1978 Argentina

The '78 team from Peru
Were determined the hosts would go through
And although needing four
Argentina scored more
So Brazil were left angry and blue

Argentina finally got to host a World Cup in 1978 after previous unsuccessful bids, reflecting the rather checkered relationship between FIFA and Argentina over the years. Despite the ticker-tape and the party atmosphere apparently encircling the tournament, there were dark forces at work in the country and throughout its society. For a detailed account, please read David Winner's disturbing account at FT

What was going on in the world in 1978?

  • The Amoco Cadiz oil tanker runs aground on the coast of Brittany
  • The first ascent of Everest without oxygen by Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler
  • Serial killer David Berkowitz, "Son of Sam" is sentenced to 365 years in jail
  • The world's first test tube baby, Louise Brown, is born in Oldham
  • President Carter signs into law a bill allowing the homebrewing of beer in the USA

Back to the World Cup – Tournament Facts and Records

The format remained the same as in 1974, with second round groups following the first round and the winners of those second round groups going into the final.

  • Mario Kempes was top scorer with 6 goals
  • Brazil was the only unbeaten team and finished in 3rd place
  • Tunisia became the first African side to win a match at the World Cup, defeating Mexico 3-1
  • Rob Rensenbrink's goal against Scotland was the 1,000th in the World Cup


Iran and Tunisia both qualified for the first time. England, USSR, (European champions) Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Uruguay were notable absentees, all falling short in qualifying.

Tunisia did well, beating Mexico and drawing with West Germany, but failed to progress to round two. Iran managed to pick up a point from a 1-1 draw with Scotland, who failed to go through to round two on goal difference for the second tournament in a row.

Who should have won but didn't?

Argentina won as hosts, but lost to Italy in the group and drew with Brazil in round two. Despite the controversy surrounding Argentina, it would be wrong to dismiss the team as unworthy. In Kempes, Luque, Ardiles and Passarella, Argentina had players of genuine world class.

The Dutch were again very unlucky to lose in the final to the host nation for the second tournament running, and Brazil were the only unbeaten team, failing to reach the final on goal difference after Argentina thrashed Peru 6-0 in what is widely regarded as a fixed match, although the case is unproven. So take your pick as to whether the Netherlands or Brazil should have won.

The '78 team from Peru
Were determined the hosts would go through
And although needing four
Argentina scored more
So Brazil were left angry and blue

Heros and Villains

Hero: Rob Rensenbrink

Rob Rensenbrink was the nearest thing to a replacement for Johan Cruyff in the Dutch side. Although he played in 1974, he was not really in his ideal position. In 1978 Rensenbrink really flourished, scoring 5 goals in the tournament, and narrowly failing to win the World Cup at the death of 90 minutes, when his flick from a narrow angle hit the post with the goalkeeper beaten.

But the real reason for choosing Rensenbrink as our hero is that he was simply the coolest dude in the game, especially when it came to taking penalties. In his career he only missed two penalties and his party piece was to tell the goalkeeper where he was going to put the ball and then still proceed to score. Here is a clip of Rensenbrink scoring a hatrick in the group game against Iran.

Villain: Willie Johnston

Scotland, Scotland, Scotland; oh dear, what can we say? This was probably's Scotland's strongest World Cup squad in its 8 tournament appearances, although strangely one with no Celtic players, and surely should have been good enough to qualify for round two, under the exuberant management of Ally McCleod. But typical of Scotland, they lost to Peru and drew with Iran, before beating a very fine Netherlands side. And amongst all of this, there was the distraction of winger, Willie Johnston, failing a drugs test in the opening game against Peru and being sent home in disgrace.

Scotland rarely performed at their best
Despite Ally McCleod's bullish zest.
Though they defeated the Dutch
They'll be remembered as much
For the failure of Johnston's drug test

Anyway, let's celebrate the positive; here is Scotland's (and in particular, Archie Gemmill's) finest hour.

Quick Facts

  • Teams: 16
  • When: 01 June 1978 to 25 June 1978
  • Final: 25 June 1978
  • Matches: 38
  • Goals Scored: 102 (average 2.7 per match)
  • Attendance: 1,545,791 (average 40,678)

Verdict: Good, Bad or Ugly?

This was about as ugly as it gets; the stench of match fixing and political exploitation of sport pervades this World Cup. It is a great shame for this Argentina team, which played well and, in football terms, left behind some fine memories. However, the cries for the World Cup to be taken away from Argentina and handed to the Netherlands have been loud and long and this does convey a deep sense of dissatisfaction with this World Cup and its questionable outcome.



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