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.] Continue reading

Holland vs West Germany, World Cup 78 Second Round

There is no revenge to be had after losing a final. When sides meet again, if ever, players and coaching personnel will have changed, stakes shifted. What is more, no one will go back to change the name plate on the trophy.

At the 1974 World Cup Holland had reached an until then unseen level of fluidity and understanding on the pitch. To this day they are ranked as one of the finest sides ever put together. Yet in the final they were bested by a pragmatic West Germany.

Four years on Holland were determined to reach the final again. Their 1978 World Cup campaign started convincingly enough, a Rensenbrink hattrick gave them a 3:0 win against Iran. However they then split the points in a goalless draw with Peru before losing to Scotland on the third matchday. Keeping the scoreline to a narrow 2:3 saw Holland inching out Scotland in the group table to advance on superior goal difference.

West Germany weren’t taking Argentina by storm either. As holders they opened the tournament in a tepid 0:0 with Poland. A flurry of goals on the second matchday, coming in a 6:0 over Mexico, lulled the side in a false sense of security. Another 0:0, this time against Tunisia, saw West Germany also finish second in their group.

By virtue of the tournament format the sides did not advance into a knock-out stage but rather entered yet another group stage of two groups with four teams each. The winner of each group would move on to the final, the runners-up would enter the third place play-off. Holland and West Germany both ended up in Group A alongside Italy and Austria. And on the second matchday they would play one another. Continue reading

Liverpool vs Club Brugge, European Cup Final 1978

Even in the vast expanse of the old Wembley, the gap between both sets of substitute benches was only a few feet wide. Slightly enough to fit another column of chairs had the powers that be chosen to do so. Very close confines for today’s generation of animated managers. On the night no touchline clashes were observed. The two managers would exchange heated words only after the tie had ended, unsatisfied with each other’s approach.

Both of them were legends in their own right, each having already lifted the European Cup. Liverpool’s Bob Paisley had triumphed most recently, overseeing his side’s 3:1 win in the ‘77 final vs Mönchengladbach. The summer brought the challenge of replacing Kevin Keegan who made the £500.000 move to Hamburg. Keegan may not have gotten on the scoresheet in the final, but he was Liverpool’s top goalscorer in the EC with four goals, and for the season overall, netting 20 times in all competitions.

Enter Kenny Dalglish, a then 26-year old striker of slight stature, joining for £440.000 from Celtic, having scored 167 goals in 322 matches for the Bhoys. Dalglish proved an instant success. Though not blessed with blinding pace, Dalglish relied on his superior anticipation and finishing skills. He bagged 31 goals across all competitions in his inaugural season at Anfield.

Had he been a bit sharper in the first few minutes of this match, the 92.500 in attendance would have seen quite a different game.

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