The soccer, moreover, had been largely dull and uninteresting, as most of the sides concentrated on defense. Only Portugal, with the tournament's strongest offense, and little North Korea, with nothing to lose, seemed to care at all about scoring. Their meeting in the quarterfinals produced by far the most exciting game of the tournament up to that time. The North Koreans burst into a 3-0 lead, to the vast astonishment and delight of the spectators, only to lose 5-3 when Eus�bio Ferreira da Silva, Portugal's answer to Brazil's Pel�, scored four goals.
England's quarterfinal match with Argentina was notable more for its repercussions than for the uninspired 1-0 English victory. First, the Argentine captain was banished for disputing an official decision; then the temperamental Latins disputed further, and, when it was all over, three Argentinians were suspended from future play. The nation was warned to mind its temper or it could not come back. ( Alf Ramsey then huffed something about Argentine animals, and he drew a reprimand.)
The Argentinians went home as national heroes and began to organize a world cup of their own for South American countries, since by the end of the quarterfinals all the Latin American teams were out of the competition. Uruguay, playing West Germany, had lost 4-0, after two of its better players were sent off the field by the English referee. This prompted the South American press to hint darkly that the whole thing was a dastardly Anglo-Saxon plot.
Curiously, in all of these charges and countercharges of foul play, no one had mentioned the name of Nobby Stiles. Norbert, as he was christened, was the popular choice for dirtiest player in the tournament before play even started. Eus�bio, the Portuguese star who was guarded by Stiles in the semifinal match against England, asked that the referee pay particular attention.
Nobby, a defensive back for Manchester United when he is not playing for England, is the most unlikely-looking villain in sports. He stands a rather wispy 5 feet 4, and with his horn-rimmed glasses and buck teeth he looks more like a bewildered rabbit than the most frightening defender in soccer. He is a changed man when he takes the field.
"I don't know what it is," says Jackie Charlton. "He takes out 'is bridgework and slips in 'is contact lenses and looks at you and it's bloody frightenin'. You don't know if the bloke is hypnotizin' you, or plannin' to go for your throat with 'is fangs."
Against the Portuguese, Nobby did, indeed, shadow Eus�bio, although he functioned as a sweeper, or jack of all trades, in the excellent English defense. Eus�bio, who had scored four goals against the North Koreans, scored just one against England, and that was on a point-blank penalty shot that had nothing to do with Nobby.
England beat Portugal 2-1 on two goals by Bobby Charlton, who was proposed (by a Swedish newspaper) for knighthood. Eus�bio left the field in tears, but he had no complaints about Nobby, who had played a clean game.
Indeed, this one game did much to take away the bad taste of the poor soccer and poorer sportsmanship of the previous matches. In the semifinal the night before in Liverpool, West Germany had eliminated Russia 2-1 in a monumentally dull game enlivened only by the German histrionics whenever they considered they might have been fouled.
Stiles, on the day before the final, worked out with his mates at Roehampton, at the Bank of England Athletic Field, where English national sides traditionally practice before an international game. Although Nobby is only 23 he has 19 caps, which means that he has competed against international competition 19 times. An actual cap, with a small tassel on top, is awarded a player for each international game in which he participates.