poland.


As the teams rested before playing out a draw at The Oval, Italy met West Germany in the final at Madrid. Italy missed a penalty in the first half and the match remained goalless till the 58th minute when Paolo Rossi headed home from a bouncing cross from defender Claudio Gentile. As West Germany went all out to equalise, the Italian forwards scored twice more. Paul Breitner managed to reduce the deficit, but Italy triumphed 3-1.


Mexico, 1986


It was the year of Diego Maradona. A supremely talented 21-year-old in the 1982 Cup, he had matured into the best player of the world in the intervening four years.


And once again it was an India-England series played out in the Ole Blighty.


The tournament kicked off on May 31, with defending champion Italy held to a 1-1 draw by Bulgaria. Earlier that day, India had enjoyed some good batting practice against Northamptonshire. The day the tour match ended, Maradona dazzled all as Argentina beat South Korea 3-1.


Graham Gooch scored a sedate century in the first Test match at Lord’s as England ended in a decent position at the end of the first day. That evening, Maradona scored for the first time in the tournament in Argentina’s 1-1 draw against Italy.


As the first round matches went forward, Lord’s turned into a sorry tale for England. Chetan Sharma rocked the batting on the second morning, and Dilip Vengsarkar scored his third straight hundred on the ground as India proceeded to a five wicket win. In football, however, the English fortunes were rather mixed. Captain Bryan Robson was injured in the second match, and he missed the remainder of the tournament. Vice-captain Ray Wilkins was shown a red card in what proved to be the last international match of his career. However, as goalkeeper Peter Shilton took over the captaincy, Gary Linekar netted a hat-trick against Poland to take them to the second round.


As India played Leicestershire, the Cup moved along the pre-quarter finals. Brazil trounced Poland 4-0, while Denmark shot into lead only to lose 5-1 to Spain. Belgium and Soviet Union went into extra time at 2-2 before the former scored twice more to win 4-3. Michel Platini engineered France’s 2-0 triumph over Italy, while Argentina overcame a disallowed Maradona goal to pip Uruguay 1-0. West Germany overcame a stubborn Morocco and England rode a Linekar brace to win 3-0 against Paraguay. At Estadio Azteca, Manuel Negrete scored from a spectacular scissor kick in Mexico’s 2-0 victory over Bulgaria, which lives on in the stadium in a remembrance plaque.


On June 21, Vengsarkar overcame near unplayable conditions to score an unbeaten 102 — one of the best innings ever seen at Headingley. This was after his 61 in the first innings, while the next highest in the entire match was 36. That same evening, Brazil and France battled 120 minutes for a 1-1 score line after which the European nation triumphed in the penalty shootout. The heartbreak for the Brazilians could have been avoided if Zico had converted the penalty in the second half. Bad luck dogged the team as Bruno Bellone’s shot struck the bar and zoomed back into the back of the sprawling Brazilian goalie Carlos before going back into the net.


Two other quarter-finals were also decided on penalties. Belgium beating Spain and  West Germany scoring over Mexico.As England tarried on 96 for six in the second innings on the rest day, waiting for the inevitable, their football team was about to be run over by a surge of genius and injustice. Maradona punched the ball past Shilton to put Argentina ahead with his Hand of God goal. This was soon followed by the “Goal of the Century”. The champion dribbled past five English players and half the field before putting his side 2-0 up. Lineker scored his routine goal, but the Latin American side triumphed 2-1. In Argentina it was celebrated as payback for the Falkland War.


The next day, India completed the massive win at Leeds.


There was no cricket in view the day West Germany overcame France 2-0 to reach the final. In the other semi-final, Maradona magic continued as he struck twice in the second half as Argentina defeated Belgium 2-0.


The day the Indians took on Somerset at Taunton, France and Belgium remained locked 2-2 after full time before France scored twice more in the extra time to clinch the third position.


The following day, Gavaskar, not really a success in the tour, now put his old county side to sword as he batted in the middle order and scored 136. The match was petering into a stalemate.


However, it was diametrically opposite in Mexico City that afternoon. Jose Brown headed in a free kick to put Argentina ahead in the first half. Jorge Valdano scored in the 55th minute to make it 2-0. However, West Germany used their height advantage to splendid effect as Rummenigge reduced the deficit in the 74th minute and Rudi Völler equalised six minutes later. Extra time seemed on the cards when Maradona put forward a through pass and Jorge Burruchaga bombed away to score the winner.


1990, Italy


By the time the Indian team reached England, most of the preliminary round action was already over.


Cameroon had already upset Argentina in the opener, the world had witnessed Roger Milla’s curious dance at the corner flag. The world had already witnessed Carlos Valderamma’s genius and the incredibly audacious tactics of Rene Higuita which backfired in that terrible way against Cameroon in the round of 16. Millions had also witnessed the flair of Claudio Caniggia as he had netted Argentia’s match-winner against Brazil, the pass yet again advanced by old Maradona. They had also revelled in the brilliance of Sergio Goycochea the Argentine goalie. The Argentine triumph was splashed with plenty of controversy, and it is now known that Brazilian mid-fielder Branco was offered water spiked with tranquilizers by Maradona during the break.


It was also one of the most defensive World Cups ever.


India took on Yorkshire and Sanjay Manjrekar notched up an unbeaten 158. That day Argentina rode the acrobatics of Goycochea to beat Yugoslavia in the penalties – although Maradona himself missed his shot. Later that evening, Italy scored through Salvatore Schilacci to go past Republic of Ireland.


A rain interrupted day at Leeds allowed just 24 overs on the second day of India’s match against Yorkshire. Martyn Moxon and Ashley Metcalfe added 88 without being separated. Lower down the continent, West German captain Lothar Matthaus converted a penalty to score the only goal of the match against Czechoslovakia.


The most interesting quarter-final match was between England and Cameroon, the only game in this round which produced more than one goal, although three of the five came off penalties. David Platt put England ahead in the 25th minute. Milla was brought on at half time, earlier than usual, and by the 65th minute Cameroon had taken the lead. It was in the 82nd minute that England equalised as Linekar converted a penalty. Just about halfway through extra time, there was another spot kick awarded to England and Linekar converted yet again to clinch the match.


There was no cricket on the day of the first semi-final between Italy and Argentina. Schilacci scored early and till the 67th minute of the second half, goal keeper Walter Zenga had maintained his clean sheet of not conceding a goal in the Cup. However, now Caniggia netted the equaliser and it seemed a dam had been broken. Zenga conceded four more in the penalty shootout. The score remained 1-1 till the end of extra-time in spite of the Latin American side playing with ten men for the last 17 minutes. In the tie breaker Argentina netted all four while Goycochea saved two.


The next day was India’s match against Hampshire but no play was possible due to rain. In Turin, the second semi final followed a similar path. Andreas Brehme put West Germany ahead through a lucky deflection with half an hour to go. With ten minutes remaining the old reliable Linekar equalised. The teams remained locked at 1-1 at the end of the extra time. West Germany won the tie-breaker 4-3.


At Canterbury, Kent hammered a toothless Indian attack to score 257 for two. That day, Italy pipped England 2-1 in the third place play off, the decider characteristically scored from a penalty.


On the second day of the game against Kent, India tried a new opening combination of Kiran More and Sachin Tendulkar. The young master delighted the crowd with a crisp 92 as India declared at 234 for five.


That evening, at Rome, the final between West Germany and Argentina turned out to be perhaps the worst in quality of all World Cup title rounds.


With hardly any creative move, and frayed tempers dogging the players, the match was effectively killed with Pedro Monzon sent off after a foul on Jürgen Klinsmann in the 65th minute. He became the first player ever to be sent off in a World Cup Final. The game became a grim Argentine battle for survival, as they banked on the Goyecochea brilliance to take them to the title via tie breaker. Yet, the Germans could not create many opportunities. The contest ended when Mexican referee Edgardo Codestal awarded a penalty to the West Germans after a supposed foul on Rudi Völler by Roberto Sensini. The spot kick was converted by Brehme in spite of Goyecochea’s anticipation, but he later said that there was no foul. Another red card led Argentina to limp through the last few minutes with nine men.


The 1-0 score line was symbolic of a thoroughly disappointing tournament, with Argentina becoming the first team to fail to score in a World Cup Final.


Cricketing history during football’s showpiece event — Part 1 of 4


Cricketing history during football’s showpiece event — Part 2 of 4


(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at