Amazon Prime Video recently made available many of the official FIFA World Cup films that capture one of the greatest-ever golden periods of world soccer.
Currently, with many soccer leagues shut down across much of the world, I rewatched the official films from the 1978 World Cup (hosted in Argentina) as well as 1982 (hosted by Spain) and culminating in Mexico’s 1986 World Cup. It was a decade punctuated by two Argentine triumphs in World Cups with an Italian interlude of 1982, sandwiched in-between.
These films were refreshing in that they provided honest accounts of the competition and came before the era of mass commercialization of the game and FIFA’s propaganda-driven messaging. Before viewing the videos, it is also important to remember all three of these World Cups all had different competition formats.
In 1978, the competition featured 16 teams with the top two teams in four team groups advancing to an eight team knockout stage. In 1982, the tournament featured 24 teams for the first time and the top two teams in four team groups advanced to a second knockout stage of four 3-team groups. From this the group winners advanced to the semifinals. In 1986, 24 teams placed in six four team groups were cut to 16 after the Group Stage and from the Round 16 onward was a straight knockout competition. This straight knockout format from 16 teams that began in 1986 continues today, but will be altered for the 2026 FIFA World Cup when the knockout stages will be increased to 32 teams and the Group Stage cut to two matches each.
One of the first things that jumps out watching all three films in close succession is the upgrade in production quality from one film to the next. Another evolving impression from each video is that of the field-level advertising boards and the increase in FIFA sponsorships during the period. Some sponsors such as Coca-Cola were consistently FIFA partners while others came or dropped off during the period.
One of the great ironies of these retrospectives is that the 1978 and 1982 films spent lots of time building up two stars that would be the standout performers of the next FIFA World Cup – Paolo Rossi and Diego Maradona respectively. This is a reminder that in an era when club soccer wasn’t as widely televised throughout the world, the stars of tournaments to come were often discovered in the previous major tournament or World Cup.
Don’t cry for me Argentina
The 1978 film was produced differently than the other two. The film starts with a walkthrough of the potential tournament stars by narrator Steve Hudson. Scotland featured prominently in the build-up while 1966 winners England had missed qualification for the second successive FIFA World Cup. Keir Radnedge, the founder of World Soccer magazine, wrote the script for Hudson’s narration.
The film was honest about the then-recent change in Argentine government and the sort of fan culture that it brought to the competition. However, the allegations of match-fixing in the Group Stage match between Peru and Argentina did not surface until decades later and so were not in the film.
A personal thrill for me in the film was the mention of Franz Beckenbauer of West Germany, the captain of the defending champions playing his club soccer in the USA at the New York Cosmos. The USA had at the time last qualified for a FIFA World Cup in 1950 and throughout the next three decades contributed little to the global game. Since 1978, every FIFA World Cup save the 1986 one has featured one or more players active with a US-based professional club in the competition.
Argentina won the World Cup on home soil. Osvaldo Ardiles and Mario Kempes proved the biggest stars in a team full of bright players.
The film served as a video narrative to the competition but the production level paled when compared to the 1982 and especially the 1986 film.
Diamonds Are Forever
Strikingly, the 1982 film is narrated by Sean Connery, whose distinct Scottish accent and diction make the presentation even more lively.
Oddly an Indian flag appeared at the very beginning when scenes of people waving flags from the opening ceremony in Spain were aired. India has never qualified for a FIFA World Cup.
The 1982 film was presented in Fujicolor because Fuji film had by this time become a FIFA Sponsor. The video placed credits in both the opening and close in a manner reminiscent of many of the best 1980’s productions. At this point in time, the general level of TV production for live sports and archived sporting film was much higher in the United States than elsewhere.
The 1982 film’s narrative starts with a discussion of the new star of the game – one Diego Maradona. His presence was seen as critical as holders Argentina looked to repeat as World Champions. However Argentina lost 1-0 to Belgium in the opening match, leaving a frustrated Maradona.
A highlight of the competition was when Northern Ireland beat host Spain in the final match of the first Group Stage. The win put the upstart Northern Irish through to the next phase but the hosts qualified as well. The film showed how a celebration ensued and fans from both nations partied together. Northern Ireland’s progress to the next round meant new flights had to be booked as the team had pessimistically booked to go home after the first phase of the competition.
The joyous scenes are contrasted with England’s qualification for its first FIFA World Cup since Mexico 1970. Spanish police were ready to deal with England’s infamous fans as this was the height of the era of hooliganism.
Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking were injured for England, but Bryan Robson’s goal after 27 seconds, the fastest goal in World Cup history helped England beat France. The Three Lions went on to win all three matches in the first stage of the tournament. But in classic English fashion, they failed miserably in the second stage, not scoring a goal.
The film goes into great detail regarding Italy’s 3-2 win over Brazil in the second stage. This match, arguably the greatest ever played by two high level sides in the history of international soccer is decided by a Rossi winner. Zico, to that point the player of the tournament, would not reach the semifinals. Connery’s narration makes one of the greatest occasions in the history of the sport seem even grander.
France and West Germany reached the semifinal and played out an epic contest going all the way to penalties. while in the other match, Rossi scored twice to lead Italy past Poland. The final yielded an Italian victory.
The film once again has some very honest moments delivered via Connery’s voice including honesty about France’s internal problem with Larios being sent home after an affair with Platini’s wife. The film also notes Germany’s “non-aggression pact” with Austria, which was described as one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of the competition – and is the reason the final group stage matches or final match days in top league do not stagger kickoffs anymore. Algeria was eliminated on the basis of this deal made between West Germany and Austria to play out a 1-0 German victory, which was the lone scoreline that would allow both nations to the next round.
Not a lot of people know that
The 1986 film begins with production titles and a crackling sound unlike 1978 and 1982. Beginning with music and images of Maradona, a crowd doing the Mexican Wave, and Argentine celebrations was markedly different than the previous two films. Then the film goes through the titles of the stars of the tournament beginning with Maradona, again in a completely different style than previous films.
Narrated by Michael Caine, the narrative begins with a look at the devastation of Mexico City after the 1985 Earthquake. It’s often forgotten that the 1986 FIFA World Cup hosting was originally awarded to Colombia but moved to Mexico, successful hosts of the 1970 FIFA World Cup, in 1983 when Colombia withdrew hosting claiming they could not economically afford to put on the event.
Caine’s narration while not as silky smooth as Connery’s in the 1982 film is also outstanding. The action from Group A where the winners of the last two FIFA World Cups, Italy and Argentina were paired with Bulgaria and South Korea, dominates the early part of the film. An open and entertaining match, the group provided lots of exciting moments chronicled in the film.
Morocco’s triumphed in a group with three European powers, including 1982 semifinalist Poland and 1966 winner England, was chronicled in detail. England’s Gary Lineker was one of the stars of the tournament. But the best part of the tournament was still to come.
The knockout stages of the 1986 tournament are considered among the greatest in the history of the competition. From Maradona’s incredible solo goal, to his hand of god, as well Belgium’s improbable run to the semifinals and Michel Platini’s brilliance before being shut down by West Germany’s negative approach, everything is covered in great detail.
Caine’s narration takes us to a final where Argentina bested West Germany and once again lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy, but this time led by the great Maradona.
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