FIFA had decided to “jazz” the draw up a bit to make more theatre from it. Of course they didn’t intend things to turn out quite as they did, and had largely forgotten to factor in sometimes live television is not as straightforward as it might seem at the planning stage.
As with many things handled by FIFA and Sepp Blatter, they dismissed it as just “one of those things”.
If you were going to write a comedic take on a draw organised by FIFA it would have things like men in suits looking like they know what they’re doing, but clearly don’t. Balls containing team names which won’t open. Mechanical cages which hold the balls but won’t open either. Young boys doing their best to help with proceedings but being barked at by the suits, frustrated at all their preparation failing around them.
FIFA had announced they were expanding the tournament to twenty-four teams from the sixteen which, other than a couple of tournaments when teams withdrew, had been the format since 1934. With FIFA keen to make their showpiece as big as the Olympics, they plumped for more razzmatazz for the draw. Traditionally draws had been fairly matter-of-fact affairs with suited gentlemen, who no one had seen before or after, picked names out of a hat. No celebrities, no balls in a barrel no “come on, Dennis, make sure all the balls have been emptied out of the bag otherwise I’m going to get it on twitter tonight”.
For this draw FIFA had the idea of cages containing little footballs, each containing the name of a qualifier. But these footballs would look silly in the hands of grown men, so they had the brainwave to ‘hire’ local boys to hand the balls to one of the dignitaries who would reveal the contents. In essence it seemed like a brainwave, I mean what could possibly go wrong?
Well, to begin with not all the cages opened when they were supposed to, and of those that did, not all of them would happily give up the footballs they protected. When the boys were able to extract the ball from the cage and hand it to a ‘suit’ he wasn’t always able to open the ball to reveal the name. Then one cage jammed and snapped a ball in half, leaving the name in full view of the watching world. If you turned your tv up enough you’d swear you could hear the hiss of air draining from the balloon of anticipation FIFA had proudly flown from the start.
As if this wasn’t enough, things really hit the comedy gold stratosphere when Scotland were drawn out. Firstly, they were drawn in Argentina’s group but unbelievably Sepp Blatter ordered a re-draw and back in their cage they went. Blatter, yet to be exposed as an arch-manipulator, explained there’d been a mistake when Belgium was drawn into Italy’s group, so they were moved into Argentina’s group. Ironic when you consider what happened when the two teams played out the opening game. Belgium had complained to FIFA about England being a seeded team. Neither country had participated in the two previous tournaments, but Belgium felt their runners-up finish in Euro ’80 should trump England’s World Cup record, despite Belgium never making it out of the first round in any World Cup before. But England could never play in the same group as Argentina as the two nations were at war. For Scotland they were suddenly moved into the same group as Brazil. Frying pans and fires came to mind, but then so did the words organising and breweries.
But don’t go and put the kettle on just yet as there’s more to come. Peru and Chile were supposed to be removed from the initial draw to ensure they avoided Brazil and Argentina. Unfortunately, nobody told the man given the task of setting up the equipment. Stories emerged afterwards the small boys were actually from a Madrid orphanage as FIFA were accused of exploitation. Their cause was not helped when one of the suits was heard to rebuke a child with a stern “get it sorted, boy!”, in full range of the microphones as if these poor young chaps had, had anything to do with the organisation of the event.
Looking back we can see the beginnings of an organisation which became a caricature of what an efficient governing body should look like. In years to come we would become weary of a body which attempted to manipulate so many circumstances to suit its own ends, but back then this was quite shocking they could get it so wrong.
The twenty four countries were split into four pots to draw each of the six Groups. Three of the top four from 1978 were seeded in Pot One, Argentina, Brazil and Italy, along with hosts, Spain, West Germany and England. Belgium had protested at England’s inclusion as top seeds, which was a bit rich given they had missed the last two tournaments, as England had, and had participated in one World Cup in the last six. But FIFA were unmoved and kept things as originally planned.
Four nations drawn into six groups. The new format, used exclusively for this tournament, would see the top two from each group would go into four further groups. That meant there would be four groups of just three nations for the second phase. Only the winners of each second phase group would progress to the Semi-Final stage and then the Final.
Here’s how the Groups were drawn:
Seventeen stadiums in fourteen cities would be used for the tournament with two grounds allocated to each group.
MADRID: Bernabeu (91,000) – Group B
MADRID: Vicente Calderon (66,000) – Group D
BARCELONA: Nou Camp (120,000) – Group A
BARCELONA: Sarria (44,000) – Group C
SEVILLE: Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan (70,500) – Group 6
SEVILLE: Benito Villamarin (47,500) – Group 6
ALICANTE: Jose Rico Perez (38,000) – Group 3
BILBAO: San Mames (47,000) – Group 4
ELCHE: Nuevo (40,000) – Group 3
GIJON: El Molinon (47,000) – Group 2
LA CORUNA: Riazor (34,600) – Group 1
MALAGA: La Rosaleda (44,000) – Group 6
OVIEDO: Carlos Tartiere (23,000) – Group 2
VALENCIA: Mestalla (55,000) – Group 5
VALLADOLID: Jose Zorrilla (30,000) – Group 4
VIGO: Balaidos (31,800) – Group 1
ZARAGOZA: La Romareda (42,000) – Group 5
The scene was set for the opening game of the tournament. Argentina v Belgium would be played at the Nou Camp, Barcelona. This would be the only first phase match the stadium would host, before it became the sole venue for Group A in the second phase.
Belgium, fresh from being losing finalists in Euro 1980 and Argentina, winners at their own World Cup in 1978.