Argentina vs Holland, World Cup 1978 Final

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

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

Brazil vs Italy, World Cup 1978 Third Place Match

Eight years after Brazil beat Italy to claim top honours at the World Cup 1970, the two sides met again in the “small final” of 1978. From a team etched into history only one player, Rivellino, was left. Italy too, had seen a generational shift with a golden future looming on the horizon. It is a testament to both footballing nations that even while re-building, they could still be considering two of the top four sides in the world.

Overseeing their respective country’s efforts in Argentina were Enzo Bearzot and Claudio Coutinho. During their playing days the coaches had earned one cap between them. Bearzot had featured for the Azzurri in a 1955 defeat to Hungary. After hanging up his boots, Bearzot learnt the managerial craft under Nereo Rocco at Torino, would take charge of Italy’s Under 23 side and assist Ferruccio Valcareggi’s coaching staff at the World Cup 1974. Soon after Italy’s dismal showing in West Germany Bearzot got the nod to select and prepare the Squadra for Argentina.

Brazil under Cláudio Coutinho

While Bearzot, for nearly two decades, had donned the jerseys of such notable clubs as Inter, Torino, and Catania, Cláudio Coutinho’s resume read much different. For one, he lacked the playing background. Coutinho was more theoretician than practitioner, having graduated from the Brazilian Army’s School of Physical Education. In the lead up to the World Cup 1970 he was tasked to oversee the conditioning and fitness training of the Brazilian team. Several appointments in Peru and France followed, until, in 1976, Flamengo offered him the first opportunity to cut his teeth as a head coach.

When Admiral Heleno Nunes, in his position as President of the Brazilian Football Confederation, was in need of a replacement for Osvaldo Brandão, Coutinho provided the perfect blend of military background and coaching knowledge. Continue reading

Peru vs Scotland, World Cup 1978 First Round

As of February 2017 Scotland sit fifth in their World Cup Qualifying Group, six points off the pace set by leaders England. In four matches they have picked up four points, beating only mighty Malta. It is highly probable Scotland will fail to qualify for Russia 2018, and doing so would mean missing a fifth consecutive World Cup.

From 1974 to 1990 Scotland actually did travel to five consecutive World Cups. And in 1978 they went to Argentina as a dark horse favorite. In ‘76 and ‘77 they had won back-to-back Home Championships, going unbeaten in both editions. A summer tour through South America in the year preceding the World Cup had netted a win in Chile (4:2), a draw with Argentina (1:1) and a loss to Brazil (0:2). Most important of all Scotland won three of their four qualifying matches, doing the double over Wales and splitting the series with Czechoslovakia, who had just been crowned European champions.

No wonder spirits were high. Sending the hype machine into overdrive was manager Ally MacLeod. The former Rovers winger wasted no opportunity to talk up his side’s chances, tipping Scotland to bring home “at least a medal”. An abundance of pop songs were penned and intoned, including one by Rod Stewart. Hampden Park hosted a grand send-off. Thousands of fans made the journey to Argentina. Their first destination was to be Cordoba, their first opponents Peru.

Blowing hot and cold, the 1970s were likely Peru’s best ever decade. At the 1970 World Cup, only their second showing ever, they reached the Quarter-finals. Eventual champions Brazil proved too stiff a competition, beating La Blanquirroja 4:2. Five years on the fates were reversed as Peru beat Brazil in the Semi-final en route to claiming their second Copa America title. Héctor Chumpitaz and Teófilo Cubillas had featured in both tournaments and were still staples in the side come 1978. The pair would combine for 186 career caps, and both would find their name on the teamsheet against Scotland. Continue reading

Spain vs Sweden, World Cup 1978 First Round

For twelve years Spain had waited. The World Cup 1978 in Argentina was to be the first tournament La Roja would compete in since 1966. One week into the competition Spain were already fighting for survival.

A stunning 1:2 defeat to Austria in their opening match and a goalless draw with Brazil left them joint third in Group 3. Their final opponents in the First Round had likewise drawn with Brazil and then lost to a tremendous Austrian side. When they met on June 11th at Estadio José Amalfitani in Buenos Aires only the winner could harbour any hopes of advancing. 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

Argentina vs France, World Cup 78 First Round

Football is a simple game: one ball, two goals, 22 players, in the end ze Germans win. And, ever since 1930, 16 teams from around the world compete every four years to determine their champion. On three occasions that contingent of 16 teams was not even fully exhausted, but that magic number should become obsolete. For 24 teams would be there in Spain 1982.

Qualification is very much automatic for most of the big sides these days. The doldrums of international weekends will only increase as the World Cup is expanded even further. One can’t help but think that even just qualifying and competing in the tournament just used to mean so much more.

In 1978 hosts Argentina and holders West Germany were already qualified, which meant only 14 spots were up for grabs. Just shy of 100 countries competed in qualifying. And so here the coming expansion very much does make sense. No wonder the list of teams missing out in ‘78 included illustrious sides such as the European Champions Czechoslovakia, Argentina’s arch-rivals Uruguay, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and, for the second time running, England.

On the other hand Austria were back first time since ‘58. France, Hungary and Spain hadn’t made it through since ‘66. Hungary even had to beat Bolivia in a two-legged Intercontinental Play-off for the final spot, but did so convincingly with a 9:2 aggregate win. They were rewarded with a place in Group 1, which today would carry the moniker “Group Of Death”. It featured the hosts, France and Italy – the latter having bested England in qualifying by way of superior goal difference.

France had booked their passage picking up five points in four matches against Bulgaria and the Republic of Ireland. On the second matchday in Argentina they met the hosts at El Monumental. And already had their backs to the wall.

France feel the pressure, open strong

Having gone up within the first minute, France had nevertheless lost their first match against Italy, 1:2. The same scoreline saw Argentina winning their opener against Hungary. Italy set the tone for the second matchday as the trounced Hungary in the early afternoon kick-off: Gli Azzurri were 3:0 up after an hour, with 3:1 the final score. Thus a second loss for France would ensure an early exit. Continue reading