When the smokes has cleared from today's four games, it will be apparent who will contest the World Cup final Sunday. At present the favorites seems to be Argentina and the Netherlands.
If the Argentinians beat Peru today, as they certainly should, they should edge ahead of the Brazilians, who have a more difficult task against Poland. True, the teams are level on points, with Brazil enjoying a one-goal better goal difference, but Argentina will have an extra advantage in that its game kicks off at 7:15 p.m., after the Brazilians start in Mendoza at 4:45.
In other matches today, Italy plays the Netherlands and West Germany opposes Austria.
Italy is embarrassed by the fact that Holland's goal difference is so much better, thanks to the Dutch 5-1 win against Austria. A draw will take the Dutch to the final. This in turn means that the Italians can scarely afford to play their normal counterpunching game. They will have to go for goals which, as we saw against Austria, is a strategy somewhat foreign to them.
Roberto Bettega has recovered from the severe stomachache which made him such a peripheral figure against Austria, and eventually forced him to go off. He was, in fact, ill rather than tired.
But Romeo Benetti, the blond hatchetman of Midfield, was unquestionably tired, and it is hard to see how the Italians can rejuvenate a 32-year-old in so few days. At the same time, he has an almost talismanic importance to him, and they just won't leave him out.
Francisco Graziani, the big Torino striker who brought such life to the attack when he came on late in the Austria game, thus will not be starting this time, either, but he may well come off the bench if things don't work out well. His club colleague, Claudio Sala, is expected meanwhile to be standing, or sitting, by for Franco Causio, another weary figure on the right wing Sunday.
For the Dutch, the news is buoyantly good.
With the constructive, creative views of the assistant coach Jan Zwartkruis prevailing now over the dreary negativity of the chief coach, Austria's Ernst Happel, Holland has at last come out to play. Moreover, several of their illustrious invalids should be fit to join them. Johan Neeskens, whom Italy doesn't like to play against, should be adding his power to the midfield.
Wim Rijsbergen, that uncompromising blond stopper, may also be ready to return, and there are similar hopes for the 33-year-old defender, Wim Suurbier. All these played against West Germany in the 1974 World Cup final. So did Rob Rensenbrink, who almost always seem to do well against Italians defenses, the man-to-man marking.
One of the interesting features of the Italian team is the lively form in midfield of the gifted, versatile Marco Tardelli. When the Italians arrived, we were told he was exhausted. Though he played well in the opening games, there were times when he looked very tired. Yet against Austria, he was the man who was thundering through, looking for goals and twice nearly getting them, right to the end of the 90 minutes.
One thing the Italians cannot expect is the indulgent refereeing they got against Austria from Belgium's feeble Francis Rion. After the game the Austrian coach, Helmut Senekowitsch, insisted his team should have had two penalties. I think it might well have one, when Claudio Gentile brought down an Austria opponent in the box, and Rion, inexplicably, merely awarded a corner.
The Argentinian team won't, for the first time in these championship, have Osvaldo Ardiles in midfield. The busy little tango king, an old-fashioned figure electrically modern in his play, injured, and there is no one as dynamic to step in. Not that a tiring Peru will be an especially strong opponent, and I imagine that the game will be something of an ordeal for the Argentinian-born, Peruvian-naturalized keeper, Ramon Quiroga, playing in his native city. CAPTION: Picture 1, Former President Gerald R. Ford drives in sixth annual Police Athletic League golf tournament in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. The tournament was expected to raise $100,000 for sports programs for disadvantaged youth. UPI; Picture 2, John Rowlands, on ground and Lee Atack (15) Stompers fight Alan Willey of Kichs for ball. AP