After its South American neighbors (Uruguay, Brazil, and Chile), Argentina finally had the chance to host the 1978 World Cup finals. And contrary to what happened in Brazil and Chile, their story had happy endings.
Mario Kempes finished the 1978 World Cup tournament as top scorer, and the celebration took over the streets of Buenos Aires, with blue and white slips of paper thrown from buildings after the South Americans had beaten the Dutch in the final.
However, even though the fans were a show apart, there has never been a more controversial World Cup than the one hosted by Argentina in 1978.
1978 World Cup Facts
Date: June 1 – June 25, 1978
1978 World Cup Winner: Netherlands – Argentina 1-3
3rd Place: Brazil defeated Italy 2-1
1978 FIFA World Cup Host Cities: 5
Matches played: 38
Top Scorer: Mario Kempes (Argentina) 6 goals
1978 FIFA World Cup Background
It was time again for the 11th edition for a South American country to be the host country. Two countries were interested in the 1978 World Cup: Argentina and Mexico.
On July 6, 1966, in London, the host country was announced together with the host country for the 1974 and 1982 World Cup. Since Mexico was awarded the 1970 edition two years earlier, in 1964, they withdrew to give Argentina the hosting opportunity.
Therefore, in July 1966, it was announced that Argentina would host the 1978 FIFA World Cup, the first and only tournament in Argentina. This is the last edition hosted in South America before Brazil received the hosting honor in 2007 for the 2014 World Cup.
This 1978 World Championships is considered controversial due to a military coup Argentina suffered two years prior to the tournament in 1976. This meant an army dictatorship led by General Jorge Rafael Videla was in the government during the 1978 World Cup.
This dictatorship was responsible for the killing of thousands of people. Therefore multiple countries like the Netherlands were thinking of boycotting the World Cup. But, in the end, they all participated.
The dictator showed diplomacy from their side and guaranteed there would be no bloodshed during the tournament. Other allegations were that Argentina was playing their matches at night after other group matches had been played. In other words, they knew their position in the group.
They knew what results they needed to succeed in the 1978 FIFA World Cup. They knew which teams would proceed to the next round or how to eliminate an opponent from the World Championships.
Another allegation was an agreement between Argentina and Peru. Both teams encountered each other in the 2nd round, and Argentina had to win with a specific score to reach the Final. Read more about this in Memorable Matches below.
World Cup 1978 Participants
More than 100 countries tried to qualify for a 1978 World Cup for the first time. A total of 107 teams entered the qualifications. As in previous editions, there was only room for 14 countries.
This meant the 1978 FIFA World Cup, with 16 participants, was statistically the most challenging World Championships to have qualified for. West Germany already qualified since they won the 1974 tournament, and Argentina qualified automatically as the host nation.
Eight places for Europe, excluding West Germany, were allocated to the following countries: Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, Poland, Scotland, Spain, Austria, and France. Austria qualified for the first time since 1958, and Spain, France, and Hungary qualified for the first time since 1966.
Two places for South America, excluding Argentina, were allocated to the following countries: Brazil and Peru. One place for North/Central America and the Caribbean was allocated to Mexico. One place for Africa was allocated to Tunisia, who qualified for the first time. One place for Asia was allocated to Iran, who qualified for the first time.
One intercontinental play-off had to be played by two countries that didn’t qualify directly: UEFA country Hungary against CONMEBOL country Bolivia. Hungary won the play-off and qualified last minute for the 1978 World Cup.
This is the last World Championships which contains 16 teams. The number of teams would increase in the 1982 edition.
1978 World Cup Draw
The qualifying period lasted 21 months – longer than ever before – as 99 national teams competed in the preliminary competition. For the first time, qualifying matches were played on artificial pitches (in Vancouver) and indoor stadiums (in Seattle) for the USA and Canada.
As a result of the most complicated seeding arrangement yet, the Final Draw at the Teatro San Martin in Buenos Aires saw five seeded teams placed in four groups: Argentina (group 1/team 1), Italy (1/4), Germany FR (2/6), Brazil (3/12) and the Netherlands (4/13).
The mathematical formula for two of the seeds was unsatisfactory, so it was promptly discarded.
1978 World Cup Groups
The exact format used in 1974 was used in the 1978 World Cup. Sixteen teams have been qualified, which are divided into four groups.
A round-robin had to be played (all teams within a group had to play against each other) where 1 point was rewarded for a draw and 2 points for a win. Two teams of each group would advance to the next round, a group stage. The eight teams making it to this 2nd round were divided into two groups of 4 teams.
The winner of each group would play against each other in the Final. The two teams which reached 2nd place in each group encountered each other in the third place match. There was one vital aspect that made the 1978 FIFA World Cup format unique. This is the first World Championships where the penalty shootout rule has been introduced.
In the knockout stages, the penalty shootout would determine the winner when the score is still even after 120 minutes (including 30 minutes of extra time). This means no rematches of the Final would be necessary anymore. In history, this ended up never being necessary. Every Final till the introduction of the penalty shootout ended with a winner.
The 1978 World Cup was the first to consider the number of goals scored when the goal difference was the same. Before, lots had to be drawn when the goal difference was the same.
But now, when two teams in a group have the same points and goal difference, the number of goals will be the decisive factor. This would occur only once in this tournament, in group 3. These rules apply to every future World Cup.
Although there are four groups, there were five seed countries. They were Brazil, Italy, West Germany, Netherlands, and Argentina. They were kept apart from each other and were placed in different groups. Italy and Argentina were put together in group 1.
The groups were as follows:
World Cup 1978 Stadiums
Six stadiums were used in 5 host cities during the 1978 FIFA World Cup. First, it was in the capital city Buenos Aires where two stadiums were used: Estadio Monumental and Estadio Jose Amalfitani.
The following five cities and six stadiums were used in Argentina:
Location: Buenos Aires
Status: It is Argentina’s national and biggest stadium and goes by the name Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti
Estadio Jose Amalfitani
Location: Buenos Aires
Status: It was rebuilt in the 1940s and expanded in 1978 for the World Cup
Status: Goes by the name Estadio Mario Alberto Kempes and was built especially for the 1978 edition
Estadio Jose Maria Minella
Location: Mar del Plata
Status: It was specially constructed for the 1978 World Cup and is not used often anymore.
Estadio Gigante de Arroyito
Status: It was remodeled in 1957, 1963, and 1968, and for the 1978 tournament
Estadio Ciudad de Mendoza
Status: Goes by the name Estadio Malvinas Argentinas and was built for the 1978 FIFA World Cup
World Cup 1978 Memorable Matches
Argentina – Italy 0-1
Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires – Attendance: 71,712
Unlike 1974, Italy would top the group. Striker Paolo Rossi played his first World Cup and scored his first goal against France.
Italy was the only team able to beat the three other teams. The last opponent was Argentina. One goal by Italian Roberto Bettega was enough to gain victory.
Eventually, this match became the only match that Argentina lost. Both countries advanced to the second round. Argentina would win all the other games and draw only once.
In the group match between Argentina against France, midfielder Michel Platini scored his first World Cup goal. This tournament was his first World Championships but ended quickly after the group stage.
Tunisia – Mexico 3-1
Estadio Gigante de Arroyito, Rosario – Attendance: 17,396
This match was memorable since Tunisia became the first African country to win a World Cup match! It took 44 years for this to happen.
The score started with Mexican Arturo Vazquez Ayala scoring the first goal in the first half. Then, in the 2nd half, Tunisia achieved three goals in the last 35 minutes. The goal scorers were Ali Kaabi, Nejib Ghommidh, and Mokhtar Dhouieb.
But Tunisia didn’t manage to advance to the 2nd round. The two other group members, Poland and West Germany, advanced. It would take eight more years before an African country was able to advance to the 2nd round.
Tunisia drew the group match against West Germany, which was also a respectable achievement.
Brazil – Sweden 1-1
Estadio José Maria Minella, Mar del Plata – Attendance: 32,569
This was the first 1978 World Cup match for Brazil and Sweden. Both countries have met multiple times and will continue to meet in upcoming tournaments.
This was their first encounter which ended in a draw. This would happen one more time in 1994. All other World Cup matches against Sweden are won by Brazil. Swedish midfielder Thomas Sjoberg scored the first goal of the match.
But it only took less than 10 minutes before striker Reinaldo scored the equalizer. A controversial decision made by the referee was the following: he awarded Brazil a very late corner kick, and attacking midfielder Zico headed the kick into the goal.
However, the referee claimed he blew the final whistle while the ball was in the air and before Zico made contact with the ball. As a result, the goal was surprisingly disallowed.
Anyhow, Brazil, in the end, advanced to the next round. But the biggest surprise for group 3 was Austria! Austria, which qualified for the first time since 1958, topped the group.
Brazil and Austria had 4 points and an equal goal difference, but Austria took the first position since they scored more goals than Brazil. This was the last time in WC history Brazil advanced without topping their group.
Scotland – Netherlands 3-2
Estadio Ciudad de Mendoza, Mendoza – Attendance: 35,130
After the successful 1974 tournament, the Netherlands successfully qualified again. The team was missing Johan Cruijff but still managed to be successful.
However, this match against Scotland was the only match that was lost. The first goal (a penalty) of the game was scored by Rob Rensenbrink and was the 1000th World Cup goal.
Kenny Dalglish scored the equalizer for Scotland, and midfielder Archie Gemmill scored the other two goals for Scotland. His first goal was a penalty, and his second goal is considered one of the most incredible goals.
Three minutes later, Johnny Rep scored the second goal for the Netherlands. The Netherlands lost but advanced together with Peru. Peru was the surprising number one in Group 4.
Like in the 1974 World Cup, Scotland was not lucky and got eliminated due to the goal difference rule again.
Austria – West Germany 3-2 (Miracle of Cordoba)
Estadio Chateau Carreras, Cordoba – Attendance: 38,318
Austria against West Germany. Both teams have met a few times and even became one team in the 1938 World Cup.
Due to the Angschluss just before World War II would start, Austria became united with Germany.
However, the German team, with a few Austrians in 1938, showed the worst performance in German World Cup history. Austria has never won against West Germany as a separate team until this match.
An interesting fact was that Austria was already eliminated and didn’t have a chance to advance to the next round. West Germany would still have an opportunity to reach the Final.
But no, Austria was also determined to end the tournament for West Germany. So it started with German Karl-Heinz Rummenigge scoring the first goal.
In the 2nd half, an own goal was scored by German defender Berti Vogts. Austrian striker Hans Krankl scored two more goals, and Bernd Holzenbein scored Germany’s 2nd goal of the match.
Due to the loss, West Germany did miss the final and the match for third place. This match is called the Miracle of Cordoba, but Germans also use the Disgrace of Cordoba.
Italy – Netherlands 1-2
Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires – Attendance: 67,433
This was the last Group A match for Italy and the Netherlands. The winner would advance to the Final. The Netherlands easily defeated Austria 5-1 and showed once more why they should be considered favorites.
Both Italy and the Netherlands drew against West Germany. This match ended in 1-2, but the Dutch players scored all goals. Ernie Brandts became the first player to score an own and standard goal in the same match.
Midfielder Arie Haan scored the last and decisive goal of the match for the Netherlands, which was a beauty!
Argentina – Peru 6-0
Estadio Gigante de Arroyito, Rosario – Attendance: 37,315
Many people still doubt whether both teams agreed upon the score upfront before the final group game. The deal supposedly was for Peru to lose in the 2nd round against Argentina.
Argentina awaited the final score of the match Brazil – Poland (3-1). With this information, Argentina knew they had to win at least 4-0 to reach the Final instead of Brazil.
Argentina won pretty easily with a final score of 6-0. The goalscorers were Mario Kempes (2x), Alberto Tarantini, Leopoldo Luque (2x), and Rene Houseman.
The allegation regarding this possible deal between both teams was never proven. However, Peruvian goalkeeper Ramon Quiroga, originally from Argentina, was accused of allowing the six goals to pass the goal line so effortlessly.
He always kept pleading his innocence. So although Brazil and Argentina had both 5 points, Argentina advanced due to the goal difference rule.
Brazil – Italy 2-1 (Third place match)
Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires – Attendance: 69,659
Since Argentina scored more than four goals, Brazil had to play the match for third place. Italian winger Franco Causio scored the first goal in the first half.
In the 2nd half, Brazil scored two goals in less than 10 minutes. The first memorable goal was scored by Nelinho and the second by Dirceu.
After this performance, Brazilian coach Cláudio Coutinho named Brazil the “moral champions” of the World Cup since, although they didn’t make it to the Final, they didn’t lose any matches.
1978 World Cup Final (Argentina vs The Netherlands)
For the 2nd time in a row, the Netherlands again reached a World Cup Final. After losing to West Germany in the 1974 Final, they had to play against Argentina this time.
Argentina also played a Final before, but this was way back in the first World Cup in 1930 against Uruguay. Both countries had played against each other before in 1974. Then, the Netherlands defeated Argentina with an impressive 4-0 score.
The absence of Dutch player Johan Cruijff was astonishing since he showed a fantastic performance in the previous tournament in 1974. At first, it was believed Cruijff didn’t participate due to the military coup that took over Argentina’s government.
However, Johan Cruijff stated many years later that he did not participate due to a kidnap attempt on his family months before the tournament. This attempt made him unable to focus on the World Championships.
Johan Cruijff stated: “To play a World Cup, you have to be 200 percent. There are moments when there are other values in life.” Nevertheless, the Netherlands won only three matches, enough to reach the Final. Both the Netherlands and Argentina lost one game before reaching the Final. So why was the Final considered controversial?
The Dutch players accused the Argentinians of purposely delaying the match by stalling tactics. The Argentinians supposedly questioned the material of a plaster cast used on Rene van de Kerkhof’s wrist, stating this might be dangerous to other players.
The Dutch players claimed this caused tension in front of an intimidating and hostile crowd in the stadium. As a result, the Dutch players weren’t feeling at ease, creating an advantage for Argentina.
The Controversial Final
On June 25, 1978, in Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires, the controversial Final was held between Argentina and the Netherlands.
Seventy-one thousand four hundred eighty-three spectators in the stadium watched the Netherlands without Johan Cruijff and Argentina with Mario Kempes, aka El Toro or El Matador.
The game eventually started, and top scorer Mario Kempes scored the first goal in the last couple of minutes before half time (38′). In the second half, the Netherlands struck back in the last minutes only before the end of the match (82′).
It was Dutch player Dick Nanninga who extended the match to extra time. Rob Rensenbrink had a memorable chance to score the winning goal, but his shot hit the post.
This was the third Final in World Cup history where extra time had to be played. During extra time, two goals were scored, each in 1 half of extra time.
Mario Kempes again changed the score to 2-1 (104′), and Daniel Bertoni altered the score to 3-1 (115′) to crush the Dutch in their second successive World Cup final.
The host nation became the second country to win the new FIFA World Cup trophy and the fifth country to win as a host country.
Mario Kempes became the top scorer of the 1978 World Cup with six goals. After the loss, the Netherlands refused to participate in the ceremonies after the match and didn’t receive the silver medals from the dictator.
The Netherlands had lost a Final for the second time, coincidentally two times to a host nation and in a successive World Cup final. The Netherlands was not the only country that lost two World Cup Finals without winning a Final once.
For example, Czechoslovakia and Hungary shared the same faith. But the Netherlands would surpass this record in the 2010 World Cup.
Argentina would play another Final pretty soon: 8 years later, with an essential role for Diego Maradona. The Netherlands would only make it to another Final in the first World Championships organized in Africa.
Brazil Think Its A Fix
The tournament had as its background the oppressive military regime led by General Jorge Videla. In addition, the Brazilians could not come to terms with the fact that they had not won the World Cup, despite being the only undefeated team in the tournament.
Complaints began in the first round. In the match against Sweden, a 1-1 draw seemed as if it would persist until the end, when after a corner, Zico headed the ball into the net.
However, Welsh referee Clive Thomas alleged that he had blown his whistle to finish the game before the ball crossed the line. As a result, the goal was disallowed, and the match ended 1-1.
Then came the Battle of Rosario. The match between Brazil and Argentina in the 1978 World Cup’s second round could decide one of the finalists.
Under the watchful eyes of Dictator Videla, the Argentinians wanted to win using whatever means possible and started fouling the Brazilians, who began doing the same.
1978 World Cup Violent Tackles
The result was one of the most violent matches in history, where the protagonists were not big-name players like Zico and Kempes. Still, the famous tackles dished out by Chicão and Oscar on the Brazilian side and Galván and Osvaldo Ardilles for the Argentinians.
In the end, the goalless draw left the decision of who would make it to the final to the last match. The problem is that Brazil and Argentina played at different times.
The Brazilians beat Poland 3-1. Therefore, when the match between Argentina and Peru started, the hosts knew they needed a goal difference of four to finish ahead of Brazil and make it to the 1978 World Cup final.
The match may be summed up by the Argentinians attacking and the Peruvians defending, and as Peru had no chance of qualifying, they ended up collapsing and losing 6-0.
The Brazilians complain until today, and Brazil manager Cláudio Coutinho went as far as dubbing Brazil the tournament’s “moral champions” after they beat Italy in the third match playoff with a cracking goal from Nelinho.
Africa Gets Their First Win
Although controversial, the 1978 FIFA World Cup had memorable moments. For example, in their first FIFA World Cup, Tunisia became the first African team to win a game in the tournament, beating Mexico 3-1.
In addition, first-timers Iran managed to get a draw out of Scotland, the only British representative.
Although the 1978 World Championships were in another continent, the Europeans proved strong. Italy, with players such as Paolo Rossi and Dino Zoff, impressed with convincing victories and a well-deserving fourth-place finish.
In addition, they finished the tournament as the only team to have beaten the Argentinians.
1978 World Cup Without Johan Cruyff
One of the most controversial points of these championships was that the Dutch arrived without Johan Cruyff. Considered one of the best players in the world, Cruyff decided not to participate in the 1978 World Cup.
At the time, many people thought that the reason for the player’s decision was a protest against Argentina’s dictatorship.
Others believed that he had fallen out with the Dutch football association. However, many years later, Cruyff revealed that a crime committed against him and his family in Barcelona, where they lived, was what motivated his decision.
According to him, men broke into his house and tied up him and his family at gunpoint. The crime, which took place months before the tournament, left the player in low spirits, and he decided not to play in the 1978 FIFA World Cup.
Argentina, which had nothing to do with this, made the most of it. At a packed-out Monumental Stadium, the hosts beat the Dutch 3-1, with two goals from Mario Kempes, and lifted the trophy, becoming world champions for the first time.
Mascot For The 1978 World Cup
The official 1978 World Cup mascot is a boy, continuing the mascot tradition of introducing a human being since 1970. In terms of attributes such as the name, hat, and football, he dramatically resembles the mascot Juanito of the 1970 tournament.
The boy’s name is Gauchito. Gauchito means little Gaucho. A Gaucho is a term that describes a traditional resident in South America and can be compared with the North American cowboy.
Gauchito wears the Argentian kit together with a whip and a neckerchief which Gauchos commonly use.
In addition, he wears a hat with the text ARGENTINA 78 on it and has a white/blue Telstar football from the 1970 World Cup.
Gauchito would be the last human mascot to date that was introduced for a World Championship tournament.
World Cup Song For 1978
The 1978 song is not a song but more of an anthem. Therefore, the name of the official anthem is El Mundial, aka 1978 World Cup Anthem.
The musical piece with few lyrics is composed by the legendary movie composer Ennio Morricone and is performed by the Buenos Aires Municipal Symphony. This group is considered one of the most prestigious orchestras in Argentina and South America.
Football World Cup 1978 Records
- Two countries qualified for the first time: Tunisia and Iran.
- The penalty shootout was introduced to determine a winner in the knockout phase after 30 minutes of extra time.
- Argentina won its first World Cup title.
- Argentina is the sixth country to have won a World Championships.
- Argentina is the fifth country to win a World Cup as the host nation.
- Argentina is the second country to have lost 1 match before winning the tournament.
- This is the 3rd time a country has won the World Cup after having lost 1 match.
- Tunisia is the first African country to have won a match (3-1 against Mexico).
- As in 1974, Scotland was not lucky and was again knocked out after the first round due to the goal difference rule.
- Dutch player Rob Rensenbrink scored the 1000th World Cup goal in the group match against Scotland (2-3).
- Dutch defender Ernie Brandts is the only player in history who scored his own goal and rectified this by scoring a goal in the same match (against Italy).
- Argentinian striker Mario Kempes is the 2nd player to have won the Golden Boot, Golden Ball, and the tournament (after the Golden Ball was retrospectively awarded).
- France became the first country to play all three goalkeepers in the World Championships.
- West German trainer Helmut Schön appeared in 4 World Cups from 1966-1978 and has, to this day, the most appearances (25) and wins (16) as a trainer.
- The 1978 Final was the third in history, where extra time had to be played.
Did You Know
- This was the last World Championships hosted in South America till the upcoming 2014 World Cup in Brazil 36 years later.
- Last tournament with only 16 participants.
- Brazil is the only country to have lost 0 matches, which is why trainer Claudio Coutinho stated they were the moral World Cup champions (winner Argentina lost 1 match).
- Argentina, Netherlands, and Brazil, the gold, silver, and bronze winners, all finished 2nd in their first group round.
- Although the penalty shootout was introduced in this 1978 World Cup, the first penalty shootout would only be taken in Spain ’82.
- In the Poland – Peru match, Peruvian goalkeeper Ramon Quiroga received a yellow card inside Poland’s half of the field since he tackled Polish player Grzegorz Lato.
- First-time brand logos were visible on players’ jerseys.
- Then 17 years old Diego Maradona almost participated in the 1978 World Cup but was not selected by trainer Cesar Luis Menotti last minute.
- In one match, France had to play in the kit of a local team (vertical green and white stripes) since both France and opponent Hungary only brought their white kit. (This was the 2nd time a team didn’t play a match in their official kit)
- Scottish player Willie Johnston is the second World Cup player to have tested positive for a banned stimulant. He used this during the match against Peru and was therefore expelled from the 1978 tournament.
- The Tango match ball was the first to feature the Adidas trademark, a printed design of interconnected curved-edge triangles known as “triads,” creating the impression of 12 identical circles.
- The Tango match ball design by Adidas was used in the following five World Cups.
- At that time, the Tango match ball was the most expensive in history at £50.
FIFA Awards For The 1978 World Cup
Golden Ball: Mario Kempes (Argentina)
Silver Ball: Paolo Rossi (Italy)
Bronze Ball: Dirceu (Brazil)
Golden Boot: Mario Kempes (Argentina) (6 goals)
Silver Boot: Teofilo Cubillas (Peru), Rob Rensenbrink (Netherlands) (5 goals)
Bronze Boot: Leopoldo Luque (Argentina), Hans Krankl (Austria) (4 goals)
Best Young Player Award: Antonio Cabrini (20 years old) (Italy)
1978 World Cup FIFA All-Star Team
The 1978 FIFA All-Star Team includes three players included in the previous World Cup All-Star Teams. Two of them are from the Netherlands: Ruud Krol and Rob Rensenbrink.
Rob Rensenbrink is this time included as a midfielder instead of a forward. The third person is Berti Vogts from West Germany. Peruvian player Teofilo Cubillas is the only player from the Peru national football team history to have been included in an All-Star Team.
- Ubaldo Fillol (Argentina)
- Berti Vogts (West Germany)
- Ruud Krol (Netherlands)
- Daniel Passarella (Argentina Captain)
- Alberto Tarantini (Argentina)
- Dirceu (Brazil)
- Teófilo Cubillas (Peru)
- Rob Rensenbrink (Netherlands)
- Roberto Bettega (Italy)
- Paolo Rossi (Italy)
- Mario Kempes (Argentina)