The World Cup came to Argentina, runners-up in 1930, for the very first time in 1978. A nation with undisputed footballing heritage, the country was marred by political instability and an uneasy societal climate prior to the tournament.
A recent military coup shrouded their selection as hosts in controversy, leading many to wonder if this upcoming tournament was going to be fully transparent. As the World Cup unfolded, there was widespread discussion that the host nation were on the receiving end of some very favourable refereeing decisions, leading some to call this edition of the World Cup the ‘’dirtiest of all time.’’
England once again failed to qualify for the World Cup, and Scotland were the only team from the British Isles to travel to Argentina.
1978 World Cup Group Stage
Hosts Argentina and reigning champions West Germany qualified for the World Cup by default - being seeded in Group 1 and 2 respectively.
The suspicion that the hosts were receiving unfair treatment germinated before the tournament even began. Before Argentina’s first group game against Hungary, the Hungarian manager stated: "everything, even the air, is in favor of Argentina.’’
The controversy grew even more in the France/Argentina game as the French were denied an alleged stone-wall penalty, whilst numerous innocuous challenges by French defenders were ruled as fouls.
Though the Argentines were not the first or last host nation to receive perceived favourable treatment by officials, the 1979 edition of the tournament remains one of the most infamous examples.
Notably, neither team topped their group. The Argentines finished behind Italy in their group, whilst Poland were the surprise package of Group 2. Austria and Peru topped the two other groups, whilst Brazil and the Netherlands made up the other teams heading for the next stage.
1978 World Cup Knockout Rounds And Final
Like the 1974 World Cup, this edition of the tournament shunned conventional knockout games in favour of a second group stage.
The remaining eight teams were potted into two groups of four, with the two group winners meeting in the final and the two runners-up battling it out for a bronze medal.
The winners of Group 1 were Argentina, whilst victory for the Netherlands in Group 2 booked them a place in their second final in as many World Cups.
25 June 1978
The World Cup final started in controversy, as the Dutch accused the hosts of stalling and time-wasting in the initial phases.
The Buenos Aires crowd were hostile, loud, and hellbent on seeing their country achieve victory, especially considering their only appearance in the World Cup final was back in 1930, where they lost to neighbours Uruguay.
Numerous fouls were committed in the game, and the Dutch players had numerous chances to put the game to bed, however a 3-1 victory after extra time confirmed Argentina as champions. Mario Kempes bagged two goals, whilst Daniel Bertoni consolidated the victory with a 115th-minute strike.
The game was so heated and so controversial that the Dutch refused to attend the post-match formalities. What made their pain even worse, though, was the fact they had just lost a second World Cup final on the bounce - losing to the host nation once again.
Though Argentina’s first World Cup victory is by-far their least famous, it did announce the country as a true powerhouse and a bonafide threat to the football hierarchy.
1978 World Cup Fun Facts
- Scotland were once again knocked out at the group stage on goal difference, dispute their impressive performances
- This was the last South American World Cup until 2014
- Brazil exited the World Cup with zero defeats, whilst champions Argentina lost one game
- Diego Maradona, then 17, was pulled out of the tournament at the last minute due to his age, and Mario Kempes played in the number 10 position
- Kempes won the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball at this tournament
- This was the last World Cup to feature just 16 teams
- First World Cup to feature brand logos on players’ shirts
- The hosts won the tournament once again - following in the footsteps of previous winners West Germany
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