Football World Cup 1978 » Winner – Teams – Statistics – History

In 1978 Argentina was controlled by a ruthless military junta, so there were understandable concerns about allowing them to host the World Cup. The world's best player, Johan Cruyff, elected not to play and England failed to qualify.

Nonetheless, the tournament not only went ahead but produced some truly memorable stories and spectacular goals in World Cup History, culminating in a dramatic first ever victory for the hosts. This was a World Cup that no one who saw it would ever forget.

Participating Teams of the 1978 World Cup Finals

Sixteen teams took part, split into four groups.

Group 1 consisted of Italy, Argentina, France and Hungary. Group 2 contained Poland, West Germany, Tunisia and Mexico. Brazil, Austria, Spain and Sweden made up group 3, whilst group 4 saw Peru, Holland, Scotland and Iran fighting it out.

Within this list, there were a lot of things to look forward to.The hosts had an exciting team, prompted from midfield by Osvaldo Ardiles and spearheaded by the lethal finishing of the rangy Mario Kempes. The Dutch were a very good side: even without Cruyff they still had Rep, Rensenbrink and Haan.

The Scots had high hopes as ‘Ally’s Army’ swept into town- with Dalglish, Souness and Gemmill they expected success. Poland, Peru and Austria all had arguably their best ever teams. Poland had the class of Deyna allied with the pace of Lato.

The Peruvians boasted the great Cubillas, still somewhere near his prime, whilst the Austrians had the only striker of the time who was comparable with Kempes- Hans Krankl.

The Brazilians had a strong squad, featuring Zico and captained by Rivelino, but perhaps not a great one. Similarly, the Italians and West Germans were hard to beat, but this was a year when attacking flair would win out.

A great French team was, however, almost ready to emerge. The arrival of Platini, allied with the mercurial genius of players like Rocheteau and Six, produced a style of football rarely matched before or since.

Winner of the World Cup 1978

The second phase saw the Dutch, the Italians, the Austrians and the West Germans in one round-robin group, and the Argentinians, Brazilians, Poles and Peruvians in the other. These groups were won by the Dutch and the Argentinians, so they would play in the final at the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires.

The final was closely fought and naturally somewhat tense, in a genuinely electric atmosphere. Both sides had chances, but a trademark burst from Kempes gave the hosts a first-half lead. A powerful header from substitute Nanninga brought the Dutch level in the 82nd minute, and then, crucially, Rensenbrink struck the post from a tight angle at the death. After this reprieve, the Argentinians seemed to gain energy in extra time, and more powerful running from Kempes produced goals for himself and Bertoni to clinch a 3-1 win.

The result was obviously great for the Argentine players, as well as bringing temporary relief to a people suffering under an oppressive regime. On the downside, it may have served to shore up the regime for a few more years. One small indicator of the way life was can be gleaned from the fact that the ground staff had painted ‘black armbands’ onto the base of the posts at Estadio Monumental, in memory of those ‘disappeared’ by the regime. Life went on as before in Argentina, but the rest of the world could look back on a great football tournament.

Netherlands Netherlands
Argentina Argentina
25 June 1978

The Story of 1978 FIFA World Cup

Football World Cup 1978

There was much more to this tournament than just Argentina’s win.

On the third day of the tournament, Brazil were struggling to break down a well-organised Swedish team with the score stood at 1-1 in stoppage time, and Brazil had earned a corner. As the ball came across, the Welsh referee Clive Thomas blew the whistle for full-time, just moments before Zico headed the ball into the net. The Brazilians could not believe it, but Thomas was adamant that he had implemented the rules correctly.

The Scottish adventure was big news in the UK while it lasted. ‘Ally’s Tartan Army’ had reached number 6 in the charts for Andy Cameron, and 25,000 people turned up at Hampden to see the squad officially depart for Argentina! Manager Ally Macleod was brash and confident. When asked what he planned to do after the World Cup, his comment was: ‘Retain it!’. Things did not go well from the beginning in Argentina. Their first game was against a Peruvian side who possessed some high-quality players. It was felt that the Scots had underrated the challenge Peru would offer, and underperformed in a 3-1 loss.

The second match, against the unheralded Iranians, provided an opportunity for redemption- but instead, they struggled to break down a competent Iranian defence and stumbled to a 1-1 draw. By this time the mood had completely changed, and Macleod and his players were forced to run the gauntlet of unhappy fans chanting: ‘We want our money back’. Midfielder Willie Johnston was sent home after testing positive for a banned stimulant, and Chrysler withdrew their sponsorship.

Nonetheless, the Scots had one final hope: they would need to beat the 1974 finalists Holland by three clear goals to progress alongside Peru. Most people had written them off, but, crucially, Macleod now included new midfield star Graeme Souness. The Dutch took the lead from a penalty, but, just when things looked hopeless, the Scots started to play. Dalglish scored, and then a Gemmill penalty, earned by Souness, put them ahead.

Still, their chances looked very slim, but when Archie Gemmill dispossessed Jansen, beat two men and burst into the area to score one of the great World Cup goals, with only one more goal needed, a nation started to believe again. Sadly for them, Johnny Rep scored with a superb long-range effort for the Dutch less than four minutes later. Scottish hopes ended there, with great disappointment and wistful consideration of what might have been.

The format of the second phase meant that Argentina faced Peru knowing that a 4 goal margin was needed to eliminate Brazil and progress to the final. Argentina were superb, but Peru were feeble, and their Argentinian-born goalkeeper Quiroga did not perform as well as he had previously. A 6-0 win for the hosts led to claims of match-fixing, but nothing could ever be proven.

Overall, this was a truly dramatic World Cup which did a lot for football, but perhaps less for the Argentinian people.