Breaking News: Having written-off Derek’s Australia yesterday, today bookies have slashed the Socceroos’ odds from 100-1 to just 50-1. It turns out that horrible hatchetman Craig Moore, the defender who shamed Scottish football with his outrageous hacking for years, is not in the Aussie squad. If rumours are true, and Kylie Minogue does turn up to play a morale-boosting gig for players, the odds will almost certainly tumble again. Not bad for a team who, if Moore is anything to go by, probably think they’re playing rugby.

Group 2

Talking of teams who don’t know the rules, it’s time to preview Group 2 featuring Andy McLean’s Zaire. This is, of course, the big one, the group everyone is interested in. It’s Scotland’s group. After Simon’s dismal display in the dark blue last year, the Tartan Army will be heaping huge expectation on Ross.

In the real 1974 World Cup, not our time-travelling poker tournie, most people remember Scotland coming home undefeated, beating Zaire 2-0, drawing 0-0 with Brazil, and drawing 1-1 with Yugoslavia.

People also remember Scotland playing Brazil off the park and captain Billy Bremner missing an almost impossibly easy open goal from about as close to the net as it’s possible to get without ending in a tangle. What people often don’t know is that a prominent Zaire player, Mafu Kibonge, subsequently alleged that Brazil and Zaire cheated Scotland. He says the Brazil camp approached their Zaire counterparts at half-time and colluded to fix the result.

“Brazil match-fixing!?” I hear you say. Apparently so, and the story goes like this.

In 1974 Zaire was ruled by a ruthless dictator, President Mobutu, a man who later that year would host arguably the greatest fight of all time, Ali vs. Foreman in The Rumble in the Jungle, and a man who consolidated power by publicly executing political rivals, secessionists, coup plotters, and other threats to his rule. Zaire or DR Congo as it is now is rich in natural resources but has a poverty-stricken population and Mobutu’s reign was characterized by institutionalised corruption. The President spent millions to promote Zaire to the world, and big-up himself, by bringing boxing’s greatest contest to central Africa. He was also keen to see his football team succeed, although as a footballing minnow and the first sub-Saharan African team to play in the World Cup finals, success meant keeping the score down to a respectable level, rather than winning or even drawing any matches.

Zaire succeeded in keeping the score down against Scotland. We won by only two goals, from Lorimer and Jordan, and Zaire’s keeper Kazadi played a blinder. The African players were highly motivated, believing they’d return to Zaire as millionaires and live a life of luxury with a huge annual income granted by the President. Mobutu had already given them all cars and houses. It’s also true to say that they really didn’t like Scotland. They believed we’d treated them badly and we probably did. We’d certainly been dismissive of their footballing abilities. Scotland manager Willie Ormond said that his side should “pack up and go home” if they couldn’t beat the Africans. Zaire had something to prove.

When Zaire met Yugoslavia in their second group match the situation was very different. The players now believed that they wouldn’t be paid at all and I wonder who allowed them to think that? Perhaps it was Zoran Vidinic, Zaire’s Yugoslavian coach. At first the players refused to play at all, and then, with the score already at 3-0 to the Europeans, Vidinic substituted the Leopard’s superstar goalie Kazadi and put a 5ft 4″ replacement between the sticks. Yugoslavia won 9-0.

Mobutu was furious and his players were told a 4-0 loss to Brazil in the final game would mean none of them would be able to return home. I’m not sure where the President expected them to go, perhaps ‘not able to return home’ was a euphemism for ‘not able to return home alive’. Either way the players were terrified, and not without good reason, given the dictator’s fearsome reputation for ultra-violence.

Coincidentally, to qualify for the second phase and elminate Scotland, Brazil needed a 3-0 win against Zaire in the final match of the opening group phase. With Brazil 1-0 up at half-time Mafu Kibonge says the Brazilians approached the Leopards to fix the match; “At half-time the whole Brazilian delegation came to us. Then the trainer said to us: ‘Right, to please the crowd, freeze your game. Don’t attack. Freeze your game and it’s over. See what you can do. So we did.”

It seems there was no ‘brown envelope’. No money changed hands. Zaire agreed to lie down to avoid a 4-0 defeat, which could very well have amounted to a death sentence and to spite the disliked Scots.

“We got nothing. We did it for pleasure…” says Mafu Kibonge, “…the Scots treated us so badly… we had to make them pay, so we did.”

Brazil won 3-0. Scotland went out on goal difference, by one goal. Zaire avoided the terrible wrath of Mobutu by one goal. Zaire’s coach Vidinic sat back happily as his own nation, Yugoslavia, topped the group thanks to their nine goal victory.

So, what does this mean for our forthcoming poker ‘World Cup’ based on 1974? Well, let’s see, based on history, Stephen (Brazil) will approach Andy McLean (Zaire) at the first break and conspire to stitch-up Ross (Scotland) and in the biggest soft play scandal since you know who, did you know what, Andy will do everything possible to give Marie (Yugoslavia) all his chips. Thank goodness I’m not the Tournament Director for this one!

I’ve been laughing at Andy McLean’s Facebook efforts this week. Andy has reminded me that last Christmas he topped the opening group with Iran against Simon’s Scotland and Tiger’s Netherlands, and he’s asked me not to be too hard on his Zaire. Well Andy, all I’ve said is you’re a corrupt cheat and the softest of soft players. Kind comments by my standards and water off a duck’s back for a Hearts fan from central Africa who used to represent Iran.

The biggest laugh for me was when Andy posted this picture. It depicts Zaire’s Illunga Mwepu taking a freekick late in the game. The problem was he was taking the freekick for Brazil! His team mates in the defensive wall are laughing and the Brazilians are suitably shocked. The popular perception is that Zaire were so bad they didn’t even know the rules. Of course once you know the back story, it actually becomes very dark humour. Mwepu was probably scared for his life. It’s still one of football’s funniest moments though. Have a look on YouTube.

The final lesson from history is… expect Andy McLean to play at least one of Stevie’s hands.