When Argentina won the right to host the 1978 World Cup in 1966, its people did not imagine that the Tango team would win its first world titles under the yoke of the “Junta” dictatorial regime that hid thousands of them.
Two years before the start of the tournament, the country witnessed the advent of a military council led by General Jorge Videla, after a coup that ended the rule of President Isabel Peron, amid acts of violence that claimed 10,000 lives, 15,000 missing, and 8,000 prisoners, according to Amnesty International.
The prisoners of the “dirty war” were held in the notorious “ISMA” camp, close to the Monumental stadium, host of the final match between Argentina and the Netherlands (3-1).
Some countries, especially European ones, threatened to boycott, but the International Federation (FIFA), headed by Brazilian Joao Havelange, insisted on hosting Argentina, after difficult and arduous negotiations with the military regime, which pledged that no security incident would disturb the finals.
Argentina coach Cesar Luis Menotti, who opposes the regime, commented before the final on the issue of propaganda through the “Albi Celeste” team: “We are the people, we belong to the working class, we are the victims, we represent the only legal thing in this country ‘football’.”
He added, “We will not play for stadiums full of officers and soldiers, but we will play for the people. We will not defend dictatorship, but rather freedom.”
Johan Cruyff was one of the best players in the world, and he led the Netherlands 4 years ago to the runner-up, with a comprehensive ball style that charmed minds and hearts.
However, the “Flying Dutchman” announced at the end of 1977 his international retirement at the age of 30, in a decision whose interpretations and motives varied, between his support for the victims of the regime, his submission to his wife’s decisions, or his exposure to a kidnapping attempt.
Cruyff told Radio Catalunya that gunmen entered his home at night trying to kidnap him for a ransom.
He managed to escape somehow, but this incident changed his outlook on life. His apartment was placed under police surveillance for about 4 months, and guards accompanied his children to school.
His fear for his family may have prevented him from participating in the World Cup. “To compete in the World Cup you have to be 200% ready. There are moments when there are other values in life.”
In another interview with a Peruvian newspaper, he said, “If the reason was political, I would not have played in Spain (with Barcelona) under Franco’s dictatorship.”
The first Arab and African victory
The same system was adopted in 1974, with the two champions of the second round groups qualifying for the final. FIFA approved penalty kicks for the first time, but they did not see the light before 1982.
The French forgot their substitute blue shirts, 400 km from the stadium for their confrontation with Hungary, so they borrowed the shirts of the unknown Kimberley team, striped in green and white, so that the start of the match was three quarters of an hour late.
And with a strange decision, Welsh referee Clive Thomas canceled a goal for Brazil scored by Zico against Sweden in the first round, blowing the final whistle immediately after the corner was executed.
In its first participation, Tunisia became the first African and Arab country to achieve a victory in the finals, over Mexico 3-1, and it almost snatched the qualification card if it beat West Germany, but it ended (0-0).
Tariq Diab, the African player of the year in 1977, enjoyed the accuracy of his passes with the left foot, and coach Abdel Majeed Chetali said, “People were mocking African football, I think that time has passed.”
Half a dozen… and a plot?
And while the Netherlands secured, despite Cruyff’s retirement, the final ticket, topping a group that included Italy, West Germany and Austria, Argentina’s qualification for second came controversial.
It tied with Brazil on points, then the latter beat Poland 3-1, which put the hosts in front of the need to beat Peru by four goals. But the score came out 6-0!
There were suspicions that a bribe had been paid to Peruvian goalkeeper Ramon Quiroga, who was born in Argentine Rosario, but he categorically denied it. Others asserted that Peruvian players were subjected to death threats, and an Argentine civil servant claimed that Peru obtained grain shipments as part of a for-profit deal with Videla’s regime.
He shaved off his mustache so he scored half a dozen
Argentina reached the final for the second time, after the first edition of 1930, which it lost to Uruguay 2-4, while the Netherlands faced the host country for the second time in succession.
In front of an enthusiastic Argentinian crowd of about 72,000, the final was played under storms of scattered blue and white paper, known as papilitos, the South American tradition of throwing confetti to show celebrations, but they polluted the field.
Mario Kempes was the only Argentine professional outside the country, after winning the La Liga top scorer twice with Valencia.
He decided to shave his beard after fasting to score in the first two games, but he failed again in the third. Menotti told him, “Why don’t you shave off your mustache too, maybe your luck will turn around and you will remember how to score goals.”
Kempes shaved his mustache, scoring 6 times in four matches, to be crowned the top scorer, with a brace against Poland and Peru, and the most expensive against the Netherlands in the final.
After normal time ended with a 1-1 draw and Dutchman Rob Rensenbrink’s ball bounced off the post, Super Mario scored its second goal in the 105th minute, before Daniel Bertoni destroyed the mills’ hopes, and General Videla handed the cup to captain Daniel Passarella in a festive atmosphere.
I did not touch the cup
“We couldn’t do a full parade around the stadium, I didn’t even touch the trophy,” Kempes said, referring to Passarella’s adherence to the trophy.
On the other hand, Rensenbrink bemoaned the opportunity to kill the match in normal time: “If the trajectory of my shot was five centimeters different, we would be world champions. Besides, I would have been crowned top scorer and perhaps the best player in the tournament. All in one match.”
“We were in a hotel outside Buenos Aires, and they took us a long way around the stadium. The bus stopped in a village and people started banging on windows and shouting ‘Argentina, Argentina’ for twenty minutes we were stuck in the village,” recalled teammate Rod Kroll in The Cool Orangemen.
Angry Dutchmen refused to attend the closing ceremony. “The security was a disaster. The fans are crazy. What would have happened if we had won?”
Argentina relied on its defense captain Passarella, defensive midfielder Osvaldo Adrilis, top scorer Cambes, in addition to goalkeeper Ubaldo Fiol, nicknamed “El Pato” (the duck).
With his achievements, he contributed to Argentina’s accession to the title, but his participation was not certain because he refused to play the substitute role, which prompted Menotti to say, “Fyol may think that he is Pele, but he is not.” An injury to starter Ugo Gatti eventually forced Menotti to recall Fuel.
Before the era of the golden boy Maradona, Argentina clinched their first title thanks to a team play, which Ardiles spoke of: “The loss to Italy (in the first round) forced us to play the second round in Rosario, which suited us more than Buenos Aires. We focused on the collective rather than the individual.” .