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The World Cup fix

The 1978 World Cup has claims to be one of the most controversial ever.  A Welsh referee disallowed a Brazil gaol because he judged it was full-time as the ball was about to cross the line, and  a Scottish player was sent home for taking a banned stimulant.

And, meanwhile, off the pitch, terrible things were happening away from the cameras of the world.

The hosts, Argentina, were under a military dictatorship, and the regie viewed the tournament as a major PR opportunity and the chance to draw attention away form the so-called “Dirty War” fought against communist, left-wig guerrillas, and their supporters.

Thousands of people were killed or simply disappeared, and with allegations of human rights violations, teams like the Netherlands threatened to boycott the competition altogether.

And, on the eve of the tournament itself. The head of the organising committee, General Omar Actis, was assassinated, allegedly because he was about to go public with his concerns about the cost of the tournament.

One of the biggest controversies though was reserved for what happened on the pitch, owed was, in part, due to the format of the competition that year. Comprising 16 teams split into four groups of four.

But rather than the top two teams in each group proceeding to a knock-out stage, instead they qualified for a further two groups, the winners of each would play each other in the final.

The hosts Argentina found themselves in Group B with traditional foe Brazil, Poland and Peru.

The two South American giants then played out a tense goalless draw in Buenos Aires, meaning that the two sides were level on points going into the final game, with Brazil having a  superior goal difference.

In those days, key matches were not played at the same time, so Brazil went first, beating Poland 3 -1.  That meant Argentina needed to beat Peru by four clear goals to reach the final.

Brazil beat Peru 3 – 0 in their first game, whilst Argentina saw off the challenge of Poland 2 – 0.

In the end they put six past their continental neighbours, but accusations immediately began to swirl around the match. Some claimed that the Argentine military government had interfered by intimidating the Peruvian team.  Others pointed to the fact that the Peruvian goalkeeper had actually been born in Argentina.

The rumours did not stop there. It was alleged that, in order to throw the match, the Peruvian government would receive  a large grain shipment from Argentina, and that a Peruvian bank account, with millions of dollars in it, would be unfrozen by the Argentine Central Bank. There were also claims that a Colombian drug lord had fixed the match for betting purposes, and also that the outcome had been arranged in return for a number of Peruvian dissidents in Argentina being sent back.

This was certainly the stance maintained by former Peruvian senator Genaro Ledesma years later, who claimed that the result of the match was a foregone conclusion agreed between the dictatorships of the two countries.

None of these claims have ever been fully substantiated, but the result has always been regarded with deep suspicion by football authorities.

Argentina went on to beat the Netherlands 3 -1 in the final a result, which, temporarily, gave the local government popularity and a sense of legitimacy.

That was undermined when #, four years later, Argentina embarked on an ill-judged war against Britain over the Falkland Islands (Las Malvinas) and was heavily defeated.

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