Saturday, April 19, 2008


Rosario Revisited, Part 2

I've stated before that history has been somewhat unfair to the Argentinians of 1978 (while it has been perhaps over-indulgent with the mediocre side of 1986). This was an exciting team that played positive, fluent football, and their cohesion – their manager Menotti had deliberately kept them close-knit in the months leading up to the event – often gave the impression of a club side rather than a national team.

Yes, they occasionally resorted to strong-arm tactics (especially the captain, Daniel Passarella), but they received plenty in return, too…not least from their Dutch opponents in the final. Yet because Menotti's men were seen as representatives of the brutal Videla regime, they are often remembered as a bunch of thugs who cheated their way to a World Cup.

In the game against Peru, they were ferociously committed to attack from the outset, and some of their combination play in midfield was thrilling to watch. The two forwards, Mario Kempes and Leopoldo Luque, combined superbly at times, as they had in previous games as well.

Peru, for their part, were hardly lying down, as has been suggested. True, they sat back and kept a deep line in defence, but they looked quick and often effective on the break. Twice in the opening twenty minutes, they posed considerable danger to the Argentina goal.

First the speedy right-winger, Juan Muñante, beat his man and shot against the inside of the far post; then, in a mirror-image move, the other wide man, Juan Carlos Oblitas, whipped a shot just across goal. Peru were committing four or five men to these breakaway attacks, and the speed of their two wingers caused the suspect Argentina defence plenty of headaches.

The opening twenty minutes of the game are enough to make the conspiracy theorists think twice.

However, Peru were, I feel, a little naïve when it came to taking the wind out of Argentina’s sails. They took their goalkicks, for instance, surprisingly quickly, considering that the home side were clearly relishing the frantic pace of the opening stages.

But in any case, it’s foolish to gainsay the quality of Argentina’s play. They created several chances in the opening period by committing numbers to attack, switching the play rapidly, and interpassing crisply. It’s worth adding that they should have had a penalty when Daniel Bertoni, the excellent right-winger, was patently fouled in the box. Otherwise, the French referee, Robert Wurtz, was fairly impartial throughout.

When half-time arrives, it’s 2-0, but it might have been six already. Argentina have hit the post twice, flashed plenty of shots just wide of goal, and generally looked as hungry as a team can look. Meanwhile, some of the virtue has gone out of Peru; in an important sidelight, Argentina have managed to close off the supply to Peru’s two dangerous wingers, and both have been forced to move inside in search of meaningful action.

The second half begins, and almost immediately Argentina score the finest goal of the game. Luque, under pressure in the box, plays an exquisite back-heel into the path of Kempes, who nips in between two defenders and whacks the ball home. A minute later, a demoralized Peru concede again, after a left-wing cross is headed back across goal to an unmarked Luque.

Then things get interesting.

Argentina have reached the magic four-goal cushion. No longer do seven or eight men rush forward into attack: in fact, Menotti’s side visibly relaxes. Now, shuffling the ball across the back and occasionally punting upfield becomes the order of the day. And, as one would expect, Peru gradually, almost imperceptibly, start coming back into the game.

After fifteen minutes the change is becoming noticeable. With the subtle Cesar Cueto at the heart of their midfield moves, Peru are starting to come forward in numbers again, and posing something of a threat to the Argentina goal. With a half-chance to Peru’s defensive midfielder just after the hour, Menotti knows it’s time for action. If Argentina let in a couple of late consolation goals, they’re out of the final.

This is where the great coaches earn their money. And Menotti picks exactly the right area of the pitch in which to make a change: Bertoni, who has tormented the Peruvian defence for much of the game, is clearly running out of steam. On comes Argentina’s hero of 1974, the tricky Rene Houseman, to revive Argentina on the right.

Result? One minute later, Houseman scores.

Two minutes after that, Houseman is upended in the box for what should have been another penalty.

Another few minutes later (with another Argentina goal in between): a sinuous run from Houseman ends in a shot that fizzes just wide of goal.

In short? The substitution wrests the initiative, which had shifted to Peru, back into Argentina’s hands.

6-0 it finishes. An open, entertaining, enjoyable game of football.

And anyone who has seen the game without knowing the context would find the conspiracy theories pretty hard to swallow.

Hey mikey,

just out of interest where are you getting these vintage games from? would be really interesting to get hold of a copy,

Hey blaster,

Some I just look for on isohunt, and some from youtube. There's a great guy from Denmark who's currently uploading a whole bunch of old games onto youtube...kimjjj is his user name, I think.

By the way, I was talking with some Peruvian friends of mine at a game tonight about the match, and they both think it was rigged. :-)
enjoyed the series mike, heard/read a bit about that game over the years, and it reminds me...will ask a peruvian friend of mine his thoughts when we next catch up, although he's told me on numerous occasions Argentina are only slightly less popular in Peru than Uruguay are, and they dont like both.
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