novelist | Another vision of the 1974 FIFA World Cup

  novelist |  Another vision of the 1974 FIFA World Cup

In the collective memory of world football, Zaire and Haiti are remembered for their poor performances during the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. However, the first two black teams to participate in the final stages of the competition had a good start before the politicians got involved. This distorted memory is largely tied to the geopolitical context of the time.

Football is the game of the world. It is so universal that it is often found at the intersection of planetary phenomena. Thus we can read the world history of the 20th century through this prism. Take, for example, one of the major themes of the last century: European colonialism. In 1974, as the last African countries gained their independence, the colonial question arose on football’s biggest stage. That year, the World Cup held in West Germany (and which would be won by the host country) welcomed a black team for the first time. In fact, two black teams: Zaire, the first team from Sub-Saharan Africa to qualify for Final 1, and Haiti. In the collective consciousness of the football world, both these teams are remembered for their poor performances. But is this legacy justified?

Yes, if we go by the statistics: Both the teams have lost in the three matches they have played, and each has suffered a crushing defeat. However, if one looks in detail, it appears that his performance was not as bad as what he had left in the collective memory—a memory distorted by commentators of the time, who wrote in context. Concern over the loss of Europe’s centrality in football in particular and world politics in general.

In its first game – a 2–0 loss to Scotland – Zaire proved its worth. Before the match, Scotland manager Willie Ormond said: “There is no risk that we are undermining Zaire. […] We’re going to score as many goals as possible, because that’s the only way for Brazil and Yugoslavia to honor us [NDLR : les deux autres équipes de la poule B] After the match, however, the same Ormond had to review his speech: “Zair surprised us with his performance in the second half and is clearly a team of the future. In fact, they beat Brazil and Yugoslavia well. Midfielder Billy Bremer admitted that “he played better than we thought”. A French journalist, for his part, commented that “African players justified both their reputation and their appearance”. , while a Scottish commentator declared: “He has shown that he has absolute status by fighting with many hearts and sending long balls to keep the Scottish. Defense to test. ,

Haiti also surprised everyone in their first game. At the time, the famous Italian goalkeeper, Dino Zoff – one of the greatest goalscorers of all time – was collecting “clean sheet” records (ie matches in which he conceded no goals) and had 1,200 minutes in the selection. single target. The record – which still stands – ended 46 minutes after the start of the match against Haiti, when 22-year-old striker Emmanuel Sanon scored a goal that went down in the history of Haitian sport. With six short minutes to spare, Haiti led the score against one of the best teams in the world… The Italians eventually reversed the situation and won by three goals. But Haiti sent a message to the whole world: this country deserved to be there.

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politicians are involved

So both these teams started the match strongly. After this the matter got more heated. In the second match, Zaire faces Yugoslavia, and it is a genocide: the Yugoslavs will give them nine goals! Haiti, for its part, would take seven against Poland. The result of their third and last match would be less spectacular: both teams would lose by three goals. Granted, Brazil and Argentina only needed one win to qualify, and the scores didn’t really matter (Emmanuel Sanon managed to score against Argentina, though). In the end, despite their first match, perhaps more representative of their true level, it is the crushing defeat that the football world remembers.

However, the performances of both teams in their second match were thwarted by additional football events. Ahead of the Zaire–Yugoslavia match, President Mobutu Sese Seko sacked the Zaire side’s Yugoslav coach, Blagoje Vidinic, for fear that he would “sell his secrets” to his compatriots.[1] The team had to rely on ad-hoc instructions from Mobutu officials. [NDLR : L’ambiance était d’autant plus tendue que les joueurs zaïrois ne voulaient pas jouer ce match et menaçaient de faire grève. En cause : le non-versement de la prime individuelle qui leur avait été promise, alors que la FIFA donnait à l’époque une prime aux fédérations de chacun des pays qualifiés – somme qui devait en partie revenir aux joueurs. Le onze zaïrois a été soupçonné d’avoir fait l’impasse sur ce match en guise de protestation.]

Similarly, Haiti’s defeat is attributed to the intervention of its own president. After the first match against Italy, a random doping test conducted on midfielder Ernst Jean-Joseph gave a positive result. Jean-Joseph attributed this result to asthma medications, but he was still ruled out of the tournament, which provoked the head of state, Jean-Claude Duvalier, aka Baby Doc. On his orders, Jean-Joseph was abused and faced humiliation. His teammate Fritz Andre later recalled that “as a skilled football player we were protected from the dark side of the regime until this episode. We had sleepless nights before the game against Poland, and to be honest. I was only thinking about Ernst, not the game.”

“We want Europe to keep the lead in football”

After these two matches, the commentators quickly say that these teams are not ready for work. Although Zaire stunned the Scots and Sanon’s goal against Zoff shocked the world, journalists are starting to talk about “the gap between the level of the best in Europe and the best in Africa”. One journalist describes the teams as “shameful for a competition so full of talent”. Criticism also emanates from the top of the football world: the president of UEFA (Federation of European Football Associations, European des Associations de Ftbol in French association), Artemio Franchi, proposes to modify the rules for the elimination phases to the “developing” country. Turn out, while the outgoing president of FIFA (International Federation of Association Football), Stanley Rouse, “plans to present a proposal that would separate the wheat from the husk in the early stages.” It is true that the scores in those other games were embarrassing, but it is not as if World Cup spectators have never seen a crushing defeat before – for example Scotland lost 0-7 to Uruguay in 1954 – or even after – No one asked to review playoff rules after Brazil’s 1-7 loss against Germany in 2014…

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So what happened in 1974? To understand this we have to remember the historical context. In the early 20th century, Western Europe was in many ways the center of the world. But by 1974, the political and economic centers had moved to the United States and the Soviet Union. With the loss of its African and Asian colonies, Europe had lost its “brilliance”. Football remained one of the few regions where the “Old Continent” still reigned supreme – FIFA was based in Switzerland. [NDLR : elle l’est toujours aujourd’hui] And all its presidents, since its founding, have come from Europe. Only here it is: Two days before the start of the 1974 World Cup, FIFA had elected a new president, Joao Havelange of Brazil. The election was seen by Europeans as a symptom of the loss of power in the world of football. The outgoing president, Englishman Stanley Rouse, also announced during the campaign: “I ask you to vote for me because it is Europe against South America, and we want Europe to keep the direction of football.”

But it was Hawelange who won, and this by saluting the countries of the so-called “underdeveloped” world. In 1974, 38 African nations were members of FIFA, compared to only four in 1957. Havelange understood that to win the presidency, he had to win over the votes of Africans. So he toured the continent largely by “selling out” the football development programme, but also by promising more places at the World Cup for African nations. The proposal had discredited European football. The President of the Belgian Football Federation, Louis Wouters, declared: “In the final stages this year, we have Zaire, Haiti and Australia. […] If that’s what you want, the organization of a world tournament where the Soviet Union, Slovakia, England, Spain and Belgium do not participate in the final, I will be the champion of Europe as the world champion. The West German captain, for his part, said: “Haiti and Zaire come here and not England, it makes no sense”. His Italian counterpart had pointed out that “the competition should belong to the sixteen best teams”, and It was “where they come from”, and therefore it was necessary “to promote the sport in smaller countries by encouraging these arguments to “play them”.

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identity crisis

In the opposing camp, Kuwait’s representative argued in 1978 that “one of the main ways to develop the level of the game is the creation of incentives, of which the Asian and African teams are the best in relation to them. Give me a chance to participate.” Asian and African selections have since distinguished themselves against Europeans (for example, Senegal beat defending champions France 1–0 in 2002). But in 1974, the European football community was not interested in this type of argument.

In fact, when Haiti and Zaire arrived in West Germany shortly after the election of Havelange, it was certain that their performance would be scrutinized. In fact, the Europeans had already formed a religion: despite Sanon’s famous goal and Zaire’s impressive performance against Scotland, the memory of the first two black teams able to participate in the World Cup will long be influenced by the will of the Europeans. The leader to defend his dominant position in world football. Their response is reflective of the identity crisis the continent was going through after colonialism.

The episode was experienced (and remembered) very differently in Haiti and Zaire. The 1974 World Cup in these two countries is not a matter of shame – on the contrary it is a pride. Emmanuel Sanon entered the pantheon of Haitian sport. We can still see the frescoes with his effigy in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. [NDLR : Quant aux Congolais, ils sont fiers d’avoir été les premiers sub-sahariens à participer à une Coupe du Monde – le maillot de 1974 est d’ailleurs revenu à la mode récemment.] Like what, the memory of an event depends above all on the person who remembers it, and is influenced by the way it was perceived at the time. It is therefore important to set the record straight in order to prevent false narratives such as the “failure” of Haiti and Zaire at the 1974 World Cup from continuing to reinforce racist views and policies.


This article was originally published on Africa, the website of a country with which Africa XXI has entered into a partnership.

Footnote 1: Prior to this, only two teams from North Africa, Egypt in 1934 and Morocco in 1970, had represented the continent at the World Cup.

Translated from English by Remi Carioli


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