One of England's lowest ebbs. After losing their opening match to a very average Portugal, there was no guarantee that they'd beat Morocco, who'd surprised a few people by looking the better team in a 0-0 draw with Poland. They drew 0-0 with England too, but would have won if they hadn't been so unambitious. England lost the core of their midfield in the space of a minute just before half-time. Their captain Bryan Robson damaged his dodgy shoulder, then Ray Wilkins threw the ball towards the referee and was sent off for a second bookable offence two minutes after his first. Morocco should have crushed the ten men in the second half, but England were up the creek anyway, and without their favourite paddle as Robson was out of the tournament. Morale was right down there before the last group match with Poland.
For England '86, read France '02. The defending champions lost their opening match 1-0 to Senegal and, in the next game against Urguay, had a player sent off in a goalless draw that left them on the verge of elimination. Thierry Henry, no less, was rightly sent off for sliding in, studs up, on Marcelo Romero's ankle, a really dangerous challenge. With Zinedine Zidane still out injured, France struggled in attack - but Uruguay didn't use their extra man well, never committing enough players forward, and the only winners were Denmark and Senegal, who stayed three points clear after drawing 1-1 on the same day. France needed to beat Denmark to have any chance of reaching the second round.
Another red card on another bad day for England. A point would have been a good result in Poland, so Alf Ramsey picked a defensive team - only to be let down by his captain and greatest player Bobby Moore, who showed he was in decline by scoring an own goal then letting himself be robbed for Poland's second. With twelve minutes to go, Alan Ball was sent off for clashing with hard man Lesław Cmikiewicz. Poland qualified for the finals at England's expense by drawing 1-1 at Wembley in October, but their best player Włodek Lubanski missed the finals with an injury that forced him off the field after scoring the second goal.
Much better from England. They'd just played pathetically to lose a World Cup qualifier in Switzerland, after which some of their fans staged their usual riot on the terraces. Now Ron Greenwood pulled his traditional trick of threatening to resign - then, to his credit, picked his strongest team. Against group favourites Hungary, in Budapest, they recovered from conceding an equaliser in injury time at the end of the first half, winning the game with one of the great goals. Kevin Keegan laid the ball back from the right-hand goal line for Trevor Brooking to score his second of the game with a perfect left-foot shot that left the ball lodged high up by the stanchion at the far post. Keegan added a third after winning a crafty penalty.
Another 3-1 defeat for Hungary knocked them out of the 1978 finals. Italy, who'd recovered from conceding a very early goal to beat France, suddenly seemed to believe in themselves and played like potential champions, dominating the match on a pitch that had recently been relaid and now came up in great divots. Roberto Bettega scored a goal and hit the bar three times (it was that kind of tournament for him) as Italy qualified for the next round by beating Hungary for the first time since 1947.
In the evening, hosts Argentina were lucky again. After fouling their way to a win against Hungary, they were gifted a penalty against France when sweeper Marius Tresor fell and landed on the ball with his arm. Michel Platini equalised and Didier Six shot just past the post after running clear. Leopoldo Luque won it for Argentina with a powerful shot from outside the area, but without that joke penalty they wouldn't have reached the Second Round of a tournament they eventually won.
Meanwhile defending champions West Germany achieved their only win of the finals, hammering a truly dreadful Mexico 6-0. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and midfielder Heinz Flohe both scored twice.
Tunisia beat Mexico in their opening match and would have drawn with Poland but for one defensive mistake. Their captain Temime Lahzami hit the bar - but Ali Kaabi, who'd scored against Mexico, missed his kick as the ball dropped over him, and Grzegorz Lato volleyed the only goal of the game.
Brazil's hardest and most crucial game on the way to retaining the World Cup. And the end of the international road for one of the all-time giants. Needing a draw to qualify for the quarter-finals, Brazil went a goal down against a team who needed to win. Looking for extra pace and mobility, Spain dropped great players like Luis Del Sol, José Santamaría, and Luis Suárez but kept the 36-year-old Ferenc Puskás, who'd captained Hungary in the 1954 final. The changes nearly paid off. Spain led 1-0 at half-time and Brazil struggled without the injured Pelé. Their great winger Garrincha beat man after man but fluffed cross after cross. But as desperation set in, Pelé's replacement Amarildo turned the match by volleying home his first goal for Brazil, then added a second with a header when Garrincha at last got it right, beating two men before crossing.
Soviet football had a reputation for strength over skill. Hard tackling, hard running, grim and grey. But their national team was often better than that. In Mexico City, they ignored the heat and high altitude and scored four tremendous goals. After a goalless draw with their hosts on the opening day, they faced a team who'd beaten little El Salvador 3-0. Billed as an exciting Belgian forward line against plodding Soviet bears, the match was turned on its head when Wilfried Van Moer hit the bar. The USSR immediately went down the other end and took the lead, their dynamic striker Anatoly Byshovets hammering home from thirty yards. Then Kakhi Asatiani turned a defender and shot in off the far post, and Byshovets cut inside two men before scoring with a screaming left-footer. Finally, a dinked cross was put in by Vitaly Khmelnitsky's subterranean header. Belgium's goal, after Van Moer hit the woodwork again, went almost unnoticed. Overwhelming. The Soviet Union reached the quarter-finals, Belgium didn't.