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.