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The 1978 World Cup was staged in Argentina between June 1st and 25th and was won by the hosts, for the first time in the country’s history. Against an uneasy political backdrop, including human rights violations and "forced disappearances", questionable refereeing decisions and hints at match-fixing, along with certain countries speaking out against the events taking place in the country, Argentina won the Final in Buenos Aires’ Estadio Monumental against Holland in extra time, 3-1.
For the first time in World Cup history, over a hundred countries had entered the qualifying stages two years previously. This was to be the last World Cup Finals that consisted of sixteen countries, before the expansion to twenty-four in 1982. Iran and Tunisia were making their first appearance in a World Cup Finals tournament.
The four groups of four teams consisted of Italy, Argentina, France, Hungary, Poland, West Germany, Tunisia, Mexico, Sweden, Spain, Brazil, Austria, Peru, Holland, Scotland, and Iran.
Poland impressed the world’s football media by winning Group Two, drawing against world champions West Germany and beating Tunisia and Mexico. West Germany beat Mexico comfortably and qualified behind Poland via two further draws. Peru won Group 4, with Holland runners-up, the highlight for most of the world’s neutrals was Scotland’s brilliant 3-2 victory over Holland in the last group game, but not enough for Scotland to qualify for the Second Round. Archie Gemmill slaloming run through the Dutch defense ended with a beautifully composed finish past Dutch goalkeeper Jan Jongbloed and is considered to be one of the finest World Cup goals of all time. In Group 3, Austria surprised and delighted the football world by beating Spain and Sweden and finished above Brazil through having scored more goals and despite losing to them in the third and final group game. Memorable for neutrals were the goals by Austrian centre forward Hans Krankl, who scored his country’s winners against Spain and Sweden. Italy were Group One winners, both they and Argentina beating France and Hungary and Italy defeating Argentina in the final group match.
The winners and runners-up of each of the four groups advanced to the next stage, consisting of two groups of four, with the winners of each group qualifying for the final and the two runners-up playing each other in the third-place match.
Holland, Italy, West Germany, Austria, Argentina, Brazil, Poland and Peru
The Dutch had beaten Austria 5-1 and drawn 2-2 against West Germany, Italy had drawn 0-0 against West Germany and won 1-0 against Austria. Austria defeated West Germany, 3-2, in Cordoba. Hans Krankl’s, "Greatest-ever moment", Austria’s first victory over the Germans in forty-seven years, "Comparable, for the country, with England winning the World Cup in 1966", as the Austrian put it, eliminated the World Cup holders, who were still mathematically able to qualify for the Final before the game. The deciding fixture in Group A came down to Holland against Italy. The winner would go through to the Final. After eighteen minutes Ernie Brandts’ own goal gave Italy the lead and he scored again, at the start of the second half, this time at the right end, to make it 1-1. Arie Haan’s winner for the Dutch, in the seventy-fifth minute, from forty yards out, took Holland to their second consecutive World Cup Final. In Group B, Brazil’s 3-0 win against Peru, goalless draw against Argentina and 3-1 victory over Poland meant that Argentina, who had beaten Poland 2-0, had to beat Peru by four clear goals to finish above Brazil and qualify for the Final. The manner in which Peru capitulated in the second half and the resulting 6-0 win for the hosts was questioned, but Argentina had qualified and Brazil, unbeaten in the tournament, beat Italy 2-1 in the third place play-off match, Nelinho's curler from the right wing past Italian goalkeeper Dino Zoff was one of the tournament’s most memorable goals.
The Final was memorable for its physicality and the events that took place at the end of full time and in extra-time. Rob Rensenbrink hit the post three minutes before the end of normal time. Goals by Argentina’s Mario Kempes shortly before half time and Dirk Nanninga’s header for Holland eight minutes from full time had taken the score to 1-1. Rensenbrink’s reflections on the match, on the potentially life changing events, were remarkably balanced: "If the trajectory of my shot had been five centimeters different, we would have been world champions... I would have been crowned top scorer and perhaps chosen as the best player of the tournament, all in the same match. That's why I keep things in perspective." Bertoni and Kempes’ extra-time goals, Kempes’ sixth of the tournament, gave Argentina their 3-1 victory.
Remember the 1978 World Cup with this Argentinian World Cup poster from the Vintage Sports Collection.