1978 Argentina World Cup

Written by Sebastien on 15 December 2012. Posted in World Cup History


Shrouded in controversy

The 11th edition of the World Cup, held in Argentina, is widely regarded as perhaps the most controversial. Off the pitch incidents overshadowed the start. The reason for it was the political uncertainty that shrouded Argentina at the time. The country had suffered a military coup just two years before the cup. The tournament almost didn’t happen as Netherlands led calls for a boycott. However, the Argentinean government avoided potential embarrassment by guaranteeing that there would be no violence during the tournament. The competition was also shorn off talent with three time European player of the year Johan Cruyff and West Germany’s Paul Breitner withdrawing from it; the former due to non-political reasons. However, the competition did eventually go through and was lifted by the passionate Argentine crowds.

The format of the competition was unchanged from the 1974 edition. Four groups of four participated in the first round which was played in a round robin format. The top two in each group advanced to the second round forming two groups of four, with the winners of each group playing each other in the final and the second placed teams played for third place. The penalty shootout was introduced for the knock out matches if they ended in a draw after 120 minutes. However, it was not needed.

The group stages

Italy and Argentina qualified from group 1 leaving France, featuring Michel Platini and Hungary to exit. In group 2, Tunisia made its debut as the first African team to feature in the world cup and they made a mark by defeating Mexico and drawing with West Germany. However, ultimately it wasn’t enough. Poland and West Germany advanced ahead of Tunisia and Mexico. It was group 3 that saw the biggest surprise of them all. Austria made it out of the group containing Brazil, Spain and Sweden as winners. Austrian striker Hans Krankl was instrumental with winners in their opening two games. In a tournament never far from controversy, the teams and spectators were amazed to find that Welsh referee Clive Thomas had blown the final whistle in Brazil’s draw with Sweden just as Zico was heading in what would have been the winner. The decision has gone down as one of the most controversial moments in World Cup folklore. In spite of having Willie Johnston sent home for taking a banned stimulant, Scotland gave a spirited performance in Group 4 defeating Netherlands and drawing with Iran, but was edged out on goal difference by Netherlands. Peru emerged as the group winners.

The second round featured an all-European Group A consisting of Netherlands, Italy, West Germany and Austria. Even though the Austrians lost out on their first two matches, they delighted their nation by defeating arch rivals West Germany to eliminate any chance of them reaching the final. The match has come to be known as the ‘Miracle of Cordoba’.  The Netherlands breezed through the group with two wins and a draw to reach their second consecutive final, leaving Italy to battle it out for third place. Group B featured the South American trio of Argentina, Brazil and Peru and were joined by Poland. After the first two rounds, Argentina and Brazil were level on points. Fresh controversy struck the last round of matches. Argentina – Peru was a late kick off and Argentina went into the game knowing that they had to win by 3 clear goals to pip Brazil on goal difference. They managed to do so with a 6-0 win. Brazil had failed to reach the final despite not losing a match all tournament. The events led to FIFA ruling that the last round matches in the group stages must kick off at the same time.


The final took place at the legendary Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires. It was refereed by the Italian Sergio Gonella. Before the match, blue and white confetti rained down onto the pitch as spectator emotions overflowed. In spite of all the controversies, probably the best two teams took part in the final. Argentina was gifted with the talents of tournament top scorer Mario Kempes, midfielders Ricky Villa and Ossie Ardiles and central defender and Captain Daniel Passarella. Even without Cruyff, the Oranje were formidable opponents with the likes of Ruud Krol, Johan Neeskens, Arie Haan, Johnny Rep and Rob Rensenbrink in their squad. They were playing their second successive final after tasting defeat against West Germany in 1974 WC. The match was fiercely contested with tackles flying in as the referee struggled to control the game. Mario Kempes fired the hosts ahead just before half time. Dirk Nanninga leveled the score for the Oranje eight minutes from time. Netherlands’ top scorer Rob Rensenbrink had a golden chance to win it seconds before the final whistle, but only managed to hit the post. The match went into extra time and goals from Daniel Britoni and a second from Mario Kempes sealed the game for the hosts. It had ended in tears yet again for the Dutch as the Albiceleste reached the pinnacle of football for the first time.


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