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Argentina 1978

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Let's look back at the eleventh World Cup, held in Argentina in 1978 and won by Argentina - their first win, making them the sixth nation to win.

For the first time more than 100 nations chose to enter. FIFA though, stuck with 16 teams at the final, the same number as the first World Cup when qualifiers were yet to be thought of.

This made the qualifiers more important than ever, and while it is sad, it is perhaps not surprising that eight people died at two highly-charged qualifiers. As a direct result the number of qualifiers was increased to 24 in 1982. But to some extent this had the wrong effect as it increased the expectations of the lesser nations.

Scotland looked forward to a big performance at WC 1978. They'd qualified and England hadn't and they believed they had a good squad. Further, with a supposedly weak first round group, they seemed almost certain to proceed into the second round. Ladbrokes actually had Scotland at 8-1 to win the whole thing.

Being Scotland, they were eliminated in the first round and managed to break the hearts of their fans. They lost to Peru and drew with Iran meaning they had to beat Holland by three goals to proceed. No-one gave them a chance. But with the pressure off they turned a 0-1 deficit into a 3-1 lead capped by an amazing goal to Archie Gemmill in the 68th minute. The fans went mad. Another strike and they were through. Sadly for them Holland scored another and it was all over.

The whole roller-coaster saga passed into folklore. Thousands of words were written. Two plays opened at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival featuring the tournament. Archie Gemmill's great (but meaningless) goal featured in the movie Trainspotting and formed the centrepiece for a ballet called The Nutmeg Suite. Only in Scotland.

Argentina was run by a military junta in 1978. The dictatorship came to power in a coup in 1976. They invested heavily in the World Cup as a means of legitimacy and popularity among their own people. Argentina's success is, at the very least, tainted by accusations of bribery and match-fixing by the junta.

While several of Argentina's games brought complaints of favouritism from the referees, no game epitomises the corruption more than Argentina's final group game in the second round. FIFA still managed to play its part though with some typical mis-management.

The tournament structure was the usual four groups in round one. The top two from each group went into the second round, also a group stage. The winners of each of the second round groups went into the final, the runners-up played off for 3rd/4th.

FIFA gave the final two games in Argentina's group different kick-off times. So by the time Argentina came to play the last game, they knew they had to beat Peru by four goals to pip Brazil for the top spot. So far, Argentina had scored six goals in five games. It didn't seem likely.

Extraordinarily the leader of Argentina's junta visited the Peruvian dressing-room before the game. Argentina went on to win 6-0 to progress to the final. Shortly after the World Cup Argentina shipped 35,000 tonnes of free grain to Peru as a humanitarian gesture. Arms are believed to have followed. The Argentine bank unfroze $50m in credits for Peru's own junta to use. Many Peruvian generals retired to particularly impressive homes. I believe the legal term for all of this is circumstantial evidence.