Ruud Doevendans

Ruud Doevendans has been an official columnist for a Dutch club and owns one of the largest collections of soccer videos containing hundreds of World Cup matches. We at PWC are proud to have him as a columnist. He will share his views about the past, present and future of the World Cup.

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Full dedication despite nothing at stake

    No, they had nothing to prove that night. And they had nothing special to play for. Both teams had won their previous two matches against France and Hungary, and both of them had already qualified for the second stage of the tournament. This encounter was only about prestige. But with nothing than pride to play for, Argentina and Italy played a tense match, full of spirit and action.

    Buenos Aires, June 10th 1978, the Estadio Municipal, filled with 77,000 spectators. A wonderful atmosphere, there was tickertape all over the place and the noise was overwhelming. The crowd transmitted their enthusiasm to the Argentine players, and the Italians had one thing in mind: we are not going to lose this one! They carried little Argentine flags with them before the game, but if it was their purpose to silence the stadium, they failed. Both teams were at full strength. 'El Flaco' Menotti and Enzo Bearzot never thought about leaving out their best players, they both wanted a result. The only one missing was Leopoldo Luque, who saw his younger brother killed in a roadaccident that same day. The minute silence in tribute of the young man was impressing, but after that this game was never quiet again.

    Argentina immediately took the initiative, and Italy had to defend. And that is what Italians usually do very well, and so it was this time. They formed a blue-white wall in front of Dino Zoff, and in the beginning Argentina couldn't find a way through. On the contrary, the first real chance of the game was for Italy, when Bettega headed a bouncing ball towards goal, to see Fillol tipping it over the bar brilliantly. But after that, it was all Argentina in the first half. Bertoni squeezing through from the right, Gentile cleared his center. Kempes finding Zoff on his way after a well-taken free-kick, and from the following corner Zoff grabbed Passarella's header just before the line. And, all in a spell of five minutes, Kempes shot just wide after turning away from two defenders. Each and everyone waited for an Argentine goal, but it didn't come. At half-time, this was still a stalemate.

    Argentina went wrong in trying to get through the centre of this Italian defence all of the time, they hardly ever used the flanks. There was no space at all. Gentile marked Kempes very closely, Cuccureddu - who had come in for the injured Bellugi - had no trouble at all with Ortiz, and young Cabrini played a game in which the boy became a man, being the better of Bertoni. Scirea picked up every ball that went through this defence, and in front of the back four Romeo Benetti, the best player on the field, intercepted numerous passes. The blond battler was virtually everywhere, assisted Antognoni who couldn't hold in-form Ardiles, and was the big boss. He controlled the pace of the game. Quick if possible, slow when needed.

    After half-time, the Argentine fans sang and shouted even louder, but it became clear that scoring against these magnificent defenders would be very hard. Kempes tried his luck from outside the penalty-box, but Zoff was never severely tested. Then, all of a sudden midway through the second half, the big bomb! Rossi and Bettega playing a neat one-two, right through the heart of the Argentine defence, and Bettega beat Fillol with a low shot: 1-0 to Italy, who had been on their opponent's half only a few times. Argentina had to score twice to finish first in the group and to gain the right of staying in the capital for the second round, but they never came close to do so. Gallego didn't get the penalty-kick he wanted from the outstanding Israelian referee Abraham Klein, and all of Daniel Valencia's shots went wide. Italy held on for a hard fought win.

    Why this story? Not because it was such a brilliant match, by no means. At least not from a technical or tactical point of view. Apart from a period of 15 minutes in the first half, there were very few chances, and Argentina should have chosen another style of attacking. Big guns like Passarella, Kempes, Antognoni and Rossi were not at their best. No, what struck me was the will to win this match and to do everything for it, with nothing at stake. We don't see that anymore. Currently players just do what is needed most. If the score is 1-0, why should we score 2-0? It only costs effort, and after four days we have to play another game. Why try to win a game, when a draw is enough? This way, most games nowadays develop into lack-lustre performances. I hate that attitude. And I'm not the only one, in the Champions League the stadiums mostly stay frightning empty. You should do whatever you can to get the best result, time after time. Play the best you can, with the best players.

    I hate the rotating-system many teams are using these days. France, a team I like a lot, mostly play their second choice once they have to play a game already having qualified for the next round. Winning or losing is of no importance, just staying healthy and not conceding yellow cards. I can understand it, but I don't like it. Pires is a great player, but if Zidane is available I want to see Zidane in his place. Candela can play a decent leftback, but Lizarazu is better so he should play. Germany are masters in finding the "best" result to ensure them the opponent they like best. When a win is needed, they mostly achieve that win. But if a draw or a defeat suits them better, no problem. Compared to that, Argentina and Italy knew that they had to play at least three more ultra-important matches against great opposition, couldn't bear yellow cards not to speak about injuries. Still, they gave it all. Maybe Italy should have been smarter, as they ran out of steam in the second phase. Still, both teams gave the world a game to remember. Can't we transfer a little of that attitude to soccer 2001? Just a little bit mentality of Tardelli, Benetti, Passarella, Ardiles added to the players of today? I think the soccerworld would benefit from it!



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