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Mundial: An alternative history of the Football World Cup

A surprise to me that Italy were unable to win on home turf - presumably not having the second group stage ends up penalising them to some extent. I would have fancied a stifling England team to overcome Poland too, but a tight 1-0 seems right. I wonder who'll be manager come 1986. I noticed that all the players mentioned in the post were West Germans. I suppose this is helped by the relative population density and wealth of the west versus the east even before the Cold War. Surely a space for Wolf-Rüdiger Netz somewhere?

PS, you say of group D that "all three European teams finished on four points", but one of these is Algeria.
Yeah I made an initial error when doing qualification which added an extra European team at the expense of an African one despite Africa/Asia having three slots each, which I thought I had fully updated but must've missed!

Regarding, Germany, this is largely due to Hamburg, Cologne and Bayern providing the bulk of the domestic squad though there are a smattering of players from the east in the squad including Lothar Kurbjuweit. Matthias Liebers and Ronald Kreer. Eastern teams tend to be more successful in Germany's cups than the league though Dresden and Leipzig both remain top-flight mainstays.

Italy here are unlucky, as the game at Brazil pretty much hinges on the final ten minutes of extra-time, and if it had gone to penalties they would've backed themselves to win and probably could've beaten Germany in the final.

1982 ITTL is somewhat similar to 1978 in that the more functional side wins the tournament - Germany's record IOTL during this period is ridiculous (three finals, a European championship victory and semi-final slot during the 1980s) so this decade can be seen as really cementing the tournament mentality.

As for England, reaching the quarter-finals after their failure to qualify four years earlier is viewed as a qualified success - Revie, for all his flaws, is a highly meticulous manager, so they're as well-prepared as they could be, and with Nicholson as Technical Director the FA is in a better place than it was with the idiocy of Charles Hughes and POMO thinking. As for Revie he steps down and manages overseas for the remainder of the decade, including at the next tournament, though not for a European side.

As for England's next manager there's a wealth of options - Dave Sexton who had won three cups with Chelsea and led QPR to a surprise league title in 1976, Ron Saunders who had led Aston Villa to the First Division and FA Cup, Brian Clough who had won the league twice each with Derby County and Nottingham Forest as well as the European Cup with the latter, Bobby Robson who had moulded Ipswich into a regular top six side on a shoestring and Ron Atkinson who had established West Brom as a competitor. England's earlier adoption of coaching training and compulsory education means that their ranks are better even if the results are fairly true to form. British club sides are still big competitors in Europe, though hooliganism is a growing issue across then continent, as mentioned above, which is theoretically good for the national sides, though the amount of games played hampers England in particular.

As a teaser for the next update, 1986 is returning to the Americas, and is the most commercial tournament yet, much to the chagrin of the sporting purists.
Anyway to give an overall update on champions/runners up and hosts so far:

Overall tournament record:

YearWinnerRunner-upThird placeFourth placeHost
1930Uruguay (I)Argentina (I)Yugoslavia (I)United States (I)Uruguay
1934Italy (I)Argentina (II)Czechoslovakia (I)Uruguay (I)Italy
1938Italy (II)Germany (I)Brazil (I)Sweden (I)Germany
1950Uruguay (II)Brazil (I)Argentina (I)Sweden (II)Brazil
1954Uruguay (III)Hungary (I)Germany (I)Brazil (I)France
1958Brazil (I)France (I)Soviet Union (I)England (I)Mexico
1962Germany (I)Soviet Union (I)Brazil (II)Hungary (I)Germany
1966England (I)Portugal (I)Germany (II)Uruguay (II)England
1970Brazil (II)Argentina (III)Italy (I)Germany (I)Argentina
1974Netherlands (I)Argentina (IV)Poland (I)Germany (II)Spain
1978Argentina (I)Brazil (II)France (I)Italy (I)Iran
1982Germany (II)Brazil (III)Italy (II)Poland (I)Italy
I imagine that this 1982 tournament will, similar to our timeline's, see FIFA seek to protect skilled players, and that it will again benefit Maradona and as a result Argentina.
1986 - The Final Frontier
1986 – United States

Host selection and background

1986 marked the first time FIFA had actively decided on hosting criteria based on growing the game, though the credulous could argue that Iran’s hosting in 1978 marked a new frontier. In the end the decision came down to three countries – the United States, Mexico or Colombia after both Japan and South Africa withdrew from bidding.[1] A change of government in Colombia saw them withdraw due to a balance of payments crisis[2] while following an agreement between Mexico and the United States, the Mexican bid was withdrawn in exchange for American support for a future Mexican bid, leaving FIFA’s executive committee with a fait accompli, much to the delight of the body’s commercial arm. Similarly to the Italian experience of 1982, the American bid required little in the way of stadium construction, though preparations were required to transform stadiums built for American specific sports into soccer hubs.

While the infrastructure was in place, the awarding of host cities and venues was a torturous process, with twelve eventually winning out: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Seattle, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Tampa and Washington D.C., with some controversy over the choice of Atlanta over Detroit, with Detroit’s ASL team Detroit Union, consistently one of the best supported in the American Soccer League. While never confirmed explicitly, Atlanta’s selection was long suspected to be due to the financial heft of Atlanta Falcons owner Rankin Smith, though it should be noted at the Atlanta Chiefs were a huge driver of soccer popularity within the city and broader region.

Held in the backdrop of a thaw in relations between the U.S. and Soviets, with both superpowers in a period of broader domestic focus, as the U.S. switched back to the Democrats in 1980 under the president of Mo Udall, who was broadly in favour of de-escalation of tensions (something he shared with his immediate predecessor George Romney) with the Cold War (in Europe at least) entering a period of general calm, following a series of strategic weapon limitation treaties signed by the Americans and Soviets in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Outside of the geopolitical situation, USA ’86 offered several intriguing sporting opportunities – soccer, long established within the United States, but enjoying a period of stability following a period of retrenchment as the late 1970’s economic stagnation hit the sport, was becoming big news again, as the American and Canadian Soccer Leagues continued to sign marquee players, though not at the rate of the early to late 1970s. Despite the growing popularity of the sport, the US national side, was something of an international minnow, having not qualified for the World Cup since 1950, and having a generally poor record at the North American Championship. Funded through a partnership with sportswear behemoth Nike, the United States Soccer Federation, funded widespread investment in youth and college sport programmes, while the United States World Cup Hosting Committee (USWCHC) secured several high-profile American sponsors for the tournament, building on FIFA’s previous relationship with American companies such as Coca-Cola, with the 1986 tournament having the highest number of commercial partnerships to date.

Perhaps more of a coup, largely due to Nike’s funding of a highly generous salary, saw former England coach Don Revie appointed head coach of the American side in 1984, following two seasons in charge of the New York Blues following his resignation from the England job after the 1982 tournament. Notoriously meticulous, “Dossier Don”, assisted by former American international Bob Gansler, set about overhauling the national structure, leading the United States to their best finish at the Olympics since 1956, finishing fourth, and encouraging his players to take opportunities to ply their trade abroad, with younger players such as Paul Caliguiri and John Stollmeyer both moving to the German league as a result, while at Revie’s recommendation, teenager John Doyle would join his former club Birmingham City.[3] As part of strengthening of the squad, Revie would also tap into diasporas, both within the United States and overseas,

The excitement around hosting the finals, with even the more blinkered American commentators vaguely aware that the World Cup was as followed as the Olympics, saw the American networks expand their coverage of the sport, with ABC in particular targeting BBC & ITV sport correspondents as part of their coverage, giving American soccer a distinctly British tinge in coverage. This, coupled with Revie’s dour Yorkshireman persona, was noted across the pond, as the Football Association strengthened ties with its American counterpart. In contrast to the backdrop of hooliganism which had tinged Italia ’82, the American tournament was largely expected to pass off peacefully, due in part to the expense involved for fans travelling to the tournament, and the more relaxed atmosphere at soccer games within the country.[4]

1986 saw the format introduced in 1982 retained, with groups largely split geographically, though the vastness of the United States, television demands and summer temperatures would cause issues for teams, though these were not new complaints as television coverage became an increasingly crucial resource for FIFA and the respective host nations.


The United States and Germany qualified automatically, leaving twenty-two slots to be decided, with twelve for Europe, three each for Africa and Asia-Pacific and the remaining four for the Americas. In contrast to 1982, there were some surprises, not least in Europe, as Poland who had twice made the semi-finals in the last three tournaments failed to qualify, as Northern Ireland, thanks largely to two veterans in Pat Jennings and George Best, surprised them in Belfast to reach the finals for the first time in twenty years.

Elsewhere in Europe, a talented Portuguese side returned to the finals for the first time since finishing runners-up in 1966, while Denmark qualified for the first time, after finishing ahead of Yugoslavia. The rest of the European spots were taken by the usual names, as France, Italy, Spain and the Soviets all qualified comfortably – only England of the traditional powers appeared to be heading towards failure, before a hat-trick from Everton’s Gary Lineker saw them see off Bulgaria to make the finals and save Dave Sexton’s job. Scotland, who had struggled after Jock Stein had stood down in 1984 due to health reasons, added to the British contingent by seeing off Czechoslovakia to qualify for a fourth straight appearance at the tournament under Hearts manager Alex MacDonald who had won the double with Hearts in 1986, taking over after caretaker Alex Ferguson announced he didn’t want to be considered for the job permanently.[5]

Outside of Europe, Africa’s qualification saw three North African sides qualify as Tunisia joined Algeria and Morocco in reaching the finals, with the Tunisians qualifying for the first time thanks to South Africa failing to hold onto a lead in Accra, while Algeria saw off Cameroon to reach the finals for a second consecutive tournament. The poor performance of Nigeria, who had won the 1984 Africa Cup, also caused comment as they finished bottom of a group containing Morocco and Egypt, with the Moroccans returning to the finals after a sixteen-year absence.

In Asia, Korea made the finals for the third tournament in a row, thanks to the continued excellence of veteran Cha Bum-kun, who was still scoring for fun in the Bundesliga, while Australia qualified for the first time since 1974 after seeing off near-neighbours New Zealand and the Republic of China. Asia’s third slot was taken by Iraq, who’s military government had poured vast sums into the sport in order to compete with Iran and Kuwait whose club sides, had come to dominate regional competition. The Iraqis, had issues in the final qualifier, as the Iranians refused to issue visas for their squad to travel to Tehran – as a result, after intervention by FIFA, the qualifier was held in Doha, with the Iraqis winning 2-0 to qualify for the first time.

Finally, in the Americas Uruguay and Paraguay joined Argentina and Brazil in qualifying for the tournament with both returning after failing to qualify for several years. Here they were joined by debutantes Canada who surprised Mexico in the final round to reach the finals with a squad largely composed of players based domestically or in the Unted States, though there was a smattering of overseas experience. Mexico’s failure to qualify automatically saw them condemned to a playoff with Uruguay, with the Uruguayans brutalising their way to a 3-0 win on aggregate, after Hugo Sánchez was kicked out of the first leg in Montevideo, to see the three-times champions return to the finals for the first time since 1970.

Participating teams

  • United States (hosts)
  • Germany (holders)
  • Algeria
  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Canada (debut)
  • Denmark (debut)
  • England
  • France
  • Hungary
  • Iraq (debut)
  • Korea
  • Italy
  • Morocco
  • Northern Ireland
  • Paraguay
  • Portugal
  • Scotland
  • Spain
  • Soviet Union
  • Tunisia (debut)
  • Uruguay
The draw, held in New York on January 22 1986, saw the seeding system introduced in 1982 retained, with the United States seeded as hosts and Germany as holders. Here they were joined by Brazil, who had been runners-up in the past two tournaments, 1978 winners Argentina, and the 1978 and 1982 bronze medallists France and Italy.

Seeded teams: United States (hosts), Germany (holders), Brazil (1978/82 runners up), Italy (1982 third place), Argentina (1978 winners), France (1978 third place)


Group A: United States, Korea, Spain, Hungary

Group B: Germany, Uruguay, Belgium, Australia

Group C: Brazil, Soviet Union, Northern Ireland, Iraq

Group D: Italy, Scotland, Tunisia, Paraguay

Group E: Argentina, England, Morocco, Portugal

Group F: France, Denmark, Algeria, Canada

Tournament summary

Group A

Group A, paired hosts United States with Asian mainstays Korea and two European sides in Spain and Hungary, with the group split between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The opening round saw the Americans hold onto a late victory over Korea to give them their first victory at the finals in thirty-six years, thanks to a late goal from captain Rick Davis, who also captained local side Los Angeles Union. The game, held at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, set a new attendance record for a soccer match in the U.S. with over ninety-four thousand people in attendance. The other game, held in San Francisco, saw Spain and Hungary play out a 1-1 draw as Emilio Butragueño’s late header cancelled out Márton Esterházy’s opener, with Hungary perhaps unlucky to see Imre Garaba’s late effort cleared off the line by Rafael Gordillo.

The second round of games saw the Americans hold Hungary to a draw, as the Rose Bowl again saw a sellout crowd, with veteran goalkeeper Arnie Mausser having a superb game for the Americans, as he made a string of saves to deny Hungary and seal a 0-0 draw, as Revie’s switch to a more defensive gameplan paid off, with the Americans use of two hard-working banks of four with a lone striker, cancelling out Hungary’s generally patient possession play. In the other match, Spain improved to beat Korea 3-1, with Choi Soon-ho’s wonder goal cancelled out by a hat-trick from Julio Salinas. Choi’s goal, seeing him glide through three tackles before deftly chipping Andoni Zubizarreta, would later be cited in FIFA’s technical report as one of the goals of the tournament.[6]

The final round saw Spain ease to a 2-0 victory over the Americans, topping the group thanks to a goal apiece from Ricardo Gallego and Michel, as American organisation and hard running struggled to deal with Spain’s intensity, though the game is perhaps more remembered for an unpunished elbow on American defender Bruce Savage by Spanish centre-back Andoni Goikoetxea, which saw Savage need to leave the field on a stretcher, much to the chagrin of the American press.[7] Elsewhere, Hungary eased to a 2-1 victory over the Koreans, with Cha Bum-kun scoring his final world cup goal at the age of thirty-five after a long and glorious international career. The result ensured that Hungary finished in the top two positions, while Korea finished bottom, despite generally competitive displays.

United States311112-13

5 June United States 1-0 Korea

6 June Spain 1-1 Hungary

10 June United States 0-0 Hungary

11 June Korea 1-3 Spain

14 June Spain 2-0 United States

14 June Hungary 2-1 Korea

Group B

Group B, split between Chicago and Philadelphia paired holders Germany with Belgium, three-times champions Uruguay and Australia, both of whom were returning to the finals for the first time since the 1970s. Germany, who had replaced world cup winning manager Udo Lattek, after he had resigned from the role following Germany’s poor performance at the 1984 European Nations Cup, with long-time assistant Jupp Derwall taking over. Despite their indifferent form since winning the tournament, Germany were expected to do well due to their much vaunted tournament mentality. Uruguay, qualifying for the first time since 1970, were a physically imposing side who combined the odd moment of grace, with extreme brutality, while Belgium had a gifted generation. Only Australia, despite two English based internationals, were regarded as making up the numbers.

The opening round of fixtures saw Germany score a late equaliser to draw 1-1 with Uruguay, in a poor game marked more by displays of thuggery than any real skill, with both goals coming from defensive errors, as Klaus Allofs capitalised on a mistake from Victor Diogo to smash home past the despairing reach of Fernando Álvez in the ninetieth minute, while Uruguay had looked to held on following a surprise opener from Jorge da Silva following Harald Schumacher’s misjudged attempt to claim a corner. The other game, played between Belgium and Australia in Philadelphia, saw the Belgians ease to a 1-0 win over Australia thanks to a goal from Enzo Scifo, though Australia were unlucky to see Craig Johnston’s late effort bounce off the crossbar.

The second round saw Belgium catch a sub-par Germany cold with goals from François Vercauteren and Erwin Vandenbergh seeing them ease to a 2-0 victory, avenging their defeats to Germany in both the 1980 and 1984 European Nations Cup. The result, only Germany’s second defeat in the World Cup first round since 1958, drew widespread criticism across the country, with the team’s poor performance even drawing comment during a parliamentary debate between Social Democratic Chancellor Hans-Jochen Vogel and Christian Democratic opposition leader Franz-Josef Strauss. The backlash, led Derwall to refuse to give interviews to the German media for the duration of the tournament sending either his assistant Bernd Stange or team manager and former international Anton Beckenbauer in his place, much to the chagrin of German sports journalists.[8] Elsewhere, Uruguay saw off Australia 2-1, in a game remembered for one of the fastest sending offs in tournament history as José Batista was dismissed after fifty-six seconds for a scything challenge on Craig Johnston. Despite the man disadvantage, the Uruguayans greater experience, and in the form of Enzo Francescoli, a superbly gifted playmaker, told as Tony Dorigo’s opener, a half-volley from the edge of the area was cancelled out by two Francescoli goals, including a beautifully deft finish beyond the reach of Terry Greedy in the Australian goal.

The final round of fixtures saw the Germans improve to beat Australia 2-0, thanks to a goal apiece from Rudi Völler and substitute Ulf Kirsten, though Australia were unlucky to see John Kosmina’s goal ruled out for offside, after he appeared level on replays. Despite finishing bottom of the group for the third time, the Australians returned home with a measure of pride, having not been outclassed in any of their matches, in contrast to the cricket team who had experienced the misery of being flayed in the Ashes. In Philadelphia, Belgium eased past Uruguay 2-1 to top the group for a second successive finals, leaving the Germans and Uruguay level on points.


6 June Germany 1-1 Uruguay

7 June Belgium 1-0 Australia

11 June Belgium 2-0 Germany

12 June Australia 1-2 Uruguay

15 June Germany 2-0 Australia

15 June Uruguay 1-2 Belgium

Group C

Group C paired two-time winners Brazil with the Soviets and Northern Ireland, the latter of whom were returning to the finals after a twenty-year absence[9], and Asian debutantes Iraq. Split between Atlanta and Miami, the group was largely viewed as a straight fight for top between Brazil and the Soviets, who had a strong record against Latin American opposition.

The opening round of games saw Brazil ease to a 1-0 victory over the Soviets in Miami, a game which saw the largely partisan crowd cheer on Brazil, though their were pockets of Cuban leftist exiles who cheered on their former comrades. The game, played in intense humidity was won thanks to a scrappy goal, with Antônio Careca’s scuffed finish seeing the ball squeeze under the dive of Rinat Dasayev. Brazil, in contrast to the more freewheeling side of 1982, were more direct but still contained that technical skill, with their midfield’s interplay causing the equally technically gifted Soviets difficulties.

In the other game, played in Atlanta, Northern Ireland eased to a 2-1 victory over the Iraqis, thanks to goals from Norman Whiteside and Martin Keown, the latter of whom was winning only his fourth cap after declaring allegiance for the land of his father’s birthplace.[10] The game, like the earlier fixture in Miami was marred by the heat and humidity, though the Northern Irish found themselves a surprise goal behind after Basil Gorgis hit a piledriver of a volley beyond the despairing reach of Jennings to give Iraq their first ever World Cup goal. With a shock on the cards, Iraq would be twice undone by corners, as Northern Ireland’s physicality, largely unpunished by the Egyptian referee paid off. The game, outside of Iraq’s first goal, was also notable for a series of protests by the small Iraqi exile community against the Iraqi government’s execution of several prominent intellectuals in a clampdown by the military government on the eve of the tournament.

The second round of games saw Brazil ease to a 4-1 victory over the Northern Irish, who found themselves, through fair means or foul, unable to deal with Brazil’s floating midfield, which was largely comprised of the same personnel as 1982. The game, played in Miami, saw Northern Ireland take the lead against the run of play thanks to Colin Clarke, who in scoring, became the first Bournemouth player to score at World Cup finals.[11] Despite the shock of the early lead, coming in part from a mistake from captain Edino Nazareth, Brazil soon regained control and passed their way through the Northern Irish midfield, with only a late challenge from Keown preventing a Careca equaliser. In the second half, Brazil’s greater quality told, and they scored four unanswered goals in the second half, with substitute Josimar’s in particular, one of real quality, to give them two wins from two. In Atlanta, the Soviets, aided by a slightly wayward pitch, saw off Iraq 2-0 with goals from Oleh Protasov and Igor Belanov proving too much for the Iraqis. The Soviets, coached by former Dynamo Kyiv supremo Valeriy Lobanovskyi, played in a similar if slightly looser style to the Dynamo side, with their attacking play in particular, drawing a lot of praise from the attending press.[12]

The final round saw the Soviets ease to a 2-0 victory over the Northern Irish to secure second spot in the group. In a game mostly notable for its slow tempo, played as it was in very high summer heat, both goals came from Dynamo Kyiv team-mates as Belanov and Vasyl Rats scored either side of half-time to give Miami a Ukrainian flavour. Northern Ireland, who had pulled off several upsets under the reign of former international Billy Bingham, had failed to set the tournament alight, but with younger players coming through could at least look forward to continuing to bloody the nose of their neighbours in the Home Nations Championship. In Atlanta, Iraq proved no match for Brazil, as the Brazilians eased to a 5-0 win, thanks to a hat-trick from Antônio Careca and a goal apiece from Ricardo Alemão and Júlio César. Despite the scoreline, Iraq initially began strongly, with their strike-pairing of Hussein Saeed and Ahmed Radhi causing Brazil’s defence problems in the early phases, before Brazil’s midfield quality proved the real difference.

Soviet Union32014104
Northern Ireland310236-32

7 June Brazil 1-0 Soviet Union

8 June Northern Ireland 2-1 Iraq

11 June Northern Ireland 1-4 Brazil

12 June Soviet Union 2-0 Iraq

15 June Soviet Union 2-0 Northern Ireland

15 June Brazil 5-0 Iraq

Group D

Group D paired European sides Italy and Scotland with African debutantes Tunisia and Paraguay, who were returning to the finals after a long absence. Group D was split between New York and Boston, with large crowds expected for the Italian games due to the large Italian-American community in the region.

The opening match, between Italy and Paraguay was 0-0 draw largely marked by widespread gamesmanship, tactical fouling and sporadic on-field spats. Perhaps the most notable moment of skill came from Julio César Romero, who had spent three highly successful years with the New York Blues before moving to Brazil, who broke through the Italian defence only to see his shot draw a fine save from Giovanni Galli. The game itself would peter out into a bore-draw, though not before Paolo Rossi exited the field after being punched in the stomach by Jorge Gausch, which was missed by the referee, but not the TV cameras. In Boston, Scotland, after much huffing and puffing eased to a 1-0 victory over Tunisia thanks to a goal from Gordon Strachan. Similarly to the game in New York between the Italians and Paraguay, the game was noted for its overtly physical nature, including a vicious unpunished foul on Mohamed Ben Moussa by the combative (if technically brilliant) Scottish captain Graeme Souness. His lack of even a caution from the Danish referee, brought further fuel to the long running fire that was complaints about pro-European bias in refereeing at the finals.

In the second round of games, Paraguay eased to a 2-0 win over Tunisia thanks to a brace from New York Blues striker Roberto Cabañas. The game, played in New York, saw Paraguay earn their first victory at the finals since 1950, drawing much cheer in a country enduring the final years of the decrepit Stroessner regime. Tunisian protests were again lodged following a contentious decision, after an equaliser from Mohamed Ben Moussa was ruled out for a tight offside, though in contrast to the Souness foul in the previous game, there were at least mitigating circumstances. Elsewhere, in Boston, Scotland and Italy drew 1-1, as Steve Archibald cancelled out Alessandro Altobelli’s opener. In contrast to the controversy that had enveloped both opening matches, the game largely passed by without incident, though there was a nasty, if accidental clash of heads, between Giuseppe Bergomi and Paul Sturrock, which ruled the former out of the tournament.

In the final round of games, Italy beat Tunisia 3-1 thanks to goals from Paolo Rossi and Carlo Ancelotti which cancelled out Tunisia’s surprise opener from Tarak Dhiab, who had previously scored against Italy in the 1976 Olympics. The game, played in New York, saw a record attendance set for a football match in New York, much to the joy of the World Cup Organising Committee. In Boston, Scotland and Paraguay played out a bad-tempered 0-0 draw, largely remembered for a mass brawl following Vladimiro Schettina’s kick-out on Paul McStay, after McStay’s poor tackle, the result of which saw both players sent off.


6 June Italy 0-0 Paraguay

7 June Scotland 1-0 Tunisia

10 June Paraguay 2-0 Tunisia

11 June Italy 1-1 Scotland

14 June Tunisia 1-3 Italy

14 June Scotland 0-0 Paraguay

Group E

Group E paired two former winners in Argentina and England, with 1966 runners-up Portugal, who were returning to the finals for the first time in twenty years, and perennial African representatives Morocco. The group, split between Washington D.C. and Tampa, saw the latter venue criticised by both England manager Dave Sexton and Portugal manager Júlio Cernadas Pereira, for the state of the pitch, while Tampa’s high summer heat also drew criticism. In contrast, the Argentina coach Roberto Saporiti praised the facilities repeatedly in interviews, as Argentina based themselves at Tampa’s facilities.[13]

The opening game between England and Argentina, played out in the aftermath of improving relations following the collapse of the junta in 1984, ended in a 1-1 draw after Gary Lineker cancelled out Jorge Valdano’s late opener, in a game later described by The Guardian’s David Lacey as a Battle of the Poachers. The game, in contrast to a highly entertaining friendly played between the two sides the year before, was not a contest high on quality, though the high humidity and poor pitch largely hampered things, as both sides resorted to longer balls forward. Elsewhere, Morocco surprised Portugal 3-1 thanks to a brace from Abderrazak Khairi, with Carlos Manuel scoring a late consolation for Portugal.

In the second round of games, England eased to a 1-0 victory over Portugal, thanks to a controversial late goal from Mark Hateley, after Portuguese goalkeeper Vítor Damas claimed he was impeded by Terry Fenwick at a corner. Despite the vigorous Portuguese protests, which saw a clash between Sexton and Cernadas Pereira on the touchline, involving a particularly unsavoury shouting and shoving match between Sexton’s assistant Jimmy Greenhoff and members of the Portuguese bench, the goal was allowed to stand, giving England a first win over Portugal in four attempts. Elsewhere, in Miami, Argentina eased to a 2-0 win over a stubborn Morocco, involving a particularly exquisite piece of skill from Diego Maradona, who deftly chipped a pass over the Moroccan defence for Valdano, who’s knockdown he blasted into the net. In contrast to the controversy in the England-Portugal game, the match was largely incident free, though there were enough hard tackles that the lack of cautions was perhaps a surprise.

In the final round of games, England and Morocco drew 0-0 in a game of stultifying dullness which saw England finish the group stage unbeaten. Played in the high heat of a Tampa afternoon, the game devolved largely into sterile sluggishness as England lacked the invention to break down a massed defence and Morocco offered nothing going forward. In Washington, at the D.C. Stadium, Argentina and Portugal drew 1-1 as Paulo Futre’s late equaliser cancelled out Maradona’s opener. The game, marked a sad end to Portugal’s troubled campaign, which had seen a brief players strike and a collapse in relations between the squad and the Portuguese federation, and signified how far the Portuguese national team had fallen since their superb debut in 1966.[14]


8 June Argentina 1-1 England

9 June Portugal 1-3 Morocco

11 June England 1-0 Portugal

12 June Argentina 2-0 Morocco

16 June Morocco 0-0 England

16 June Portugal 1-1 Argentina

Group F

The final group, improbably split between Dallas and Seattle, paired neutrals favourite France with former colonial possession Algeria and debutantes Denmark and Canada, both of whom were enjoying the fruits of gifted generations. France, who had been one of the standout sides of 1982, despite their quarter-final exit, had followed up Olympic Gold in 1984 with an unbeaten run in qualifying, but having been heavily fancied at the 1984 European Nations Cup, had been surprised in the semi-finals by Denmark and finished third. USA ‘86’s group stage at least offered them the chance of revenge. The Danes, coached by former German international Jupp Heynckes, played in a high-tempo attacking style, had been surprise runners-up in the 1984 European Nations Cup, and had carried that form into qualifying, and were viewed by some as dark horses. Algeria, who had reached the last-sixteen four years earlier, were an aging team while Canada, who’s squad was largely based in North America had a smattering of overseas quality, but were largely expected to make up the numbers.

The opening round of games saw Denmark ease to a 1-0 win over Algeria in Dallas, as Preben Elkjær darted home to blast past Nasser Drid in the Algerian goal. The game, played as many were, in high heat, was not particularly high in tempo, and Algeria’s more defensive game, with Notts County’s English born forward Peter Harkouk used as a focal point battering ram.[15] Despite the slow tempo, Denmark caught the imagination, thanks to their glorious kit and attacking play and were soon being described in the press as possible contenders for the latter stages of the tournament. Elsewhere, in Seattle, France eased to a 2-0 win over the Canadians in front of a partisan crowd. Canada’s defence, martialled by former Reading defender and Canadian captain Bob Lenarduzzi, stoutly defended wave after wave of French attacking interplay, before two moments of quality, from Jean Tigana and Michel Platini told, to give the French an opening win.

The second round of matches saw the best game of the round, as France equalised late at the death to secure a 4-4 draw with the Danes in the Pacific northwest. The game, aided perhaps by Seattle being the coolest venue at the tournament, was played at a frenetic pace as both sides took and lost the lead in a display of what some wags would term heavy metal football. The game, which saw Platini face off against the young pretender Michael Laudrup, saw Elkjær score a ten-minute hat-trick after half-time in a display of ferocious hitting, the last of which seeing ITV’s Brian Moore declare that “he had hit it like he wanted to murder it.” In contrast to the explosiveness of Denmark’s attack, France’s goals came from unlikely sources as defenders Manuel Amoros and Maxime Bossis both scored, before the much-maligned Daniel Xuereb scored a brace in the final five minutes to secure the draw.[16] In Dallas, Algeria and Canada played out a 1-1 draw, as Harkouk cancelled out Igor Vrablic’s surprise opener. In contrast to the high octane affair played out in Seattle, the game was a largely drab affair not helped by the poor quality of the pitch.

In the final round of games, Algeria drew 0-0 with France, in the first meeting between the sides since Algeria gained independence from France after a long bloody war of independence. Despite the scoreline, there were flashes of brilliance, but with Platini and France’s “magic square” midfield increasingly marked out of the game, and Algeria offering very little in goal threat, a goalless draw was always likely. In Seattle, Denmark eased to a 3-1 win over Canada to top the group as Søren Lerby and Jesper Olsen took the game beyond the Canadians, who despite finishing bottom of the group, could return to the Great White North with a measure of pride.


7 June Denmark 1-0 Algeria

8 June France 2-0 Canada

11 June France 4-4 Denmark

12 June Canada 1-1 Algeria

16 June Algeria 0-0 France

16 June Denmark 3-1 Canada

Ranking of third placed teams

AUnited States311112-13
CNorthern Ireland310236-32

Following the conclusion of the group stage, the second round was drawn on 18 June in New York. Similar to the system used in Italy four years prior. The draw was as follows:

Match 1: A1 vs. D3: Spain vs. Scotland (Chicago)

Match 2: B2 vs. F2: Uruguay vs. France (Washington)

Match 3: F1 vs. E2: Denmark vs. England (Boston)

Match 4: B1 vs. A3: Belgium vs. United States (Los Angeles)

Match 5: E1 vs. D2: Argentina vs. Paraguay (New York)

Match 6: C1 vs. E3: Brazil vs. Morocco (San Francisco)

Match 7: D1 vs. B3: Italy vs. Germany (Philadelphia)

Match 8: A2 vs. C2: Hungary vs. Soviet Union (Miami)

Round of Sixteen

The opening game paired Spain with Scotland, the latter qualifying for the knockout stages for the first time in seven attempts. Played at Chicago’s Soldier Field, the game saw Spain ease to a 2-1 win over the Scots, as a brace from Emilio Butragueño cancelled out Kenny Dalglish’s opener, in his final international.[17] The game, settled by a scuffed goal, which took a slight deflection to leave Jim Leighton no chance, was not a classic but did at least end Scotland’s group stage hoodoo.

In Washington, France saw off Uruguayan brutality to ease to a 3-1 win over the South Americans, in a game marred by hard tackling and a forearm smash on Dider Six that left the French midfielder poleaxed on the floor, a foul remarkably unpunished by the Paraguayan referee. Despite this, a superb performance from Alain Giresse in France’s midfield settled the game, as he scored once and set-up two for Yannick Stopyra who returned to the starting line-up in place of Daniel Xuereb. France’s victory was largely celebrated in the watching media, with Brian Glanville declaring the Uruguayan side a disgrace to the proud tradition of the three-time champions.

In Boston, England, who had flattered to deceive in the group stage, faced Denmark who had beaten them home and away in the 1984 European Nations Cup qualifiers, with most neutrals cheering on the Danes, particularly in a city with such a strong Irish-American community as Boston. The game, coinciding with a quieter period in UK’s long running internal conflict in Ulster, saw England improve to see off the Danes 4-0, aided by a terrible error from Jesper Olsen, who’s no-look pass back to his defence was intercepted by Gary Lineker who blasted home the first of his hat-trick. England, having changed formation and personnel, with Sexton adopting a lopsided 4-4-1-1, proved too strong for Denmark who’s implosion marked a sad end to their otherwise magnificent tournament, England’s rout being completed by Peter Reid’s late final goal.

In the fourth game, played in L.A., the Americans, playing in their first knockout game since the inaugural tournament in 1930, lost a thriller to the Belgians, who held on to a 3-2 win over the hosts. Twenty-year-old Bruce Murray, who would move to Belgium to join Mechelen after the tournament, gave the Americans a surprise lead, following a rare mistake from Jean-Marie Pfaff in the Belgian goal. Belgium, perhaps sparked into life by outrage at conceding to such upstarts, equalised through Jan Ceulemans, who fired home from the edge of the box after a mishit clearance from Mike Fox. Belgium would double their lead through substitute Enzo Scifo, who deftly headed past Arnie Mausser, only for the U.S. to equalise through a fantastic goal from Hernan Borja, who skipped past three challenges before spotting Pfaff off his line and firing a sumptuous lob beyond his reach. With the game seemingly heading to extra-time, American hearts would be broken in the closing minutes as the unfortunate Kevin Crow turned a Nico Claesen into his own net to send Belgium through. Despite the defeat, the Americans were generally hailed domestically, with their run to the last-sixteen providing a much needed shot into the arm for the American Soccer League.[18]

In New York, Argentina won a bad-tempered game against neighbours Paraguay with both sides seeing players sent off. Despite the foul mood on the pitch, the game was settled by a goal of exquisite quality from Diego Maradona, who receiving the ball on the halfway line, and exchanging a one-two pass with Jorge Burruchaga broke past two challenges, skipped a lunging tackle from César Zabala, burst past Rogelio Delgado and fired past the despairing dive of Roberto Fernández to settle the tie. While Maradona’s piece of skill was exquisite, and came in a game largely devoid of quality, the match itself was sadly marred by a series of poor challenges, with Sergio Batista and Adolfino Cañete both sent off following a mass brawl after Batista’s poor challenge on the latter, while Maradona was perhaps lucky to only be booked for retaliating with a stamp after being floored by a Luis Caballero challenge.

In contrast to Argentina’s somewhat sluggish win over Paraguay, Brazil eased to a 5-1 win over Morocco, who were unfortunate to have Abdelmajid Lamriss sent off on the half hour mark following two fairly innocuous yellows – the game was perhaps the only one in the round to have a referee who stringently applied the rules rather than officiated laxly resulting in Morocco’s ten men being thrashed by a rampant Brazil, who were 4-0 up at half time following a blitz from Antônio Careca, who had scored an eleven minute hat-trick, either side of Sócrates Brasileiro’s penalty. In the second half, as Brazil eased off, Morocco were able to sneak a late consolation through Abdelkrim Merry, before Paulo Silas scored Brazil’s final goal, to send the South Americans through in style.[19]

In Philadelphia, the game which was expected to be the tie of the round, with holders Germany facing 1982 hosts Italy, proved to be a damp squib, with the Germans winning in extra time thanks to an Andy Brehme penalty. The game, played at a slow pace, was (in)famously described as watching “two bald men fighting over a comb and mirror for an outing with the washer woman” by ITV’s Brian Clough, while David Lacey writing in The Guardian would more prosaically describe it as a “damp squib from start to finish.” The game would be a sad end to Enzo Bearzot’s stint as national manager, and continued Germany’s excellent record at tournament’s during the 1980s.

The final game, played in the sweltering heat of Miami, saw the Soviets ease to a 3-0 win over a callow Hungary, thanks to a hat-trick from the superbly talented Igor Belanov, who would be one of several Soviet internationals to take advantage of the country’s gradual economic liberalisation to move west following the tournament.[20] The Soviets victory in a hotbed of American anticommunism was noted with glee in several left-leaning Western publications, as well as the Soviet General Secretary (and noted football fan) Yuri Andropov, who referred to the result in his meeting with President Udall which took place as part of a series of intergovernmental meetings held during the finals to coincide with negotiations around weapons limitations.


20 June Spain 2-1 Scotland

20 June Uruguay 1-3 France

21 June Denmark 0-4 England

21 June Belgum 3-2 United States

21 June Argentina 1-0 Paraguay

22 June Brazil 5-1 Morocco

22 June Italy 0-1 Germany

22 June Hungary 0-3 Soviet Union


The last-eight paired Spain with France, England and Belgium, a South American derby between Argentina and Brazil, and holders Germany with the Soviets.

The opening game, in contrast to the thriller France had played out four years earlier with Italy, was settled by a deflected goal from Manuel Amoros against the land of his parents to send France through to the semi-finals. Played in San Francisco, and hampered by a deteriorated pitch, the game had flashes of skill before France’s overall quality told, though the French were indebted to their goalkeeper Joël Bats, who deflected José Antonio Camacho’s injury-time piledriver over the bar to see France through.

In Seattle, England saw off Belgium 2-1 thanks to a very late John Barnes winner deep into extra-time as penalties loomed. Barnes, on as a late substitute for the largely ineffectual Trevor Steven, unsettled the tiring Belgian defence, though England were indebted to veteran Ray Clemence for keeping them in the game.[21] Sexton’s late substitutions, turned the game as Chris Waddle and Barnes increasingly terrorised the flagging Belgian defence. England’s winner came from Barnes firing home from a tight angle, following Pfaff’s deflected save from a Lineker header to send England through to the semi-finals for the first time in twenty years.

In Chicago, Brazil took a measure of revenge for the 1978 final, in seeing off Argentina in a classic as Maradona challenged for Dico’s crown as the great player the tournament had ever seen. The game, despite the odd rough challenge, was end to end as the Argentines, realising that Brazil were unlikely to be phased by their use of man-marking, switched formations and played with an unusually attacking midfield against Brazil’s own technically gifted quartet. Careca and Maradona, who would both face each other in Italy as Careca’s Napoli challenged Maradona’s Roma, both scored in the first half, before Tuzico, introduced as a half-time substitute, changed the game, by playing as a withdrawn quarter-back. His passing, and understanding with the inspired Sócrates Brasileiro, saw Brazil take charge of the game, though Argentina were perhaps unlucky to have claims for handball against Júlio César turned down by the Greek referee. The game, in contrast to previous matches between the two sides, was seen as marking both nations transition to a more democratic football in line with their return to democracy, though this, as noted by football romantic Eduardo Galeano was perhaps an overly simplistic viewing.

The final quarter-final, played in Boston, saw Germany defeat the Soviets on penalties, having ground their way to a 0-0 draw in the match itself. The Soviets, angered by what they viewed as overly biased refereeing from the Dutch referee, became increasingly incensed at German timewasting, with Anatoliy Demyanenko very lucky to be not sent off after shoving the referee in a fit of frustration. With few shots on goal, the game headed to penalties, which the Germans comfortably won to continue their excellent record at the finals.


28 June Spain 0-1 France

28 June England 2-1 Belgium

29 June Argentina 1-2 Brazil

29 June Germany 0-0 Soviet Union (4-2 penalties)


The semi-finals paired France and England and in a re-run of the 1982 final, Brazil and Germany, with France and England facing off in Los Angeles, and Brazil and Germany facing each other in New York.

In contrast to the tight quarter-finals, France proved too strong for England, with a goal in either half from Luis Fernandez and Bruno Bellone enough to send France through to the final for the first time since 1958. England, were perhaps unlucky to see a Lineker effort ruled out for a very tight offside, but the French, as they had in every encounter since their draw at the 1982 tournament, were simply the better team, with England missing Glenn Hoddle’s invention in the middle in particular.

In New York, in contrast to four years earlier, Brazil proved too strong for an exceptionally functional Germany who, in part due to interpersonal conflict between player and coach, failed to utilise Bernd Schuster at all during the tournament, with his semi-final cameo proving too little too late. Two goals in the space of five minutes from substitute Walter Casagrande (playing only his second game at the finals) saw Brazil ease to victory.

The third place playoff, saw England finally gain a victory over Germany after a long drought, thanks to a brace from Gary Lineker and a late goal from Peter Beardsley to see England seal their best finish at the finals since winning in 1966, though it should be caveated that Germany made wholesale changes for the game.


5 July France 2-0 England

6 July Brazil 2-0 Germany

Third place playoff

11 July Germany 1-3 England


For the first time in a long time, the two best sides at the finals, faced each other in the final itself. Brazil, everyone’s second favourite team in 1982, had added slightly more steel, but were essentially the same technically brilliant team, while France were, after the 1970s Dutch side, one of the most exciting European teams to grace the finals, in a repeat of the 1958 which had announced Brazil’s jogo bonito to the world.

The game, played in Los Angeles, was a tight game that gradually unravelled as both sides tired in the heat, though it was still something of a classic as both teams went for the jugular. Careca opened the scoring for Brazil thanks to a mistake from Patrick Battiston who’s poor defensive header fell straight into his path, to fire home. Despite this setback, France remained undaunted, and equalised through Jean Tigana for his only international goal, leaving the game relatively poised at half time. In the second half, as the heat began to tell, Brazil’s decision to bring on Tuzico as they had in the quarter-final against Argentina paid dividends, with his languid passing style allowing him to play the ball forward to Luís Antônio, who slipped his marker to score his only goal at the tournament, sealing Brazil’s third title.

Where does 1986 stack in the grander scheme of things? Certainly, it was a good tournament with several excellent games and strong performances, and one that was also very well organised, excellent attended and captured the imagination of both the American and broader public, with a record television audience of 1.7bn people watching the final. It also provided a shot in the arm to the sport in Anglophone North America, with the flagging ASL and its Canadian counterpart both enjoying a resurgence in its aftermath. While FIFA has yet to do a retrospective ranking of tournaments (due perhaps in part to bias on the part of those which were televised and those that were not) 1986 will surely rank fairly high.


12 July France 1-2 Brazil

[1] South Africa withdrew their bid after winning the rights to host the 1987 Cricket World Cup, while Japan withdrew after securing rights to the 1988 Olympics.
[2] Colombia’s government was also waging a low-key, if bloody war, against Marxist guerillas in its rural south, as the continent’s swathe of authoritarian regimes increasingly began to creak at the seams.
[3] Revie would also encourage the USSF to set up an annual summer international tournament, known as the USA Cup, which would see the United States host a four team tournament each year from 1985 onwards. The first edition saw the United States host Scotland, Uruguay and Australia, and would become a key feature of the American international season.
[4] As part of a tournament promotion plan, the Udall administration eased visa restrictions for fans to attend the games from overseas, though the tournament, which would set new records for attendances at the finals was a largely domestically attended event.
[5] Ferguson, like MacDonald, was one of several talented Scottish managers breaking the traditional Old Firm duopoly, as Scottish football entered a rare period of success for the smaller clubs, as Hearts, Aberdeen and Dundee United all won titles during this period.
[6] Choi himself was a trailblazer, as he became the first Korean and Asian player in Serie A, as Juventus, acted on their longstanding interest to sign him after the tournament.
[7] Goikoetxea, the “Butcher of Bilbao” had a well-deserved reputation for highly aggressive play having twice injured Barcelona’s Diego Maradona, and broken the nose of Glenn Hoddle during an England-Spain match in 1984. Despite this, however, he was a highly gifted defender with excellent ball-playing ability, making him something of a cult hero with the national side.
[8] A route cause for this was Bild and the rest of the Springer’s press reportage on Germany’s base camp, including lurid reports of parties with local celebrities and Playboy bunnies.
[9] Still captained by the ageless Pat Jennings, who would set a record for years in-between appearances when he played in Northern Ireland’s opener.
[10] Keown’s decision to declare for Northern Ireland over the Republic or England was a surprise, particularly as Ireland international David O’Leary, a teammate of Keown’s at Arsenal was known to have mentioned his eligibility to the FAI. Keown’s decision was largely motivated by the offer of a World Cup place, and he made his debut in the 1985-86 Home Championships.
[11] Similarly to Wales, the Northern Irish squad was built around the lower ends of the Football League, though there were a smattering of First Division players in the squad.
[12] Including Sports Illustrated who, in the era of general thaw, ran a fairly evenhanded piece on the Soviet side, who were based at the University of Georgia athletics complex.
[13] Saporiti, took over after Menotti resigned in 1984 following his success with Argentinos Juniors, with former Estudiantes and Colombia manager Carlos Bilardo as his assistant.
[14] Portugal had finished third at the 1984 European Nations Cup, their first international tournament since finishing as runners-up in 1966.
[15] Harkouk, born in England to an Algerian father and English mother, had been capped by Wales at youth level, but joined the Algeria setup following the 1982 tournament, where his less than prolific goal return of around one in every four, saw him gain cult status in both Algeria and England.
[16] Xuereb, who’s unusual surname was of Sicilian origin, was mainly in the squad as back-up to main striker Yannick Stopyra, operated largely as a foil to the midfield behind him, and was viewed in the French press as being too much of a technically limited striker to lead the line for France.
[17] Dalglish’s goal, in his 106th cap saw him retire from the national team as Scotland’s record cap holder and goal scorer, and left him in the top ten most capped British international footballers at the time.
[18] Following the tournament, the ASL and its Canadian equivalent would see renewed interest from both fans and television, with several players from the ’86 tournament moving to clubs in both post finals.
[19] Morocco would formally protest over the game’s officiating, with the Moroccan captain Ezzaki Badou famously writing an open letter to FIFA and IFAB over the World Cup’s substandard officiating, including accusations of widespread bias in favour of European and South American sides, which would see Badou banned for a year, later reduced to a month on appeal by FIFA, in a move which drew widespread criticism.
[20] The Soviet system, while nowhere near as liberalised as their Yugoslav counterparts, had gradually reformed into a “market socialist” model under the reforms of Kosygin and Lieberman, and with the international situation, in Europe at least, calm during most of the 1980s, the country’s economic and trade markers remained stable. As a result of the growing economic liberalisation, the age at which players could move overseas was reduced from thirty to twenty-five, opening up avenues for Soviet internationals.
[21] Clemence, alongside long-term number two Peter Shilton, was amongst the oldest players in the squad, and had at one point being considered as captain for the finals, given Bryan Robson’s long-term injury issues, but was overlooked in favour of Ray Wilkins, who would captain the side up to the 1988 European Championships.
There's a mistake on the Group F table: Algeria should be have 0 wins, 2 draws and 1 loss, and Canada 0 wins, 1 draw, 2 losses. The point totals are correct, as is the 3rd place ranking table.

A really interesting update, for which I will try and give a more fulsome response tomorrow.
In typical fashion, the team that is better than everyone else stays better than everyone else. Also Denmark is one of the best debutants since Portugal in 66 (with Algeria in 1982 being right behind). For the rest of the debutants, at least they're not as bad as the likes of India or El Salvador giving up 10+ in 3 games.

Siam continues to hold up the rear, as they have faithfully done so since 1958 (When Mexico finally earned points)

Just wanted to give a quick update - I'm going to be away in NZ (flying on Wednesday) so won't be doing much in the way of updates between now and when I'm back (though I will probably write some of 1990 while I'm away.)

Also wanted to confirm that 1994 will be the last update - will do an epilogue, but I wanted to avoid writing too close to stuff in my own lifetime (I was alive when USA '94 happened but given I was 5 months old when the final happened I can't say I was a witness) and 1994 feels like a nice ending point both for TTL and OTL.

Might rewrite some sections and do a general clean-up afterwards as I know they're a few errors here and there, but I wanted to end on a relative high, and I hope you've all enjoyed it so far.
The United States as host in 1986 is interesting, though definitely not outside the realm of possibility, given they bid to replace Colombia in 1983 and the host selection will be happening before they upset FIFA with the stadium selection for the football tournament at the 1984 Olympics. You mention the American Soccer League, which is clearly in place of the North American Soccer League, and marquee signings which suggests a development similar to that of NASL (though did Dico play in the ASL?), so presumably football is about as popular as in our timeline in America. Which is reasonable, as there's not been a suggestion elsewhere in the timeline that it's any more popular. Also interesting to know whether there's been an equivalent to Title IX making association football a popular female sport in the country.

I was glad that you maintained having Italy drawn into the group based in New York, an interesting fixed point of the 1994 draw.

Scotland escaping the group stage at a World Cup feels wrong.

Third place for England feels an incredible achievement and presumably saves Dave Sexton's job for 1990 (given that even an embarrassment at UEFA Euro '88 didn't cost Bobby Robson his job).

The failure of Diego Maradona to win a World Cup (unless Argentina manage to do so in 1990 - a definite possibility) does make me wonder what his legacy is vis a vis the debate over whether he or Pele are the greatest of all time. I would imagine that Maradona is mentioned in similar terms to Cruyff, Puskas or di Stefano, but never quite acknowledged as greater than Pele, and it's not until Messi comes along (assuming he does so - it would be very easy to butterfly his career) that there's anyone who makes it a debate.

For 1990 I wonder if it could be hosted by a Soviet Union in its death throes...
For 1990 I wonder if it could be hosted by a Soviet Union in its death throes...

“As per the most recent round of negotiations, Ukraine will give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for inheriting the former Soviet Union’s qualification for the knock-out stage of the World Cup…”