Saturday, December 01, 2007


Missing the Point, Part 2

Another old World Cup match that I very much enjoyed watching recently was the 1978 encounter between Argentina, the hosts and eventual winners, and Poland. The latter had gained third place at the previous tournament, and were considered a serious threat in this one.

The Argentina side that triumphed in 1978, minus a young Diego Maradona, hasn't had a particularly good press over the years, probably due to a number of contentious refereeing decisions that went their way in the course of the event - not to mention their deeply suspicious 6-0 victory over Peru in the final second-stage game, which catapulted them into the final on goal difference ahead of Brazil.

Yet I've seen a few of their games now, and I like the way they played. There was plenty of good interplay, especially in the front third, and they scored some fine team of which can be seen in the clip below.

The star of the show was Mario Kempes, based in Spain at the time, who was top scorer at the event with six goals, and Argentina's most influential player.

And again: he was not really a centre-forward. He wore the No. 10 shirt, and although this was actually coincidental (since the Argentines, like the Dutch in 1974, had adopted an alphabetical rather than a tactical numbering system), he played more or less where a No. 10 does, if not quite in the manner of a typical trequartista. He liked to run at the defence.

Normally he played, more or less, as a deep supporting striker to the powerful Leopoldo Luque, who was also amongst the goals in 1978. Yet Luque was absent for the Poland game, due to an injury (and an appalling family tragedy). In his stead, Kempes operated in concert with the wingers Daniel Bertoni and René Houseman, and fellow midfielders Osvaldo Ardiles and José Valencia broke into attack with him frequently as well; the holding man in midfield was Americo Gallego. Roughly a 4-1-3-2 if you like, but, again, there was no real "point" man.

It must be said, Argentina were very, very lucky to win this match. Their defence was frankly a disaster, and it was fortunate for them that their 'keeper, Ubaldo Fillol, was in superb form; he made two outstanding reflex saves in the first half, and even saved a penalty from the Poles' midfield star, Kazimierz Deyna, after Kempes had blatantly handled on the line from Grzegorz Lato's header (an offence for which he should really have been sent off).

Things really started to click for Argentina in the second half, when Ricardo "Ricky" Villa, subsequently to join Spurs along with Ardiles, replaced Valencia. He and Kempes formed a dangerous nexus at the offensive end of midfield, either linking with Bertoni and Houseman or taking advantage of the thinning out of the Polish defence by the runs of the two wingers. Several half-chances were created thereby, and finally a goal came.

It was Ardiles, rather than Villa, who made the run forward with Kempes, both of them starting from deep. Houseman and Bertoni acted as decoys further up the pitch, drawing the Polish defence out wide; and with two players running at them through the middle, the Poles were a mess in central defence. Eventually Ardiles, after cleverly beating two men, lays off to Kempes, who equally cleverly rounds his man and slides the ball home. A lovely goal, and the similarities to the move of the Dutch against Bulgaria are telling.

Would such tactics work today? It would be interesting to see.

Two more for you Mike

Holland Argentina 1978
Brazil Italy 1982...was that Brazilian side the most exciting team ever to take to the field in the World Cup?

and if you've read Andrew Jennings FOUL! you will know that the Peru Argentina game was not merely suspicious but completely rigged

as any fan watching at the time knew. Argentina needed to win 4-0 to go through. On the performances of both sides in previous group gamses, it couldn't happen, ever.

Surprise surprise Argentina were 4-0 up at half-time.

Should be stripped of their Word Cup!
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