Thirty-six years after the first FIFA World Cup, the tournament finally came “home” to England in 1966. As in 1962, sixteen teams qualified for the finals and were divided into four groups of four, with the top two teams in each group progressing into the knockout phase.
The 1966 tournament produced plenty of stories, the first of which concerned the Jules Rimet trophy being stolen during an exhibition prior to the tournament. A replica trophy was made, but was eventually not needed as the small gold trophy was discovered by a dog called Pickles – who became the first hero of the World Cup before a ball had even been kicked. On the field, there were plenty of surprises and more than a little controversy. The biggest shock saw unheralded North Korea eliminate two-time champions Italy in the first phase, and then really take the game to fanicied Portugal in the quarter-finals. The Koreans blasted into a three goal lead, but inspired by the talismanic Eusébio, the Portuguese rallied to score five unanswered goals in reply.
Controversy seemed to follow the hosts like some unfriendly ghost: the first significant moment came in their 1-0 victory over Argentina and the sending off of Argentinian captain Antonio Rattín – the first man to be dismissed in a competitive international at Wembley – which sparked off what has now been a rivalry lasting more than four decades, while the Portuguese saw their semi-final fixture against the hosts hastily moved from Goodison Park to Wembley – a move that would be impossible today.
Then of course there was the final itself, and England’s much-debated third goal credited to Geoff Hurst (or, perhaps, a certain Mr. Tofik Bakhramov).
Thirty-two matches were played between 11th and 30th July 1966, and a total of eighty-nine goals were scored at an average of 2.78 – exactly the same as it had been four years earlier in Chile.
Qualifying Campaign and pre-tournament build-up
Since the previous World Cup, German football had launched itself into the professional era. The years prior to the 1966 tournament had seen the creation of the new Bundesliga, which had already began to have an impact on a national side that had started to wobble and creak. The Bundesliga saw the emergence of a new generation of young German footballing talent, which would first be seen in 1966 and then lead the world for the best part of the following decade.
The Nationalmannschaft’s qualifying campaign was in the end straightforward, but Sweden did provide decent opposition. With only one team qualifying from a four-team group, Helmut Schön’s side scored fourteen goals and took seven out of the available eight points.
While previously the build-up towards a major tournament consisted of the odd friendly fixture here and there, the months before the 1966 finals saw a far more organised approach with six games being arranged. Germany won five of these six games and scored thirteen goals – with the only negative being a close 1-0 defeat at the hands of England in February, whom they would meet at the same venue less than six months later.
Germany’s Tournament in brief
The German team that took part in the 1966 World Cup contrasted markedly with that of four years earlier; the fruits of the newly-formed professional league had already started to bear fruit, and the tournament saw the emergence of a young side bristling with potential – epitomised by a certain Franz Beckenbauer.
Having topped a potentially tough first phase group consisting of Argentina, Spain and Switzerland, Helmut Schön’s young side overcame Uruguay in a tough quarter-final that was a lot closer than the 4-0 scoreline suggested before defeating the Soviet Union in a semi-final that was conversely a lot more comfortable than the final score of 2-1.
The final at Wembley against hosts England produced one of those World Cup classic matches, one that seems to be remembered only for England’s controversial third goal although there was also the drama of the last-minute German equaliser in normal time. Like many German sides before and since, the defeat was taken in good spirit and with good grace – with the players preferring to commend and congratulate their conquerors rather than dwell on the controversial moment or focus their ire on the match officials.