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Last Updated: Monday, 14 July, 2003, 08:53 GMT 09:53 UK
Argentina's football revolution
By Tim Vickery

Cesar Menotti was coach of Argentina in 1978
Menotti led Argentina to their first World Cup success
Last week an exhibition game was held in Buenos Aires to celebrate 25 years since Argentina won the 1978 World Cup.

It is a tournament history has not judged kindly. Not only did Argentina have home advantage, they also had a brutal, ruthless military dictatorship that was determined to stage a victory.

All round the stadium in last week's game there were banners protesting at what the fascist government had done.

Those involved in the 1978 campaign have often found themselves in a tight spot.

The players have spent the last 25 years fighting off accusations that Peru were bribed in a vital game.

Team coach Cesar Menotti, seen as a left-wing Latin American intellectual has, for a quarter of a century, been defending himself against the charge that his side's win gave the dictatorship a boost.

It is a huge burden of responsibility to place on a group of sportsmen. But in purely footballing terms, there is no case to answer.

Hindsight makes clear the importance of 1978 to Argentine football.

Removing the political controversy, there is an obvious comparison between 1966 and 1978.

England's win on home ground has never been taken very seriously in some quarters, especially in South America.

The common belief on this side of the Atlantic is that the referees did everything to help England bar kick the ball into the opponents' net.

The fans heralded the team's success in 1978
The fans heralded the team's success in 1978
Yet in tactical terms, England's triumph was of great importance.

Alf Ramsey's side were the first to win the World Cup playing the 4-4-2 system, to this day the framework for most of the world's leading teams.

In the same way, the Argentine national team can be divided in two eras - pre and post 1978.

Following victory, Argentina won in 1986, were runners-up in 1990 and even when things have not gone well - like in 2002 - they have been among the most respected and feared teams.

That 1978 win marks the moment when Argentina stopped being just a South American force and became a world power.

Menotti made them a truly Argentine side. Before they had been little more than a team representing Buenos Aires.

Menotti, from the city of Rosario, had bitter memories from his own playing days of the difficulties of breaking into the national side from outside the capital.

He made a point of paying more attention to players from the provinces.

And Menotti overcame Argentina's phobia of the physical strength of the Europeans.

Traditional South American ball skills would work, he argued, providing the players were able to up the tempo.

He was proved right, and the victory of his side gave Argentine football the confidence to grow.

It was a fact acknowledged by Gabriel Batistuta, who made a point of flying in especially to take part in last week's game.

The men of '78 "made the Argentina team what it is today," he said - with the same accuracy he shows in front of goal.





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