Tunisia 1977: USSR hold their nerve to win
The very first FIFA World Youth Championship was won by a well-organised and sporadically brilliant Soviet outfit, whose match-winners Sergey Baltacha, Andrey Bal and Vladimir Bessonov came through when it mattered most. The Soviets caught the eye throughout with their one-touch passing, ingenious free-kick routines and defensive steely-mindedness. Having outclassed group opponents Austria, Iraq and Paraguay, they faced their first real test in the form of Uruguay in the semi-final. The Celeste proved tough nuts to crack too, and the young Soviets only squeezed through on penalties. Mexico were next up in the Final, and at the end of an entertaining 2-2 draw, penalties were again needed to separate the sides. The Soviet coach could take more credit than usual for his side's triumph in that shootout, as he replaced his first-choice keeper with a specialist penalty shot-stopper just before the end of extra-time. His secret weapon still let in 8 penalties, but the USSR managed to score one more and were crowned champions.
Apart from the USSR, the other European qualifiers wilted fast in the Tunisian heat. Italy, France, Spain and Hungary were all back home before the knockout stage could begin. Uruguay and Brazil made the final four, which was a strong showing from the South American representatives and a sign of things to come.
Mexico were very much the surprise package in Tunisia, their thrilling attack-minded play taking them to the verge of the title. The Tricolores' final goal tally of 11 was the second-highest after the 13 banged in by Brazil. Yet Mexico had the upper hand in their semi-final, beating the overwhelming favourites to cause the shock of the tournament. The Auriverde had destroyed everyone in their path up to that point, and when they cancelled out Mexico's early goal everyone expected the young Brazilian strikers to fill their boots again. The Mexican defence held firm though, and went through on penalties.
Player of the tournament:
This 1977 USSR side was a well-drilled unit, and most of the credit for their exceptional devotion to duty could go to midfield general Vladimir Bessonov. A great reader of the game, Bessonov's sense of anticipation made him the most important piece in the Soviet jigsaw. The Dynamo Kiev star would go on to enjoy a tremendous international career, winning an Olympic gold medal in 1980 as part of a fabulous Soviet side and playing 85 times for his country, including appearances at the 1982, 1986 and 1990 FIFA World Cups.
Edvaldo (BRA), Bernard Genghini (FRA), Giovanni Galli (ITA), Hugo de Leon (URU), Ruben Paz (URU), Andrey Bal (URS), Sergey Baltacha (URS), Vladimir Bessonov (URS), Vagiz Khidiyatullin (URS), ...
Tunisia 1977 stats:
70 (av.: 2.50)
Brazil, 13 goals
1- Aguinaldo Roberto Gallon "Quina" (BRA), 4 goals
2- Houssein Said (IRA), Luis Placencia (MEX), 3 goals
Sfax, Sousse, Tunis El Menzah, Tunis Zouiten
With group winners qualifying directly for the semi-finals, the 1977 tournament in Tunisia holds the record for the least number of games played in a FIFA World Youth Championship: 28. As of Japan 1979, a quarter-final stage was added and the number of games increased to 32.