Argentina finally got its hands on the FIFA World Cup… well, hosting it! But with a military-style government now in place, fears were genuine about entering Argentina. Amnesty International even instructed journalists travelling to the country about the dangers of torture and other acts of cruelty that had taken place.
Nonetheless, fears were allayed when the military junta spent much of its capital on safeguarding the entire tournament with an extensive security presence, as well as constructing three new stadia. With the tournament coming together, all the FIFA World Cup needed was teams. England missed out again at the expense of Italy, so it was left to the same familiar faces to win this World Cup.
The Challengers for the 1978 FIFA World Cup
West Germany, without Beckenbauer, was still considered strong, while Holland was expected to challenge too despite not having Cruijff. One could never dismiss Brazil as a genuine contender, and the hosts were backing themselves to go far in this tournament, opting for pace ahead of physicality.
Group 1 appeared the toughest in the tournament, but it ended straightforwardly for all four teams; Italy winning all of its matches, Argentina winning two, France winning one and Hungary not opening its account. With Argentina finishing second, it would be forced to play its games away from Buenos Aires – not what the Argentina FA had in mind.
Group 2 caused a few more upsets. Poland finished ahead of West Germany, while Mexico hardly raised a challenge – even Tunisia beat them. Tunisia wasn’t bad though. It forced a goalless draw against the Germans and was only edged out by a Lato strike against Poland. Still, the German defence was impregnable conceding no goals from its three matches.
Austria was there to play in Argentina ’78. It surprised Spain and Sweden on its way to topping Group 3, but not without a hiccup against Brazil. The Brazilians found it hard to get out of the group though. Draws against Sweden and Spain meant a last-ditch victory against Austrian was essential. Spain on the other hand left its run too late, despite a final 1-0 victory against Sweden, who never looked in it.
Scotland’s Demise at Argentina 1978
Many football pundits anticipated Scotland to excel in Group 4. It’s hard to see why. Despite previously talking up its chances, the Scots hardly raised a murmur against Peru or Iran, gaining only a draw from these two matches. Meanwhile, Holland was looking lacklustre. The Dutch defeated Iran, and drew with Peru, but lost to Scotland, 3-2. Luckily, goal difference allowed Holland to finish second. Ultimately, Peru claimed this group as its own with wins over Scotland and Iran.
Group A of the second-round saw Holland finally get its act together and book its passage to its second consecutive World Cup final; the Dutch thumping Austria, 5-1, with Rensenbrink and Rep on fire. Italy and West Germany had their chances too, but it was hard to see either team topping the group when their goalless draw cancelled each other out. Instead, Austria edged out the Germans, 3-2, while Holland defeated Italy in the decider, 2-1.
Group B began with decisive wins for South American powerhouses, Argentina and Brazil, over Poland and Peru respectively. It was already looming as a two-horse race. Meanwhile, the Poles huffed and puffed against Peru, but Brazil exacted revenge on Poland from the 1974 third-place final with a 3-1 victory.
Goal difference was crucial in these last two games, but with Argentina’s bizarre scheduling making it aware of how much it needed to win by, it was only a matter of time before FIFA would intervene. The task was simple for Argentina: beat Peru by three goals and score at least four and it would make its first World Cup final since 1930. Argentina smacked Peru, 6-0, so Brazil ironically had to settle for the third-place final again.
Mario Kempes Wins the Final for Argentina at the 1978 FIFA World Cup
The Dutch started the final in aggressive fashion with tackles flying at the hosts left, right and centre. Once the game cooled down, the scores went up! Kempes backed his four goals in his last three games with another two to effectively secure the match. However, it was not until extra-time when Argentina did win though.
Dirk Nanninga had previously equalised for the Dutch and Rensenbrink could’ve won it in stoppage-time when he agonisingly hit the post. But with Kempes’ second and Daniel Bertoni killing off any chance of a Dutch comeback, the game had passed the Dutch.
A visionary in his side, Kempes finally sought about bringing the World Cup to his country. He did this while winning the Golden Shoe award for scoring six goals in the tournament. Captain, Daniel Passarella, lifted the FIFA World Cup trophy, which was presented by General Jorge Rafael Videla – a fascinating end to a tournament that almost wasn’t.