Records are there to be broken, as the old saying goes, and anything and everything can happen in the unpredictable world of the beautiful game. Be that as it may, in the hours leading up to today's Final Draw, FIFA.com felt the moment was ripe to check out some potentially premonitory facts surrounding the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Starting with European Zone qualifying for next year’s showpiece finals, there were two sides who finished the preliminary phase having won each and every one of their matches. Group 5 winners Spain came away with an astonishing ten wins, while Group 9 top dogs the Netherlands picked up eight, having been drawn in the Zone’s only five-team section alongside Scotland, Norway, Iceland and FYR Macedonia.
A look back through the record books of the preliminary event show just two previous examples of a similarly flawless campaign. The first was set by eventual winners Brazil in qualifying for Mexico 1970. At the time, the ten competing teams in the South American Zone were divided into three groups as opposed to today’s one, with A Seleção drawn alongside Paraguay, Colombia and Venezuela in the largest section. Boasting the likes of Pele, Jairzinho, Tostao, Rivelino and Carlos Alberto, Brazil made short work of claiming the group’s qualifying spot, winning all six games and scoring 23 goals to just two conceded.
Once on Mexican soil, Mario Zagallo’s charges continued where they had left off in the preliminaries, winning another six consecutive matches to lift the FIFA World Cup Trophy for the third time. Falling foul of A Seleção in the group phase were the former Czechoslovakia (4-1), England (1-0) and Romania (3-2), with fellow South Americans Peru (4-2) and Uruguay (3-1) going the same way in the quarter and semi-finals respectively. In the Final, Brazil overcame Italy’s brave resistance to seal a 4-1 success, Jairzinho firing his side’s third to become the only player to score in every game at a FIFA World Cup.
Spain are worthy of comparison with that Brazil side of 1970, with one difference: Brazil could have put out two equally strong teams.
Ten years later, the former West Germany opened their qualifying campaign for Spain 1982 with a 3-1 victory over Bulgaria. Thus began an eight-game winning run which culminated in a 4-0 success over the same opponents, a sequence which featured 33 goals scored and just three conceded.
Just as Brazil did in 1970, that West German side went all the way to the FIFA World Cup Final, though their progress was nowhere near as serene. Kicking off with a shock 2-1 opening defeat by Algeria, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Co bounced back with a 4-1 success over Chile and squeezed through to the second round with a 1-0 win over neighbours Austria.
Following a 0-0 draw with England, a 2-1 success over hosts Spain took them into the semis, where they edged out Michel Platini’s France on penalties after a dramatic 3-3 draw. Their good fortune eluded them in the Final, however, with an Italy side featuring Dino Zoff, Paolo Rossi and Marco Tardelli emerging victorious 3-1.
Will history be repeated?
Given their similarly blemish-free qualifying campaigns, can La Roja and the Oranje follow the example of their illustrious predecessors and go all the way to the Final on 11 July 2010? Backing Vicente del Bosque’s boys to do just that is Brazilian legend Pele: “Spain are worthy of comparison with that Brazil side of 1970, with one difference: Brazil could have put out two equally strong teams. If one player got injured someone just as good filled in for him, and that’s crucial at a World Cup.”
“Our qualifying phase was impeccable,” said Del Bosque himself, after his team topped their section ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Turkey, Belgium, Estonia and Armenia. “Our aim is to compete for the World Cup Trophy, but we know how difficult it is. We’re not the favourites, we’re part of a group of contenders.”
And come the results of the Final Draw in Cape Town, the route Spain, the Netherlands and their fellow contenders will have to take to reach the tournament finale will be that much clearer.