Italy went to Argentina in 1978 expecting to be on the first plane home. Instead, Enzo Bearzot’s side laid the foundations for a glorious tournament in Spain four years later. Giancarlo Rinaldi reminisces.
In his first major tournament in charge of the Azzurri after guiding the Under-23 side, Enzo Bearzot quickly established the style which would win the tournament four years later. Fiercely protective of his players, he was also keen to break the defensive shackles which had so often limited Italy teams in the past. This he succeeded in doing and enjoyed great success before handing over control to Azeglio Vicini in 1986 after 88 games in charge. Earned one cap as a player after a long and distinguished career with Torino.
Much has been made of the importance of seeing the host nation progress in the World Cup, but never has it caused as much controversy as in Argentina. Having been dumped from the top of their first round group by Italy, Mario Kempes and company were forced into the next round section along with traditional rivals Brazil.
Results conspired to leave the Argentineans requiring a resounding triumph in their final match against a Peru side which had appeared up until then to provide tough opposition as Scotland could testify. Instead, the 6-0 stroll for the home side aroused huge suspicions - particularly when it emerged that Peruvian goalkeeper Ramon Quiroga was Argentinean. But there was nothing left for the Selecao to do but head for the third and fourth place play-off instead of the Final they felt they deserved.
If there is an image which sticks in the mind from 1978, it is the long flowing locks of the Argentina hit-man gliding gracefully through defences while ticker-tape sprayed from the stands. He finished as tournament top scorer with six goals including two in the Final against Holland. Unlike many of his teammates, he failed to really make a mark in Europe during spells in Spain and Austria.
Some goals are made great by their context and others by the manner in which they are achieved but this succeeded on both accounts. A sweeping move culminated in some sweet interplay between Bettega and Rossi before unleashing an unstoppable finish. All of which was done in front of a host nation being backed by an ultra enthusiastic following. As classy a move as Italy have ever made on the world stage.
Argentina 3-1 Netherlands (aet)
Kempes 38 (A), 105 (A), Nanninga 80 (N), Bertoni 115 (A)
Argentina: Fillol; Olguin, L Galvan, Passarella, Tarantini; Ardiles (Larrosa), Gallego, Kempes, Bertoni; Luque, Ortiz (Houseman)
Netherlands: Jongbloed; Jansen (Suurbier), Brandts, Krol, Poortvliet; Haan, W van der Kerkhof, Neeskens, R van der Kerkhof; Rep (Nanninga), Rensenbrink
Ref: Gonella (Italy)
It was billed by many as the ultimate footballing battle between good and evil. The cynical Argentines - helped in outrageous fashion as host nation - against the free-flowing Total Football of Holland. Of course, things never quite work out the way they are predicted. The truth was this Dutch side was a poor imitation of the team that had so enchanted four years earlier. They were not averse to using brutal tackling to get their way and in many ways the Final was more about the darker side of the two teams rather than their undoubted strengths.
Inevitably, it was the brilliant Mario Kempes who lifted the game out of the gloom with his fifth goal of the tournament late in the first half. But the Dutch showed enough character to force themselves level and take the game into extra time.
Eventually Super Mario struck again to end the home fans suffering after 104 minutes of play and Daniel Bertoni hit a third to put the match beyond doubt. Holland felt aggrieved by many of the inconsistencies of Italian referee Sergio Gonnella but, on balance, the team with the most outstanding individual to turn a game had the edge and sent Buenos Aires crazy.