Argentina 3-1 Netherlands (AET)
25 June 1978
World Cup Final
River Plate Stadium, Buenos Aires
Scorers: Kempes (2), Bertoni (Argentina); Nanninga (Netherlands)

The Netherlands had beaten Italy 2-1 to reach their second consecutive World Cup final, and to deprive the Italians of the UFWC title. Dutch defender Ernie Brandts had scored for both sides in that game, with Arie Haan getting the winner. The Oranje were looking impressive despite the fact that they were without star man Johan Cruyff, who had stayed at home to consider his priorities following an alleged kidnap attempt on his family. The hugely experienced Dutch team still featured the likes of Jonny Rep, Johan Neeskens, big keeper Jan Jongbloed, and troublesome twins Willy and Rene Van der Kerkhof.

Interestingly, while the Dutch abandoned their alphabetical shirt numbering system from the 1974 tournament, the Argentinians took the idea and ran with it. So midfielder Norberto Alonso had shirt number 1, and goalkeeper Ubaldo Fillol wore shirt number 5. Shirts 2 and 10, meanwhile, belonged respectively to the great pair Ossie Ardiles and Mario Kempes.

Argentina were the tournament hosts – a point of controversy as the country had been subject to a coup just two years previously, and was being run by a military junta that was accused of “disappearing” several thousand opposers. The Argentinian team focussed on football, and grew in strength and confidence as the tournament progressed. Needing to beat Peru in the second round by four goals to reach the final, Argentina actually managed to win 6-0. There was more controversy, with claims that the junta had threatened or bribed the Peruvians, but no evidence was presented to support the claims.

The combined World Cup final and UFWC title match was perhaps not a classic game in the true sense, but it was a hard fought contest illuminated by flashes of brilliance. There was yet more controversy, too, right from the delayed kick-off, which was caused by an objection to a wrist bandage worn by Rene Van der Kerkhof, and led to frustrated complaints from both sides.

The Dutch began the game brightly. Johnny Rep headed wide when he should probably have scored, and then had a point-blank shot brilliantly saved. But it was Argentina who took the lead, with the long-haired Kempes nipping in to slide the ball past Jongbloed on 37 minutes. El Matador’s strike was the only goal of the opening period, and Argentina led 1-0 at half-time.

The second half was a midfield battle, short of excitement until the 82nd minute. Dutch coach Ernst Happel gambled on introducing substitute Dick Nanninga, and the gamble paid off as Nanninga rose highest to head home a right-wing cross. The Dutch were level, and the vast majority of the 71,483 spectators were silenced. As the final whistle approached, the ball fell at the feet of Rob Resenbrink, but the Dutch striker saw his shot come back off Ubaldo Fillol’s post.

The Argentinians greeted the end of the 90 minutes with relief, and gathered around coach Cesar Luis Menotti for a rallying call ahead of extra-time. Whatever he said, it seemed to do the trick. Argentina were a better team in extra-time, while the Dutch seemed edgy and nervous, perhaps fearing that a second consecutive World Cup final defeat would be too much to bear.

Argentina took the initiative, and got their reward midway through the extra period, with Kempes stumbling into the area, poking the ball against Jongbloed, and tapping in the rebound. Four minutes from time, Daniel Bertoni swept home Argentina’s third to seal the World Cup and UFWC victory.

As skipper Daniel Passarella held aloft the World Cup trophy, two words on the stadium scoreboard confirmed that a nation’s dream had come true: ‘Argentina Campeon!’

Mario Kempes finished the tournament with a winners’ medal and the golden shoe, ending up with six goals despite failing to score at all in the first round. Argentina retained the UFWC title for a year, losing it to Bolivia in July 1979 in a 2-1 Copa America defeat.

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We’re presenting a series of UFWC World Cup Classics in the build-up to Brazil 2014. The above is an edited extract from the official UFWC book, Unofficial Football World Champions, which contains many more classic matches from the UFWC archives. The brand new 2014 edition is out now.

New UFWC book

About Paul Brown

Paul is a freelance journalist and author. He created the UFWC in 2003, and subsequently wrote the Unofficial Football World Champions book. He can be found on Twitter @paulbrownUK.