After Argentina's undistinguished tie with Brazil in Rosario Sunday, you would have thought the ecstatic celebrants might have stayed gloomily at home. But no. The streets of Buenos Aires and other Argentinian cities - were filled again with jubilant hordes. You would have thought the World Cup had been won.
In Buenos Aires, I saw a car festooned with a halo of lights in blue and white, the Argentinian colors. A bus had been taken over by exultant, chanting youths. A grave young man limply waved the national flag through the window of a car. A thousand horns honked the rhythm of Ar-Gen-Tina.
There is something to be said for all this euphora. Unlike the roman crowds, who ran riot the other day in the city center, smashing windows and one another; unlike the Brazilians, among whom there have been deaths, the Buenos Aires fans are very decent and peaceful.
The undeclared war between Coach Enzo Bearzot's Italian soccer squad and the Italian press continues. On Thursday, when I visited the Hindu Club, where the team stays, the Italian journalists went too far. Several of them protested in loud, high voices when the players weren't down to talk to them by the prescribed hour.
When the players did get down, the shy and boyish Paolo Rossi was backed up against the wall by a ruthless posse of pressmen, assailing him with barbed questions which he tried shyly to deflect.
The following day, more than 40 Italian journalists made the long drive out to the Hindu Club to be told by Gigi Peronace, the press attache, that nobody would see them - as the door man in "The Wizard of Oz" might have said, "Not Bearzot, not nobody." Their cries of protest might have wrung tears from a stone. At last the Italian Soccer Federation president, Franco Carraro, appeared, to be given the pinned-to-the-wall treatment. All in vain. Carraro said he was only a president: He couldn't bring down the players. Nor did he.
The journalists withdrew, some of them shouting peevishly, "You'll lose against Austria, and we'll write about it." You might call it Bearzot's revenge. Most of them have been gunning for him ever since he took the job.
Referring in this World Cup, with the odd exception such as Israel's Abraham Klein, continues to be abominable. One accepts that the general level of professional refereeing is very low throughout the world now, but blame must also be attached to the FIFA referees committee.
What the World Cup referees committee has told the officials is a mystery. They can scarely be ordered, as they should, to flourish the yellow card after any serious, deliberate foul. In the Italy-Austria match, I eventually lost count of the number of cynical, characteristic fouls committee by a struggling Italian defense against the Austrians, yet Belgium's Francis Rion gave not a single yellow card.
Up at Rosario, where Argentina and Brazil kicked lumps out of each other, Karoly Palotai, notorious for his leniency, didn't take a single name until the 44th minute, though the first, outrageous foul was committed by Argentina's Leopoldo Luque after 10 seconds.
Will there be brothers, again, in a World Cup final? The two tall Dutch twons, Willy and Rene van de Kerkhof, will be there if Holland gets a good result against Italy tomorrow. Rene scored the vital tying goal for Holland against West Germany on Sunday. Willy has been showing splendid pace and drive in midfield. Both play for PSV or Eindhoven, the club backed by the huge Phillips radio and television people. Both began their professional career with Twente Enschede, near the German border.
Rene came on as substitute in the 1974 World Cup final in Munich against West Germany. The last time brothers played in a World Cup final was in 1966, for England against West Germany, when the stopper Jackie Charlton and his younger brother Bobby, star midfield player and scorer, finished on the winning side. A good omen for Holland and the van de Kerkhofs, who would certainly be the first twins to win World Cup medals.
This World Cup could be one of the lowest scoring competitions in history, with an average of just over two goals per game.
A total of 77 goals has been scored so far, an average of 2.4 per game. That is nearly half of the all-time record established in Switzerland in 1954 at 5.3.
If the present rate continues, it will squeeze under the 1974 World Cup, which had an average of 2.5 goals per game.
Now, as the fight for the finals intensifies, teams are concentrating even more on defense. In the five series of four games played so far, the goal-making machines have been sputtering to a trickle.
From 22 goals in the first group of games, the total has slipped to 17 in the second, and gradually dwindled to six in Sunday's games.
So far there have been six games with scoreless ties, and seven games where only one goal was scored.