Little more than four decades ago, Argentina hosted the eleventh edition of the FIFA World Cup. Football lovers around the world remember the images of blue and white confetti and ticker tapes covering the fields and hanging from the stands. It was the last edition of the tournament where only sixteen teams featured. There was only one team each representing Asia, Africa, and the CONCACAF region. South America had three qualified host nations Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, and the rest of the ten teams were from Europe. Set against a backdrop of uncertainty that ended in Argentine triumph, the 1978 FIFA World Cup till date remains a subject of contention because many believed that the Argentine military dictatorship helped the home team to win the most coveted football trophy. There were many such instances during the tournament that cast a deplorable shadow over the home team’s conquest. Let us closely analyze and inspect the hideous and unsightly truth of Argentina’s 1978 FIFA World Cup triumph that is till today a subject of dissension.
EVENTS THAT TRANSPIRED ON OR BEFORE THE 1978 FIFA WORLD CUP
The tournament was set up against an extreme political crisis. There were protests all over the country of staging a sporting event at such a grand scale that cost so much. The true cost of the tournament could never be verified until today, but estimates were put at more than five billion pounds by today’s standards. It was more than double the cost of the last edition of the FIFA World Cup in West Germany in 1974. The ruling Government constructed a new television center in Buenos Aires with a huge cost to telecast the games in color across the world, although the home nation saw it in black and white. They built many new stadiums and practice grounds. The Treasury Secretary vehemently opposed this lavish spending and branded it as an “indefensible case of non-priority spending in Argentina”.
Argentina suffered a military coup two years before the FIFA World Cup that still cast a shadow of uncertainty and anxiety over the grand tournament. Many countries debating whether to boycott the tournament or not. The Netherlands protested the most and Johan Cruyff announced that he will retire before the tournament as he was against the military dictatorship, although later he changed his version. He and Paul Breitner skipped the tournament much to the dismay of the football fraternity. Eventually, all the 16 teams participated and no one boycotted Argentina’s 1978 FIFA World Cup.
Further, all games of Argentina (the host nation) in the first round kicked off at night in the 1978 FIFA World Cup, giving the Argentinians the advantage of knowing the result of the other group matches and their exact position in the table. This blatant favoritism towards the host nation enraged the other participating teams. Media all over the world criticized and vehemently protested towards the biased tournament fixture, but in vain.
Against France, the home team badly struggled to contain Michael Platini’s creativity and superb gameplay of the French team. The crowd booed the visitor team incessantly. The French were robbed of a blatant penalty when Didier Six was fouled in the penalty box. Shortly Argentina themselves got a soft penalty decision going in their favor and Passarella scored from the spot. Platini leveled the game in the sixtieth minute. In the second half, Didier Six was again bundled over by Leopoldo Luque in the opposition box, but the referee denied them a penalty once again. Images on TV appeared to show the referee winking at Luque afterward. But there were no doubts with the winner as Luque scored an obnoxious dipping volley which went in from 30 yards.
Reports also came in from the Brazil-Sweden match where Welsh referee Clive Thomas blew in the whistle just as Brazilian star Zico headed home from a corner kick in the dying minutes of a crunch tie in the first round group match. The disallowed goal robbed Brazil of a top spot in the group, and surprising candidates Austria finished first.
The second round of the tournament consisted of two different groups wherein only the group winners qualified for the finals. There were no semi-finals at the tournament. Brazil was at the top of the group due to a better goal difference. In the last round of matches, Argentina intentionally delayed the kick-off to know the outcome of the Brazil-Poland match. They knew that they needed 4 goals against Peru to topple the Brazilians and qualify for the finals. Argentina trounced Peru by 6 goals and rumors spread that team Peru and especially the Peruvian goalkeeper who was born in Argentina helped them to win the match with such a handsome margin ousting Brazil in the process.
There was some domestic controversy as well when the then Argentine coach Cesar Monetti excluded the 17-year-old Argentine prodigy Diego Maradona much to the disappointment of the Argentine media and football fans. Menotti told the media that he felt that the super talented wonder kid would not be able to handle the pressure of the biggest football tournament in his home soil.
The final match between Argentina and the Netherlands too was mired with controversy. The Netherlands team bus was intentionally taken a longer route to the stadium. Dutch players kept waiting on the field amid a discordant hostile home crowd for almost 10 minutes before the start of the match by the Argentina team. The host team also asked the referee to remove a plaster cast on the wrist of a Dutch player van De Kerkhof before the start of the game which infuriated the Dutch players and threatened to walk off. The referee ordered Kerkhof to remove the plaster cast even though him wearing the same in all the preceding matches. During the match also many refereeing decisions were blatantly in favor of the Argentine team and the opponent team was continuously booed by the hostile crowd throughout the match in a very unsporting manner. Later Netherlands team decided to boycott the post-match ceremonies.
With Argentina’s 1978 FIFA World Cup win, they became the fifth nation to do so. But their winning campaign is still under scanner. The entire tournament was clouded with controversies. Although Argentina became champions in 1978, history and the football fraternity never looked upon them with the same regard and endearment as the other champions. The 1978 FIFA World Cup still remains the most controversial and contentious football event of all time.