Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The African Champions Cup was going steady too – it's 13th issue already. The participants were still relatively few, so the tournament really started with the 1/8 finals. The preliminary round was mostly on paper – 8 teams advanced by byes. Withdrawals were common and the tournament really was played in earnest after the 1/8 finals. At least on paper, it was more normal competition: away ties and wins did happen fairly often. By 1978 tradition existed too – the ½ finalists were quite familiar names, constantly strong and successful: Hafia (Conakry, Guinea), already the most successful African club, three times winner of ACC; AS Vita Club (Kinshasa, Congo, then Zaire), the 1973 winner; Canon (Yaounde, Cameroon), the winner in 1971; and the Nigerian champions Enugu Rangers, winner of African Cup Winners Cup in 1977. Little can be said about the quality of the game, but at least it was competitive: Canon and Enugu Rangers were unable not only overcoming each other, but to score a single goal – after two 0-0 ties, penalty shoot-out decided the finalist. Canon clinched 6-5 victory.

The other semi-final was decided by away goal. Hafia won at home 2-0, but lost 1-3 in Zaire. The goal they scored visiting AS Vita Club propelled to the final and to the chance of winning 4th Cup.

The two-leg final started on December 3 in Conakry and Hafia was unable to win – the match ended 0-0. On December 17 they faced mission impossible at unhospitable Omnisport stadium in Yaounde. Canon won 2-0 and the Cup – for a second time.

Canon (Yaounde) – winners of the African Champions Cup in 1978. Cameroonian football was strong in Africa, at least on club level. However, nothing could be said about the wining squad – not even their names. Except one:

Thomas N'Kono – or Nkono, depending on spelling and source – was keeping the ball out of Canon's net. Of course, he was entirely unknown yet and had to wait 4 more years to be 'discovered'.

The second African club tournament remained entirely in the dark. The Cup Winners Cup was still young tournament, established in 1975. Just like the first African Champions Cup, the first CWC was won by Cameroonian club – Oryx (Douala) won the ACC in 1965; Tonnerre (Yaounde) – the first CWC in 1975. After that two Nigerian clubs won it – Shooting Stars in 1976, and Enugu Rangers in 1977 – and now the 4th issue of the tournament was open to all. Fewer participants than those competing for ACC, but fewer withdrawals too – Sodiam (Banqui, Central African Republic) withdrew after the first leg was played against Al-Median (Lybia)in the preliminary round. The second round – or the 1/8 finals – went without troible, but a club withdrew in the ¼ finals – KMKM Zanzibar (Tanzania). Their Zambian opponents – Mufulira Wanderers – advanced.

The semi-finalists were clearly weaker than the corresponding semi-finalists in the Champions Cup: Kadiogo (Upper Volta – Burkina Faso today) paired with Horoya AC (Conakry, Guinea) and Mufulira Wanderers (Zambia) met MA Hussein-Dey (Algeria). On the strength of the successes of Hafia (Conakry) and general higher quality of football played in Northern Africa, the Guinean and the Algerian clubs were obvious favourites – on paper, at least. In reality the semi-finals went by the rules of African football... hosts win. Away goals decided the winners – Horoya AC lost the first leg 2-3, then won the home match 1-0. MA Hussein-Dey lost 1-2 in Zambia, won 1-0 at home. Were the matches really competitive, or were they fixed by the referees in favour of the host team nobody can tell. Only one thing is sure – the teams likelier to reach the final did so.

Two-leg final, the opening match played on November 24 in Algeria. The visitors won and comfortably too – 3-1 for Horoya AC. The second leg in Conakry on December 10 was not mere protocol: either Horoya saw themselves already winners, or the Algerians were determined to fight to the end, but whatever it was Horoya AC prevailed with difficulty – 2-1. At least, so much can be extracted by dry records – there is no information, not even a picture of the winners. Hack, there is not even a logo anywhere to be found... just the name: Horoya AC won the Cup Winners Cup in 1978, confirming the might of Guinean club football at the time, which curiously did not transform into strong national team.

As for the losing finalists, the information is a tiny bit more than for the winners:

The logo is right: MA Hussein-Dey eventually became NA Hussein-Dey, as it is known today. It is all-sports club, always having the name NA – MA was used for their football section. The abbreviation stands for Nasr Athlétique de Hussein Dey – a club founded in 1947 by the merger of three older clubs. Their 1978 players are unknown, but very likely a young guy played at the final:

Rabah Madjer. The photo is from later year – and from much more glorious forum than the African Cup Winners Cup. Madjer was only 20 years old in 1978 and unknown. Like Thomas N'Kono he was to become well known and to play in Europe. And to be remembered fondly for one fantastic goal – but all that was in the future, in 1978. Back then Madjer was a losing finalists, if he did play, and European fame was probably unimaginable.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The World Cup was not the only major international championship in 1978, but the other one went entirely under the radar – the 11th African championship. The Cup of the African Nations was established in 1956 and finished in 1957.

It sounds strange today, but the African championship is older than the European one – by the time the first European championship finished, Africa already had two completed. It also is almost unbelievable today to find out some of the early hosts of the finals: Ethiopia hosted twice (1962 and 1968) and Sudan also twice (1957 and 1970). But Africa escaped attention not only because of the low level of football. Poverty, large distances, and pitiful transportation were not even the biggest problems – African football suffered mostly form national and international politics, favouritism, scheming, corruption, and tribalism. Away matches were almost unsolvable problem not because of hostile home crowds, but because of the twelve and most important players the hosts had: the referee. Frequently teams unable to build big advantage at the first match simply withdrew from the away match – it was pointless to go. The only African miracle was in that international tournaments were staged and finished. So far, ten championships produced 7 champions, Egypt, Ghana, and Zaire winning twice. Who was to win it for a third time? Or was it to be new champion? Eight teams were playing at the final tournament, divided in two round-robin groups. Ghana was hosting – for a second time.

Preliminary stages escape rational explanation: it was meandering scheme of many rounds. The reigning champions Morocco and the host nation, Ghana, qualified directly. In the preliminary round Mauritius eliminated Malawi. Then the first round started and the order was broken: Niger, Sudan, and Tanzania withdrew. The general number of participants was uneven, making a mockery of the preliminary round – Gabon had no opponent and got a bye. So far, so good... compared to the running at the same time qualifications for the World Cup, the African championship was almost perfect: only three teams withdrew. But it was back to 'normal' in the next round: the pair of Mali and Cotte d'Ivoire were disqualified. Upper Volta (Burkina Faso today), eliminated by Cotte d'Ivoire in the first round, was awarded a place at the finals as a result. The rest of the games were considered fair. The toughest duel was between Algeria and Zambia – each team won 2-0 at home and penalty shoot-out decided the finalist. Since this happened in Zambia, the winners don't have to be spelled out. Not a single team won away match in this round.

The finals were played in Accra – Group A – and Group B in Kumasi. Naturally, Ghana played in Accra. Naturally it finished first.

1.GHANA 3 2 1 0 6- 2 5

2.NIGERIA 3 1 2 0 5- 3 4

3.Zambia 3 1 1 1 3- 2 3

4.Upper Volta 3 0 0 3 2- 9 0

The relative strength of the teams is impossible to judge, but clearly Upper Volta had no place at the finals.

Group B had some surprises: Morocco finished third, but the failure of the last African champions can be explained by the stiff competition coming from neighbours – Tunisia. Local rivalry and pride, let's say. However, the match between Morocco and Tunisia ended in 1-1 tie. Morocco was killed by Uganda – 0-3. Earlier Tunisia won against Uganda 3-1. Quite surprisingly Uganda finished first in the group.

1.UGANDA 3 2 0 1 7- 4 4

2.TUNISIA 3 1 2 0 4- 2 4

3.Morocco 3 1 1 1 2- 4 3

4.Congo 3 0 1 2 1- 4 1

the semi-finals paired Ghana with Tunisia and Uganda with Nigeria. Uganda clinched a 2-1 victory over Nigeria. Nigeria did not rank high back then, but Uganda was – and is – a weak team, and that by African standards of the 1970s. Ghan a won 1-0 – it was expected victory not only because traditionally Ghana was one of the strongest African teams. Hosting has its privileges... but there was no fuss from the Tunisians, the match was more or less fair.

The real fun happened at the small final for the bronze medals: it was 1-1 in the 42nd minute, when the referee awarded a penalty to Nigeria. The Tunisian team was outraged, protested the penalty, and since no referee ever changes his mind, the Tunisians left the field and abandoned the match. Nigeria was awarded 2-0 victory and got the bronze medals. What really happened is impossible to tell: the Tunisians maintain the referee went out of his way to help Nigeria. May be that was the reality, but the African Federation took the opposite view: Tunisia was immediately and severely punished – all Tunisian teams, national firmations nad clubs, were banned from participating in international African tournaments for three years. It was not enough for enraged officials – they wanted more, but the clock saved Tunisia. The Federation considered banning Tunisia from representing Africa at the coming World Cup. Alas, it was already mid-March – there was no time to stage new qualification round for the World Cup. Reluctantly and sadly, the Federation announced to the world that Tunisia will play in Argentina precisely because there is no time for replacing the undeserving hooligans.

The final went without trouble – Ghana easily won 2-0. Next to nothing could be said about the match: from what little footage is available on YouTube Uganda looks entirely incompetent, not only weak, team. And because of that the strength of Ghana cannot be measured. Overwhelming victory of the hosts and record setting third African title.

Ghanaian players all smiles and celebrating.

Who were they? Unfortunately, not a single name rings a bell.

Standing from left: Salifu, Adolf Armah, Willie Klutse, Isaac Acquah, Anas Seidu, P.S.K. Paha, Kuuku Dadzie, Haruna, Joseph Carr.

Crouching: Mohammed Polo, Opoku Afrlyie, Ben Kayode, Nketia Yawson, Awuley Quaye, Razak Abdul, Addae Kvenkvenhene.

Spelling differs, depending on the source... one more African problem. Opoku Afriye – or Afrlyie? - scored both goals at the final. Apparently Mohammed Polo was the star of the team. Much later he said that he played with a torn ligament of the right ankle for 19 years and had to quit because of that in 1993. Long career, if true – but everything is possible in Africa. Polo was called 'the dribbling magician' and 'soccer professor' in Ghana. He was unable to finish the final in 1978, because of injury early in the match. These guys remained unknown to the world – but won the title. True heroes, no matter what.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The rest is trivia. The Argentine habit to hurl great rolls of paper to the pitch, quickly covering it – that never happened before and perhaps is impossible today.

A sample from Argentina – Brazil. White paper everywhere, but nobody made fuss about it. Vuvuzelas were big problem in 2006 and were banned. No such ideas in 1978.

For the first time national team had to play with borrowed shirts at World Cup finals.

France donning shirts belonging to Kimberley after the absence of their own was discovered. France in green and white stripes – unique moment.

Players with plaster casts were not exactly something new, but it was rare occurrence. Technically, forbidden by rules, as objects endangering other players, but in the gray area. The rule was enforced at the final – to the irritation of Holland, seeing deliberate move in favour of the hosts.

The controversial plaster cast on the right hand of Rene van de Kerkhof. No problem in earlier games, but had to be removed before the start of the final. Rules are rules, or nasty move to irritate the Dutch and thus to provide an advantage to Argentina? Opinions still differ.

As ever, young and old players were present at the finals. The youngest belonged to Poland:

Andrzej Iwan, the 18-years old striker made his appearance against Tunisia. Mennotti did not risk to include Maradona in his squad, but Jacek Gmoch not only included Iwan, but used him as well.

The oldest player – Jan Jongbloed, the Dutch goalkeeper.

Shattered Jongbloed after the lost final – his second. At 37 years, he had no chance for another run. Given his abilities, it was a miracle he played at 2 World Cup finals.

Very rarely a player scores for both teams in a match. Ernie Brandts of Holland managed that against Italy – he gave the lead to Italy in the 19th minute and equalized in the 50th minute.

Brandts, number 22, helping Krol to clear the ball from the vicinity of the Dutch net. Perhaps Brandts exemplified best the new type of universal player, equally suitable for any position, fit, determined, competent, and a soldier, not a star: known as a striker before the finals, Brandts was listed is defender for the World Cup. Originally a deep reserve not expected to play, he was fielded by Happel when things looked desperate – and played well.

Speaking of goals, a benchmark was reached in 1978 – the 1000th goal was scored at World Cup finals.

Rob Rensenbrink had the honour of scoring the 1000th goal – against Scotland. It the opening goal of the match, scored from a penalty shot. Alas, Holland lost at the end and Rensenbrink was outshined by the Archie Gemmill scoring the best goal at the 1978 World Cup.

And another record was bettered at the finals – Bjorn Nordqvist, already the most capped national team player of all time, added three more games.

Bjorn Norqvist rounded his appearances for Sweden to 115. At 36, he was not quitting professional football yet, but only the national team. He was constant feature for so long, it is difficult to establish who captained Sweden before him.

And yet another significant moment, which happened shortly after the finals: English clubs signed foreign players.

Tottenham Hotspur signed 2 fresh World champions – Ricardo Villa, left, and Osvaldo Ardiles. Many people were – and still are – confused, thinking that England finally lifted a ban on imports. In fact, there was never a prohibition – the main obstacle was obtaining a working permit, still existing today. This was added to the real problem: English arrogance. The general opinion for years was that foreigners simply cannot the English game. Foreign players, however, were imported in small numbers until the end of the 1960s. The following drought confused observers, but in any case Tottenham Hotspur took a big risk.

They were soon followed by Birmingham City, signing Alberto Tarantini.

One of the best defenders at the finals, Tarantini was curiosity as well – for the first time in football history, there was world champion not playing for a club. For months the only football Tarantini played was for Argentina. His training also was done only with the national team. However, it was strange to see a player, rising to stardom at the finals, to sign for quite a modest club. In England he was not precisely received wormly: world champion he was, but the British were highly skeptical about his ability to play even for a club normally playing hide and seek with relegation.

But the English market for foreigners got a jump-start. International buying and selling of players was particularly active after World Cup finals – and new countries entered, or re-entered: Eastern European countries – Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Slowly, carefully, without much information given, and mostly importing oldish 'mature' players.

At the end, what remained were memorable pictures of Argentine triumph:

Mario Kempes, scoring against Holland at the final and igniting Argentine passions.

World champions – at last, and for the last time. For the last time in some important sense: 1978 was the last championship in classic 16-team format. An end of an era. Argentina closed it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

At the end it boiled down to individual players and the situation was quite alarming – there were no outstanding players. Collective play was the key for success, but... when Happel advocated team play, soldiers and not generals, the shortcomings were also obvious. Perhaps West Germany was the best example – tough, fit, disciplined fighters, capable of endless running, but having no creativity whatsoever. Those were second tier German players in 1974 – journeymen, reserves, and those in the vicinity of the national team, but left out of it at the end. These players were the German team in 1978 – and they failed miserably. Collective game still required influential players to shape the game, to five the edge, to create scoring opportunities, to score goals. Yet, the big stars failed in 1978 – it was clearly the end for aging stars and those seemingly reaching the peak of their abilities and starting to fade away. Rivelino, Holzenbein, Lubanski, Suurbier. People even did not notice that Schwarzenbeck was in the German squad – he did not play a second. It was the end for aging veterans, none going down gracefully. From the category of those already starting going downhill – Rijsbergen, the Argentines Houseman and Alonso, practically the whole Polish team. Current big stars not only disappointed, but appeared to be grossly overrated – beginning with Zico, but also Roberto Dinamite, Bonhof, Rummenigge, Dalglish, Edstrom. Most of the Dutch heroes from 1974 also seemed at the end of the road – Rep, Haan, Neeskens. West Germany was most alarming – it was a team not in need of repairs, but of rebuilding from scratch. Entirely new team, new coach, new concept. Brazil to a point too – it was painfully clear that 'European approach' was counterproductive and outright wrong for Brazil.

And the most troublesome was the absence of outstanding playmakers. Midfield was the key for winning from the introduction of total football – fighting for the ball, possessing the ball, control of midfield. Blocking early the attacks of opposition and immediately staring an attack against them. Playmakers were essential for that – to organize, to create, to shape, to lead, and to strike. The great playmakers of 1974 were either absent (Cruyff and Overatt most obvious) or unimpressive (Deyna). The most noticeable playmakers were Platini, Antognoni, Prohaska, and may be Ardiles. Yet... France was eliminated too early and it was difficult to judge the real influence of Platini; Antognoni was in and out of the squad – seemingly, inconsistent; Ardiles slowly became noticeable – mostly at the last stage of the tournament. Prohaska was limited by the natural limitation of the Austrian team, lacking enough high quality players. Dirceu, perhaps the most consistent midfielder, was not a starter at first. The problem of the new playmakers was that they did not play for successful teams – at the same time the best teams either lacked outstanding playmakers, or had shaky uneven performance, preventing playmakers not only to shine, but to be effective. And that ideally, for the very playmakers lacked consistency. Players of promise and potential for the future, but no revelation at hand.

The other troublesome absence was great goalscorers. Mario Kempes was the best at the finals with 6 goals. Cubillas and Rensenbrink followed with 5 each and Krankl and Luque scored 4 goals. Didn't look much, especially if taken into account how goals were scored. The first three fihished that high thanks to goals scored in one-two matches: Kempes scored 4 goals in the last two matches Argentina played. Cubillas scored a ht-trick against Iran. Krankl – 2 against West Germany. Luque scored 2 against Peru. Rensenbrink was most regular, but scored nothing in the last two matches of Holland. Kempes scored all his goals in the second phase of the championship – in the first phase his record was plain zero. Clearly, there was no goal scorer like Gerd Muller or Pele. Not even like Lato four years earlier. Instead, many players scored now and then – the new football seemingly did not have place for typical goalscorers. But, if so, scoring was becoming chancy and result of great labour. The fans missed great scorers, of course.

Line by line, things were not very optimistic. There were strong goalkeepers – Hellstrom, Maier, Leao, Zoff familiar from the 1974 and 1970 World Cups. Fillol and Koncilia were kind of newcomers, yet, they were already well known. Tomaszewski was the big disappointment. May be Quiroga would have been the discovery of the championship, if not tainted by the suspect match Peru-Argentina. Practically no new names and the best were nearing or over 30 years old. Which is not bit deal for goalkeepers – the big deal was the absence of anybody under 25.

Defense – Ruud Krol was the best among the established stars. Of those already known and climbing up the French Marius Tresor, the Austrian Bruno Pezzey, and Scirea and Gentile of Italy had strong tournament. The discoveries were Passarella, Amaral, and Oscar – that is, seen by the whole world at last and recognized. Things looked fairly good in the centre of defense. Not so at the sides – Tarantini and Cabrini were not only the discoveries of the World Cup, but without any competition at left full-back position. On the right... nobody shined. May be Robert Sara of Austria was the most consistent. Cuccureddu played well too – when he was a starter, which was not so often. Berti Vogts appeared better than most, but not because he played so well – the competition was pitiful, that was all. None of the best right full-backs was young – the relatively unknown before Sara was already 30 years old.

In midfield Dirceu established himself – a surprise to a point, for he was not in the original regular eleven of Brazil. Failures were in abundance: Neesekens practically played one strong match and he still was considered among the best performing midfielders of the finals. The pleasant discoveries were Ardiles (Argentina), Tardelli and Antognoni (Italy), Cueto (Peru). With some reservations – Batista (Brazil). Not much... especially if opposed to the failures, beginning with Zico and Rivelino.

Strikers – same problem. Rensenbrink remained among the best, although with some reservations and with the clear understanding that his days were numbered. Rep, Lato, Szarmach, Rummenige, Edstrom, Roberto Dinamite, Dieter Muller, Jordan – all expected to be major factors of the finals, were unimpressive at best. Krankl confirmed his talent. So Didier Six. Paolo Rossi of Italy was more or less the pleasant discovery. His teammate Roberto Bettega was perhaps the strongest striker at the finals. Cubillas also had strong championship.

At the end Mario Kempes was voted the best player of the World Cup. There was some bitter taste with that – he really shined only after the initial round-robin stage. That is, practically in the second half of the tournament and although his influence and contribution to the Argentine victory is undeniable, it was not stellar performance from beginning to end. Last impressions prevailed, though... May be other players were more worthy: Passarella, Krol, and Bettega. Like Kempes they played maximum number of games – seven. Unlike him they were steady from the start and had no weak match. May be Daniel Passarella was most deserving – influential captain, leading his teammates to the title, motivating and inspiring, tough, in excellent condition, modern central defender, who readily went to help the strikers and scored a goal. But it was Kempes.
Super Mario surrounded by Poles – a famous posture of dominant player devastating whatever opposition came his way. Trademark rolled down socks, no shinpads, bandage under the knee, hair flying. Kempes was noted already in 1974 – the only Argentine of promise back then, when he was barely 20 years old. Serious, determined professional in 1978, prolific goalscorer, one of the brightest stars in the Spanish championship, and the only foreign-based player in Mennotti's squad, Mario Kempes had shy start, but pulled himself together and really shined in the second half of the World Cup. If not the most outstanding player at the finals, at least among the best 4 or 5. It was difficult to figure out his position – seemingly, he played a combination of wide striker and playmaker. Playing neither in midfield, nor in the front of attack. Coming from the back, but very strong and dangerous. All balls were addressed to him and he either supplied deadly finishing passes or scored. Skilful, like typical South American, physical, like any European. With German-like will power. It was his tournament at the end. Photogenic, highly visible – the symbol of the 1978 World Cup.

Yet, he was not newcomer, so at the end the tournament provided few discoveries and among them perhaps the Argentines were the real ones, since most players were almost unknown outside South America. And the credit goes to Cesar Luis Menotti, who trusted his 'second rate' players and organized them into a winning team.
Ave Cesar, indeed! El Flaco conquered the world smoking his cigarette. His philosophy was plausible: he said he wanted tough, physically fit, and collective minded, like the Europeans, team, which played attractive technical attacking football. A combination of South American and European styles, but emphasizing the creative and beautiful elements of football. He succeeded, using unattractive to Latin players methods: long training camp, a lot of work, a lot of running. But his team was not restricted on the field, where the players were free to improvise. The general impression of his team was one of constantly attacking squad. Yet, almost unnoticed at the time were his worlds explaining the tactics for the final: Menotti said he asked his front line players to cover constantly the Dutch: Luque to keep Krol back; Ortiz and Bertoni to keep an eye on Neeskens and Willy van de Kerkhof; Kempes to take care of Rep; Gallego – of Haan; and Ardiles – of Rensenbrink. 'These was leaving us with 4 players in defense all the time', said Menotti. That is, primarily defensive concerns. As for attacking – a combination of few short passes, followed by surprise long pass ahead, was the idea for confusing and destroying Dutch defense. No empty space to be left on the field, hard tackles, fighting for every ball. It was hardly free, improvisational football – rather, tactically solid and defensive approach, but it worked. Menotti also said that he was sure of his team's victory after the end of regular time: his players looked fresher than the Dutch, ready to run for ever. And instructed the team to go ahead into attacks. It worked. Tactically – nothing really new, rather utilizing the best of both big football schools, and making his team tactically versatile. If anything, the key was in that: to teach players tactics. Not simply to follow instructions, but to understand tactical requirements. Something the players of great Ajax was known for. At the end the very Ajax players were beaten and Argentina won finally the World Cup.

Monday, July 22, 2013

And after the World Cup was over – the aftermath. Time for analysis and conclusions. The widespread outrage of the military rule of Argentina did not bring practical results:
Nobody boycotted the finals. The fears of mass protests at the stadiums, kidnapping, or other forms of political terrorism did not materialized either. Not the concerns about Argentine ability to provide security for visitors. Call it a victory of peaceful sport... call it cowardly hypocrisy of states and individuals... but the fact remains: the world chose football over politics. Even those directly involved in the struggle. There still are people refusing to show General Videla and Daniel Passarella together, yet these people did not refuse to watch the tournament.
Fact is fact – here they are, General and team captain, but who is handing the Cup to whom?

No matter what, Argentina was happy:
Delirious fan kissing the grass.
And the giant letters of triumph.

Contrary to military hopes, the finals did not improve the international reputation of the Junta. Did not make it more acceptable at home. Later gruesome stories of interrupted interrogations surfaced – torturers and victims watching the games together, cheering for Argentina, even hugging each other... until game was over, and back to 'business'. So much for big politics here.

On the level of football politics the obvious was a turn into commercialization. Money was becoming the number one question – the profit of the game. Thus, TV, merchandize, gate receipts were the most important – and also becoming controlling the game. Already there was violation of football tradition – with Italy placed among the top countries in the name of bigger gates. The following scandal took out Italy entirely from the pools and the country was permitted to chose her own round-robin group. TV schedules pressured the Dutch to hurry with taking off the plaster cast from Rene van de Kerkhof's hand at the final. Argentina was pushed gently ahead to the point of becoming 'fixed' champion for many. But money was not the whole conflict: Holland and Brazil criticized the state of the stadiums' pitches – too hard because of the poor condition and gradual disappearance of the grass. Nobody seemed to realize that the finals were not in the middle of the summer, but in the middle of South American winter – June corresponded to January. No wonder the surface was tough and difficult to maintain. But there was no way to schedule World Cup finals only in the Northern hemisphere. No way to move the finals to another time of the year when played in the Southern hemisphere either – finding time for the World Cup was difficult anyway, because of the domestic championships and international tournaments. No country, no continental federation was giving up ground. And the frictions between clubs and national teams were increasing: clubs refusing to free players for national team duties was nothing new, but with more players playing abroad the conflicts were bound to intensify and become uglier. Long national team camps were clearly becoming a thing of the past – Holland was already setting unhappy precedent: the national team hardly had any time to prepare itself for the finals. And it showed. Along with all that went requirements for security, facilities, infrastructure, transportation, accommodations. In terms of security measures, Argentina was perhaps the precursor of the current situation – a World Cup heavy on security checks, restrictions, searches, with military involvement on top of heavy Police presence. A host of World Cup was no longer judged by availability of large stadiums, but practically by everything. A lot was required to be build – finals were becoming vast operation with en enormous investments. And since investments had to have lucrative returns, hosting a World Cup became big political fight, involving scheming, bribing, etc. The stakes suddenly became very high and the game itself took secondary place.

As for the game itself, conclusions were a bit perplexing. Unlike the 1974 World Cup, the motto was not about 'lessons to be learned'. As a whole, 1978 brought no innovations – it was concluded that the time of revolution in football was over and the game was taking the road of evolution. A different , not so obvious to viewers, road, but also enriching the game, was the general argument. And it was mostly true argument: from today's standpoint, the last major football revolution happened in 1974. From that time up to now nothing radical happened – only small adjustments and tactical tinkering in the frame of total football. It was immediately observed in 1978 that the general level of the teams was higher – the division between those playing total football and the rest was vast back in 1974. In 1978 there was no finalists clearly weak and outdated. The most obvious improvement was at the bottom – the usual outsiders from Africa and Asia were no longer punching bags, but dangerous opponents. There was no real outsider in 1978 and all teams were competent. Winning games and advancing became tougher. Only Mexico collapsed – but it was sudden collapse, not a normal weak outsider playing at its normal weak level. Other teams were pleasant discoveries: Iran, Tunisia, Austria, Peru, France, Italy. Everybody was sorry to see France eliminated early. These were teams on the rise and expected to play important role in international football soon. The words of the Peruvian coach before the finals resonated true after the finals: there were no more outsiders. Every match was important, requiring full concentration. It did not matter who the opposition was.

On the negative side was the top layer of world football: the quality there was seen lower. No exciting and dominating teams, as in 1974 and earlier. Much more was expected from the top teams and they kind of disappointed. The top teams struggled, their performance was inconsistent, their football was not exciting, their teams seemed not ready, and had to be shaped during the championship. Spain was nonentity. West Germany and Poland were not even a shadow of their 1974 level. Holland was a pale approximation of the great team they were. Brazil was hardly better. Key players did not shine, some had to be replaced. And hardly any new stars emerged. At the end it was very difficult to chose the best players of 1978 - four different 'best eleven' follow, illustrating the problem:

France Press: Hellstrom (Sweden), Sara (Austria), Russmann (West Germany), Amaral (Brazil), Tarantini (Argentina), Neeskens (Holland), Kempes (Argentina), Dirceu (Brazil), Causio (Italy), Rossi (Italy), Six (France).

DPA: Hellstrom (Sweden), Nelinho (Brazil), Oscar (Brazil), Passarella (Argentina), Cabrini (Italy), Ardiles (Argentina), Neeskens (Holland), Kempes (Argentina), Bertoni (Argentina), Luque (Argentina), Krankl (Austria).

Associated Press: Leao (Brazil), Vogts (West Germany), Krol (Holland), Amaral (Brazil), Haan (Holland), Nawalka (Poland), Batista (Brazil), Causio (Italy), Rensenbrink (Holland), Rossi (Italy), Kempes (Argentina).

UPI: Fillol (Argentina), Vogts (West Germany), Amaral (Brazil), Oscar (Brazil), Krol (Holland), Ardiles (Argentina), Dirceu (Brazil), Kempes (Argentina), Rensenbrink (Holland), Rossi (Italy), Bettega (Italy).

At first glance – no consensus. Only Kempes appeared in every list. No concentrated group of players from any team. Few players from the new world champions, few from the silver medalists. Not a single Brazilian among the strikers – but heavy Brazilian presence in the defensive line. Not at all typical. Very difficult to find outstanding players at some posts. Practically every chosen player could be replaced by another. Players from teams not reaching the big and small finals included – two of them belonging to teams eliminated in the opening stage. Back in 1974 the picture was entirely different: the big names were undisputed. The biggest difficulty was to do some justice to equally shining players and decide who deserved to be chosen best: say, Breitner or Krol. Now, in 1978, it was so different – trying to find someone less inconsistent and perhaps with more than one good match, so to fill up positions. Even Kempes was not overwhelming star: he was included in different positions, as if placed where there was no candidate at all.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

June 25 – the final. 78 000 fans attended and millions set in front of their TVs hungry for the grand finale. Hoping and fretting. And the game did not start... the Italian referee Gonella demanded Rene van de Kerkhof to take off the plaster cast from his injured hand. Cutting off the cast took time – but the age of television stuck its ugly head: TV stations had programs, fixed timing, no way they can wait, unthinkable... the Dutch had to hurry. Five minutes later the match started. It was heavy clash – the hosts had to win a title at last. Holland too... Home advantage did not matter much for the European experienced professionals. Noise and the ever present rolls of paper hurled on the field apparently did not bother Oranje. Fast tempo, fighting for every centimeter of grass – both teams were worthy opponents. Eight 1974 World Cup finalists on the pitch (nine in the second half, when the substitute Suurbier). Equal game at first, but the Argentines were sharper and eventuallys scored in the 38th minute. Mario Kempes, true leader by now.

This photo may be not from the first goal, but it tells a lot – Argentina leading.

The first half ended 1-0. In the second half Holland put pressure, although there was never clearly dominant team driving the other to desperate defense. Both teams were eager to attack.
The Dutch wall anxiously watching where the ball went after Argentine free kick.
The Argentine defense is bitten, but the ball – luckily – is too high.
Neeskens chasing Kempes – both players were excellent at the final. Neeskens coming to his real level at last. Clash of giants.
Relentless Kempes and determined Dutch defense – ready to block the shot and immediately turn to counterattack.
Ubaldo Fillol had one more strong match – solid and brave, here he stops the shot of Rensenbrink.

But Holland slowly became the more dangerous team and eventually equalized.
82nd minute – Dick Nanninga is first to reach the ball after a cross. Great header and 1-1.
Unlikely hero – little known substitute Nanninga, who replaced Rep in the 59th minute silenced the Argentine fans. A turning point – European teams were generally more dangerous at the end of matches, thanks to superior physical condition. Holland pushed forward. The title was almost in their hands shortly before the 90th minute:
Rensenbrink beats Fillol and the new world champions are... not Holland. The ball did not end in the net. Holland missed the golden opportunity. Regular time ended 1-1. What a thrill for a final – extra time. Not for the faint of heart.
Great moment from the final, visually describing hopes, fears, and directions. Up, down, or straight ahead? Laughing Haan, worried Kempes and Passarella. The bets were on Holland – they were more organized and in better shape at the end of regular time. They were boosted by their goal and memory told Latin teams usually were destroyed by Northern European squads in overtime.
Not this time. Argentina survived the initial Dutch assault and went into attacks. This time the Latins were in great physical shape, they had the edge. And scored - Kempes again, in the 105th minute.

Mario Kempes – the menace for the Dutch. This is his first goal, though.
It was the end – Holland players in disarray and happy Argentines. Bertoni made it 3-1 in the 114th minute. 25.06.78 (15.00) Buenos Aires, Estadio Monumental
Bertoni makes it 3-1. The Dutch still think the goal was given to Argentina – there should have been a call for handball a second earlier on Bertoni. Was it a handball, wasn't it... it was the end of Holland's dreams for a second time.

ARG - HOL 3:1 (1:0, 1:1, 2:1)

(~70000) Gonella ITA, Barreto URU, Lienmayr AUT

ARG: Fillol - Olguin, Galvan, Passarella (c), Tarantini - Ardiles (66 Larossa),

Gallego, Kempes, Bertoni - Luqué, Ortiz (75 Houseman)

HOL: Jongbloed - Poortvliet, Krol (c), Brandts, Jansen (73 Suurbier) -

Neeskens, Haan, W. van de Kerkhof, R. van de Kerkhof - Rep (59 Nanninga),


1:0 Kempes 38, 1:1 Nanninga 82, 2:1 Kempes 105, 3:1 Bertoni 115

booked: Ardilles, Larossa / Krol, Poortvliet
The sense of deja vu – like four years earlier Holland lost the final. This time they were closer to winning it – if Rensenbrink's shot was not weirdly deflected by the goalpost – but lost with bigger difference at the end. Back in 1974 nasty – and untrue - German publication disturbed the team just before the final – in 1978 it was massive noisy Argentinian party all night long outside Dutch headquarters. The Police did absolutely nothing. The Dutch were bitter at home too – for many the referees were awful. First was the deliberate delay of game – Rene van de Kerkhof played with his plaster cast in the previous games without any fuss. Now 'rules' were suddenly enforced. Then the match was ugly, full of fracas, fouls, and simulations. Somehow Gonella was blind for Argentine fouls, but seeing the Dutch ones. It was not football – the Argentines diving, playing dirty, spitting... strange complaints from people whose team routinely tackled with two feet extended and going for the shins. Holland was robed... kind of.

Dutch opinion aside, Holland simply had too many problems. Happel desperately tinkered with the squad, trying to find some working solution. Even tactics were not consistent – he tried 3-4-3, went back to 4-3-3, changed again to 3-4-3. Some of the stars underperformed and had to benched or substituted frequently. The goalkeeping problem was unsolvable – Schrijvers played 3 matches and Jongbloed – 4, including the final. Only 5 footballers played every game. Neeskens came to life only at the final. Rensenbrink was not the leader and not even distant approximation of Cruyff. 19 out of 21 players were used during the championship – winning teams hardly use more than 15 players. But Holland played well at the final. Lady Luck played a joke on the Dutch just before the end of the regular time – they would have been worthy champions. Not the better team, though. But it was said to see all these great players failing to won the world championship for a second time. They were not going to have a third chance for sure.
World champions at last: standing from left: Fillol, Kempes, Tarantini, Olguin, Bertoni, Passarella.

Crouching: Galvan, Ortiz, Luque, Ardiles, Gallego.

Many – and not just Dutch fans – were unhappy with Argentina. The team was 'gently' pushed ahead by organizers, FIFA, the referees. Too many suspect moments from start to end, including the biggest crime – the match with Peru. A very suspect and clearly tainted champions. All true... but purely on sporting terms, Argentina was perhaps the team most deserving the World Cup. At least, it was entertaining team from beginning to end. With problems... scoring, the most obvious. The team struggled, but Menotti took different route than most coaches – instead of trying to change the squad until finding workable solution, he stuck to his original players. Stubbornly, to some, but the strategy worked at the end – eventually, the team improved and was fine at the final. Yet, may be only Passarella and Fillol had even tournament from start to finish. The rest were inconsistent - up one match, down the next, but few key players gradually improved: Tarantini, Ardiles, and most importantly – Kempes. Menotti took a risk, but was right at the end. Apart from form and chemistry, Argentina played interesting football – a blend of toughness and artistry. The squad was in excellent physical condition. Later Kempes said that it was good Argentina lost from Italy – the team became closer, more serious, more determined. The second important moment to him was Luque's injury against Poland: Menotti made internal change, placing Kempes as central striker, operating from back and on whole width of the field. At this position Kempes excelled and became leader and scorer. May be a third moment – not mentioned by Kempes – was also very important: the penalty saved by Fillol against Poland. Confidence is built on such moments. At the end Argentina was able to neutralize Holland and dominate in the extra-time. No matter what, Argentina was just a bit better than the other teams at the finals, did not fluctuate too wildly, had more even performance, and was more entertaining.
Daniel Passarella on teammates' shoulders and surrounded by jubilant fans – with the Golden Nike in his hands.

Brand new World champions after dramatic final. What could be better? Especially for the Argentines.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The small final was played on June 24 in front of 75 000 fans. Eight years back Brazil and Italy played the real final, but not in 1978 – a lot happened meantime, both countries went throw crisis and uncertainty. To a point, competing for bronze medals was the best each team was able of at the time. To a point, Italy was in better position, for the pressure on the team was lower – no high expectations. For Brazil it was not so – apart of having the whole country demanding victory, the team struggled during the finals, but there was also the feeling the boys were robbed by the hosts scheming with Peru. And Brazil without a title... get the bronze at least! The 4th place in 1974 was heavy burden. Anyway, no one can say either team was an outsider or lacking ambition. The match for third place was not a formality.

Italy was weakened – because of too many yellow cards Benetti and Tardelli were unable to play. Brazil had different problem – Coutinho was unable to shape a really smooth team. One thing emerged during the campaign – Rivelino was not an effective leader, but a liability. And he was benched. But... he was Rivelino, the superstar, the hero of the last Brazilian World Cup success. One of the few players in the world with over 100 national team caps. Aging hero too – it was his last World Cup, he deserved some kind of tribute, not to mention his own personal weight and ambition. Play with him or without him? Coutinho settled for something in between. Bearzot changed the whole midfield for the final – it was unavoidable with 2/3 of the line suspended. So – Antognoni was back, plus Aldo Maldera and Patrizio Sala, who did not play at all so far. Old habits die hard, if at all – Italy clearly returned to the ill-famed defensive tradition: adding Maldera made for 5-3-2 formation. Brazil was based on Dirceu – neither Rivelino, nor Zico was a starter – with additional fire-power hidden back in defense – both Nelinho and Rodrigues Neto were starters, for the first time together.

The match started with heavy Brazilian assault and Italy went back to defending. Back to the familiar... which also included the familiar danger of crafty Italian counter-attacks. Causio finished a cross by Rossi with great header and Italy was leading in the 38th minute.
Causio opens for Italy.

It was 'good old times' at half-time: Italy entrenched in defense, the opposition playing better and relentlessly attacking, a single goal scored, Italy leading, match over... against Brazilian magicians it was not over. Coutinho made urgent readjustment: Reinaldo started the second half instead of Gil. Then in the 64th minute Rivelino stepped in, replacing Toninho Cerezo. It looked like desperate move, not at all as leisurely tribute to a fading star – Rivelino had to change the game, to win it somehow. It was not that he was not trying, but real role was more of scaring and confusing the Italians. Whatever the real intention was, Brazil turned the match in their favour – Nelinho equalized in the 64th minute. A deadly long shot the player was famous for, but also a kick exposing the weakness of Zoff – he was vulnerable to balls shot from a distance. Coutinho apparently knew that, for he fielded two players capable of such surprising kicks from long range. In the 71st minute Dirceu made it 2-1. It was the last goal of the match and in a way was great symbolic moment: the best Brazilian player, the one who really became the star and the leader of the team scored the last and victorious goal. Brazil won the bronze medals. It was also entertaining match – something important in itself, for if great football is not played at the most important stages, what is the point of the World Cup? And the better team won!

24.06.78 (15.00) Buenos Aires, Estadio Monumental

BRA - ITA 2:1 (0:1)

(+76000) Klein ISR, Palotai HUN, González MEX

BRA: Leão (c) - Nelinho, Oscar, Amaral, Rodriguez Neto – Toninho Cerezo (64 Rivelino),

Batista, Dirceu, Gil (46 Reinaldo) - Roberto, Mendonça

ITA: Zoff (c) - Cuccureddu, Gentile, Scirea, Cabrini - P.Sala, Antognoni

(79 C.Sala), Maldera, Causio - Rossi, Bettega

0:1 Causio 38 h, 1:1 Nelinho 64, 2:1 Dirceu 72

booked: Nelinho, Batista / Gentile
Forth place for Italy – seems low, but in fact it was the real place for the team and even in Italy there was no grumbling. The squad above is not the one from the match with Brazil, but the typical squad used at the tournament (the one used against Italy in the early days of the finals actually). Standing from left: Benetti, Rossi, Bellugi, Bettega, Zoff, Gentile. Crouching: Causio, Cabrini, Scirea, Zaccarelli, Tardelli.

Italy was one of the pleasant surprises at the 1978 World Cup. It looked like Bearzot changed and turned around the stubborn Italian tradition of defensive play and started to play exciting attacking football. The team had a lot of talent and few young players were noted: Antognoni, Rossi, Cabrini. Bettega was a revelation – apparently, he matured and developed into great modern striker, one of the best players at the World Cup. Solid team, with depth – but, it was considered early in the tournament, still developing and shaping. It was not yet their time - may be in a few years. Forth place was seen as just. More than that would have been lucky strike, but above real strength. The most important part was the conceptual change – no more boring and irritating football, angering non-Italian fans.

Brazil finished with bronze medals – which was great even at home after the dreadful 1974 disaster. Shaky, somewhat boring and restricted by 'discipline', the Brazilians raised to the occasion at the end and deserved third place.
Here they are, the heroes of the small final: standing from left: Nelinho, Leao – captain, Oscar, Amaral, Batista, Rodrigues Neto.

Bottom: Gil, Toninho Cerezo, Mendonca, Roberto Dinamite, Dirceu.

As a whole, Brazil finished better than 4 years earlier. The team also played a bit better, but the performance was shaky. Once again, the best part was defense and weakest – the attack. Brazil continued to be un-Brazilian. The emphasis on 'European style' made the team ineffective and unattractive. However, the 1978 vintage was not the big disappointment the 1974 squad was. Yet, a lot did not work – just like in 1974, the key players of the team were not the overwhelming leaders and during the tournament Coutinho constantly tried to change, to mend, and to find some working solution. Beginning with Rivelino, the big stars hardly impressed anyone: Zico and Roberto Dinamite appeared to be grossly overrated. Rivelino and Zico lost their places as titulars. Roberto Dinamite played to the end, but the impression was that there were no other options. Coutinho used practically all midfielders and strikers of the selection, rotated players, and nothing really clicked. At best, he had a fighting team, but a winning one... clearly, Brazil was not a contender. Third place was the maximum. Ironically, Coutinho and his team were spared from Brazilian wrath – thanks to the ill-famed match between Argentina and Peru. Attention was diverted, at least temporary, from team Brazil. Coutinho was not sacked – instead, he proclaimed Brazil the moral winner of the tournament. Many agreed in the still inflamed days after the World Cup – the coach pointed at the record: Brazil was the only team at the finals which did not lose a match. Numbers speak for themselves... it was true. And the troubles with Brazilian performance, with the very concept making Brazil ineffective and flat team were forgotten for the moment.

Of course, not everything was black: Leao played a second strong World Cup. Oscar was excellent. And Dirceu stepped into the vacant position of motivating organizer. Mendonca also was a pleasant discovery – may be particularly pleasant one, for he did not play for Brazil before.

Perhaps the biggest problem for Brazil was incompatibility between Rivelino and Dirceu – at the beginning Dirceu was a reserve. When he was a starter, Rivelino was out of the squad. It appears strange, for they played together for Fluminense in 1976. But Dirceu lasted only one year – very likely things did not work. One thing was clear – the days of 32-years old Rivelino in the national team were over. The last of the great 1970 world champions was stepping down – and it was time for new heroes, restoring the wounded pride of Brazilian football. Dirceu was seemingly the man around whom to build a new team. All considered, Brazil was just a bit lucky to win bronze – and to be grateful for it.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Not everything was going as planned or hoped for – Argentina was in Group B, thus not playing Buenos Aires. Not in Mendoza either, although the group matches were shared between this city and Rosario. Deliberate or not, stadiums and crowds do not win games – the struggling so far team had to win. Which it did in their first match against Poland. Menotti stuck to his original team – unlike other coaches, he expected the starters finally to find their tango. Which they more or less did – Kempes scored in the 15th minute. The team was attacking and shaping at last – Passarella was solid in defense, adding strength in the attacks as well. Kempes became the centre of the team, taking the ball and the responsibility – no longer a left-winger, but wide striker-playmaker, starting from deep midfield and operating on the whole width of the pitch, left, right, and centre. With strong leadership, Argentina was slowly becoming dominant and more efficient team. But it was not the early goal boosting their confidence – arguably, the key moment was in the 37th minute, when the referee called a penalty against the hosts. Deyna stepped in, a formidable foe.
Ublado Fillol saved the shot. Of course, saved penalties do a lot for moral and often determine the outcome of games, but there was more to this moment: Argentina did not play badly so far. It was just a bit overexcited and fragile team – not able to score and somewhat inefficient. A goal allowed was breaking point. Fillol's save avoided moral disaster and perhaps calmed down players burdened with big expectations. Argentina continued to attack and eventually Kempes scored a second goal. It was the best game of the hosts so far. 2-0 and two points – strong beginning.

Meantime Brazil and Peru met in Mendoza. Peru did not make changes, except for benched Sotil. There was no need really – who would change well-playing winning squad? Brazil, just like in 1974, was still searching for a winning combination. Rivelino and Zico was out – the biggest stars of the original Brazil, which was clear indication of the troubles. Since the team strategy was originally based on them, it was much more than just leaving out disappointing stars. The new concept brought Dirceu as main motor of the team – and it worked. Changes were made among the strikers too – Mendonca, practically unknown outside Brazil, was fielded. Rodriguez Netto was chosen too – another defender with vicious kick, able to add power to the strikers and score from long distance too. Like Nelinho really, but apparently hungrier player. And not well known to the opposition, thus bringing an element of surprise. Brazil was still adjusting and searching, but at least against South American team they were able to prevail. Peru was not playing badly at all, but Brazil was scoring.

Mendonca and Velasquez watching runaway ball – of may be not a runaway ball? It stopped three times in the Peruvian net. Dirceu scored twice in the first half, firmly taking the reigns of the team. The Brazilian defense worked well, destroying Peruvian attacks. Leao, the team captain by now, blocked whatever needed blocking. Still, the attack needed further fiddling – Chicao, another unknown, replaced Toninho Cerezo in the second half. The midfielder was not to become famous in 1978... so far, a shaky player. Zico also came in, replacing Gil in the 70th minute – two minutes later the 'White Pele' finally scored a goal. From a penalty... Zico continued to be unconvincing, but Brazil won 3-0.

Peru – Poland. More was expected from Peru – Poland was tough, experienced, fit, but bland. There was no way they were to become better: whatever they displayed so far was the best this team would do. Difficult opponent, but beatable. Peru, judged a bit unlucky against Brazil, was the likelier winner. It was pretty equal match.

Quiroga, once again having strong day, clears the ball after Polish free kick. But Poland eventually scored a goal – Szarmach in the 65th minute. And the result stayed to the end. Peru was out. Poland was back in the game – by points – but hardly anybody seriously thought of them reaching any of the finals.

Brazil and Argentina clashed – the most important match for both teams, which was more or less expected to end in a tie. Too high stakes... the winner was going directly to the final. The loser was perhaps to be out even from the match for the third place. Not acceptable for either team. Local derby, long history, much to prove and improve, and revenge, and rub, and so on... Which explains the 4 yellow cards. Since three were given to Brazilian players, including Zico – a gentle and well mannered player, never rough, never dirty, hardly ever committing a foul – once again suspicions of referees 'gently' pushing the hosts to the final were voiced. But it was equal game, nobody scored – as predicted, goalless tie.

Ardiles, already one of the best Argentinian players, was getting even better – here he escapes from Batista, but... nothing. The opponents battled, survived, and... decided nothing.

Which was great for fans – the last two group matches were exciting. Both Brazil and Argentina were expected to win and goal-difference was decisive. So far Brazil had the edge. Argentina had the easier opponent, for Peru – on paper – had nothing to play for. Theoretically, Poland had a chance to play at the final too – if beating Brazil, and Argentina lost to Peru. Strictly theoretical chance – nobody thought such thing possible. Least of all Brazil.

A triumph of total football or of defenders? Heavy battle, which could be anywhere – in front of any net, in midfield... but the strikers are sandwiched in secondary roles - Szarmach on the far left and Roberto Dinamite crushed between Gorgon and Nawalka (5). Amaral (4) is watching carefully from behind and Oscar reaches the ball first – to clear or strike a deadly header? 4 defenders and only 2 strikers... but most likely Oscar is aiming at the Polish net. Zico and Nelinho were back among the starters, and Rivelino came in the second half. A win was a must... the first half ended in a tie. Nelinho scored early, but Lato equalized at the last minute. Brazil scored two more goals in the second half – Roberto was not called 'Dynamite' for nothing: finally he exploded with two goals. Brazil won 3-1.

And had to wait for the outcome of Argentina – Peru. Wait and watch, for the hosts were starting later. They knew the result of Brazil-Poland. Knew what they needed – a win by 4 goals. Any other result was death... except the half-death of 4-1 win, making the records of Brazil and Argentina the same and... what next? An extra match between them or the whim of flipped coin? But given the pressure, given the Argentine play so far, was it possible to score so many goals? Unlikely... hardly possible... coming close, but not close enough... Brazil was the likelier finalist.

And with the start of the match Brazil was getting more than 'likelier finalist'. Peru appeared invigorated, may be driven by local pride. More or less, Peru was equal to Argentina. The hosts struggled again, but eventually started scoring goals. Kempes, as a real leader, opened the result almost at the middle of the first half. Two minutes before half-time Tarantini made it 2-0. Argentina already made if half the way, yet, it looked doubtful they will make a 4-goal win. Peru did not appear just going through the motions, was not defensive team at all, and Argentina was not really dominating. So far Brazil was the favourite – it was very likely Peru would score a goal against increasingly frustrated Argentinians, concentrated on desperate attacks and vulnerable to counter-strikes. The host would may be score a goal, may be two... there was no doubt of their final victory, but it was most likely to be 3-0, 3-1, or 4-1. Not enough...

Argentina scored 4 unanswered goals in the second-half. Kempes again, Luque twice, and the substitute Houseman once. The match stays as one of most discussed and most suspicious matches in the World Cup history. It is tainted victory. Even before the match ended debates and accusations started. The advantage of late start, thus knowing the result of the other game and how many goals were needed. The Argentinian goalkeeper of Peru. The strange fact of balls going one after another into the Peruvian net. Quiroga was so far among the most impressive keepers of the tournament, Peru had effective and tough defense. Argentina had great difficulties scoring goals. Were the Peruvians bribed? With time, practically all outsiders were convinced the match was 'arranged'. Of course, nobody in Argentina and Peru subscribes to that – the match was fair, is the opinion there. Quiroga denied and denies accusations. The problem is, there was nothing really suspect on field – Peru appeared to be fighting to the end, even receiving two yellow cards for rough play. Quiroga still saved quite a lot and did not allow really 'funny' goal. May be Argentina was just lucky? May be finally the team found its true play, and with strong desire to reach the finals, managed to score what was needed. A day when everything clicked rightly? After all, it was not a boring game. But unreal nevertheless. Going against the grain... and achieving precisely the result beneficial to the hosts. Others may debate – Brazil was and is convinced their team was robbed. There was no evidence; there is no evidence; the result stays. Why blaming others, some say for years – if you recall Brazil – Peru, the Brazilian team kind of stopped playing in the second half, satisfied with 2-0 win. If they scored more goals against Peru nothing would have helped Argentina. Then again, look at the record of Peru... the best team of the first round ending with zero points, zero goals, and allowing 10! Very suspect change of form...0-6 in the last match... hm...

The picture does not tell enough: Kempes' shot unstoppable or Quiroga not really trying to stop the ball? It looked like that only who did not want to score didn't score... No end to opinions, but Argentina finished first.

1. Argentina 2 1 0 8-0 5

2. Brazil 2 1 0 6-1 5

3. Poland 1 0 2 2-5 2

4. Peru 0 0 3 0-10 0

Argentina playing for the title, Brazil – for bronze, Poland – true to expectation, Peru – a nasty surprise, possibly corrupt. Shame! On the other hand Argentina played better football than Brazil so far and seemingly was peaking. Who can really tell which one deserves to play for the title – the match between Argentina and Brazil ended 0-0. The last touch to the controversy was not in Argentina, but in Rio de Janeiro – angry Brazilians attacked and destroyed the Peruvian embassy.