Italy midfielder MARCO TARDELLI of FC Juventus Turin stretches out his leg in an attempt to tackle the ball away from his future colleague in Serie A, the talented but still 22-year-old midfielder MICHEL PLATINI of AS Nancy, during the 1978 FIFA World Cup first round, Group 1 match at the Estadio Jose Maria Minella in Mar del Plata, Argentina.
The B group was the only one of the four at the football tournament to have remained unaffected by the African boycott of the 1976 Summer Olympics and, as a result, provided, perhaps, the most entertaining race for the quarterfinal spots at the Montreal Games.
In the opening round, ISRAEL and surprising GUATEMALA played to a goalless draw at the Varsity Stadium in Toronto. Perhaps the Israelis, fortified by two players from the 1970 FIFA World Cup team, should have done better. FRANCE, on the other hand, had little trouble in their match with MEXICO at Lansdowne Park in the Canadian capital city of Ottawa.
JEAN-MARC SCHAER, a 23-year-old back-up forward from beaten 1976 European Cup of Champions finalist AS St. Etienne, gave the French a good start almost a quarter of an hour in before FC Nantes forward BRUNO BARONCHELLI, who was later capped six times and scored one goal for France, bagged a second roughly twenty minutes thereafter. 22-year-old midfielder FRANCISCO “Paco” RUBIO of AS Nancy put the result beyond doubt with a third strike for France in the 78th minute before Mexico’s 17-year-old, would-be World Cup star HUGO SANCHEZ salvaged some pride with a little less than ten minutes to go. A last minute goal from FC Nantes winger LOIC AMISSE, who went on to make a dozen ‘full’ appearances and score two goals for the French national team, left the Mexicans to lament a heavy 4-1 loss.
France rolled to another 4-1 victory in their next contest against Guatemala at the little Municipal Stadium in Sherbrooke as 21-year-old midfielder MICHEL PLATINI of AS Nancy announced his arrival on the Olympic stage by scoring the first and last goals of the game. Amisse and Schaer sandwiched a second goal at the ’76 Olympic Games each around the tally of 29-year-old Guatemala striker MARCO FION of FC Aurora just before the hour mark. This, however, would be the only goal the Guatemalans could manage to score by all by themselves for the entire tournament.
The Mexicans, meanwhile, recovered in their second match to score twice unanswered in the first half against Israel at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal through 19-year-old striker VICTOR RANGEL of CD Guadalajara. The Israelis, however, would mount a rally of their own six minutes into the second half starting with a goal from midfielder YARON OZ of FC Maccabi Tel Aviv. A second strike from the penalty spot four minutes later by World Cup veteran ITZHAK SHUM of FC Hapoel Kfar Saba saw to it that the points would be shared.
In a match it desperately needed to win, preferably by a large margin, as well, Mexico made a horrendous start against its tiny Central American neighbor to the south, Guatemala. An own goal conceded just eighteen minutes into the game really left the Mexicans behind the proverbial eight-ball at the Municipal Stadium in Sherbrooke. An equalizer from Rangel, who later went on to score a goal for his country at the 1978 FIFA World Cup final tournament in Argentina, and the 1-1 result left Mexico no other option but to hope for a huge loss by Israel in their final group match with France at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal.
But Israel were able to stop the potent French attack in its tracks and even took a 75th minute lead courtesy of FC Maccabi Tel Aviv striker VICKY PERETZ, who later spent three productive seasons in French football with Racing Club Strasbourg and Stade Rennes. Platini, who went on to pick up three consecutive European Player of the Year awards while winning the 1984 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and 1985 UEFA European Cup of Champions with crack Italian Serie A side FC Juventus of Turin, pulled France level with ten minutes remaining. But a single point earned in front of the largest audience (33,639) to witness a match in the first round of the ’76 Summer Games was more than enough to provide Israel with passage to the Olympic quarterfinals.
Mexico striker HUGO SANCHEZ of Pumas de la UNAM, who later spent two summers out on loan in the North American Soccer League and scored 13 goals in 19 NASL games for the San Diego Sockers in that time, seeks top dribble away from El Salvador defenders during the CONCACAF Championships (a qualification tournament for the 1978 FIFA World Cup in Argentina) match at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City on October 12, 1977.
1976 Summer Olympic Games
First Round, Group B
7/19 ….. 9,500 .. Varsity Stadium, Toronto …………… Israel 0 – Guatemala 0
7/19 … 14,286 … Lansdowne Park, Ottawa …………….. France 4 – Mexico 1
7/21 ….. 3,163 … Municipal Stadium, Sherbrooke ….. France 4 – Guatemala 1
7/21 … 28,124 … Olympic Stadium, Montreal ………… Mexico 2 – Israel 2
7/23 ….. 4,118 … Municipal Stadium, Sherbrooke ….. Guatemala 1 – Mexico 1
7/23 … 33,639 … Olympic Stadium, Montreal ………… Israel 1 – France 1