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  • UEFA preliminary draw for Qatar 2022 on December 7, 2020
  • For the occasion, FIFA.com looks back on 10 legendary matches in European qualifiers
  • Part 1: a Scottish legend, a Polish clown and a Bulgarian miracle on the menu

1) Sweden-Estonia, 1933: the first in a long series

The success of the first FIFA World Cup ™ in Uruguay in 1930 led FIFA to organize a qualifying tournament for Italy 1934. Thus, 32 teams from three continents took part in the first preliminary tournament. Sweden and Estonia therefore had the honor of playing the first qualifying match for the world event.

June 11, 1933, Stockholm Stadium, Sweden 6-2 Estonia
Goals: Knut Kroon (7 ‘), Lennart Bunke (10’), Bertil Ericsson (13 ‘), Torsten Bunke (43’), Bertil Eriksson (70 ‘), Sven Andersson (79’ sp) for Sweden; Leonhard Kaas (47 ‘), Richard Kuremaa (61’) for Estonia

History will remember that striker Knut Kroon scored the first goal in a FIFA World Cup ™ qualifier. The locals already lead 3-0 after a quarter of an hour and before the break, Torsten Bunke adds a fourth goal for the Swedes. Leonhard Kaas then Richard Kuremaa allow the visitors to give a little interest to the game, but the 8000 spectators of this historic meeting will see their proteges widen a new gap at the end of the match.

Sweden would then qualify for Italy 1934 thanks to a success in Lithuania. Estonia will never come so close to participating in the world race again


1934 FIFA World Cup Italy™ Official Poster
© FIFA.com

2) England-Poland, 1973: A clown defeats Three Lions

To qualify for FRG 1974, the English must beat Poland at home. Sir Alf Ramsey, the man of the coronation in 1966, is the subject of criticism, but the mission seems largely affordable. Especially since in the pre-match commentary, legendary Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough likens the Polish goalkeeper to “a clown with gloves”, with his unorthodox technique. But clowns don’t always make people laugh …

October 17, 1973, Wembley, London, England 1-1 Poland
Goals: Allan Clarke (63 ‘sp) for England; Jan Domarski (55 ‘) for Poland

From the kick-off, England siege the Polish goal, but Jan Tomaszewski multiplies the exploits on his line. The score remains blank, until the 55th minute. Winger Grzegorz Lato on the left side serves Jan Domarski on the right, who only has to slip the ball out of reach of Peter Shilton. Less than ten minutes later, England returned to the score from the penalty spot by Clarke. The English then resume their bombardment, but without success: 35 shots for England, two for Poland, and the “clown” will have the last word.

“I remember the last thing Kazimierz Gorski told us before the game: ‘You can play for 20 years and have over a thousand matches for the national team without anyone remembering you. But tonight you have the opportunity to make history ‘. He was right. I probably did not have the best game of my career that day, but I was very lucky, “commented Tomaszewski, whose performance will force England to wait another seven years before returning to the world stage.


Polish goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski saves a shot against England in 1973. Photo courtesy thefa.com.
© Others

3) Wales-Scotland, 1985: Euphoria and tragedy for the Tartan Army

On the road to Mexico 1986, Scotland achieved a historic success which should have made all its supporters happy. Instead, this meeting kicked off a period of national mourning. The sport that had offered so much to the legendary Jock Stein was going to take everything away from him that September evening in Cardiff …

September 10, 1985, Ninian Park, Cardiff, Wales 1-1 Scotland
Goals: Mark Hughes (13 ‘) for Wales; Davie Cooper (81 ‘sp) for Scotland

In 1985, Scotland remained on three consecutive qualifiers for the world event, but arriving in Cardiff they were very close to elimination. Winning the first leg in Glasgow on a goal from the inevitable Ian Rush, Wales are only two points away from second place. By finishing behind Spain, the Welsh would be sure to play a dam against the representative of the OFC.

Stein’s assistant, one Alex Ferguson, remembers noticing the tension on his mentor’s face, as kick-off time approached. Worse, from the 13th minute, Mark Hughes opened the scoring in favor of the Welsh. On the hour mark, the former Celtic coach makes a courageous decision replacing star Gordon Strachan with Davie Cooper. The Rangers winger will justify this confidence placed on the penalty spot, allowing his team to come back to the score nine minutes from time. At the end of the match, believing that the referee had finally whistled deliverance for his family, the Scottish coach leaps to greet his Welsh counterpart … and is struck by a heart attack. A few minutes later, his death is pronounced in the treatment room of Ninian Park …

That day, 12,000 Scots had made the trip to Cardiff. One of them, interviewed by television, will sum up the sentiment of an entire nation: “We would rather be eliminated and be made Jock”.


Scotland manager Jock Stein looking relaxed after a World Cup Qualifying match against Northern Ireland.
© Getty Images

4) Republic of Ireland-Spain, 1989: the misfortune of Míchel, the happiness of Bonner

Absent from the first 13 FIFA World Cups, the Republic of Ireland started the qualifiers for the 14th edition with two points in their first three road trips to Italy in 1990. Les Boys in Green do not lead off when it comes to welcoming a Spain totaling five victories in as many games. But with Jack Charlton on the bench, the dream seems possible, since he had qualified the Irish for their first major international competition, UEFA EURO 1988.

April 26, 1989, Lansdowne Road, Dublin, Republic of Ireland 1-0 Spain
Goal: Michel (16 ‘csc) for the Republic of Ireland

A few months earlier in Seville, Spain had given the Irish a football lesson, the final result (2-0) in no way reflecting the domination of the locals. Charlton must also do without John Aldridge, the Liverpool striker, still affected by the Hillsborough disaster, which occurred a few days earlier. But pushed by 50,000 spectators, the Irish impose hellish pressure on their opponent. Spain cracked in the 16th minute, when Ray Houghton sent a cross to Frank Stapleton, beaten by Míchel, whose attempt to release ended in his own net.

Spain will do everything to equalize but with a Pat Bonner of great evenings, nothing will be scored until the final whistle. “It took a huge game to beat Spain, and that’s what we did. There is no doubt that this game was a turning point in our qualification for Italy 1990. I would even say it was the one of the most beautiful evenings of football at Lansdowne Road “, commented the Irish doorman after this feat.


Packie Bonner celebrates after saving a penalty kick in the 1990 FIFA World Cup
© Getty Images

5) France-Bulgaria, 1993: Kostadinov deprives Blues of the american dream

With the last two days at home, one point is enough for France to ensure its qualification for USA 1994. It does not take it against Israel (2-3), but has no real doubts that it will be there. ‘will win against Bulgaria, which must win.

November 17, 1993, Parc des Princes, Paris, France 1-2 Bulgaria_
Goals: Éric Cantona (32 ‘) for France; Emil Kostadinov (37 ‘, 90’) for Bulgaria_

The premises are favorites, and confirm it thanks to Eric Cantona, who exploits a discount from Jean-Pierre Papin at the half-hour mark. All is well for the Blues, America is in sight… for seven minutes. Emil Kostadinov rises from a corner and puts the two teams in a tie. With the recent memory of the defeat against Israel, the French are less enterprising in attack and seem more concerned with preserving the draw result than going to snatch victory. The plan worked until the 89th minute, when David Ginola got a free kick near the right corner post.

Instead of keeping the leather and letting the seconds pass, the Paris Saint-Germain striker tries a cross in the area which does not find anyone. The Bulgarians start against, Lyuboslav Penev sends a ladle towards Kostadinov who, in an impossible angle, sends a half-volley under the bar of Bernard Lama. The clock reads 44’58 ” … “The French were so scared that they played with tight buttocks. We knew they would behave that way. Our tactics were based on that parameter. They played a draw and no ‘have never looked for victory. They did not deserve to qualify. We sank them when it hurts the most “, commented the Bulgarian captain Hristo Stoichkov, not really known to mince his words and who, a few months later will be one of the heroes of the American World Cup.


Europe, the legendary qualifiers: part 2

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Europe, the legendary qualifiers: part 2



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