Argentina were the hosts for the 1978 World Cup. Once again England failed to qualify for the World as well as reigning European Champions Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. Interestingly Sri Lanka withdrew from the 1978 World Cup as they could not pay the entrance fee.
The format of the World Cup remained the same as in 1974 with 4 Groups of 4 in the First Phase of which the top 2 in each group qualify for 2nd Group Phase consisting of 2 groups of 4. The winners of the 2 groups qualify for the finals and the runners up for the 3rd place playoff.
There was controversy surrounding Argentina being the hosts for the World Cup as they had suffered a military coupe in 1976. Many nations were considering not coming to the Competition due to this, most notably the Netherlands. Eventually all nations that qualified came, however Johan Cruyff the Dutch superstar was not present for the Dutch team. He later refuted that he did not come for political reasons surrounding Argentina but rather due to personal reasons.
The official mascot for the World Cup 1978 was Gauchito.
Group 1 was probably the toughest group of the entire opening phase containing Italy, favourites France with Platini, Tresor & Co, Hosts Argentina led by captain Passarella, Osvaldo Ardiles & Kempes. Coach Luis Menotti of Argentina had decided to leave out 17 year old superstar Diego Maradona out of the squad due to his young age. Both the Italians and hosts Argentina beat France and Hungary to qualify before the final round of games. France took consolation by beating Hungary in the final game 3-1 wearing a borrowed green & white stripe shirts from local club Kimberley as there was a mix up over the kits.
In the decider for the top of the table Italy overcame hosts Argentina thanks to a Bettega winner.
Defending Champions West Germany began the tournament with a goalless draw against Poland. The opening ceremony was quite spectacular.
In the other game Tunisia became the first African team to win a game at the FIFA World Cup by beating Mexico 3-1. Poland the beat Tunisia 1-0 thanks to aLato winner and Mexico 3-1 with Boniek scoring 2 and Deyna scoring another. West Germany without Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Overath were not the same force but still managed to whip Mexico 6-0 with new star Karl Heinz Rummenigge scoring twice. They were then however surprisingly held by Tunisia to a goalless draw which resulted in them finishing second to Poland.
Brazil were undoubtedly the favourites to win Group 3 with new sensation Zico leading their attack and Rivelino still in the team but now more as a midfielder. The Brazilians were controversially held to a 1-1 draw by Sweden in their opening game as the referee blew for full time just as Zico headed a goal which would have been the winner. Brazil then failed to beat Spain while Asutria beat both Spain 2-1 and Sweden 1-0. This meant that the below par Brazilians had to beatAustria in the final game to ensure qualification and did so 1-0. However although on equal points with Austria, Brazil finished 2nd on goal difference.
Group 4 favourites had to be the Netherlands even though Cruyff was missing. Under new coach Austrian Ernst Happel the Netherlands beat newcomers and Asian champions Iran 3-0 with Rob Rensenbrink scoring a hatrick. South Americans Peru also got a good 3-1 victory over Scotland with Cubillas scoring a brace. Peru and the Netherlands then played to a goalless draw. In the final group games Peru thumped Iran 4-1 to finish top of the group with Cubillas scoring ahatrick to take his tally to 5 goals which made him the first player to score 5 goals in 2 World Cups after his 5 in the 1970 World Cup. Scotland with the likes of Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness were surprised by Peru in their opening game and held by Iran in their 2nd game leaving them an uphill task of beating theNetherlands 3-0. They did however beat the Netherlands 3-2 with Archi Gemmel scoring 2 goals the 2nd of which was a brilliant solo goal. Once againScotland were eliminated on goal difference.
The 2nd Group Phase Group A consisted of only European Teams. 1974 Runner Up Holland blasted Austria 5-1 in their opening game while West Germanyand Italy played to a goalless draw. In a rematch of the 1974 final West Germany and Netherlands drew 2-2 while Italy beat Austria 1-0. Austria salvaged some pride by surprisingly beating the West Germans 3-2 and ending their title defence. The Netherlands beat Italy 2-1 to qualify for their second successive World Cup Finals with Ernie Brandts scoring 2 goals, 1 for Italy and 1 on the right end of the pitch for the Netherlands. Ari Haan got the winner.
Group B was essentially a battle between South American powers Brazil and Argentina. Both won their opening games with Brazil beating Peru 3-0 andArgentina beating Poland 2-0 thanks to a Mario Kempes brace. The South American Rivals Brazil & Argentina then played to a violent and heated goalless draw.
In Poland’s 1-0 victory over Peru, Peru’s goalkeeper Ramon Quiroga received a yellow card in Poland’s half for a foul on Lato. Now for the controversial final round of games. Brazil were drawn to play Poland in the afternoon and won the game 3-1. As hosts Argentina scheduled all their games to be in the evening which created an unfair advantage for them as they knew what result they needed. Argentina needed to beat Peru 4-0. The game was won 6-0 by Argentina and many felt that Peru made it very easy for Argentina. Their was a lot of suspicion surrounding the result as many, especially the Brazilians, felt that Peru were illicitly induced to not try too hard as well as the fact that Peru’s goalkeeper Quiroga was born in Argentina.
Third Place Playoff
Brazil beat Italy with the likes of Dino Zoff and Paolo Rossi 2-1 to finish 3rd. Brazil consider them to be the “moral champions” of the 1978 World Cup as they had not lost any of the matches throughout the competition as well as the controversy of Argentina qualifying ahead of them.
The final was held in Buenos Aires at the Estadio Monumental. Once again Argentina stirred up controversy before the match by questioning the legality of the plastered wrist of Rene van de Kerkhof. The Dutch accused the Argentines of using stalling tactics to delay the match as well as allowing tension to build up in front of a hostile Buenos Aires Crowd.
Mario Kempes opened up the scoring for Argentina only for Dick Nanninga to snatch a late equaliser to take the game into extra time. Rob Rensenbrink almost won the game for the Netherlands in stoppage time but only managed to hit the post.
In Extra Time Argentina scored 2 goals, 1 from Bertoni and a second from Mario Kempes which was his 6th goal of the tournament make him top scorer.
The Netherlands had lost their second consecutive final and once again it was to the host nation. The Netherlands were furious over Argentina’s controversial actions as well as many dubious referee decisions and refused to take part in the post match award ceremony.
An interesting fact about the 1st, 2nd & 3rd place finishers, Argentina, Netherlands and Brazil was that they all finished as runner up in the first group phase.
Argentina had won the first ever World Cup Title and the confetti –strewn cauldron as well as Buenos Aires were celebrating. Captain Daniel Passarella became the first Argentine to lift up the FIFA World Cup Trophy.