The 1978 World Cup in Argentina was to be one of the most controversial tournaments in recent times, both for the political situation at the time as well as a number of highly suspicious results and circumstances – mainly involving the host country.
There were no significant changes to the format used in 1974, with the sixteen qualifiers being split into four groups, with the top two teams from each group being drawn in two second phase groups of four – from which the two winners would contest the final. The only major difference from four years previously was the introduction of the penalty shootout as a tie-breaker for knockout games, though the first such shootout would not take place until Germany’s semi-final encounter with France in 1982. Between the 1st and 25th of June 1978 thirty-eight matches were played, producing a total of 102 goals at an average of 2.68, a slight improvement on the previous tournament.
The final was contested between the hosts Argentina and the Netherlands, who were making their second attempt at winning the title. While the Dutch had progressed with little controversy, the same cannot be said for the Argentinians.
The second phase had grouped the hosts with South American rivals Brazil, as well as Poland and Peru. With the two Latin American giants having beaten Peru and Poland respectively, they played out a bitter goalless draw which left them both on three points. The final two games were intended to be played at the same time, but the Argentinians contrived to delay the kick-off in their game – meaning that they knew exactly what they had to do to top the group. After Brazil had beaten the Poles 3-1, Argentina knew they had to beat Peru – and their Argentinian-born goalkeeper Ramón Quiroga – by four clear goals. The Argentinians had gome into the half-time break 2-0 up, and the second half saw a Peruvian collapse that was as comical as it was dramatic.
The final result was 6-0 to Argentina, who propelled themselves to the top of the group and a place in the final. Nothing has ever been proven to suggest that the Peruvians had been bribed, but just watching the footage suggests that something was not quite right. The Argentines indulged in the same delaying tactics in order to disturb the Dutch in the final, which they won 3-1 in extra time after the game had finished 1-1 after ninety minutes – though the Dutch perhaps should have won it at the death when Rob Rensenbrink saw his shot come agonisingly off the post.
Qualifying Campaign and pre-tournament build-up
As title holders Germany did not have to qualify, and had not played a competitive game since their defeat on penalties to Czechoslovakia in the 1976 European Championship final. In fact, Germany had not played a World Cup qualifying fixture since 1969 – when they beat Scotland 3-2 en route to the finals of the 1970 tournament.
Between Euro 1976 and the start of the 1978 World Cup Germany played a total of seventeen friendly games, winning twelve, drawing three and losing two. A number of good teams were beaten during this spell – including Czechoslovakia, Argentina, Italy and England – with the two losses against France in Paris and Brazil in Hamburg.
Germany’s Tournament in brief
Germany’s campaign in 1978 was unspectacular, yet they still came close to making the final. The team sandwiched a 6-0 rout of Mexico with dull goalless draws against Poland and Tunisia in the first phase, and continued in this vein in the second phase with another 0-0 draw against Italy and a 2-2 stalemate with the Dutch, where they allowed the opposition to equalise with eight minutes left on the clock.
The format of the tournament meant that Helmut Schön’s side needed something approaching a miracle in their final match against Austria – coupled with a draw in the other group fixture between the Netherlands and Italy – to stand a chance of making the final, but in the end they didn’t even make the third-place playoff when they found themselves on the end of a Hans Krankl goal that secured a 3-2 win for the unfancied Austrians. The defeat – which soon became known in Germany as the Schmach von Córdoba – was Schön’s final game as Nationaltrainer.