The 1982 finals in Spain had it all and more. It started with an Italian team short of a few players suspended by FIFA for a match fixing scandal, a Teutonic conspiracy that forced a change in the World Cup format and peaked with a foul so awful it was progressively similar to a criminal attack that by one way or another went unnoticed by the referee.
It also prevented what could have been the greatest final ever played. Instead the World saw Italy beat Germany 3-1 in a relatively good final. Italian soccer was still recovering from a match fixing scandal that saw players, clubs and referees suspended. Paoli Rossi their brightest new star, despite claiming his innocence had just finished serving a two-year suspension reduced from three (luckily for Italy as it turned out).
The team started out slowly and drew all three of their group matches against Poland, Peru and Cameroon. Five of the six matches in the group were drawn with only Poland beating Peru. Italy matched Cameroon on points but advanced because they scored one more goal. Cameroon drew with Peru but had a goal disallowed for offside from a long-range shot. The call made the Carlos Tevez offside goal against Mexico look like a marginal decision. Italy would have been eliminated but for that decision.
West Germany started off in even worse shape. They lost in a stunner to Algeria 2-1. They recovered to beat Chile while Algeria lost to Austria but beat Chile in their final game. The last game of the group pitted Austria against West Germany. West Germany needed a win and as long as it was by a one or two goal margin they would advance with Austria.
The game started off with the Germans attacking the Austrian goal. They scored in the 10th minute and that ended the game. Both teams then relaxed and started passing the ball around midfield with neither team mounting a serious attack for 90 minutes. The crowd was enraged. Algerian fans threw money on the pitch and even the German fans protested. As a result, FIFA changed its policy which is why all final group games are now played simultaneously.
Brazil were the favourites with a team that is still considered their best since 1970. On the team were Zico, considered third in the hierarchy of Brazilian greats behind Pele and Garrincha, Socrates, the great midfielder, Eder with the bullet shot as well as Falcao and Junior. They scored 15 goals in five games, each more spectacular than the next. They strolled through the first round winning all their games. In 1982 there was were four second round groups, with the winners of each group going to the semi-final. Because of Italy’s first round struggles they landed up in the same group as Brazil and Argentina. Italy and Brazil both beat Argentina so they met in the final game with Brazil only needing a draw to advance on goal difference. In one of the great games in World Cup history Paulo Rossi finally came alive and scored a hat trick to beat Brazil 3-2 and advance to the semis.
France had high hopes as well. Michel Platini was at his peak and the team played a flowing, attacking game. They started slowly, giving up a goal to England in the first minute of the first game against England who beat them. They qualified second in their group and sailed through the second-round group. France met West Germany in the semi-final in one the greatest and most tragic of all games in World Cup history. Both teams attacked from the whistle with Germany scoring in the 17th minute. France replied with a Platini penalty in the 26th.
France gradually took control of the game but couldn’t score. Towards the end of the second half a long through ball to Patrick Battiston left him alone with Harald Schumacher the German goalie. Schumacher raced out of his goal but couldn’t get there in time to stop Battiston from flicking the ball goalward. Instead Schumacher turned his body to the side and slammed into Battiston. Off the field it would have been a criminal assault. The ball trickled wide of the goal and the referee amazingly ignored the foul and gave the Germans a goal kick.
Battiston lay on the ground, unconscious and having lost a few teeth. Schumacher arrogantly prepared to take the goal kick, waving at the French players around Battiston to get out of the way. There is absolutely no doubt it should have been a red card and a penalty.
In the last minute, Manuel Amoros hit the crossbar from 25 yards and the game went into extra time. France scored twice in the first 8 minutes and it looked as though justice had been served. There is no justice in soccer and the Germans pulled one back just before the end of the first extra period. They scored again and tied it.
West Germany won 5-4 on penalties to reach the final against Italy. A modicum of justice was served as Italy won 3-1 but in truth, neither team should have been there because of botched calls by the officials. The two best teams in 1982, France and Brazil who both attacked relentlessly with style and more should have met in a final for the ages.