Dutch, Argentine duel stokes memories of 1978 final
Sao Paulo: Argentina and the Nethrlandes prepare to meet again on South American soil in Wednesday`s second World Cup semi-final, 36 years on from their encounter in the final of the controversial 1978 tournament in Buenos Aires.
A World Cup played out uneasily in a country under the grip of a brutal military dictatorship culminated in the hosts beating the Dutch 3-1 after extra time in the hostile environment of the Monumental Stadium, with Mario Kempes scoring twice.
For the Dutch, it was a second consecutive final defeat, after their 2-1 loss to West Germany in 1974, but no European side has come so close to winning the World Cup in South America.
The Dutch squad was missing Johan Cruyff but otherwise it was much the same as that of four years earlier, with seven players starting both finals, including captain Ruud Krol and Rob Rensenbrink.
Kempes put Argentina ahead, but substitute Dick Nanninga equalised and Rensenbrink then hit the post in the dying seconds for the Dutch.
It was an agonising miss, and Argentina took full advantage to secure their first World Cup in extra time as tournament top scorer Kempes netted again before Daniel Bertoni added another.
The result left a bitter taste in the visitors` mouth, as they claimed they were unsettled when the Argentines stalled the start of the match by complaining about a plaster cast on Rene van de Kerkhof`s wrist.
"I am sure they prepared everything beforehand. They made us wait and the referee did nothing," said Krol later in David Winner`s book Brilliant Orange.
Krol also said the Argentines had pressured FIFA into selecting Italy`s Sergio Gonella to referee the match. And that was not the only claim made that the hosts, perhaps with the influence of dictator Jorge Videla`s military government, had manipulated their way to final victory.
Indeed, in their final game of the second group stage, Argentina knew they needed to beat Peru by four clear goals to pip Brazil to a place in the final. In the end, they put six unanswered goals past Peru`s Argentine-born goalkeeper Ramon Quiroga.
Come the final itself, the intimidating atmosphere left its mark on the Dutch, with Rensenbrink left to wonder how they might have made it out of the stadium had his last-minute shot gone in.
"If it had gone in, we would have won. We would have been World Champions in Argentina. It's a pity," he said in Brilliant Orange.
"Though they were pretty crazy, those Argentinians. If we'd won, going back to the hotel would have been a dangerous trip."
It took Cruyff 30 years to dispel suggestions that he had refused to travel to Argentina because of his opposition to the dictatorship when in 2008 he told Catalunya Radio that he wanted to stay with his family after they were subjected to a kidnap attempt in Barcelona.
But the spectre of Videla's government hung over the competition, and the Dutch even led calls for a boycott before it started.
Argentina were awarded the right to host the finals in 1966, before Videla came to power in a coup d'etat.
The brutal 'Dirty War' followed, in which his regime committed many horrific crimes, including the forced disappearance of thousands of opponents.
Some were held and tortured at the notorious Naval Mechanics School, from where the cheers from the nearby Monumental Stadium could be heard on June 25, 1978.
"With what I know now, I can't say I'm proud of my victory.
But I didn't realise. Most of us didn't. We just played football," striker Leopoldo Luque said years later, after the dictatorship's crimes and alleged interference in the competition came to light.