The brilliance of Mario Kempes


ARGENTINA hosted the 1978 edition amidst serious doubts about its capability considering the state of the economy and a military junta at the helm of affairs. But doubts paved way for joy as Argentina picked its first World Cup title. In the end there were murmurs that there was every effort to ensure Argentina met with success. Be that as it may, this was a World Cup that brought to fore the brilliance of Mario Kempes, the hero of Argentina's success and incidentally the top-scorer of the tournament with six goals.

For the second time running England missed the final round. Yugoslavia and USSR also failed to make it. But little known footballing nations such as Iran and Tunisia made their debut while France returned to the fold after a 12-year gap.

However, the competition began on a disappointing note as the opening match involving defending champion West Germany and Poland ended in a goalless draw, making it the fourth consecutive World Cup opening game without a goal. Despite this both teams progressed leaving behind Tunisia and Mexico. The latter was the weaklink in the bunch and was battered 6-0 by Germany. In another Group, Argentina and Italy finished ahead of France and Hungary while Brazil, after a 1-0 win over Austria, squeezed ahead of Sweden and Spain. Austria topped that group.

Holland, on the other hand, scraped through from its Group on goal difference with Scotland despite losing to the latter 2-3. Scotland, which had men like Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness was expected to do better but left early. Michel Platini spearheaded France but for a short stay, as the team lost 1-2 to both Italy and Argentina, the two next round qualifiers. Hungary was the other team in this Group that had lost all its three matches.

The final eight drawn into two Groups for another round-robin league were Italy, Holland, West Germany and Austria on one side and Argentina, Poland, Peru and Brazil on the other.

Without Cruyff, Holland had appeared drifting in the earlier phase but came back strongly through the rejunevated Robbie Rensenbrink. The 5-1 win over Austria, which had an impressive earlier round, was a stunner. Then came the defeat of Italy 2-1. The Holland-West Germany match at Cordoba provided rich fare despite a 2-2 draw. The finalists of the previous edition, the two teams were out to prove their worth. Germany took an early lead through Abramczik, but Hahn found the equaliser, as his 35-yarder had Maier just standing. Then a defence lapse helped the German Dieter Muller to put his team ahead again. Once again Holland nullified that through Rene Van de Kerkhof.

Much tougher struggle featured the proceedings in the other Group where it was a toss up between Argentina and Brazil. Kempes inspired Argentina to get past Poland 2-0 while Brazil beat Peru 3-0.

When Brazil defeated Poland 3-1, the requirement for Argentina was to beat Peru by four clear goals. None thought it was possible, least of all the Brazilians who were already looking forward to the title-round. But the unexpected happened. Passarella and Co. scored six goals without reply, two goals coming from Kempes. Many eyebrows were raised over the goal avalanche. Allegations flew but the competition went on.

So near to history, Argentina did not let the opportunity slip as it carved out a 3-1 win after extra time (1-1 at full time) over Holland to lay its hands on the World Cup for the first time. Mario Kempes was the inspirational leader in a team marked for solid team spirit. Once again Holland failed.

In the 1982 World Cup in Spain the final round became a competition of 24 teams, eight more than the previous editions. Thus North and Central America were given two places for the first time. Asia and Oceania had two berths, Africa two, South America four and Europe 14. Despite the increase in number, the runner-up of the previous edition, the Netherlands and former champion Uruguay, surprisingly failed to qualify while Korea lost its opportunity to make it losing to Kuwait, which along with New Zealand represented Asia/Oceania.

Increase in participants meant more matches and a changed format. The first round comprised six groups of four teams each. The top two in each Group were placed in four pools of three teams each. The winner in each pool then proceeded to the semi-final. As per the ratings West Germany, Italy, Argentina and Brazil were in the forefront. However as the event progressed there were surprises galore and finally Italy, spearheaded by the 'disgraced' player Paolo Rossi, emerging the best of all.

The opening match itself was a stunner when Belgium shocked Argentina 1-0. The hero of last time, Kempes was there but was a shadow of himself. Diego Maradona was there but made no impression. When opportunity came and Vandenburgh scored it also reflected Argentina's suspect defence. Elsewhere England began brightly trouncing France 3-1, after slotting the quickest goal of the tournament (27 seconds by Bob Robson) and then getting past Czechoslovakia and Kuwait for an all-win record in the league. Italy had forgettable outings in its Group, drawing all its three matches against Cameroon, Poland and Peru and barely squeezing past the African team into the next round for having scored goals - 2 to Cameroon's 1 - both teams having equal points and same 'goal difference'.

Brazil, spearheaded by Zico, Socrates, Falcao and Cerezo scored the most number of goals (ten) in this phase and progressed in style past Russia, Scotland and New Zealand. Host Spain and Northern Ireland made it from another group but where the possibility of an upset brewed was in the group comprising West Germany, Austria, Algeria and Chile. The first three teams finished with equal points but the talking point was Germany's loss to Algeria. In the end, only a condescending Austria (which had ensured qualification) "helped" Germany to go ahead by losing 0-1 to the latter, an outcome that pushed out Algeria on goal difference.

Things hotted up in the second round. The biggest fall was Argentina which lost both to Italy and Brazil and, what was more, the man, who in later years became a sensation, Maradona, earning a red card for a petulant act of foul on Batista in the match against Brazil. Only a match earlier Italy had beaten Argentina when Rossi was still not in full flow. That came in the next match when he scored a hat-trick against Brazil and helped Italy qualify for the semi-final, leaving the South American giant licking its wounds.

In other Groups, West Germany pipped England, leaving host Spain out of the race, Poland helped by Boniek's star turn edged Russia on goal difference while France was an impressive winner against Austria and N. Ireland in the last Group.

The cry by now was 'Rossi, Rossi'. The man, who, for being involved in a betting scandal, had heaped disgrace on himself, Rossi put all that behind for a brilliant run in Spain. Against Poland in the semi-final, after veteran Zoff had done his bit to keep the Italian citadel intact, Rossi struck, once capitalising on a long centre by Antognoni and the next, a spectacular header after moving in stealthily to meet a Conti centre.

The other match - Germany v France - had everything, a close contest, a bizarre incident and finally the lottery of penalties to identify the winner. Platini was in top form for France, picking up the threads of 'Total Football'. The Germans had fitness problems particularly of Rummenigge and Hansi Muller. The match had gone on evenly with Breitner's goal for Germany getting neutralised by Platini's penalty. But it was the incident thereafter that shook the contest. Schumacher, the German goalkeeper, did the unthinkable, by smashing a charging Battiston, who had come in as substitute, in a one-to-one situation. The French player narrowly escaped death but Schumacher went scotfree. However, the incident immediately made Germany the unpopular team of the competition.

Marius Tresor and Giresse added a goal each in extra-time and France looked on course but Germany was never more dangerous than when down. Rummenigge came on as substitute and immediately made amends with a goal. Soon Klaus Fischer joined in and the scores had become level. The World Cup competition, for the first time, went into the penalties and that spelt the doom for France (4-5).

The high drama and intense exertion virtually told on Germany in the final where the Italian wonder Rossi celebrated his sixth goal in three games to break the deadlock in the 56th minute and lay the path to victory. Marco Tardelli and Alessandro Altobelli added one each before Breitner came up with the consolation effort. Led by the 40-year-old Zoff, Italy, like Brazil earlier, won the World Cup for the third time.

On to Mexico again for the 1986 World Cup and this was the World Cup of Maradona, the Argentine genius who turned into a legendary figure by the end of the competition. The preliminaries provided little surprise as the traditional powerhouses came through unscathed. Korea also qualified for the first time in 32 years but drawn alongside Argentina, Bulgaria and Italy had but a brief tenure. Still the country had the satisfaction of seeing its first goal scored in World Cup, by Park Chang-Sun against Argentina. Korea also collected its first point in the World Cup by holding Bulgaria goalless.

Denmark impressed in its first appearance with a 6-1 walloping of Uruguay and a 2-0 win over West Germany. Morocco became the first African nation to progress to second round as it advanced ahead of England, Poland and Portugal.

In the next round, Denmark's form went topsy-turvy, losing 1-5 to Spain while Morocco lost to W. Germany. The previous edition winner Italy also bowed out losing 0-2 to France while Belgium advanced with a 2-0 win over USSR. Ultimate winner Argentina got past Uruguay 1-0 while host Mexico defeated Bulgaria 2-0, England trounced Paraguay 3-0 and Brazil swamped Poland 4-0.

The quarter-finals provided some of the best moments of the tournament, particularly the Maradona inspired 2-1 win of Argentina over England. One of Maradona's goals was the controversial 'Hand of God' effort but the maestro did an out of the world act for his second. Beating past four defenders before leaving Shilton helpless, Maradona produced a gem. Gary Lineker was England's scorer, his sixth, that helped the Englishman to top the scorers' list. The other matches were decided on penalties, West Germany beating Mexico 4-1 (0-0), Belgium eliminating Spain 5-4 (1-1) and France prevailing 4-3 (1-1) over Brazil where goalkeeper Joel Bats' brilliance saw Zico miss a crucial penalty.

Four years ago in what was the first penalty shoot out in the World Cup, France had lost to Germany in the semi-final. The two met again in the semi-final for a similar outcome, Germany winning 2-0 but not via penalties. For all the wonderful work Platini, Tigana, Giresse and goalkeeper Bats had done earlier, they failed when it mattered the most. Bats was floored early by a Brehme curler. Then Giresse and Bossis muffed inside the goal-area. Bats was to be beaten again, this time foxed by substitute Rudi Voller close to time.

Maradona's next brilliant act for Argentina came against Belgium in the semi-final. Belgium had held on until half-time to keep the dicey Valdano at bay. In between Belgium's Enzo Schifo showed flashes of his class in attack. But when the time came to act, Maradona was ready, first to glide into the rival end and leave Pfaff stupefied and then, despite little space to manoeuvre, capped a solo to beat Pfaff again. Belgium then lost to France for the third place.

The focus was on Maradona in the final. Germany's ploy to have Lothar Matthaus mark the great Argentinian backfired. Matthaus' nasty foul and the ensuing free kick by Barruchaga formed the medium for Jose Luis Brown to head home. Fittingly, the wonderfully in-form Valdano added on. But manager Beckenbauer showed his shrewd brain, made the changes that inspired Germany to hit back. Rummenigge and then Voller answered to Beckenbauer's call and fired home. The contest was tantalisingly balanced when Maradona showed his touch again. A deft pass and Barruchaga raced away to beat Schumacher for the match winner. Argentina won 3-2 to lift the World Cup for the second time in eight years.