Nearly half a century after they'd lost the first final, Argentina finally got to host the 1978 World Cup. Yet because of the military coup there in 1976, FIFA's decision to award the country the tournament was a controversial one. The repressive right-wing junta and their left-wing guerrilla adversaries agreed to a temporary truce for the sake of football -- but the game was rarely enhanced in a competition blighted by 'professional' fouls, weak refereeing and suspicions of bribery. The impassioned fans of the hosts created a vibrant atmosphere nevertheless.
Argentina won their first two matches in Group One, against Hungary and France, 2-1, but were then beaten 1-0 by Italy thanks to Roberto Bettega's goal. Both sides were through though.
In Group Two, Poland and reigning champions West Germany qualified. The Germans were held by Tunisia, who'd made history as the first African nation to win a match at a World Cup (beating Mexico 3-1).
Group Three proved to be the most tightly contested. Austria topped the section with wins over Spain (2-1) and Sweden (1-0). Brazil huffed and puffed through two uninspiring draws before beating the already qualified Austrians.
Scotland supplied the tournament's bathos in Group Four. Hyped and romanticised by the media, Ally McLeod and his men were humbled by Peru and then held by Iran. Peru won the group, Netherlands qualified as second best.
As in 1974, the top two nations from each group went through to the next round, which comprised two more groups of four, the winners of those groups meeting in the final. Group A consisted of Italy, West Germany, Austria and Holland while Group B pitted together Argentina, Poland, Brazil and Peru.
The Germans, without the retired Franz Beckenbauer, uncharacteristically flopped, eking out draws against Italy and Holland before losing 3-2 to Austria, whom the suddenly galvanised Dutch had thrashed 5-1. A 2-1 win over Italy ensured Holland topped Group A to book their place in a second successive final.
In Group B, skulduggery was in the air, and revolved around fixture scheduling. Brazil beat Peru 3-0 and Argentina accounted for Poland (2-0). Then the two great South American rivals contested an unlovely, foul-laden goalless draw. So after two matches apiece, they were level on points, meaning everything hinged on the last two games. Unaccountably FIFA did not insist that the matches be played simultaneously. Brazil had to go first, and duly beat the Poles 3-1. Argentina knew had to do beat Peru by four goals to reach the final and they won 6-0.
Amid a blizzard of ticker-tape at River Plate's Monumental Stadium, Argentina's chain-smoking manager Cesar Menotti saw the Dutch create but fail to take chances, in the absence of a specialist centre-forward, before his team went ahead on 38 minutes through the superb Mario Kempes.
It looked like the goal would be enough until Netherlands substitute Dirk Nanninga rose to head home Rene van der Kerkhof's cross with eight minutes remaining. Then the hosts' dream nearly died when Rob Rensenbrink fired against the post moments before the end of regulation time. It proved a costly miss.
The game went into extra-time, and in the first period there was Kempes again, breaking through the Dutch defence to steer the ball past Jan Jongbloed. The hosts were now truly in the ascendancy, and fittingly Kempes set up Daniel Bertoni with a sublime one-two which the winger despatched to make it 3-1, securing Argentina's first world title.
FACTS & FIGURES:
Runners-up: The Netherlands
Leading Scorer: Mario Kempes (ARG)--6