Fillol to the rescue

  • Ubaldo Fillol captured in flight against France at Argentina 1978

  • Hosts won game 2-1 to book place in next round

  • Fillol could easily have not been in squad after falling out with coach

"If there is one man chiefly responsible for Argentina reaching the World Cup final for the first time in 48 years, it is Ubaldo Fillol."

The New York Times was fairly unequivocal days before one of La Albicelete’s finest moments, winning the FIFA World Cup™ on home soil. The sight of Fillol arcing through the air to deny opponents had been far from a rarity during June 1978.

With the country draped in blue and white as the World Cup graced stadiums up and down Argentina, the goalkeeper – known as ‘El Pato’ ('The Duck') – was busy turning himself into a national legend. But, despite now being regarded by many as their greatest ever stopper, his place between the sticks had been far from a certainty.

Having reportedly spurned an offer to join up with the team by coach Cesar Menotti a few years earlier – he was not given the guarantee of being first choice – he was well out of favour. “Fillol might think he’s Pele, but he’s not,” was Menotti’s response.

But a knee injury to regular keeper Hugo Gatti presented the tactician with a problem. “I’ll call Fillol,” he conceded. “I always said Fillol had lost a chance and would have to wait for another one.” And he certainly took it this time.

When pictured above, La Albiceleste’s first title was still a daydream glistening a fortnight down the road as the hosts took on France. Fillol and Co. stepped out knowing a win would guarantee a spot in the second stage, having come from behind to see off Hungary in their opener.

Enjoying the familiar environment of the Estadio Monumental, the River Plate custodian’s comfort in his surroundings was no doubt key during early one-way traffic from Les Bleus. However, all seemed to be going to plan as club-mate Daniel Passarella tucked away a penalty in front of the partisan crowd just before half-time. French talisman Michel Platini levelled things up once they returned, before a frantic few minutes concluded with the spectacular save seen here, denying Dominique Rocheteau what would have been a second equaliser.

The winger had just seen Leopoldo Luque fire the hosts in front with a thunderous volley from range and the Paris Saint-Germain attacker fancied his luck at producing a replica at the other end.

Controlling Marius Tresor's knockdown, Rocheteau unleashed a fierce left-footed strike that was arrowing towards the top corner, but for Fillol’s spectacular intervention. With just 15 minutes on the clock, it was a save that ensured Argentina progressed with a game to spare as they edged towards a maiden title – with Fillol becoming an Albiceleste hero.

Did you know? The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed Fillol is wearing No5 in the above photo. This is because Argentina’s team were numbered alphabetically! The traditional No1 was sported by midfielder Norberto Alonso. The FIFA World Football Museum have the shirts of Osvaldo Ardiles (No2) and Americo Gallego (No6) as part of their Argentina 1978 exhibit.