Countdown to Brazil: Part 1 – FIFA World Cup 1978

“With what I know now, I can’t say I’m proud of my victory. But I didn’t realise; most of us didn’t. We just played football.

In hindsight, we should never have played that World Cup. I strongly believe that.”

– Leopoldo Luque


Chairman of the World Cup organising committee, General Omar Actis, was assassinated before the competition had begun. Bright start, eh?

Imagine a politically hostile Argentina, with the Dirty war ravaging, people disappearing and people being killed. State and military terrorism, with the junta actively involved in the World Cup, bombing attempts by the Montoneros to disrupt the tournament; and on a lighter note, the absence of the mercurial Johan Cryuff. Perhaps the most controversial among all the tournaments held until now, the 1978 FIFA World Cup is one to forget.

The format of the World Cup was a bit different back then – 16 teams qualified, divided into four groups of four. The top 2 teams would qualify to play into two groups of 4 teams each. This was also the World Cup where penalty shoot-outs were introduced to determine a winner after 120 minutes.

Controversies aplenty in this World Cup. Scotland’s Willie Johnston was sent home for failing a drugs test. To proceed to the final, Argentina needed to beat Peru by 4 goals. They won by a margin of 6.

Oh, did I mention the Peru goalkeeper was born in Argentina?

My favourite moment of this Cup is Zico’s disallowed goal as the referee blew for Full Time just before (after?) the ball went in.


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Austria were one of the surprise packages of tournament. In a group of Brazil, Spain and Sweden, Austria were the first to qualify after their first 2 games – courtesy – genius of the soon-to-be Barcelona player, Hans Krankl. However, they were undone in the second group stage by the Italians and the Dutch. Despite going out of the tournament, Austria did beat West Germany in their final group game, a game eternally etched into Austrian history books.

Against the dutch, Archie Gemmill scored one of the most magnificent goals in World Cup history.

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Also, Arrie Haan did this to West Germany.

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Back then, Nelinho defied the laws of physics.

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Roberto Carlos, who?

Argentina took on the Netherlands in the final at the Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires; a mammoth of a stadium, home to River Plate. A little over 72k people witnessed the final; a game which is aptly described as a bloodbath. The game had a delayed kickoff as Argentina came out late and also complained about the plaster cast on Kerkhof’s wrist.

Mario Kempes

The only one in Argentina’s World Cup squad who did not play in the domestic league was Cordoba-born, Mario Kempes. Hairstyle aside, goals were flowing abundantly from the Valencia marksman, having scored 24 and 28 goals in the previous 2 seasons. He was also one of the few remaining players from the ’74 World Cup, where he took part as a youngster.

The first half ended with Kempes giving Argentina the lead. The dutch equalised on the 82nd minute, courtesy of a Nanninga goal. The game would have ended differently had Netherland’s top goal scorer Rensenbrink’s shot not hit the post at the end of normal time. The dutch would’ve ended with their first world cup.

“If the trajectory of my shot had been five centimetres different, we would have been world champions. On top of that, I would have been crowned top scorer and perhaps chosen as the best player of the tournament – all in the same match. That’s why I keep things in perspective.”

– Rensenbrink

However, as fate would have it, the game went into extra time. And Mario Kempes scored again. Bertoni’s goal later on in the second half of extra time put the game beyond doubt and gave Argentina their first World Cup. The country celebrated amidst the social turmoil and the volatile political atmosphere. Brazil and Italy ended the tournament with 3rd and 4th spot, respectively.

Elsewhere, a 17 year old Argentine kid was scoring for fun in Argentina’s Primera División; a boy who would change World Football forever.

Gaurang is a part of the @Football_P family. You can follow him at @TheTotalLFC

Gaurang Manjrekar

Believes in the lost art of story-telling. Committed to revolutionizing football journalism.