Argentina 1978 World Cup
For the first time in World Cup history the 1978 tournament was hosted in Argentina, another of South America’s football mad countries. FIFA once again decided to stick with the same format as the previous World Cup, but their decision to do so would come under criticism as a result of Argentina scheduling all their matches to take place at night, so they would know what result was required. Further controversy surrounded the finals, as Argentina had been the victim of a military coup as little as two years before the start of the tournament. As a result of this many countries publicly courted with the idea of boycotting the competition. Eventually all the countries agreed to participate but the Netherlands would have to compete without Johan Cruyff, arguably the best player in the world, as he refused to take his place at Argentina ’78. On a positive note, the 1000th goal in World Cup history was scored by Rob Rensenbrink of the Netherlands in their final group match against Scotland.
Brazil was drawn in a group that contained three European teams, Austria, Spain and Sweden. In a shock, Brazil only managed to finish second in the group as Austria ran out group winners. As in the previous World Cup Brazil got off to a slow start. A one all draw with Sweden was followed by a scoreless draw with Spain, which Brazil needing to beat Austria in their final match. A solitary goal in the first half by Robert Dinamite was enough to see the three times champions through, though they had flattered to deceive so far. In other groups, Poland created a mini upset to top group B ahead of defending champion’s West Germany. Group B also saw the first ever World Cup win by an African nation as Tunisia ran out 3 – 1 winners over Mexico. Italy won all three of their opening games in Group A, including a victory over host nation Argentina, who also qualified, to get their campaign off to a flying start and in group D Peru, lead by star man Teofilo Cubillas, created another shock by finishing ahead of 1974 runners up the Netherlands.
In the second round Brazil were grouped with Poland, Peru and hosts Argentina. Brazil got off to the perfect start by beating Peru by three goals to nil with Dirceu (2) and Zico the scorers. Argentina responded with a two nil victory over Poland with both goals scored by Mario Kempes , who would finish the tournament as top scorer with six goals. A scoreless draw between the two South American powerhouses meant that first place would be decided by each team’s individual results in the final matches. It was this round of matches that highlighted the flaw in FIFA’s idea to allow the final matches to kick off at different times. Brazil played first, and now warming to the tournament, beat Poland by three goals to taking their points total to five and their goal difference to plus five. The Argentineans now knew that they needed to win by four clear goals to top the group. In one of the most suspicious games in the history of the World Cup Argentina beat Peru by six goals to nil. The hosts were two goals to the good at half time and the Peruvian’s simply fell apart in the second period. Brazil cried foul, claiming their South American cousins simply hadn’t tried and pointed to the fact that the Peruvian goalkeeper was born in Argentina. There were also rumours of promised trade between the two countries if Peru threw the game but nothing was ever proved and Argentina were through to the final. Brazil was left to fight for third place against Italy and was triumphant. They finished the tournament as the only undefeated nation and could hold their heads high, being denied a shot at a fourth title by a schedule designed to favour the hosts.
In Group A, an all European Group, the Dutch began in exemplary fashion crushing Austria 5 -1, including a brace from Rep. Defending champions West Germany and Italy battled to a goalless draw before the two finalists from the previous World Cup came face to face once again. This time the score was two apiece. A one nil win by Italy was enough to overcome Austria and it meant that all three teams had a chance to progress to the final. It was the Netherlands who would seize that chance as goals from Brandts and Haan were enough to give the ’74 runners up their second successive final spot. West Germany was surprisingly beaten by Austria to end their reign as Champions of the World.
The final would see the Netherlands face the tournament hosts for World Cup glory for the second time in four years after losing to West Germany in 1974. In further controversial circumstances it was Argentina who would emerge victorious by virtue of a three goals to one win. The Dutch accused the Argentineans of deliberately holding up the start of the match by first coming out of the dressing rooms late and then secondly questioning the legality of a plaster cast on Dutchman Rene van de Kerkhof’s wrist. Once the match finally began Mario Kempes put the hosts a goal to the good after thirty eight minutes. It took the Netherlands until the eighty second minute to fashion an equalizer with the goal scored by Nanninga. In extra time, the “Oranje” appeared to run out of steam as Argentina scored twice more, with Kempes claiming his sixth of the competition and Bertoni rounding off the scoring to send the home fans into raptures and grant Argentina its first World Cup triumph. The Dutch, furious at the spirit in which the game had been played, refused to attend the post match ceremony but that did nothing to dampen the spirits of a fervent crowd who, after a number of hardships, had reasons to smile and be proud once again.
Goals: 102 (average 2.7 per match)
Attendance: 1 546 151 (average 40 688)
Golden Boot Winner: Mario Kempes (Argentina) 6 Goals
Fair Play Award: Argentina