Sunday, May 31, 2015

31 May 1970 - The Reds See Yellow

On 31 May 1970, Mexico and the Soviet Union kicked off that year's World Cup before a crowd of 107,000 at Mexico City's Estadio Azteca. The match did not go as the hosts had hoped, ending as a scoreless draw.

Controversy erupted even before the players took the pitch, as FIFA scheduled several matches, including the opener, to start at noon. They claimed the early start time was intended to facilitate live television coverage for Europe, but many of the players complained that the noon starts would be too hot and would favor sides from warmer climates.

Despite El Tri's home advantage, the Soviets were heavily favored, having advanced the semi-finals of the previous World Cup, then finishing in fourth place in the 1968 European Championship. Mexico, meanwhile, had never gotten out of the first round in any prior World Cup. On the day, however, neither side managed to threaten the other, making it an anticlimactic start to what would eventually become one of the most celebrated tournaments thanks to a dynamic Brazil side that won the trophy, their third, after beating Italy 4-1 in the Final.

The match did see the World Cup's first-ever tactical substitution, as well as the first-ever yellow card in a World Cup match. Before 1970, substitutions were allowed only in case of injury and, while cautions and expulsions were used before 1970, the tournament was the first to use the card system. The first substitute was the USSR's Anatoliy Puzach, who came on for Viktor Serebryanikov in the 46th minute, while the first yellow card - one of five issued in the match - went to Evgeni Lovchev in the 40th minute.

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