Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Naturally, the World Cup dominated the year. Perhaps the most controversial World Cup finals ever played – their were protests for months, calls to boycott the tournament, heavy criticism, doubts about the ability of the host to organize the finals and to provide security. But the finals were played and the football was lively. Tactically, there was nothing new – total football was the measuring stick. It was observed, that countries were catching up with the demanding style, especially the South Americans. But the archpriests of total football – Cruyff and Beckenbauer - were absent, although still active players and top world stars. The young sensation Maradona was also absent, left out of the team at the last moment. Zico played, but did not shine. It was uncertain time: seemingly the big heroes of only yesterday were leaving and the new stars were not quite of the caliber of the old. Holland proved its leading position and commitment to the style they invented, but West Germany was major disappointment. The teams on the raise were somewhat unfinished and not yet real contenders – France and Italy. Nice surprises came from unexpected corners of the globe, but still far away from the top nations. The World Cup was good, may be surprisingly good, given the circumstances.

The club scene was also interesting: the English clubs established themselves as the leading force in Europe, in sharp contrast to the misery of the national team of England. German football clearly was very strong, but more and more obviously going into unpleasant to the eye physical dominance at the expense of artistry and sophistication. The stars shaping football were found a bit old-fashioned and entirely at par with the exciting generation of the first half of the 1970s. Yet, more and more clubs and countries embraced total football, which was positive development.

But the World Cup was everything in 1978. The buzz practically covered the whole year and the politics went hand in hand with football.
The general image was not a pleasant one: World Cup under siege, it was called. World Cup under guns. It was the rifle, not the ball, the symbol of the finals. And it was bizarre indeed – consider this: during matches of Argentina, torturous interrogations stopped and both torturers and victims watched together, cheering for Argentina. Match over, final smiles, cheers, and even embraces, and – back to business of 'extracting' evidence and confessions, and murder, and so on. Until the next brief togetherness at the next match. So, 1978 was shaped by both great football and gross torture, both going hand and hand. There was no way to separate the game from politics.
And politics almost buried the historic significance of this World Cup: it was the last classic one. The last with 16 finalists. The formula of 1974 was unchanged – 4 round robin preliminary groups, followed by two round robin semifinal groups.