How to fix a World Cup

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Everybody loves a good conspiracy.

Dan Brown is so sure of this is he tells us twice in The Da Vinci Code, the biggest selling ‘book’ since the Bible. But it’s hard to know what to make of recent suggestions by Joao Havelange, the former FIFA president, that the 1966 and 1974 World Cups were fixed.

Havelange’s reflections can be found, almost in full on Earth Times. But in a nutshell they are as follows.

Havelange: Conspiracy theorist 


Stanley Rous, president of FIFA in 1966, was English. The World Cup was hosted by England. English and German referees were deliberately assigned games involving Brazil and Argentina so they could ensure opponents had free rein to kick both these Latin American giants out of the tournament.

Pelé was crippled. Ergo: England and West Germany were bound to meet in the final with the hosts winning. Funnily enough, Havelange doesn’t point the finger at the Azerbaijani linesman who flagged Hurst’s goal over the line.

I have heard similar gripes before. Eusebio still fulminates about how Portugal’s semi-final against England wasn’t supposed to be played at Wembley but at Goodison Park where his team had played their quarter-final.

But I’d always taken the implication that his team were disrupted by the shlep from Liverpool to London as a desperate attempt by the legend to obscure the fact that, against England, he was marked out of the match, mostly legally, by Nobby Stiles.

In case you didn’t find that pile of evidence convincing, Havelange added the clinching proof: “I ask you, did England ever become a champion again.”

How about 1974?

Henri Kissinger, oil and a German referee are all vaguely implicated in this fix. Here, it is probably fairest to quote the man verbatim:

“The Netherlands had problems with oil, they had no oil because (the price) had risen a lot and they were riding bicycles. It was (then US secretary of state Henry) Kissinger who had gone there to settle that. He arrived at the stadium to watch Brazil-Netherlands, and (FIFA president) Stanley Rous designated (referee Kurt) Tschenscher, from Germany, who was 50 at the time.”

Confused? The Netherlands did have problems with oil – though that doesn’t entirely explain the popularity of cycling there – but then so did the USA so I’m slightly baffled as to what Kissinger, who is bizarrely a fan of the beautiful game, had to offer the Dutch. Nor have I seen any evidence of Dutch citizens using their bikes less after the final when the ‘fix’ went in.

Tschenscher: A German unpopular in Holland. How odd...

The implied attack on Tschenscher seems a bit grubby. There is a simpler explanation for Brazil’s failure to win the 1974 World Cup. They were rubbish. They qualified for the second round after two 0-0 draws against Yugoslavia and Scotland and a 3-0 victory over Zaire. And their referees in those games, for the record, were Swiss, Dutch and Romanian. They picked up in the second round but lost 2-0 to the brilliant Oranje to miss out on the final.

Tschenscher did have an awful game, quickly losing control, but you would need to suffer from false memory syndrome to believe he favoured Brazil. There was much ugly play from both sides but Brazilian defender Marinho Peres should not have been on the pitch by the end of the first half. One brutal shoulder to take out Wim Jansen and an elbow smashed into Johan Neeskens’ face should have earned him at least a yellow and a straight red.

The Dutch were no innocents just slightly more disciplined than their opponents. And crucially, scored two more goals – good ones – while the selecao struck a blank.

Havelange seemed to take this personally, saying: “Tschenscher harmed me. I lost 2-0. They suspended my centre-back for the game against Poland for third place.” Luis Pareira was indeed suspended after what this report called a “an alehouse challenge on Neeskens, waist high, studs first.”

So the case for the 1974 fix is hardly established beyond a reasonable doubt either.

Funnily enough, the one tournament everyone has long regarded as fixed - Argentina 78 - was, Havelange insists, not orchestrated at all.

Peru, who conveniently lost 6-0 to Argentina so the hosts could reach the final (they had to win by at least four clear goals to pip Brazil) were tired. The crucial difference between 1978, as opposed to 1966 and 1974, is that by the time the finals kicked off in Argentina Havelange was running FIFA.

Argentina - needing four to qualify - beat Peru 6-0 in 1978 

I don’t want to discourage Joao from embellishing his case. After reading William Shawcross’s book Sideshow, about how American policy destroyed Cambodia, I am quite prepared to believe that Kissinger would fix anything. (He did play a large part in Pele joining the New York Cosmos.) It’s just that I’d like some more compelling proof or, failing that, a theory I can understand.

And the former FIFA boss should feel free to widen his conspiratorial net. If he wants some inspiration, he could check out Conspiracy 58, a Swedish film that suggests the entire 1958 World Cup didn’t really take place but was staged as a propaganda coup by the CIA, FIFA and Swedish broadcasters.

Unlike Havelange, the filmmakers are joking.