Following on from the moments which shocked the 1982 World Cup, this series now concentrates on the tournament before that. The 1978 World Cup in Argentina was the first one I saw. There were several moments which shocked the world, here are my top five.
We’ve already had Clive Thomas and the disallowed goal, Peru’s madman keeper, France borrowing a kit, and Willie Johnston’s drugs. Here is number five.
We covered the cynical arranging of a result between West Germany and Austria in 1982, well there was another example of this which occurred four years earlier. You could argue it was far worse. In 1982 both teams decided once the Germans went in front there wasn’t anything further to play for, so why bother? In 1978 there was pre-determined collusion into manufacturing a result, allegedly.
Match fixing, as FIFA will tell you, carries a very serious penalty if exposed. Down the years there have been instances of players and even referees banned for trying to arrange the result of a match. But what happens if both teams agree a result beforehand?
In 1978 hosts Argentina had received rather favourable scheduling for their fixtures throughout the tournament. For each of their group matches they kicked off in the evening, after the other fixture had been played, giving them the advantage of knowing what they needed to do. When they progressed through to the Second Phase, another group format, they again kicked off after the other fixture. In this tournament there were no Semi-Finals so the winners of each Second Phase group would play each other in the Final. Argentina had been drawn in the same group as Brazil and both countries won their opening game, then played out a goalless draw in Rosario. Brazil then beat Poland leaving Argentina, who kicked off three hours later, the luxury of knowing how many goals they needed to win by. They were also fortunate to be playing Peru in their final match, rather than Poland, with the South American’s seemingly getting worse with every game after a blistering start. Brazil’s 3-1 win over Poland meant Argentina needed to win by four clear goals.
The significance of Peru as their opponents should not be underestimated. Often considered a minnow in the continent, Peru was also under a military dictatorship much as Argentina was. During those days it was common for leaders to send political dissidents to other countries for torture. Peru had requested Argentina accept a group of thirteen prisoners and the Argentine rulers struck a bargain by agreeing to accept the group on condition Peru throw the World Cup match. The Argentine dictatorship had tried everything to portray the country in a good light and winning the World Cup, the believed, would go a long way towards international acceptance.
One other factor in their favour was the Peruvian goalkeeper mentioned earlier in this series, Ramon Quiroga, who was born in Rosario, the venue for the fateful match. Peru had been a revelation during the competition, winning their group by beating Scotland and Iran and holding the Dutch to a goalless draw. But defeats in the Second Phase to Brazil and Poland gave them nothing more to play for. Quiroga had been one of the characters of the competition and they were expected to prove stiff opposition.
Leader of the military dictatorship, General Videla, made the interesting move of entering the Peruvian dressing room pre-match and lectured the players on the need for Latin American solidarity. For many players who had never seen a dictator up close and personal before this must have had a huge impact on their state of mind.
Peru’s Munante hit the post early on as they began brightly, but then the mistakes came in and the tackles and challenges became less effective or non-existent. Peru were only 0-2 down at half-time thanks to some good saves from Quiroga, but rumours of Argentine officials entering the away dressing room at half-time would seem to be founded as within five minutes of the re-start the home side had scored the two goals they needed to go through. It was all over in twenty seven minutes of the second half as Argentina had scored four times to give them the winning margin they required. Some of the defending was comical, with players making an attempt to get in the way without actually stopping any attacks
Quiroga was ostrasiced in his own country, despite his protestations and both countries had always denied any skulduggery. Oblitas declared in a documentary he believed the side was already on the plane home mentally, and the will of the Argentina side was far greater. Argentina went on to beat Netherlands 3-1 in the Final to claim their first World Cup win.
Argentine journalist, Ezequiel Fernandez Moores claimed, “The 1978 World Cup was the most obvious political manipulation suffered by sport since the Olympic Games of 1936 in Nazi Germany”. He maintained the men who organised mass murder in the country organised the tournament and manipulated it to get the result they wanted. Some have even gone onto to state the win extended the life of the dictatorship by several years. There were calls to have the tournament staged elsewhere in the world, but these were shouted down by politicians who claimed this was simply a European plot to avoid playing in South America where they’d never won.
The organising committee was staffed with members of the military ‘junta’ which ruled the country with brutal and often deadly means, and so they engineered the home teams matches to give the hosts the ideal opportunity of progressing. Other accusations have suggested a deal was done with Peruvian officials for grain to be transported to Peru once Argentina made the Final and $50m in frozen assets to go with it. The pressure must’ve been enormous. Back in 2012 a former Peruvian Senator, Genaro Ledesma seemed to confirm many of the rumours of collusion between the rulers of both countries and how Argentinian dictator Jorge Videla agreed to a number of measures for Peru if they assisted in getting the hosts to the Final.
If there was collusion and corruption then the Argentine players should receive some sympathy. Nobody wants to experience their finest moment of a sporting career to find out the other side allowed them it.
It is often said by historians the Second World War came about as a direct consequence of what happened at the end of the First World War and the way Germany was treated after the Treaty of Versailles. Looking back one could argue had Peru put up more of a fight and Argentina not reached the Final, then the Junta could well have fallen soon after and who knows, the Falklands War may never have happened.