This is the tenth in a weekly series of World Cup history lessons brought to you by our very own “Professor” Guy Bailey. He is not actually a professor; the only professor on staff is Jamie Clary. Well, sort of.
The 1978 World Cup
The decision to award the 11th World Cup Finals to Argentina for the first time was taken back in 1970 when they vied with Mexico for the honor. The Mexicans won out and Argentina had to wait another eight years. Unfortunately, during this time a Military Junta seized power in 1976 but FIFA, ever blind to overriding moral obligations, kept the engagement, which would be little comfort to the 6000 people held in Concentration Camps during the tournament, many of whom would join the ranks of the “disappeared.”
England failed to qualify for the second World Cup in succession, and joined Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union and reigning European Champions Czechoslovakia on the sidelines. The tournament format would remain the same as four years previously with a second group phase after the first to decide the finalists.
Group One was especially strong and featured the hosts, Italy, Hungary and France. A tough, uncompromising Italian team won all three matches and finished top with Argentina following them in second. Italy defeating Argentina in the last match to secure first. The France v Hungary match was also unusual. The French running out 3-1 winners wearing the kit of Club Atletico Kimbereley for the occasion as their usual kit of Blue, White and Red was indistinguishable from the Hungarians Red, White and Green on a black and white television which was all Argentina had at the time. Their borrowed green and white hoops being the first time a team has worn anything other than their national kit in a World Cup Final. Sadly for them, this was only a footnote as they followed the Hungarians home.
Group Two saw Mexico, Tunisia and old friends Poland and West Germany meet again with the latter two qualifying, Poland ahead of Germany by a point. The Germans made short work of the Mexicans, 6-0 but drew their other two matches. The Poles beating the Mexicans and Tunisians who at least beat Mexico and became the first African team to win a match at the Championships.
Group Three comprised Brazil, Spain, Sweden and Austria. Despite the Brazilians overcoming Austria 1-0 thanks to a goal from the explosive Roberto Dinamite, they finished second to them in the group thanks to a spectacular piece of pedantry/cheating depending on whether you’re South American or European. Drawing 1-1 with Sweden, Brazil had a last-minute corner which was headed into the net by the incomparable Zico. Brazil thought they had won 2-1 which would have given them first place in the group except that Thomas had blown up for full time whilst the ball was in flight. Technically correct but was it against the spirit of the game?
Group Four contained first timers Iran, underrated Peru, returning favorites Holland and possibly the most hubristic World Cup Squad ever assembled – Ally’s Tartan Army from Scotland. The Scots warmed up for the Championships by winning the Home International Championships at Wembley Stadium, beating arch-enemies England. Many Scotland fans so relished the historic victory that many of them decided to take souvenirs of the stadium home with them – the crossbar, the penalty areawonder-goal from Archie Gemmell (later immortalized in Trainspotting). Sadly, the Cryuff-less Dutch had a superior goal difference and the Scots were sent homeward, to think again. Macleod summed up his experiences thusly: “I am a very good manager who just happened to have a few disastrous days, once upon a time, in Argentina.” etc. Ally Macleod, Scottish Coach was bullish about their chances in Championships. Asked what he thought of the team’s chances he said they were going to win it and then retain it. 25,000 Scots thronged Hampden Park, Glasgow just to see the team drive around in an open-topped bus. The 1978 Campaign has now become a byword for high-farce or debacle. Refusing to have their first round opponents watched, Macleod’s confidence seemed well-placed when Scotland took the lead against Peru in the first match. Then watched stony-faced as Cubilas ran riot, scoring twice as the Peruvians came back to win 3-1. Winger Willie Johnstone failed a drugs-test after the match and was sent home as players complained about empty swimming pools and little to entertain them. Bad got worse in the next match as despite taking the lead again, the Scots could only draw 1-1 with minnows Iran. Peru won the group so the final game between Scotland and Holland was crucial and true to heart-breaking form, the Scots won 3-2 including a
Group A in the second phase saw Holland paired with Italy, West Germany and close-neighbors Austria. Holland laid down a marker in the first game thrashing the Austrians 5-1 whilst Italy and Germany ground out a goalless stalemate. Italy beat Austria in the second game while Holland and Germany drew 2-2 setting up a tense finale. No neighborly goodwill was on display as Austria woke up and beat the Germans 3-2 to eliminate them from the tournament. Italy started well against the Dutch, taking the lead on 19 minutes but the purveyors of Total Football came alive in the second period with Brandts, making amends for his earlier own goal, and a winner from Haan seeing the Dutch into the Final for the second successive tournament, Italy going into the playoff.
In Group B, Argentina were joined by Peru, Brazil and Poland, gate crashing the South American hate-in. Brazil started strongly, beating Peru 3-0 in the first game as Argentina matched them 2-0 over Poland. The two Titans endured a predictably violent 0-0 as Poland overcame Peru 1-0 to give them a chance of qualifying. This was snuffed out as Brazil overcame them 3-1 and were left to wait to see the result of the Argentina v Peru fixture which kicked off several hours after their match had ended. Argentina, knowing they needed four clear goals to progress, led 2-0 at Half Time, during which the previously resilient Peruvians collapsed, eventually losing 6-0 and allowing the hosts to proceed into the Final itself where they would meet Holland. Brazil beat Italy 2-1 in the 3rd Place and declared themselves Moral World Champions as they finished the tournament undefeated.
The 1978 World Cup Final took place on June 25th in Buenos Aries in a sea of ticker-tape which more closely resembled a snowstorm. The hosts went in front through tournament top scorer Mario Kempes (six goals) on 38 minutes and looked like they would hold on for victory until the exquisitely sobrequited Dick Nanninga equalized for the daring Dutch with 10 minutes left to play. The final went into Extra Time and Kempes struck again on 105 minutes, the ball pinging around the area like a ping pong ball before finally ending up in the back of the net. The result was sealed ten minutes later as Bertoni clinched the Cup for Argentina 3-1. It was their first victory and the fifth time that a host nation had lifted the World Cup on their own soil.
Guy Bailey is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.