WORLD CUP: Confetti greets Argentina’s 1st triumph in 1978

FILE - In this Sunday, June 25, 1978 file photo, Mario Kempes of Argentina, right, celebrates, after scoring Argentina's second goal against the Netherlands, during their World Cup final soccer match, at the River Plate Stadium, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was Argentina's first World Cup triumph. The 21st World Cup begins on Thursday, June 14, 2018, when host Russia takes on Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/File)

Controversy and confetti. The 1978 World Cup in Argentina was awash with both.

Twelve years after being awarded the right to host the World Cup, Argentina was a very different country. It had been under the control of a military junta since 1976, after a coup overthrew the government of Isabel Peron. Its ruthless treatment of political opponents – tens of thousands would eventually disappear – cast a shadow over the tournament.

The pressure on coach Cesar Luis Menotti and the team to exploit their home advantage and become the third South American country after Uruguay and Brazil to win the World Cup was immense. But after nearly 50 years of trying, Argentina did just that, defeating the Netherlands 3-1 in extra time in front of a confetti-laden home crowd.

Inspired by striker Mario Kempes, who scored twice in the final to take his tournament tally to six, Argentina inflicted the second straight final defeat on the Dutch, who almost won it at the end of normal time when Robbie Rensenbrink hit the post.

The Dutch were without Johan Cruyff following his last-minute withdrawal. Cruyff later revealed that he didn’t board the plane to Argentina because of a kidnapping attempt months earlier. At the time, there was widespread speculation that his absence was an act of protest against the junta.

Forty years later, Argentina’s triumph still raises eyebrows.

In that World Cup, there was a second group stage that determined which teams made it to the final, but the scheduling did not allow for the final group matches to take place at the same time. In Argentina’s case, the team took the field knowing that a 4-0 victory over Peru was required after Brazil had won its last group match against Poland 3-1.

Argentina won 6-0.

Raanan Rein, an Israeli professor of Latin American history, told a FIFA-hosted conference on World Cup history in 2010 that he was ”100 percent persuaded” that the junta was somehow involved, collaborating with ”at least one foreign government” to fix the match.

Others argue that the Peru team just fell away after a strong start – it happens all the time – and were unnerved by the intimidating atmosphere inside the stadium in Rosario.

Regardless, it was time for the joyous people of Argentina to let the confetti fly.

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