Chapter Eighteen – Bottom Of The Bill (cont.)
This win gave England five points from three matches. Portugal had beaten Luxembourg by six goals in Lisbon, had drawn there with England, and had lost in Luxembourg. Thus they had three points from three games. When they came to Wembley, their only hope was a win which would have meant a further play-off match with England. All this merely illustrated the freakish nature of cup football for Portugal, in terms of the quality of the players, had to be rated highly. Despite the points situation which meant that England had to avoid defeat above all else, a capacity crowd of 100,000 turned up to see Portugal while only a few weeks previously Ireland, with Blanchflower and McIlroy, could attract only 30,000, the lowest international crowd Wembley had known. Cup football was still attractive to some people, if not to Arsenal supporters.
Players like Crawford of Ipswich and Hunt of Liverpool had been tried, but with Burnley riding high in the League Connelly and Pointer found their way into the team against Portugal and each man snapped a goal within ten minutes to give England a commanding lead and fortify the northern critics who said they should have been in months if not years earlier.
In the opening half-hour England assumed an easy command of the match and convinced themselves that they had qualified for Chile. Then the team lapsed slightly and allowed Portugal to come back into the game. This pattern was followed in end-season games with Austria and Switzerland. Relaxing when one has a comfortable lead is easy to do, difficult to resist, dangerous to indulge in.
Eusebio, the big Benfica inside-forward who was to make such a name for himself in the European Cup the same season, hammered two fine shots against posts late in the game and made Portugal look better than they actually were, but the job was done and well done. England had qualified for the World Cup finals. For all that, with doubts remaining about the England future of Greaves and Hitchens, none of us truly believed that we had a team of outstanding world championship class. One thing that had annoyed us greatly was the Press attitude towards these matches with Luxembourg and Portugal. Some critics announced that they would be nothing more than a formality for England. One writer actually declaimed that we would beat Portugal 6-0. This kind of writing is beyond all the bounds of rational thinking. No two matches are alike, no team ever plays exactly alike in any two matches. The fact that we had scored nine goals in Luxembourg and had held Portugal in Lisbon seemed to mean that these teams would lie down in London and let us run all over them. This was nonsense and dangerous nonsense, particularly in its effect on England players. They simply detest playing in such matches, matches which they are supposed to win without breaking sweat. Playing in these games is like playing for the Football League XI – you just can’t win.
This last qualifying match against Portugal ended a phase. We had done the job we were booked for Chile. What remained in the winter were training sessions at Lilleshall, as many as we could fit in, then apart from club problems of Cup and League, spring matches against Scotland, Austria and Switzerland and at long last the trip to the other side of the world to joust with Brazil and Hungary and Spain and Italy and Uruguay and all the great names of world football in the greatest of all international events – the World Football Championships for the Jules Rimet Cup.
It's All In The Game was published by Arthur Baker Limited.
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