Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 26-The Brilliant Dutch Denied…Again (1978)

While they were yet to win a World Cup and had a brilliant team, the whole Military Junta thing didn’t make Argentina the most beloved of sides in the 1978 tournament. They had lost to Italy in the first round but then squeezed past Brazil with the aid of Peru who let the hosts win by a substantial margin so they could make the final. The side featured hardly any of the squad from the failed ’74 campaign.

New stars like Ossie Ardiles and Daniel Bertoni had come through the side to complement captain Daniel Passarella and top scorer Mario Kempes who featured in a side that contained all but two players based in Argentina, quite a feat. Up against the Argentinians in the final would be the Dutch. The side was now coached by the Austrian Ernst Happel but still featured some of the flair and freakishly brilliant skills of the 1974 total football model. This was achieved without Johann Cryuff who had refused to play in this World Cup allegedly because of the political climate in Argentina – although this was refuted by Cryuff in later years, the reason for his non-attendance possibly being due to ego.

The Dutch had battered a bewildered Iran 3-0, drawn with Peru 0-0 then done just enough to keep Scotland at bay by losing 3-2 to make it to the next phase on goal difference and this was where they really hit their straps. After they belted the surprise packet Austria 5-1, they drew 2-2 with defending champions West Germany setting up a virtual semi final with Italy; they won 2-1 which put them through to the big one and a chance for redemption.

On June 25 1978, the players entered the Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti in Benous Aires (site of the game against the Socceroos in late 1993) to a thunderous welcome from over 70,000 fans for the final. The fans had all cut up a massive amount of blue and white tickertape that was hoisted in the air as the teams entered – intimidated much Netherlands? The game was delayed due to the Argentinean side first arriving late and then complaining that the referee’s arm-guard put them off which put the kick-off back still more and let the Dutch get more and more intimindated by the wall of noise and tickertape.

The early stages of the game were not exactly pleasing to the eye, but the home team’s commitment served to encourage the fans, who were convinced they would witness the crowning of Cesar Luis Menotti’s team. Yet it was the visitors who had the first clear chance from a set piece. A pinpoint cross from the left found Jonny Rep, whose header went agonisingly close. Goalkeeper Ubaldo Fillol could only watch as the header left him rooted to the spot with the vast majority of the crowd breathing a collective sigh of relief.

This rattled the home side but they soon got over the early shock and went in search of the opening goal with a possessed crowd cheering every pass. Passarella was the first to get a shot on target but his free kick was no trouble for Jan Jongbloed. A minute later Leopoldo Jacinto Luque wasted a glorious chance with the goal beckoning. The Argentinean keeper had played well throughout the tournament and his performance in the final proved he was truly at the top of his game. In the 25th minute he somehow managed to get an outstretched hand to a scorching Rep volley and turn it round the post. He was clearly in inspirational form, and that sent a message to the Dutch strikers – it  would take something special to beat him on his day of glory.

The passion and commitment made for a tight struggle, and just as it seemed a rather uninspired first half would end goalless, Argentina struck. Ardiles’s pass found Leopoldo Luque who in turn picked out Kempes in space. He managed to wriggle through the Dutch defence and slip the ball past goalkeeper Jongbloed after 37 minutes. It was not pretty, but every goal counts, and half-time came with Argentina that little bit closer to lifting the coveted trophy. The second half was a carbon copy of the first. Play was restricted to a battle in the middle of the park, with the few half-chances only coming from the odd defensive mix-up or the occasional spark of individual flair.

With Holland lacking in ideas and Argentina defending so well, Happel was forced to look to his bench for inspiration. And that is just what he got. In the 59th minute he sent Dick Nanninga on in the hope he would turn the game and he would not disappoint. For a while though despite Happel’s change and the relentless efforts of Willy and Rene Van de Kerkhof, Rensenbrink and the rest, Holland just could not find a way past the resilience of Passarella, Tarantini, and what felt like the whole Argentinean nation. As the seconds ticked by Menotti seemed content with the result and instructed his players to sit back and wait for a chance to break.

Chances were few and far between and the introduction of Rene Houseman and Omar Larrosa did little to change things. Luque did come close to latching on to a cross, while at the other end Fillol had to deal with a few dangerous crosses, but neither side really looked like scoring. As the seconds ticked away Argentina’s fans became more and more vociferous and were convinced the coveted trophy was finally theirs. Yet Holland’s experience showed through and their perseverance finally paid off. An unmarked Nanninga met a cross from the right and headed past Fillol to level the scores with only eight minutes left on the clock.

The home crowd was stunned into silence and feared the worst as they watched their idols lose their way in a desperately tense finale. Slack marking gave the Dutch a glorious chance to win the match but fortune favoured the home side as Rensenbrink’s shot thudded against the post to the huge relief of a stranded Fillol. The whole nation missed a heartbeat and collectively forgot how to breathe. This final was played long before the introduction of the Golden Goal so the teams had to regroup at full time and prepare for another thirty minutes.

The Argentinean players seemed to heed coach Menotti’s pep talk and came out firing on all cylinders. Holland, in contrast, appeared on edge and as though the thought of falling at the final hurdle, again, was playing on their minds. Whatever the reason, they let the home side come at them and ended up paying the ultimate price. Kempes, who had hardly had a touch in the second half, once again proved decisive. He latched on to a loose ball in the penalty area, stumbled past two defenders, rounded the keeper and pushed the ball over the line to put his team in front right on half-time extra-time. The image of his long hair flowing in the wind and his outstretched arms reaching for the sky has come to be a symbol of this historic Argentinean success.

And there was more to come. The goal proved to be a body blow for the Dutch who vainly went in search of an equaliser, only to leave themselves wide open at the back. Right at the death another favourable rebound followed by a neat one-two left Jongbloed helpless once again. Bertoni was left unmarked and made no mistake from close range to send the crowd to new heights of delirium just minutes into the second period of extra time. So it was Argentina’s day, just. They had won their first World Cup against a Dutch side who had come so far without the great Johan Cruyff only to find themselves on the losing side yet again.

The sight of Passarella lifting the trophy, meanwhile, was an unequivocal sign that a new power had emerged in world football even if they did have the help of their ‘beloved’ government. This would be the end of the Dutch total football era too, without anything to show for it except some decent sideburns and the odd brilliant goal.  For a team that so deserved to win the cup, failure would bite deep.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Dilettante. Traffic Nerd. Behind the Almanac World Cup 100. Keen Cat, Cardie, Socceroo/Matilda, Glory Bhoy.


  1. DBalassone says

    Love your work Dennis. I watched this game on the weekend on SPS. As a neutral, I have to say the it all seemed a bit dodgy to me. The ref continually favoured Argentina, and there were many instances of Argentinian players catching the ball, yet not being carded by the referee. Some of the time-wasting and diving/acting (in particular by Bertoni) was cringe-worthy. Add to this the suspicion that the prior 6-0 win against Peru was fixed, and the fact that Cryuff was held out gun point in Spain prior to the tournament (thereby electing not to go) and I can’t help but think that Holland were ripped off here.

Leave a Comment