That soccer, even World Cup soccer, can still be played with a modicum of adventure was shown at Mar del Plata yesterday when Italy beat France, 2-1. The game helped dilute the sour taste left by the abominable scoreless opener between West Germany and Poland Thursday.
In the second game of the day, Tunisia, a 1000-to-1 shot to win the tournament, dropped Mexico, 3-1 to take over first place in Group Two. Italy's stay atop Group One depended on the outcome of last night's game between Argentina and Hungary.
By coming back to win after conceding a goal barely a minute after the kickoff, they are a good deal fitter than anybody gave them credit for being, but that their morale is substantially higher, too. For this, Enzo Bearzot, their shrewd coach, gave credit to Roberto Bettega, that elegant forward who always looks as if he should be understudying Marcello Mastroianni in a movie rather than taking knocks and heading goals on a soccer field.
Another heartening aspect of the game for the Italians was that Paolo Rossi should do so well at center-forward, even with a $6 million price tag hovering over him. The way he scored the first goal off a rebound was indeed somewhat lucky, but he remains a delightfully incisive striker.
The French now appear to have little chance of survival. It seems to me that they are placing too much reliance on the brilliant goal-scoring midfielder, Michel Platini, given the absence of sturdy Dominique Bathenay from right half, and dazzling Dominque Rocheteau from the right wing. Bernard Lacombe headed a devastating first goal, but thereafter not he, Didier Six or Christian Dalger had the ability to penetrate the Italian defense.
It seems highly likely that the Italians will qualify, and one can only feel happy for Bearzot, who has had to put up with cruel criticism in recent weeks, even though he got the team through at the expense of England.
Tomorrow, there are fasincating games in prospect at Cordoba, between Scotland and Peru, and at Mar del Plata, between Brazil and Sweden. The Scots have finally managed to convince themselves that the Peruvians will be no pushover, even though such Peruvian stars of the 1970 World Cup as Teofilo Cubillas, scorer of many fine goals, and Hector Chumpitaz, at centerback, are now plump and substantially slower. Cubillas, indeed, has just dropped back to midfield.
I wish I could be a little more confident in Scotland, but the team is traditionally capable of failing against lesser teams, however well it does against the strong ones. It has immensely more pace than the peruvians and is more than willing to come to play. Scotland has in Willie Johnston perhaps the most dazzling left winger in the whole tournament. It also has a cool goal scorer in Kenny Dalglish and a superabundance of midfield men.
Yet one wishes the Scots had their finest player, right-back Danny McGrain, who dropped out because of a stubborn foot injury, and a cooler, more experienced, more thorough manager than the overexuberant Ally MacLeod, who has been losing admirers by the score lately.
Denis Law, one of the greatest Scottish International forwards since the war, now over here as a radio commentator, played against the Peruvians a few years ago and has been doing his best, in his own words, to convince his fellow Scots, "that this is the real Cup final." He is convinced that victory here would leave the Scots with little difficulty in beating Iran, Wednesday.
Brazil is still ranked among the favorities, although tradition may have more to do with it than any present prowess. There are many who feel that Roberto Rivelino, a hero in 1970 and a force still in 1974, is a tired man now, while there is no doubt that there is a displeasingly harsh aura about the new Brazil, as it showed on tour in Europe last April. Edino Edinho, the left back, kicks his opponents mercilessly, and one trusts referees will be keeping an eye on him.
The Swedes are coached by George Ericson, one of two coaches to survive from the 1974 World Cup, West Germany's Helmut Schoen being the other. The Swedes will be no easy victim, with their powerful midfield, including players such as the two Larsons, and they are both fresher and fitter than most European teams. Their season has only just begun.
After today, we shall have a much clearer idea of the pattern this World Cup will take. At least it seems more positive and progressive than we were led to believe as the West Germans and the Poles labored at River Plate Stadium. And at least it is good to see the Italians trying - and often succeeding - in expressing themselves rather than massing dourly in defense.Let's see if Brazil's Jose Reinaldo can now match Rossi.
(Today's games will be shown in the Washington area at DAR Constitution Hall. Spain vs. Austria will begin at 12:45 p.m. and Peru vs. Scotland at 3:45 p.m. General admission is $10)