AROUND tea-time here in Buenos Aires this evening, the heart of Argentina stopped beating.
Argentina 3-1 Netherlands (after extra time) The Scotsman, 26 June, 1978
The moment came in the 104th minute of the World Cup final when the goalscorer of the tournament, Mario Kempes, had beaten two Dutch defenders and nudged the ball past goalkeeper Jongbloed; the ball seemed to take an age to find its way into the net, but once it got there the River Plate Stadium exploded in a profusion of blue and white, and everyone knew Argentina were champions of the world.
Ten minutes later, Daniel Bertoni, after more devastating work by Kempes, put the issue beyond any doubt with a dramatic third goal. It was Kempes, of course, who had scored Argentina’s first goal in the 37th minute of normal time.
For a long spell, that goal looked good enough to bring the World Cup to Argentina for the first time; but in a final of immense drama and tension the Dutch substitute Nanninga put Holland on level terms just nine minutes from the end, and the match then went into a nail-biting period of extra time.
It was decided by and belonged to one man. Rarely can it have been said, even in the instance of Pele, that the World Cup was won by an individual, but Mario Kempes of Valencia did just that here this afternoon.
He finished the competition as top scorer, with six goals, and more than that was the absolute inspiration of Argentina’s efforts to the last. His thrillingly fast runs into the penalty area, his dancer’s balance and athlete’s strength once he got there, made him a man apart in this competition. Not even the clever Krol, perhaps the best defender in the world, could stop Kempes on this form.
There were able helpers, of course. He had a great sparring partner up front in Luque, an aggressive captain in Passarella, a brave goalkeeper in Fillol and a subtle midfield creator in Bertoni.
In that violent, energy-sapping period of extra time, when no favours were being asked and none was assuredly given, Holland matched Argentina physically and psychologically – but they possessed no player of Kempes’s quality in front of goal to help swing the game their way.
And yet the Dutch came awfully close to winning this World Cup, closer than they did even four years previously.
They had done marvellously well to pull out a goal in the eighty-first minute when the game was slipping away from them. Their downfall was they could not fully build on the lift that the goal gave them in that climactic finish. Nor could they believe their ill-luck when Rensenbrink hit the post in the ninetieth minute of normal time.
Krol and Portvliet of Holland were booked, as was Ardiles of Argentina; they could have been joined by many more with at least three of their colleagues during the final spell being most fortunate to stay on the field at all. The start was delayed for ten minutes after Argentina had apparently objected about the plastercast Rene van de Kerkhof was wearing on his injured wrist. The Dutch did not take too kindly to the suggestion that the player should leave the field before a ball had been kicked and the Dutch captain, Krol, signalled to his players to go off.
Eventually some sort of peace was worked out after the intervention of Fifa and the match began – with van de Kerkhof still wearing his plaster.
After 20 minutes neither side had really managed to get into their stride. The Dutch, prodding and mathematical, looked the better side in the build-up to the 18-yard area, but the Argentinians – emotional, quick and eager – looked the more likely to score.
Before they finally made the breakthrough, just before half-time, they squandered two chances in the 19th and 24th minutes. First, Bertoni and Kempes combined to lure Jongbloed off his line and allow Luque to shoot – but the shot was blocked by the handily-placed Dutch defender. Then Luque destroyed the Dutch defence with a nicely judged chip which Passarella rocketed narrowly over the bar.
Argentina, always a better side going forward, eventually got the goal which they and the game so badly needed eight minutes from the interval.
Ortiz broke wide on the left to set Luque in motion. He found the dynamic Kempes in the box. There was a blur of blue and white as he passed the 18-yard line, shrugging off Krol, and struck the ball past Jongbloed with his usual strength and precision. This man makes it all look so easy, even in a world Cup final. Ardiles was booked just after the goal for a bad foul on Neeskens.
Holland began with enthusiasm at the start of the second half and very nearly capitalised on confusion in the Argentine defence when Willi van de Kerkhof almost broke down the last lines of defence on his own.
But Argentina, in 56 minutes, broke in decisive fashion. Kempes sent Bertoni speeding down the right and his cross was just an inch away from providing Luque with Argentina’s second goal.
Holland needed a change of approach and Happel decided to replace Rep, who had missed a couple of reasonable chances, with the more orthodox Nanninga.
The Dutch somehow managed to launch a final spate of attacks and dramatically got the breakthrough which had appeared to be beyond them in 81 minutes.
The goal came because the Dutch at last managed to get a man wide to the byeline. Rene van de Kerkhof broke wide on the right, cut into the box and crossed a lovely ball which the substitute, Nanninga, met powerfully to head past Fillol.
In the 90th minute, Rensenbrink hit the post and the game went into extra time. During this period there were many physical and some distasteful moments before Kempes struck again, but by the time Bertoni wrapped it up after a high-speed exchange with the rampant Kempes, Argentina had come once more into their own and the crowd in the River Plate Stadium knew that at last their dream had been realised.
Argentina: Fillol, Olguin, Passarella, Galvan, Tarantini, Gallego, Ardiles (Larrosa), Kempes, Bertoni, Luque, Ortiz (Houseman).
Netherlands: Jongbloed, Poortvliet, Krol, Jansen (Suurbier), Brandts, Haan, W van de Kerkhof, Neeskens, R van de Kerkhof, Rensenbrink, Rep (Nanninga).
Referee: S Gonella.