Argentina vs Holland, World Cup 1978 Final

What follows is a reimagining of a minute by minute for the World Cup 1978 final.

June 25th 1978, 08:00 UTC-3h: We’ve made it. After three and a half weeks the final day of the World Cup has arrived. 37 matches have all but flown by. 14 teams were weighed and found lacking. Only Argentina and Holland remain. Today we will find out which side will be crowned World Champions. Join us throughout the day and from kick-off for more updates.

12:00 UTC-3h: For Holland it will be the second World Cup final in as many editions. This time, though, they will be hoping for a different outcome. Four years ago Holland looked the finest side in the tournament, yet lost to pragmatic West Germany on the grandest stage. Even though a fair part of that ‘74 squad made the trip to Argentina, it is hardly the same team anymore. Were the Elftal a chess set, both the king and queen are now missing.

Rinus Michels had pulled double duty in 1974 anyway, even jetting between West Germany and Spain during the tournament to fulfill his obligations as Barcelona’s manager. George Knobel took a stab at being Bondscoach next, and led a divided squad to the European Championship in Yugoslavia. Holland lost the semi-final against eventual champions Czechoslovakia but prevailed against the hosts in the Third Place match. Knobel had already handed in his resignation before the start of the tournament, figuring the rifts inside the squad too large to overcome.

Jan Zwartkruis was always thought to be more a stopgap solution, yet qualification for the World Cup 1978 was duly achieved. Rumor has it Zwartkruis still held the reigns in Argentina even though the KNVB had secured the services of Ernst Happel. (A rumor which goes back mainly to Zwartkruis himself.) Mind, it was never likely that a loving relationship would develop between the rather outgoing Dutch players and the gruff and distant Austrian coach.

All of the locker room unrest was compounded by the absence of the nation’s greatest ever player. In October 1977 Johan Cruyff had earned his 50th cap for Holland. It should prove to be his last. Fast forward to the summer of 1978 and Cruyff was seriously mulling retirement. By now 31, injuries had caught up with him. Happel tried to persuade Cruyff with all his might, but the latter did not put on the oranje shirt again. [Only 30 years later would Cruyff reveal that, in 1977, he and his family were subjected to attempted kidnapping. Police protection and death threats were to follow. Leaving his family behind for weeks on end to play football on another continent was under these circumstances unimaginable.]

It is a testament to the quality of the Dutch football system that the side nevertheless reached the final again.

13:00 UTC-3h: It appears the Dutch team bus, on it’s way to the stadium, is stuck in traffic. Little wonder really, as half of Buenos Aires seem out and about. The capital is buzzing with excitement. People flood the streets clad in albiceleste, white and light blue. Flags are waved, ticker tape is raining down. Pictures captured by the TV cameras, sent around the world.

Behind the facade, the military junta reigns. The rights to host the World Cup 1978 had already been awarded to Argentina in 1966. Ten years later the military seized power. Official numbers state 8,961 ‘forced disappearances’ during the ensuing Dirty War. The regime targeted anybody from guerillas and military activists to students and journalists. Voicing political opposition could prove fatal. Estimates put the number of victims closer to 30,000. In Europe people took to the streets to protest against the junta and demanded their national teams boycott the World Cup. Some of the loudest shouts came from the Netherlands.

Amidst inner turmoil and external pressure, a football tournament to the military regime seemed a good platform to promote stability and national unity. An ailing economy was tasked to modernize stadia and infrastructure. The expenditure ran up $700m. An, admittedly bittersweet, anecdote at the intersection in all of this was the World Cup logo. The design evoked a popular pose of former president Juan Perón, greeting a crowd, arms aloft. By the time the junta could have intervened, merchandise had already been produced. To change the design then would have entailed a barrage of lawsuits and anyway, the money was much needed.

[Jonathan Wilson’s marvellous book “Angels With Dirty Faces” is very much recommended for anybody interested in this era of Argentine football history and the surrounding circumstances of the World Cup 1978.]

14:00 UTC-3h: With kick-off only an hour away it is high time to take a quick look at how the sides reached the final. A reminder on the format: 16 teams had qualified and were split into four groups of four teams each. The top two sides of each group would advance to yet another group stage, comprised of two groups of four teams each. The winners of each group would advance to the final, the runners-up would meet in the Third Place match.

Johan Cruyff had retired from international football the winter prior. (Image: Nationaal Archief)

Johan Cruyff had retired from international football the winter prior. (Image: Nationaal Archief)

Argentina met three European teams in their first group, beating both Hungary and France 2:1, before losing 0:1 to Italy. Four points were enough to see them through. A 2:0 win over Poland and a 0:0 draw against Brazil left Argentina and Brazil equal on points heading into the final matchday. Many suspected shenanigans as Brazil played their match against Poland in the afternoon, winning 3:1, and Argentina met Peru in the evening. Knowing the group would be decided on goal difference Argentina got the needed margin, winning 6:0. [Allegations were levelled but never proven beyond a doubt. The same scheduling practice would still be in effect four years later.]

Holland had to endure their own nail biting final in the second group stage. First though, they had to get past a rather eclectic mix of opponents. Iran proved an easy opener (3:0). Peru, fresh off a win over Scotland, held Holland to a goalless draw, while Scotland even beat the Elftal 3:2 on the third matchday. Had the Scots been able to tack on two more goals Holland would have been eliminated. As it were Holland advanced, blew away Austria (5:1), and twice levelled against West Germany (2:2). A come from behind victory over Italy (2:1) ensured their place in the final.

14:20 UTC-3h: Team news, the line-ups are in!

  • Argentina: Ubaldo Fillol (27, River Plate), Jorge Olguín (26, San Lorenzo), Luis Galván (26, Independiente), Daniel Passarella (captain, 25, River Plate), Alberto Tarantini (22, Boca Juniors), Américo Gallego (23, Newell’s Old Boys), Osvaldo Ardiles (25, Huracán), Mario Kempes (23, Valencia), Daniel Bertoni (23, Independiente), Oscar Alberto Ortiz (25, River Plate), Leopoldo Luque (29, River Plate); Head coach: César Luis Menotti.
  • Holland: Jan Jongbloed (37, Roda JC), Ruud Krol (captain, 29, Ajax), Wim Jansen (31, Feyenoord), Ernie Brandts (22, Eindhoven), Jan Poortvliet (22, Eindhoven), Johan Neeskens (26, Barcelona), Arie Haan (29, Anderlecht), Willy van de Kerkhof (26, Eindhoven), René van de Kerkhof (26, Eindhoven), Johnny Rep (26, Bastia), Rob Rensenbrink (30, Anderlecht); Head coach: Ernst Happel.

14:45 UTC-3h: Just to reiterate, the stakes could hardly be any higher. Both sides are vying for their first World Cup trophy. Each had made it to the final on one previous occasion: Argentina in 1930, Holland in 1974. Both sides fell to the respective hosts of those tournaments, Uruguay and West Germany.

14:59 UTC-3h: Holland seem eager to get on with it and are out first. Mind games, though, as Argentina keep them waiting for five minutes. While Holland endure jeers from the crowd, El Monumental explodes as Argentina emerge. The rain of ticker tape just doesn’t stop. With the anthems and handshakes taken care of we’re all set for the kick-off.

15:02 UTC-3h: There seems to be a further delay.

15:07 UTC-3h: We’re underway! Referee Sergio Gonella had been involved in an extended discussion with Daniel Pasarella about René van de Kerkhof’s plaster cast. The Dutch winger had been playing with that cast on his arm for the entire tournament. Now it is suddenly a problem? The discussion riles up half the Dutch team; Neeskens gets into it with Luque, and for a second it looks like Holland even threatened to walk off the pitch. Kick-off has been delayed a good six minutes or so but the ball is finally rolling. René now plays without the cast.

3′: The sides trade some tackles in midfield early on. Are Holland trying to show they aren’t too impressed with Argentina’s gamesmanship before kick-off? Or is that just playing into Argentina’s hands? If anything it’s making the referee overly cautious. Gonella blows his whistle for any contact, doing little to help the match start getting into a rhythm.

6′: Haan is held, lightly, by Olguín. It’s a free kick to Holland high up on the left wing. Rensenbrink’s uncontested header at the penalty spot misses the target by half a yard.

10′: As could be expected in a World Cup final there is a longer feeling out phase than usual. Argentina saw more of the ball in the first ten minutes. Holland hover around, looking to capitalize on mistakes. Argentina’s build up favours the right side. Olguín gets many touches, his first option then is Ardiles. On the other wing Kempes will drop back, either into the space in front of the centre backs, or even to the left back spot to link up with Ortiz. Here’s how it shapes up:

Approximate formations and player movements for Argentina vs Holland, June 25th 1978

Approximate formations and player movements for Argentina vs Holland, June 25th 1978

16′: So far Argentina’s most dangerous weapon in attack looks to be Bertoni. It takes two defenders to stop the winger whenever he pulls inside. Just now he came up the right half-channel and was brought down by the third tackle. 25 yards out, it sets up a free kick for Argentina in a central position. Passarella curls it around the wall. Jongbloed always had the corner covered.

Before the shot, though, Krol had apparently been booked for mouthing off. Neeskens had received a malicious elbow to the stomach from Bertoni. Holland don’t make too much of it. Are their mind games not on the level? Or are they worried to kick something off in these hostile surroundings?

18′: Some observations. Argentina widen the pitch when in possession; the full backs hug the side-lines; the triangle of Galván, Passarella and Gallego stick very close together. Ardiles drifts over to the right side when attacking and stays central while defending, shadowing Rensenbrink when the Dutch attacker drops back into midfield.

Holland press only in their own half, looking to catch Argentina out on the counter if they push up too high.

20′: Argentina seem snappier on the ball as well as off it. They earn another free kick in a similar position, a bit further out. This time Ortiz had been fouled. Ardiles lays it off for Kempes who blasts it over the bar.

26′: Neither side prove a threat for the opponent’s goal from open play. Argentina at least come close from set pieces. The second ball from a failed free kick delivery is put back in by Olguín from the right wing. Passarella sneaks in behind the defence at the far post, nobody had picked up his run. Krol misses a clearance which throws off Passarella’s timing. The Argentine captain gets a boot on the ball but ends up skying it.

28′: Finally a chance for Holland. Willy puts in a cross deep from the right wing, into a central position in front of goal. Gallego jumps under it. Galvan mis-times as well, heading a “clearance” into the back of Gallego. Rep pounces on it, takes a touch off his thigh, then shoots volley. He is denied by a great reflex from Fillol.

32′: For the first time Holland had found Rep in the middle. Immediately they try more early crosses into the box hoping for aerial battles. In response Argentina push higher up with their back-line when defending, catching Holland in the off-side trap multiple times.

36′: Shots on Jongbloed’s goal become more frequent but lack placement. Bertoni and Ardiles each had a go from the second line of attack.

38′: GOAL. First blood to Argentina. Ardiles pops up on the left wing, takes it up the left half-channel past two defenders, and finds Luque just outside the box. The centre forward fends off Brandts, and plays it inside to Kempes. One touch takes Kempes into the box leaving Krol and Haan grabbing air, the second touch sticks it underneath Jongbloed into the goal.

43′: End to end action to close out the half. Argentina desperately want to strike again. Tacking on another could already seal the win. Holland are rattled, seemingly hoping to just get to the break without taking further damage.

44′: Close. That could have been the cup. Again Holland had failed to pick up a run at the far post during a free kick delivery. Passarella thus gets a free header off a Kempes free kick. From short range Passarella sends it straight into the arms of Jongbloed.

45′: There is life in Holland yet. Just before the close of the half, Argentina fail to clear a long ball properly. Rensenbrink fights to keep the move alive on the left wing, finally finding Willy who puts in another cross into the box. Neeskens climbs higher than two defenders who are on him tight, lays it off across the face of goal, Rensenbrink slides into it… Only to be denied what looked like a sure tap in by Fillol showing great anticipation.

Half time: That went about as well as Argentina could have hoped for. The hosts denied Holland’s game to flourish, were the more threatening side, and got a goal to boot. Though, should Happel find the right words during the break Holland might just sneak back into the match. Questions remain about the respective fitness levels. Argentina are younger and took an arguably less taxing route to the final.

48′: Haan notches the first effort in the second half, shooting from the edge of the box, producing a good stop by Fillol (who had whiffed on a cross seconds before).

50′: Speaking of Haan, the Anderlecht midfielder is less involved than against West Germany, with Krol distributing play in the opponent’s half as well. Argentina shift to a 4-1-4-1 against the ball. Ardiles and Kempes greet the first ball carrier ten yards inside Argentina’s half.

52′: And just like that Haan gets a crucial stop on Luque. Already at the edge of the box the forward had a free path towards goal.

53′: It seems Happel did find the right words. It’s the best stretch for Holland thus far. The full backs are pushing up very high, double staffing the wings. Rensenbrink is everywhere, coming up either half channel. Plan A seems to be early balls onto Rep forcing the smaller Argentine defenders into aerial duels. Rensenbrink tries to get onto the second balls.

54′: Haan goes cloes again, this time from 30 yards out, off a short headed clearance. He hits it volley through traffic, Fillol is attentive.

57′: Up the other end Jongbloed prevents a Luque tap-in as he beats the centre forward to a low Bertoni cross. That had come via counter and a great solo over the right wing by Bertoni. In the center Luque proved quicker than the defenders but not quicker than Jongbloed.

58′: Substitution for Holland. Dick Nanninga comes on for Rep. Standing 6’2” Nanninga towers over Passarella (5’8”) and Galván (5’9”).

64′: The first few balls into the first row for Nanninga sail over everybody’s head. Holland’s distribution from the back is faltering altogether. On most attacks it’s already the first pass into the Argentine half that fails to find his man.

66′: Omar Larrosa comes on for Ardiles. The latter was not as influential going forward as usual but provided vital defensive cover. Larrosa slots straight into central midfield on the right side.

70′: Lots of small breaks now, throw-ins, free kicks, corners, disrupting the flow of the game.

73′: Wim Suurbier comes on for Jansen.

74′: Olguín brings down Neeskens just outside the box, Rensenbrink sneaks it around the wall. Fillol always had the corner.

75′: René Houseman comes on for Ortiz. And of course, just as all subs have been used up, Tarantini and Neeskens collide. Both are down for the count but can carry on. Holland seize the opportunity to hold a team meeting.

80′: Argentina now put six or seven players in the box when Holland attack. So far they had rarely been ultra defensive, rather tried to keep out of their own box to prevent high balls into dangerous areas. That served them well enough as Holland were reduced to those Haan shots from distance. Now with the final whistle coming ever closer Argentina bunker up more and more.

82′: GOAL. The equalizer for Holland. Argentina had collectively pushed out to catch Holland offside. It fails as Haan plays it out onto the right wing for René instead of going for Nanninga up top. With the Argentinian defense scurrying back into their positions, room behind them had opened up. Nanninga checks his run at the far post. As René puts in a cross Nanninga now has a clear path, and gets a header onto the ball with pace. Fillol had gone for the short post, is caught in no man’s land, and can only look on as the equalizer is easily headed in by Nanninga.

8X’: Neeskens is down after receiving an elbow to the face by Passarella. Just nasty business by Passarella who had taken a free shot at Neeskens as the latter was running by.

90+1′: Sooo close. Gonella already had the whistle between his lips as Krol sends one last free kick forward. It sails over everybody’s head, dropping into the box on the left side. Rensenbrink had made the correct run, lets it bounce once, and takes it volley. Many of the ~71,000 hearts inside the stadium will have skipped a beat as the ball hits the woodwork. A tough shot to make, Rensenbrink just couldn’t squeeze it through the gap between Fillol and the post.

91′: Into extra time we go. It’s only the third time in World Cup final history. In both previous instances, 1934 and 1966, the hosts were involved and prevailed. Something to be said for home advantage? Should the scores still be level 30 minutes from now the match will be re-played the day after tomorrow. Hopefully not here, the pitch is a shambolic mess. The final is the ninth match to be played at El Monumental in 25 days.

92′: Both sides try to by-pass midfield as quickly as possible to get the ball into the forward line. Holland gain a slight edge early on, but are visibly knackered. Off ball movement is limited to a minimum.

94′: Bertoni now comes over the left wing and is drawing from an ungodly reserve. He gets by Suurbier but the Dutch defender sticks a leg out and seems to catch the winger hard. Gonella was in a good position and books him.

94′: It’s all breaking down now. Holland clear the free kick. Poortvliet takes it up the left wing and into Argentina’s half where Larrosa more or less just hurls his body into the oncoming Dutchman. Another substitue is rightly booked.

96′: Argentina’s best option is having Kempes take the ball and dragging it up the pitch with pace. At this stage in the match El Matador is too quick for everybody else, certainly for Poortvliet who cuts him down on a promising break. Gonella’s book is filling up.

100′: By now everybody is limping. Football is reduced to a minimum. The match nears a standstill.

102′: Close. Houseman who had come on in the second half, still has something left in the tank. Galván slips him a through ball, beating the off-side trap beautifully. Houseman bursts into the box in the right half-channel. Krol somehow manages to close the gap, forcing a worse angle for Houseman’s shot which is ultimately blocked by Jongbloed.

103′: Argentina now sense the opportunity and press higher, forcing Holland into mistakes still in their half.

105′: GOAL. Argentina take the lead again. It’s equal parts brilliance and sheer luck. Passarella hoofs one up. Luque claims it, fends off two defenders, and slips it through for Kempes who now bursts into the box on the left side. Three defenders close in. Fleet of foot, two touches within the blink of an eye take Kempes past all of them. Alone in front of Jongbloed, he tries to slip it underneath the keeper. Jongbloed is down in time, can stifle the shot, but it ricochets off Kempes and into the air; Kempes reacts quicker than anybody else nearby, steers a second effort towards the goal. Poortvliet and Suurbier are unable to block it before it crosses the line. It’s basically that bit of luck which had escaped Rensenbrink when aiming for that very goal some 15 minutes before.

106′: Ends are changed and Holland are visibly broken. It’s hard to see a way back into the match for them now.

108′: Argentina catch a second wind. It may be the third already. With the crowd at fever pitch the hosts are standing tall. Were it not for some of the underhanded, nasty tactics one could even say Argentina are battling valiantly: be it Luque hurrying after every ball senselessly sent forward, or Passarella rallying the defence; popping up wherever Holland enter the final third.

109′: Of course any little situation now affords ample opportunity to take time off the clock. None goes amiss.

113′: Holland open up and throw everything forward. The concept of defending is but a faint memory. And really Holland need not hold back. It actually seems moreso a lack of concentration and sheer exhaustion that lead to errors in the Dutch back-line. Houseman and Luque both win one on one situations to end up with uncontested shots inside the box. The former, from a terrible angle, can only hit the side netting, while the latter is denied by Jongbloed.

115′: GOAL. The decider. Again fortune favors Argentina as Kempes sees an opening in the back-line, and drives towards it. Holland are back in numbers and close in. Kempes attempts a one-two with Bertoni which turns into a three-four, as the ball bounces off each forward a few times in comical fashion unbefitting of the grandiose occasion. With all Dutch defenders duly confused, the ball finally lands at Bertoni’s feet. Jongbloed had last followed the bounce towards Kempes. With an open goal, Bertoni seizes the opportunity and finishes the match from close range.

A jubilant Mario Kempes wheels away after netting the winner in the World Cup 1978 final. (Image: Public domain)

A jubilant Mario Kempes wheels away after netting the winner in the World Cup 1978 final. (Image: Public domain)

119′: The last minutes are a right frenzy. Holland try, for a few attacks, to claw back into the match. Or try to at least settle some scores. A number of players are left bloodied. Everybody is left drained.

Full time: Argentina beat Holland 3:1 to the World Cup 1978. Triumph for Argentina, despair for Holland.  On the whole it is fair enough. Argentina more or less forced their game onto Holland who, in turn, did well to even make it to extra time. At that stage it became a free for all with Argentina prevailing thanks to their superior fitness.


  • Man Of The Match: Kempes; put the team on his back, scored two fine goals, and dragged the team over the finish line in extra time
  • Best Hair: Ortiz (honourable mentions Tarantini, Krol)
  • Viewing recommendation: Decent but lives off the notion that it was a World Cup final. If it were any random international it would probably not be worth spending 120 minutes going back to. Then again without the immense pressure, the sides would likely have produced a more stellar match.

Full match can be found over on footballia, highlights below. If you enjoyed the write-up and would like to be notified once future installments go live, give us a like on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

About Sebastian

Sebastian writes and talks about football of all eras in German and English. His series of Retro Match Reports focus on British, German and Italian football history. For YYFP he is currently working his way through the late '70s and early '80s. Follow Sebastian on Twitter: @maltacalcio.

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