A national disaster beckoned. Argentina hadn’t even got past the FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finals since 1930. They hadn’t won the Copa America in almost two decades. Their captain, among others, had quit the national team.
Yet despite facing Messrs Platini, Zoff, Rossi, Boniek, Lato, Zico, Krol and Neeskens, nobody kicked the adidas Tango better on Argentinian fields than ‘El Flaco’ Menotti’s men. Here is their captivating story in stats.
48 years: that is what Argentina had gone without being on the World Cup podium until 1978 – the longest span between a country finishing in its top three. The next-longest stretches were Sweden’s 36 years (1958 to ’94) and the Netherlands’ 32 years (1978 to 2010).
25 years and one month is the age that makes Daniel Passarella the youngest captain to lift the World Cup Trophy. ‘El Gran Capitán’ is followed by Bobby Moore (25 and four months), Diego Maradona (25 and eight months) and Carlos Alberto Torres (25 and 11 months). Curiously, Passarella only assumed the armband because, shortly before the tournament, first-choice skipper Jorge Carrascosa quit the national team for personal reasons.
13 days before the tournament began, three players were agonisingly cut from Menotti’s squad: Humberto Bravo, Victor Bottaniz and Diego Maradona. The 17-year-old, who had made his international debut 15 months earlier, reacted to his omission by sobbing his heart out under a tree.
12 years without a World Cup clean sheet is what Argentina had gone until Ubaldo Fillol kept three in succession in Rosario. ‘The Duck’ saved a penalty from Poland’s Kazimierz Deyna and was exceptional as La Albiceleste recorded their first shutout in the competition in nine games, which helped him go six hours and 15 minutes without conceding until Dick Nanninga headed past him in the Final.
11 hours and 38 minutes – over ten appearances in 1974 and ’78 – is what Mario Kempes required to score his maiden World Cup goal. Heading into the second-round meeting with Poland, Cesar Luis Menotti persuaded Kempes that shaving off his moustache would help him end his drought. The cleanly-shaven ‘Matador’ responded with six goals in three games.
8 goals is what the Netherlands had scored in their two previous meetings with Argentina heading into the Final – they won 4-1 and 4-0 in 1974.
6 goals without reply is what Argentina put past Peru to snatch a place in the Final on goal difference, and record their heaviest victories in the fixture and the World Cup. La Albiceleste scored more goals in that game than they did during their entire seven-match, silver-seizing campaign at Italy 1990. A late strike from an 18-year-old Lionel Messi helped the Argentinians equal their biggest World Cup win against Serbia and Montenegro in 2006.
5 successive victories over Argentina is what Brazil had recorded until a 0-0 draw in Group B. The result was nevertheless part of A Seleção’s 13-game unbeaten run against La Albiceleste – easily a record sequence in the fixture.
5 players have scored multiple goals in three-plus games at a World Cup: Guillermo Stabile, Sandor Kocsis, Just Fontaine, Gerd Muller and Kempes.
4 successive matches at home to European opposition is what Argentina failed to win in the lead-up to the competition – they lost 3-1 to West Germany and were largely outplayed in draws with England, Scotland and France. The games had been played at La Bombonera, where the crowds increasingly called for Menotti to be replaced with Boca Juniors coach Juan Carlos Lorenzo. The AFA swiftly announced they would play their group games at the Estadio Monumental, while Menotti remained and didn’t take a single Boca player to the tournament.
3 is the position ‘The embrace of the soul’ came in a poll, voted for by media members and fans during Korea/Japan 2002, to find the most iconic photos in World Cup history. It shows a fan with no arms, who had invaded the pitch after the Final, using the empty sleeves of his green jumper to movingly hug Fillol and Alberto Tarantini. The winning image was also headlined by an Argentinian – Maradona, alone, being confronted by six Belgians in what was a mesmerising but misleading snap (he had just received a short free-kick and his foes had been in the wall).
2 forwards is what Menotti included in his 22-man squad – multiple countries boasted as many as seven. Of the pair, Leopoldo Luque missed two matches through injury, and played through physical and emotional pain – his brother was tragically killed in a traffic accident on the day Argentina faced Italy – for the remainder of the tournament.
1.73 and 1.74 metres makes Passarella and Luis Galvan easily the smallest centre-back pairing to win a World Cup. The tallest pairing, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, were 1.91 and 1.92 metres in 2014.
1 country has won the World Cup with players not having a club: Argentina with Tarantini in 1978 and La Albiceleste again with Jose Luis Brown in 1986. Despite having not played at club level for six months following a contract dispute with Boca, Tarantini, otherwise known as ‘The Rabbit’, was named as the youngest member of Menotti's squad and the left-back duly played every minute of every match for Argentina. When he vacated the reins in 1982, Menotti said: “I leave you with a good side – Tarantini plus ten others.” One of those ‘others’ was no less than Maradona.
0 foreign-based players is what Menotti repeatedly stated would make his squad for the tournament – six had played for Argentina at West Germany 1974. ‘The Skinny One’ nevertheless reneged on that and handed Valencia’s Kempes, who had just won back-to-back Pichichi awards, a late call-up. Carlos Bianchi (Paris Saint-Germain), Carlos Morete (Las Palmas), Osvaldo Piazza (Saint-Etienne), Hector Scotta (Sevilla) and Quique Wolff (Real Madrid) were among the overseas-based players who missed out.