Since the tournament was due to be played away from Europe, anticipated bids for the 1970 World Cup were forthcoming from three South American nations, namely Argentina, Colombia and Chile. There were also first time bids from Asia and Oceania, with Japan and Australia throwing their names into the ring despite lacking a serious presence in global football. Keen to move away from the duopoly of Europe and South America, FIFA eventually awarded the tournament to Mexico. Having competed in all bar two editions of the tournament so far, the North American’s did at least have some history in the competition, as well as an established domestic league and a host of stadiums to choose from. With CONCACAF’s regular qualifiers entered as hosts, the door was open for El Salvador to make their World Cup debut as North America’s sole qualifier. The change in FIFA rules regarding African and Asian qualification meant that Morocco and Israel, too, would appear at the tournament for the first time, while notable absentees included Argentina, France, Portugal and Spain.
The hosts were given a kind draw in Group 1, with Soviet Union the only side likely to give them a serious test, as 1970 came too soon for the emerging Belgians, while El Salvador arrived as whipping boys. A goalless draw with the group favourites in the opening game got the Mexicans off to an ideal start, and a 4-0 walloping of El Salvador was followed by a tight victory over Belgium to secure their first quarter-final appearance. Italy, having just about recovered from their humiliation at the hands of North Korea in 1966, brought their tactical innovation to the attention of the watching world, as Group 2 suffered at the hands of Catenaccio. Pioneered by Nereo Rocco and mastered by Helenio Herrera, Italy’s coach Ferruccio Valcareggi, in spite of having a wealth of attacking talent at his disposal, put safety first in order to secure the Azzurri’s passage to the knockout stages. With the imperious captain Giacinto Facchetti playing the libero role, the Italians sailed through at the top of their group. Played 3, Won 1, Drawn 2, Lost 0, Goals For 1, Goals Against 0. Scintillating stuff.
They were joined by Uruguay, who had the good grace to knock two in against Israel to add a bit of interest to their group. Runners-up in 1966, West Germany came into the tournament with an outside chance of going one better in Mexico, and a kind draw gave them a straightforward passage to the knockouts. Three wins and a glut of goals thanks to the partnership of Gerd Müller and Uwe Seeler made West Germany the team to watch, while four goals from the exciting 21 year old Teofilo Cubillas helped Peru into the next round. Group 2 pitted two of the favourites for the tourmanent against each other, though England’s inspirational captain almost spent the summer in prison.
Anglo-Latino relationships had been strained since England’s ill-tempered quarter-final against Argentina in 1966, during which Antonio Rattin was sent off, the Argentina side threatened to leave the pitch, and Alf Ramsey prevented his players from swapping shirts with their opponents before going on to call them “animals” after the match.
With that in mind, there was always likely to be some anti-British sentiment from the locals when England made the trip across the Atlantic, and the squad set up at a pre-tournament base in Colombia in order to adjust to the increased altitude on the continent. With two friendly matches organised against Colombia and Ecuador, England checked into their Bogota hotel on the 18th May, and Bobbys Moore and Charlton went for a wander in search of gifts for their families. Having spent a while perusing the display cases in an on-site jewelers, the two England players returned to the hotel foyer, only to be confronted by shop assistant Clara Padilla and accused of stealing a bracelet. Having staunchly denied that allegations, and with tourist police and hotel staff unable to substantiate Padilla’s claims, the two men returned to their rooms and by the time England had beaten Colombia in their first friendly two days later, the matter had been forgotten. The squad went on to Quito, where they beat Ecuador 2-0 in their final warm-up game, and then headed back to Mexico City via Bogota, spending a further evening at Hotel Tequendama. While watching a film in the hotel, Moore was led out by plainclothed Colombian police officers and arrested for the theft of the bracelet on the strength of a witness statement provided by Alvaro Suarez, who claimed he had watched the England captain steal the bracelet through the window of the jewelers.
With the beginning of the tournament nearing, Ramsey continued with his squad on to Mexico, leaving Moore and two FA officials to face the charges of the Colombian police. The West Ham defender was eventually placed under house arrest, and ordered to stay with the Director of the Colombian Football Federation, Alfonso Senior. If you were told this was the premise of a typically 70s British sitcom, you probably wouldn’t think twice. Eventually Moore was placed before Justice Peter Dorado to protest his innocence, and would end up being released thanks to the unreliable statement given by Padilla, who claimed that the England captain slipped the bracelent into the left hand pocket of his blazer – a pocket that didn’t exist – and changed the valuation of the bracelet three times when under questioning. Moore finally landed in Mexico days before the beginning of the World Cup, but remarkably, despite the bizarre turn of events in the lead up, he would go on to post some of his best performances in an England shirt.
With their captain in the side, England beat Romania 1-0 in their opening game of the tournament, and with Brazil making light work of Czechoslovakia the following day, it looked as though top spot in the group would be decided as the two sides met in Guadalajara. Though it was a low-scoring affair, the meeting between Brazil and England became an instant World Cup classic. Two sides at the top of their game playing some pulsating football, with the best striker in the world up against the best defender. Jairzinho’s winning goal just shy of the hour has been lost in the highlights of a game that included Gordon Banks’ impossible save from Pele, Moore’s astonishing tackle on the Brazil #7, and Jeff Astle’s unbelievable miss when presented with the ball from ten yards out. England would still join Brazil in the quarter finals thanks to a single goal victory against the Czechs to seal second place in the group.
Cubillas and Peru were Brazil’s next victims, beaten 4-2 in an entertaining quarter final, while a stomach bug for England’s #1 spelled the beginning of the end for Alf Ramsey’s side, with replacement Peter Bonetti conceding three times as West Germany came back from 2-0 down to knock the holders out. Italy conceded their first goal of the tournament against the hosts, but took their foot off the brakes to demolish Mexico 4-1, while Uruguay squeezed through to the semis with an extra-time win over the Soviet Union. The irresistible forward line of Brazil was too much for Uruguay three days later, however, as goals from Clodoaldo, Jairzinho and Rivellino cancelled out Luis Cubilla’s opener to book Brazil’s place in the final, while in the other semi Italy and West Germany played out a match that earned its own plaque. Drawing 1-1 at full time thanks to Karl-Heinz Schnellinger’s 90th minute equaliser, the game became a rollercoaster in extra-time as first Muller gave West Germany the lead, before an equaliser minutes later from Tarcisio Burgnich and then, on the stroke of half-time in extra time Gigi Riva put the Italians ahead. Muller levelled the scores five minutes into the second period, but just seconds later Gianni Rivera scored the goal that sent Italy to the final. The match was christened ‘Game Of The Century’.
How much that performance took out of the Italian team is unclear, but given the sound beating they received at the hands of Brazil in the final, its fair to say tired legs may have been an issue. Goals from Pele, Gerson, Jairzinho and, most iconically, Carlos Alberto secured Brazil’s third World Cup, meaning they became the first team to keep the trophy. A brilliant tournament that saw some of the most exciting football to date, and thankfully it wasn’t overshadowed by that missing bracelet.