With the World Cup just days away, we publish these articles on the abuse of football’s most prestigious tournament again. They are particularly timely as Brasil has been polarised by hosting the tournament. Demonstrators will once again take to the streets in major cities throughout the country to demand social changes – ones that should have been delivered after last year’s Confederations Cup.
by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 18th 2008)
The 1978 World Cup will always be remembered with regret and shame. Football allowed itself to be used yet again by a vicious tyrant and to make matters worse the tournament proved easy to manipulate in Argentina’s favour on the pitch too. Perú had qualified impressively for the second stage, topping a group that included eventual finalists, the Netherlands.1
But Perúʼs second half capitulation to Argentina in the second phase has set tongues wagging ever since. Brasil had beaten Poland 3-1 in their final match in that phase, so Argentina knew that they had to beat Perú at least 4-0 to advance. Brasil had every reason to feel confident. Perú was a good team – they had proved that earlier. What was the likelihood of them being thrashed?
The match that followed is one of the most scandalous in the history of the World Cup. Argentina won 6-0, amid accusations of bribery: corruption, intimidation or worse. There were even accusations that Perúvian players were threatened by General Jorge Videla Redondo and his cronies at half time and Perú’s goalkeeper Ramón Quiroga, who was born in Argentina, was part of a deliberate fix.
His goalkeeping in that match was bizarre at best. Although nothing has ever been conclusively proved, the dismal performance displayed by Perú especially in the second half caused many to believe that it was a blatant case of match-fixing. It is a scandal that remains raw 30 years on.
The full truth of the ʻfixʼ may never emerge. Osvaldo Ardiles played in that tournament for Argentina, but even he could not rule out the possibility that something wrong had happened. Some Perúvian players and officials from that tournament have subsequently accused Videla’s regime of serious threats to their welfare.
It remains a source of deep shame in Perú. Few, if any, doubt that Videla was capable of all that and more, but there is no conclusive proof that it happened, even now that Videla has fallen from grace. FIFA must take some blame too. Argentina should not have been allowed to know the result they needed to qualify in advance of that match.
Another ʻfixʼ was allowed four years later when West Germany and Austria cheated Algeria by securing a result to benefit both in a match that should have resulted in both teams being expelled for unsporting conduct – gross unsportsmanlike behaviour actually. That match resulted in the rules being changed, but Algeria had great cause for complaint. After the Argentina versus Perú ʻfixʼ the rules should have been changed. That would have prevented the disgrace in Spain from happening.
Argentina progressed to the final as did the Netherlands. There were also accusations of doping in the tournament and intimidation of Dutch players before the final. However, nothing was proved and one of the best teams never to win the World Cup came second again. Even now three decades later, it still grates with Dutch supporters who believe that they were cheated. Perhaps, but it pales in comparison with Brasilʼs grievances.
Dutch legend Johan Cruijff claims that he was informed that there would be a kidnap attempt on him, but Cruijff chose to retire before the World Cup Finals in Argentina. Videla and his thugs were capable of all this and more, but despite the hatred and scorn piled on them now no concrete evidence has emerged to prove that either Perú or the Netherlands were victimised by Videla directly or his lackeys.
However, itʼs certainly believable – likely even, but the smoking gun has yet to emerge. Perhaps it will. But with or without it, questions remain. Why were Videla and Henry Kissinger allowed into Perúʼs dressing room at half time? Why did such a talented team play so badly after it? We still await credible answers.
But for all the Dutch anger, the real victims of that tournament was Brasil. And if they had won the World Cup on Argentinian soil, perhaps Argentina could have celebrated a far greater triumph – the downfall of Videlaʼs despicable dictatorship and the appalling military junta that continued afterwards until defeat in the Falklands War.
1 The threat of a boycott petered out, but legendary Dutch player Johan Cruijff brought forward his international retirement to protest the atrocities committed by Videla’s government.