The 1978 tournament was held in Argentina, the military dictatorship led by Jorge Videla being no bar to football's biggest competition taking place. Some opposition was raised by groups such as Amnesty International after the 1976 junta took power, and fears increased after the assassination of the head of the Ente Autarquico Mundial (which was responsible for the safe running of the event), Omar Actis.
A handful of countries made noises about boycotts, but no nation pulled out. In the end the only major player not to appear was Johan Cruijff, and the World Cup proceeded without incident.The World Cup did draw the attention of the world's press, and the protests by relatives of the the disappeared at the Plaza del Mayo in central Buenos Aires received significant attention abroad.
1978 saw the debut appearance in the final tournament of Tunisia and Iran.
The 16 competing teams were split into 4 groups of 4, with the teams in each group playing in a round robin format. After each team had played the others in their group once the two leading teams would go forward to the next stage. Now the teams would play each other in the same format as before, making 2 groups of 4.
The winners of the two groups would contest the final, the second placed countries having to settle for a play-off for third place. For reasons that should become obvious this system was found to be unsatisfactory, and was abandoned with the enlargement of the tournament to 24 teams in Spain.
Matches were held at 6 stadiums spread throughout Argentina.
- Monumental - Buenos Aires, capacity 76,689. Home to River Plate and the Argentinian national team. Hosted the 1978 World Cup Final. This stadium was renamed after Antonio Vespucio Liberti, when Liberti, former President of River Plate, died in 1979
- José Amalfitani - Buenos Aires, capacity 49,747. Home to Vélez Sarsfield.
- Chateau Carreras - Cordoba, capacity 48,878. New stadium built for the 1978 World Cup.
- Estadio Mar del Plata - Mar del Plata, capacity 43,542. new stadium built for the 1978 World Cup, the stadium would later be renamed in honour of José Maria Minella, a former Argentina player and coach.
- Malvinas Argentinas - Mendoza, capacity 34,878. Another new stadium built for the 1978 World Cup
- El Gigante de Arroyito - Rosario, capacity 41,654. Home to Rosario Central.
Italy 2 1 France (Mar del Plata)
Argentina 2 1 Hungary (Monumental, Buenos Aires)
Italy 3 1 Hungary (Mar del Plata)
Argentina 2 1 France (Monumental, Buenos Aires)
France 3 1 Hungary (Mar del Plata)
Argentina 0 1 Italy (Monumental, Buenos Aires)
Italy 3 3 0 0 6 2 6
Argentina 3 2 0 1 4 4 4
France 3 1 0 2 5 5 2
Hungary 3 0 0 3 3 8 0
France took the lead in their opening game after 38 seconds, forcing Italy to abandon their traditional defensive play. Italy equalised with a goal from Paolo Rossi, and began to assert a grip in the game and despite the efforts of a 21 year old Michel Platini, went on to win the game. Hungary also took the lead against hosts Argentina, before losing to a late goal from substitute Ricardo Bertoni. Hungary finished the game with only 9 men, with their lithe skillful, centre-forward Andras Toroscik sent-off for retaliation after spending most of the match being fouled every time he possessed the ball.
Argentina then went on to beat France with a largely unmerited win. In first half injury time, the French defender Marius Tresor stumbled and fell with his hand on top of the ball. It looked unintentional to most observers but a penalty was awarded and Argentina took the lead. In the second half France equalised, and Didier Six had an excellent chance to give the French the lead but failed to shoot on target. Leopoldo Luque then scored the winner for Argentina with a long range shot, but before the end France were denied a penalty after Six was blatantly brought down in the penalty area. Argentina were now certain of qualification, as were Italy who comfortable beat Hungary.
West Germany 0 0 Poland (Monumental, Buenos Aires)
Tunisia 3 1 Mexico (Rosario)
Poland 1 0 Tunisia (Rosario)
West Germany 6 0 Mexico (Cordoba)
Poland 3 1 Mexico (Rosario)
West Germamy 0 0 Tunisia (Cordoba)
Poland 3 2 1 0 4 1 5
West Germany 3 1 2 0 6 0 4
Tunisia 3 1 1 1 3 2 3
Mexico 3 0 0 3 2 12 0
This was clearly the weakest group of the 4, a contrast from the formidable Group I. The opening game of the tournament saw West Germany take on Poland, but neither side took the initiative and the result was a very poor, dull, scoreless spectacle. Tunisia, expected whipping boys, surprised some by easily outclassing Mexico. Tunisia proceeded to outplay the Poles but were unlucky to lose after a mistake in defence allowed Grzegorz Lato to score.
Meanwhile the Germans crushed Mexico with six goals, including braces from Karl Heinz Rummenigge and Heinz Flohe. But they then failed to beat Tunisia, who impressed again, Tarak Dhiah in particular. Poland eased to a win over Mexico to accompany the Germans to the next round.
Austria 2 1 Spain (José Amalfitani, Buenos Aires)
Brazil 1 1 Sweden (Mar del Plata)
Austria 1 0 Sweden (José Amalfitani, Buenos Aires)
Brazil 0 0 Spain (Mar del Plata)
Spain 1 0 Sweden (José Amalfitani, Buenos Aires)
Brazil 1 0 Austria (Mar del Plata)
Austria 3 2 0 1 3 2 4
Brazil 3 1 2 0 2 1 4
Spain 3 1 1 1 2 2 3
Sweden 3 0 1 2 1 3 1
Austria, led up-front by Hans Krankl played good solid football to win their first two games and ensure qualification to the next round. By contrast, Brazil endured a torrid time, looking a shadow of their 1970 and 1974 teams. Playing Sweden, they went a goal behind, before equalising just before half-time. The Swedes tired in the second half and Brazil began to dominate. The game ended in controversy. As the clock reached ninety minutes Brazil won a corner and referee Clive Thomas allowed them to take it. Then seconds later Thomas blew for full-time just as Zico met the ball and headed what should should have been the winner for Brazil into the back of the net. Thomas was surrounded by players, but refused to let the goal stand.
Against Spain a misfiring Brazil were missing an unfit Rivelino, and rarely threatened the Spanish goal. Spain should have won, but although the Brazil defence was mis-firing Spain failed to score, the worst culprit being Julio Cardeñosa who procrastinated so long in front of an empty goal that he allowed a Brazilian defender time to clear his shot from the line. Brazil finally managed to win, luckily playing an Austrian team already certain of qualification in their final match. This didn't prevent the Brazilian press castigating the team, but it did earn the team three more games.
Peru 3 1 Scotland (Cordoba)
Netherlands 3 0 Iran (Mendoza)
Scotland 1 1 Iran (Cordoba)
Peru 0 0 Netherlands (Mendoza)
Peru 4 1 Iran (Cordoba)
Scotland 3 2 Netherlands (Mendoza)
Peru 3 2 1 0 7 2 5
Netherlands 3 1 1 1 5 3 3
Scotland 3 1 1 1 5 6 3
Iran 3 0 1 2 2 8 1
Scotland had to managed to work itself into a hysteria prior to this World Cup thanks to manager Ally MacLeod's proclamation that they were going to win the World Cup. Reality bit when Scotland were swept away by a talented Peruvian team centred around the great Teofila Cubillas. Cubillas scored twice and set up the other, enabling Peru to overcome the soft Joe Jordan goal they conceded early on. Scotland's troubles continued after winger Willie Johnston was sent home after failing a drugs test after the Peru game. It later emerged he had taken fencamfamin. A shell-shocked Scotland could only draw with an uninspiring Iran team. Even the goal Scotland did score came off an Iranian defender.
Holland, without Cruijff, also had to overcome coming to Argentina missing their best goalkeeper Jan van Beveren and the in-form Ajax striker Ruud Geels. But even with a diminished team, the Dutch looked a class side, and they easily won their opening encounter against Iran, Rob Resenbrink nabbing a hat-trick. Netherlands and Peru cancelled out one another in a goalless draw, it seemed the final group games would be a formality confirming both sides passage to the next stage.
Peru easily beat Iran, but for Holland the path was far harder. Graeme Souness was brought into the Scotland team, giving the whole team a lift, and Scotland started to show they could play well. Holland seemed strangely reluctant to attack, and Scotland quickly gained the upper hand, with a Bruce Rioch shot hitting the post. An unfit looking Johan Neeskens had to be withdrawn after ten minutes, but it was the Dutch who took the lead thanks to a penalty from Rensenbrink. Scotland equalised through Kenny Dalglish just before half-time.
Shortly after the match restarted, Souness was fouled in the box and Archie Gemmill converted the penalty. Then something magical happened. Gemmill received the ball, and took off, slaloming round three defenders taking him to the edge of the penalty area before firing an unstoppable shot past keeper Jan Jongbloed into the back of the net. One of the finest goals ever scored in the World Cup, it is now etched in Scottish culture. (The curious can spot that this is the goal that accompanies Ewan McGregor's climax in Trainspotting.) Now only one more goal was needed for Scotland to reach the next stage. But as they have done so often Scotland had left it too late, and it was Holland that scored again, with a fierce long-range shot from Johnny Rep beating the hapless Alan Rough.
West Germany 0 0 Italy (Monumental, Buenos Aires)
Netherlands 5 1 Austria (Cordoba)
West Germany 2 2 Netherlands (Cordoba)
Italy 1 0 Austria (Monumental, Buenos Aires)
Netherlands 2 1 Italy (Monumental, Buenos Aires)
Austria 3 2 West Germany (Cordoba)
Netherlands 3 2 1 0 9 4 5
Italy 3 1 1 1 2 2 3
West Germany 3 0 2 1 4 5 2
Austria 3 1 0 2 4 8 2
Italy were unfortunate to only draw with a negative West Germany. Italy were the stronger side, but the resolute German defence prevented them from translating dominance into goals. Holland went berserk whilst reverting to the 'total football' style that served them so well in 1974, scoring six times against the Austrians. The critical importance of goal difference meant the Dutch were now in pole position. Austria managed to get their form back in time to face a jaded Italy, but Rossi won the game with a one-two that put him through the heart of the Austrian defence. Austria were furious to be denied a penalty but were now effectively eliminated.
The encounter between Holland and West Germany was a replay of the 74 final and was one of the best games in the competition. The four goals scored were all memorable. West Germany took the lead after three minutes when Rainer Bonhof's free-kick was saved only for Ruedifer Abramczik to head in the rebound. Inattention from goalkeeper Sepp Maier allowed Arie Haan to equalise with a thunderbolt shot from 35 yards out. A header from Dieter Muller restored the German lead, but tenacity and skill on the ball gave Rene van der Kerkhof the chance to secure a draw for Netherlands.
It would now be Italy or Holland to go through to the final. In a bad-tempered match Italy scored first thanks to a Erny Brandts own-goal. Holland recovered, Brandts redeeming himself with an equaliser which had more then a hint of luck about it. Haan scored from another long-range effort to put Holland in front and the game concluded with a series of crude challenges and fouls which the weak referee failed to punish. In the other game Austria beat a German side who clearly didn't relish the thought of a third place play-off.
Brazil 3 0 Peru (Mendoza)
Argentina 2 0 Poland (Rosario)
Poland 1 0 Peru (Mendoza)
Argentina 0 0 Brazil (Rosario)
Brazil 3 1 Poland (Mendoza)
Argentina 6 0 Peru (Rosario)
Argentina 3 2 1 0 8 0 5
Brazil 3 2 1 0 6 1 5
Poland 3 1 0 2 2 5 2
Peru 3 0 0 3 0 10 0
Brazil always expect to beat Peru, and 1978 was no exception with two goals from left midfielder Dirceu and a penalty from Zico giving Brazil an easy victory. Argentina also won easily over a lackluster Polish side, Mario Kempes scored twice, and Ossie Ardiles impressed throughout. These results amplified the importance of the next match between the two giants of Latin America.
Returning to the Argentine side for this game was Luque, whose brother had died in a car crash on the day Argentina played Italy. Seconds into the game and Luque was shoved to the ground by Joao Batista and this incident set the tone for the rest of the game. Little football of note was played, with neither team willing to take chances and so both were trapped in stalemate. Brazil saved their best football for Poland, and handsomely won, with Roberto on the scoresheet twice more after a exquisite freekick from Nelinho had given them the lead. Lato scored the only goal for Poland. Argentina now required to win against Peru by 4 clear goals to reach the final. Peru played for ten minutes, Juan Munante hitting the post. Then they collapsed and Argentina romped to a six goal win, both Kempes and Luque bagging two goals apiece. Conspiracy theories abounded, speculation whether Peru were bribed or were merely intimidated by the partisan Argentinean crowd. Peruvian keeper Ramon Quiroga defended himself in an open letter, and the hosts were in a World Cup final for the first time.
Third Place Match
Brazil 2 1 Italy
(Monumental, Buenos Aires)
Argentina 3 1 Netherlands
(Monumental, Buenos Aires)
Argentina: Ubaldo Fillol, Jorge Olguin, Luis Galvam, Daniel Passarella, Alberto Tarantini, Ossie Ardiles (Omar Larrosa), Americo Gallego, Mario Kempes, Ricardo Bertoni, Leopoldo Luque, Oscar Ortiz (Rene Houseman)
Netherlands: Jan Jongbloed, Jan Poortvliet, Ruud Krol, Erny Brandts, Wim Jansen (Wim Suurbier), Johan Neeskens, Arie Hann, Willy van der Kerkhof, Rene van der Kerkhof, Johnny Rep (Dirk Nanninga), Rob Rensenbrink
While the 1978 final was not notable for the quality of the football produced the game was exciting and at times thrilling. The kick-off was delayed by firstly the late emergence of the Argentine team from their changing room and secondly by a complaint from Argentina captain Daniel Passarella about a bandage worn by the Dutch player Rene van der Kerkhof on an injured arm. Van der Kerkhof had worn the bandage in previous matches, but now he was required to cover it up with a second one. This display of gamesmanship angered the Dutch and their captain Neeskens had a frank exchange of views with Passarella and the referee, Gonella. Needless to say the match did not start in good spirits and a number of reckless challenges were made on both sides.
Both sides defence looked less than watertight and each side had a number of chances to open the scoring in the first half. Neither side possessed a player of the calibre of a Cruijff or Maradona who could control the game, and so possession passed from side to side. It was Kempes who finally scored, taking advantage of space afforded by slack Dutch marking to get on the end of a cross from Luque. Kempes left foot barreled the ball home, a fraction of a second before the despairing challenge of Haan. Holland continued to probe Argentina's defence, and the goalkeeper Ubaldo Fillol pulled off two good saves from Rep and Rensenbrink before half-time.
The second half saw Holland gradually take a firmer grip on the game as Argentina began to tire, but the defence would not be breached. Ardiles, doubtful before the match was taken off, and Rep was replaced by Dirk Nanninga. Holland pushed Brandts into attack, hoping his aerial presense would help conquer up a goal. Time was running out, when in the 82nd minute Nanninga met a cross from the twice-bandaged van der Kerkhof and headed in the equaliser. Holland now had were level and the momentum was with them; that Argentinean nerves were shaken was evidenced by Passarella's elbow finding its way into Neesken's face. Then in the last minute a perfectly judged ball found Rensenbrink clean through with only Fillol to beat. But his shot hit the post, and extra time beckoned.
Rensenbrink's miss would prove costly, Argentina discovered a second wind from somewhere and the Dutch defence was under pressure again. Brandts retreated back to his original position. Then Kempes received the ball again and his pace and ball control allowed him to carve a path through the Dutch defence and score his second. The Netherlands were committed to attack again, and were obligied to leave nothing but green grass were their defence should be. They survived by the skin of their teeth a few times, but with time running out Kempes burst out with the ball again, setting up Ricardo Bertoni to score a third goal and seal the victory for Argentina.
That night the streets of Buenos Aires were thronged with celebratory fans, while the Dutch had to accept defeat for the second final running.
6 - Mario Kempes (Argentina)
5 - Rob Rensenbrink (Netherlands), Teofila Cubillas (Peru)
4 - Leopoldo Luque (Argentina), Hans Krankl (Austria)