In footballing terms, the 1978 FIFA World Cup Argentina ™ Final may not have been the greatest game of all time, but it is still remembered for the passion and commitment shown by both sides, and above all the unbelievable atmosphere in the Estadio Monumental of Buenos Aires.
The host nation, desperate to win their first title, faced a vastly experienced Dutch side playing in their second consecutive final. On paper at least, the Dutch were favourites - but that was discounting the influence of the passionate home crowd. Right from the outset, it was clear they would play a big part in the outcome of the match.
As the teams emerged from the tunnel, more than 70,000 fans released a spectacular mass of confetti and streamers from the stands, covering the whole pitch. They were in a frenzy, and over the next two hours roared their team to a victory that culminated with captain Daniel Alberto Passarella raising the legendary FIFA World Cup trophy skywards.
Gritty not pretty
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 Argentinian 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 save sent a message to the Dutch strikers - it would take something special to beat him on his day of glory.
The Monumental explodes
The passion and commitment made for a tight struggle, and just as it seemed a rather uninspiring first half would end goalless, Argentina struck. Osvaldo Ardiles's pass found Leopoldo Luque who in turn picked out Mario Kempes in space. He managed to wriggle through the Dutch defence and slip the ball past goalkeeper Jongbloed. 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.
Enter the executioner
With Holland lacking in ideas and Argentina defending so well, Ernst 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 Argentinian 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.
Nanninga silences the Monumental
As the seconds ticked away, Argentina's fans became more and more vociferous - convinced the coveted trophy was finally theirs. Yet Holland's experience showed through and their perservance 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.
Extra time breathes new life into Argentina
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 Argentinian players seemed to heed coach Menotti's pep talk and came out firing on all cylinders. Holland, in contrast, appeared on edge - 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. 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 Argentinian 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. So it was Argentina's day, just. They had won their first FIFA 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.
El Monumental - Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespuci
GONELLA Sergio (ITA)