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Tuesday, November 10, 2009
ESPNsoccernet: March 3, 2:40 PM UK
World Cup 1978

John Brewin and Martin Williamson

Winners: Argentina
Teams: 16
Teams in qualifiers: 107
Notable absentees: England, Czechoslovakia, Soviet Union
Surprises: Iran, Tunisia
Golden Boot: Mario Kempes (Argentina) -- 6
Stats: A total of 102 goals were scored (2.68 per match); Argentina and Netherlands (15) scored the most
Format: Four groups of four in the qualifying stage, with the top two from each group into a second round of two groups of four, the top side in each progressing into the final
Number of matches: 38

Innovations
• None

Controversies
• In 1976, Argentina had undergone a military coup and, in the build-up to the tournament, a number of teams debated whether they ought to take part. In the end there were no boycotts
• All of Argentina's games kicked off at night, giving them the advantage of already knowing other results in their group ahead of their own games. As a result, FIFA changed the rules ahead of the 1982 event
• Argentina needed to beat Peru by four clear goals in their last second-round match to reach the final. They won 6-0 with what some commentators noted was "suspicious ease," prompting suggestions the game had been rigged. Conspiracy theorists pointed out Peru's keeper Ramon Quiroga had been born in Argentina. Nothing was ever proved
• Netherlands refused to attend the postmatch ceremonies after the final because of what they claimed were deliberate stalling tactics by the Argentines before the start
• In the dying seconds of a first-round match between Brazil and Sweden, Brazil's Zico headed home a corner-kick. But referee Clive Thomas disallowed the goal, insisting he had whistled to end the match while the ball was in the air. The final score remained at 1-1.

Trivia
• Against Hungary, France wore the shirts of a local squad from Club Atletico Kimberley. Argentine TV was only black and white and the standard strips of the two sides were indistinguishable
• Brazil failed to reach the final despite not losing a match
• Netherlands' Ernie Brandts scored at both ends, an own goal for Italy and later a goal for his country, in their 2-1 win
• A nun was arrested in Frankfurt when she tried to strangle a man who had been cheering Austria's 3-2 win over West Germany


For the first time in 16 years, the tournament returned to South America, and not without a little controversy. Argentina was governed by a military junta that had come to power in bloody fashion and was known to deal with its critics through torture and imprisonment. This political situation had led many countries to consider boycotting Argentina for its human rights abuses but diplomacy on the part of the junta meant that, eventually, every qualifier lined up.

Netherlands had led the calls for a boycott but they would still have to do without Johan Cruyff, who had promised wife Danny that he wouldn't travel to South America after a supposed kidnapping attempt. West Germany, meanwhile, were without Franz Beckenbauer and were a shadow of the side that had won in 1974.

The hosts were favourites. Their star was Mario Kempes, a veteran of 1974 who had developed into the complete striker. Chain-smoking, hippified coach Cesar Luis Menotti could also count on the talents of skipper and sweeper Daniel Passarella, midfield playmaker Osvaldo Ardiles, Kempes' strike partner Leopoldo Luque and keeper Ubaldo Fillol. He even had the luxury of leaving 17-year-old wunderkind Diego Maradona out of his final 22-man squad.

But the Argentineans had a difficult time in the first round, where they faced a French team featuring a young Michel Platini. After a hard-fought 2-1 victory, Argentina needed a win against the Italians to remain in their preferred base of Buenos Aires. They failed, with Roberto Bettega scoring the only goal for Italy.

Netherlands, meanwhile, were struggling without Cruyff and narrowly squeezed through in a group that Peru won, with Teofilo Cubillas making a welcome return to the finals. Between the Dutch and the second group stage lay the Scots, who, despite coach Ally MacLeod's prediction that they could win the entire tournament, had been crushed by Peru and, more embarrassingly, played out an X-rated draw with Iran that goes down in history as one of the worst games in the World Cup of all time.

Scotland needed to beat the Dutch by two clear goals and, after Archie Gemmill scored a legendary goal to put them 3-1 up, they were in dreamland. Not for long, as Johnny Rep scored the goal that took the Dutch through just four minutes later.

The second stage saw the Dutch reunited with the West Germans in a repeat of the final of 1974. It took a late goal from Rene van de Kerkhof to secure a draw against them but the group's real threat was the Italians, for whom Bettega and Paolo Rossi formed a strong strike partnership ahead of the usual tough banks of defence and midfield.

After Netherlands beat an Austria side featuring the legendary Hans Krankl 5-1, the fight for a place in the final went down to the wire. Willy Brandts put past his own keeper to put Italy ahead but soon made amends by equalising. It took an amazing 40-yard thunderbolt from Arie Haan to win it for the Dutch and take them into their second successive final.

Now based in Rosario, Argentina started well with a 2-0 win over a strong Poland team but Brazil looked odds-on to go through. After a goalless draw between the old rivals, Argentina had to beat Peru by four clear goals to reach the final. After one of the sport's most controversial results, they did just that amid some strong allegations.

The final itself was not without controversy either. The kick-off was delayed while Argentine officials made a song and dance about a lightweight cast on Van de Kerkhof's fractured wrist. Once the game had started, and despite a strong Dutch start, Kempes was the hero as he tapped home after strong running by Luque and Ardiles. But Netherlands rallied and substitute Dirk Nanninga, as he had predicted to the press before the match, headed in ten minutes from time.

Then came the moment that confirmed the Dutch as World Cup history's nearly men: Robbie Rensenbrink's shot against the post in the last minute. In extra-time, Kempes took a full grip on the game, beating three men before knocking a rebound off keeper Jan Jongbloed into the net.

He then set up Daniel Bertoni five minutes from time and Argentina went down in history as 1978 World Cup champions amid famous scenes of tickertape celebration.


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