Holland against West Germany in Cordoba, Brazil against Argentina in Rosario. These are today's two salient games in the final pools of the 1978 World Cup. The first game well may decide Pool One, the second is the game which surely will decide pool two.
In the other Pool One match, Italy should not have too much trouble with Austria in Buenos Aires, while Poland and Peru, who play in Mendoza, seem the orphans of Pool Two.
The Rosario Central Stadium will boil with passion and partisanship when the Argentinians play the Brazilians there. The two long have been fierce rivals. Until the 1950s, Argentina ruled the roost in South American football, even if little Uruguay had the impertinence to win the World Cup twice in 1930 and 1950. Then Brazil took over and dominated not only South American but World Football, producing in Pele one of the greatest players of all time.
The Argentinians took it badly, and there were some brutal games between the two, not least in 1964, at Sao Paolo in an international tournament. Pele was so incensed by the brutal play of the Argentinian Mesiano that he butted him in the face, breaking his nose. Mesiano went to the hospital, but Pele was so upset that he did nothing for the rest of a game which Argentina won, 3-0.
Argentina could win today, too. Frankly, they deserve to. The Argentinian team, though it has deficiencies, at least goes boldly forward all the time, trying to play soccer. The Brazilians do not deserve to be in the final pools at all, even if they improved somewhat against Peru.
However, Manoel Rezende (Nelinho), the talented right-back who may replace Antonio Dias (Toninho) against Argentina, has admitted that though the team looked better when it beat the Peruvians, the advance was marginal. "In Mar del Plata we blamed the field," he said. "Here in Mendoza (where that game was played) the field is good, but we were not much better."
He also had something to say about the impact made by the crowd at Rosario, which has the intimacy, not to say the claustrophobia, of a true soccer stadium. The rebuilt River Plate Stadium is one of the new variety, in which the stands and terraces are remote from the field. In Argentina, a stadium such as Rosario, or the Boca Juniors Stadium in Buenos Aires where all Argentina's games were played last year, is a referee's nightmare.
For today's game, it looks almost certain that Argentina will recall Leopoldo Luque, to resume his dashing partnership with Mario Kempes. They would be a great test to a Brazilian defense which is far from watertight.
Brazil will have most of the crowd against it, and cannot expect much help from the referee, Hungary's burly Karoly Palotai, a referee with a good reputation. All too often we have had him officiating important matches in Britain whistling the fouls well enough, but hardly ever taking a strong grip on the game, hardly ever showing the yellow card to players who deserve it. If this game develops into a kicking game, it will not be remotely the first time that a Brazil vs. Argentina clash has gone that way.
Which brings me to Romeo Bennetti, the "litte hard man" of the Italian team, as the Scots coach, Ally MacLeod, calls him. Benetti had a yellow card in the game against Argentina for a recklessly high kick which laid out Americo Gallego. One more caution, and Benetti is suspended.
Will it affect his robust play?
Out at the Hindu Club, Italy's striker Roberto Bettega - who had a hard knock yesterday in training - said he thought it would not. "You couldn't," he said, "order a player like Benetti to go out and be careful. You had to let him play his natural game."
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that Giancarlo Antognoni, once rated as one of the top members of the Italian team, has been replaced because of poor play. His spot will be taken by Renato Zaccarelli.
Another interesting sidelight was expressed by Denis Law, the former Scottish International forward who played side by side with Enzo Bearzot for Torino. Benetti and the defender Claudio Gentile, he said, were the only two "kickers" in the Italian team. The rest all wanted to play football. The Italians are now much more disposed to play football than they used to be. If it were to come to an Italy vs. Brazil final, such as we saw in Mexico City in 1970, it is inconceivable that the Italians would play such a craven, cautious game as they did then. But the prospect of Brazil reaching the final here after the appalling soccer it played in Mar del Plata is depressing.
Heinz Flohe, the left-sided playmaker, won't be able to play for West Germany again for the rest of the tournament. Presumably this means the return of young Hansi Mueller, which isn't such a bad thing.
The Dutch have no hope of getting Johan Neeskens fit for the West German game, but though Coach Ernst Happel promises an unchanged team, there is talk of recalling Wim Suurbier.
This highly experienced right-back, now 33 years old, would clearly be an asset, and as a member of the Dutch team which lost the 1974 World Cup to West Germany, he would plainly be delighted to play,
Will Holland play for a draw, after opening out against Austria? Will West Germany muster the courage to attack after their dismal showing against Italy?