Wednesday, 2 March 2016
347 World Cup 1978
First viewed : 1 June 1978
This World Cup still holds a special place in my heart as the first in which I was fully engaged. I had been following the build-up through the pages of Shoot ! since the beginning of the year. In fact I picked Tunisia for my geography project at school after reading about their qualification in an article and ended up writing mostly about the football as I could find hardly anything else about the country in those pre-wikipedia days. It was the last World Cup to feature only 16 teams and the only one where I can name them all and what Groups they were in ( I'm a couple short for 1982 ). All this was despite the fact that I could only watch a relatively small number of the games as many took place in the middle of the night as far as the UK was concerned.
The first group was the "group of death" with hosts Argentina, Italy , France and fancied outsiders Hungary slugging it out. Hungary sunk their chances in the first game when both their best players Torocsik and Nyilasi got themselves sent off and they were beaten in all three games. France were the unlucky ones , losing narrowly to Argentina and Italy and impressing all with a very attacking brand of football.
Holders West Germany had a relatively easy draw with a group consisting of Poland, slightly past their peak after their heroic 1974 campaign, perennial under-achievers Mexico and the rank outsiders Tunisia. The Africans had a lot to live down after Zaire's embarrassing performance in 1974 but after West Germany and Poland played out a 0-0 snore-fest in the opening game they set the group alight by crushing Mexico 3-1. They then lost narrowly to Poland . With both the European teams beating the useless Mexicans it fell down to their match against the champions. Tunisia came very close to winning the game but the Germans squeezed through with a 0-0 draw. Tunisia were the first African side to give a good account of themselves at the World Cup and the African game has never looked back.
The third group - Brazil, Sweden, Spain, Austria - was the dullest , enlivened only by the endlessly controversial decision by Welsh referee Clive Thomas to disallow a last minute Brazilian winner against Sweden as he'd started to blow the final whistle. It always astounds me that the bloke is still regarded as a top class referee when he was a showboating prat who wanted to make the headlines himself. Long after he'd retired he made ITV broadcast a corrective apology after someone on There's Only One Brian Moore commented that he'd admitted he got one of his controversial decisions ( I think it involved QPR ) wrong. He was advised to stay on his plane home when it stopped in Rio for re-fuelling. It didn't stop Brazil qualifying alongside the unfancied Austrians.
Now then, the fourth group. For the second World Cup in a row the only home nation to qualify were the Scots ( after a very dodgy win against Wales where they got a penalty after a handball by one of their own players ) and hopes were quite high after they got a kind draw with Holland lacking Johan Cruyff who decided to stay home in a sulk, second rate South Americans Peru and Asia's whipping boys Iran. A Scottish club singer Andy Cameron had a big hit in the spring with "Ally's Tartan Army" one of the better football songs.
Cameron though had unwittingly put his finger on the team's Achilles heel, their manager Ally MacLeod. The gnu-faced former Blackburn Rovers winger had an impressive club record taking Ayr Uinited to the Scottish Premier League and winning the Scottish League Cup with Aberdeen before taking over from Willie Ormond who, like his English counterpart Don Revie, had resigned part way through the World Cup campaign. MacLeod's idol though appeared to be Brian Clough in his pronouncements on Scotland's imminent triumph and enthusiasm mounted.
However MacLeod undermined himself by pandering to those who kidded themselves that the SPL was on a par with the English First Division. Egged on by the self-confessed Anglophobe , injured left back Danny McGrain ( ironically the one world class player who plied his trade in the SPL ) MacLeod picked seven SPL players ahead of "Anglo's" playing south of the border, most egregiously omitting Aston Villa's outstanding young striker Andy Gray. Calamitously one of those seven was goalkeeper Alan Rough from part-timers Partick Thistle. A likable phlegmatic guy , Rough was capable of some great reflex saves but seemed to have no positional sense at all which made the team deeply vulnerable to free kick experts.
MacLeod also seemed to have no idea who was in form south of the border. He stuck with the midfield that had got through the qualifiers, Bruce Rioch, Don Masson, and Asa Hartford. Hartford had had a good season with fourth-placed Manchester City but the other two had been wretchedly poor in a rapidly-decaying Derby County side . Nevertheless they started against Peru while Liverpool's big money signing Graeme Souness and Archie Gemmill from title-winning Nottingham Forest watched from the bench. Keeping the latter company was his club mate the outstanding winger John Robertson.
Things unravelled quickly after Joe Jordan grabbed an early goal for Scotland . The South Americans grabbed an equaliser just before half time when Peruvian striker Teofilo Cubillas burst through the heart of the defence and Rough failed to gather the ball cleanly. When the game resumed Peru conceded a penalty but Masson placed it too near the keeper. The Peruvians gained in confidence and scored twice more with a long range shot and a free kick that found a gap by the near post. Rioch and Masson were substituted on 72 minutes- Masson would never play for Scotland again - but it was too late. Rod Stewart's prematurely celebratory single "Ole Ola" ( Cameron had had the good sense to release his single a couple of months earlier ) crashed out of the charts and I doubt he's ever performed it since.
Robertson got his opportunity unexpectedly early when West Brom winger Willie Johnstone failed a drug test because his cold medicine contained a banned stimulant. His performance certainly didn't suggest any artificial enhancement. The team's next performance was even worse despite the dropping of Rioch and Masson. In front of a meagre crowd they stumbled to a 1-1 draw with the mediocre Iranians with the aid of an inept own goal before Rough's own poor positioning let the opposition pull it back. That left them needing to beat Holland by three clear goals to progress at the expense of their opponents and accompany Peru into the next round. MacLeod finally gave Souness a game and he took the opportunity with both hands taking the game by the scruff of the neck. At one point it seemed like they might do it after THAT goal by Archie Gemmill put them 3-1 ahead but less than five minutes later the defence gave Holland's Johnny Rep the space to crack one in from 30 yards and send them home on goal difference once again.
After the tragedies and triumphs of the Scottish campaign the next stage of the Finals was rather anti-climactic until the end. Both the surprise packages Peru and Austria lost every game. After the Scottish defeat the Dutch perked up and took control of their all- European group drawing with champions West Germany and seeing off Italy - with an even more impressive thunderbolt from Arie Haan - as well as the Austrians. In the other group , the South Americans plus Poland - it was between Brazil and Argentina. In the final group game Argentina had to beat the hapless Peruvians 4-0 to nudge past their neighbours. In fact they put six past the keeper Quiroga who was born in Argentina. He at least took some of the heat off Thomas as a furious Brazil were consigned to the third place play-off against Italy. Both teams had suffered from a star player refusing to shine ( Zico and Rossi respectively ) and paid the price. Brazil won the match.
So the Dutch were in their second successive World Cup Final, an outcome few had predicted, against the hosts Argentina. Despite ridiculous spoiling tactics by the Argentinians the Dutch came within the width of a post of winning it in stoppage time at 1-1. The Argentinians went ahead in extra time and the play acting particularly by striker Leopoldo Luque became ridiculous. When the Dutch succumbed to another goal by the tournament's top scorer Mario Kempes it was all over. Argentina were champions for the first time and have been top contenders ever since . By contrast it was a nearly a decade before the Dutch became a force again, failing to qualify for the next to tournaments.
I always felt a bit sorry for Kempes. The long-haired striker had a long successful career in Europe but as far as Argentina was concerned he was instantly eclipsed by new wunderkind Diego Maradona. Argentina's coach, Menotti had ultimately decided to leave the 18 year old out of his squad believing it would be too much too soon but he was drafted in immediately afterwards and Kempes would always be their second best player after that.
MacLeod somehow survived to be in charge of Scotland's first European Championship qualifier ( which they lost ) then quit bathetically to return to First Division Ayr United. Despite this decision having reverberations that lasted decades and changing the fortunes of Aberdeen , Leeds United and Manchester United, MacLeod was only there for 10 weeks before returning to the SPL with Motherwell. They were relegated though it was on the cards before he went there. Nevertheless it was the end of his career in top flight management. He died in 2004 after a long battle with Alzheimers.
There was one other outstanding legacy of this World Cup. Just weeks later Tottenham manager Keith Burkinshaw swooped for two of the Argentinian squad Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa and the English game would never be the same again.