It was a mediocre World Cup, won by what was essentially a mediocre team with one stupendous player: Mario Kempes.
To this extent, there was perhaps some consolation to be gained. Even in the midst of the bad temper, the abominably bad refereeing and the frequent bad football of this competition, the brilliance of Kempes has shown like a meteor. It is inconceivable that such an ordinary team as Argentina could ever have won without him.
He even gave the lie to those of us who believed, after the game lost to Italy, that he was nothing much without the support of Leopoldo Luque. Against Holland in Sunday's final, Luque hardly existed but for one late run in the second half to extra time, when he almost scored - yet it made no difference.
Kempes' two goals in the 3-1 triumph were a compound of marvelous power, speed and skill, showing that not all the hard, harsh tackling in the world can subdue a player of such transcendent talent. Just as well that Argentina's coach, Cesar Luis Menotti, decided to bring him, and him alone, back from Europe.
The Dutch were unlucky, particularly in respect of the lamentable refereeing, but I still think they should have brought big, strongly surly, masterful Wim van Hanagem with them, to hit his superb left-footed passes. Missing Johan Cruyff, who is irreplaceable, they so badly needed someone to give their greatly efficient team the flair and surprise it lacks. But why did they not mark Kempes more rigidly?
It was a World Cup of distinguished absentees and strange failures - the absence of Franz Beckenbauer, Cruyff and Van Hanagem, a World Cup in which such famous figures as Roberto Rivelino of Brazil and Rainer Bonhof of West Germany were strangely marginal.
It was a World Cup in which the Brizilians, under Coach Claudio Coutinho, wantonly turned their backs on their great tradition, yet finished in third place and didn't lose a game; a World Cup in which the Italians, scornfully dismissed by their own journalists before they came, played some of the finest soccer in the competition, yet eventually ran out of energy.
One of the most disappointed men was unquestionably the veteran West German coach, Hulmut Schoen, who went out not with a bang but with a whimper, after a splendid career in which he won the World Cup in 1974, finished in second and third place once each. After his team had lost flabbily to the Austrians at Cordoba, Schoen sadly remarked, "I do not want to mentioned any names, but I was utterly disappointed with our defense, which made things easier for our opponents to score goals.
The implication was obvious. Certain players had given less than their best and rumors buzzed that certain West German players were more interested in getting the plane home than in staying to contest the third place match.
Even Austrian Coach Helmut Senekowitsch declared sympathetically after the game, won 3-2 by his team, that it was a wretched way for a coach like Schoen to go. "I deplore the fact that Schoen will be retiring from his professional career after seeing his team defeated in this manner", he said.
Coutinho is nearly 30 years younger, but he too will remember the World Cup with some bitterness. His country took a third place that was little consolation for the fact that, with a more positive attitude, it might have won the final. Arthur Ratunes (Coimbra), the clever attacking midfield player, did not take part in the third-place game, in which Brazil suddenly came to vigorous life in the second half to beat an Italian team leading them through a headed goal by Franco Causio.
I understand that Coimbra and Coutinho had angry words when the former came off the field injured in the early minutes of the game against Poland. It was evident. Coutinho thought he could have gone on, but he and Coimbra have been at logger heads for some time. Things probably went wrong when Brazil was in training camp for months outside Rio, and Coimbra was refused permission to visit his wife and 5-month-old son. Coutinho's explanatin was the if Coimbra had been given permission, so would all the other players, but there seems to have been a failure of good psychological sense here.
If Spain, the host country for 1982, agrees, we shall have 24 countries instead of 16 in the World Cup finals, which I think will be a ridiculous mistake. Where these countries will come from is another matter. There is bound to be bitter wrangling between the Afro-Asians and the Europeans, who point out logically enough that some two thirds of the world's playing strength and finance comes from Europe. Tunisia was an excellent advertisement for the African soccer group, but Iran was, a dull visitor from Asia, and Mexico a feeble entrant from the Concacaf group in which the United States traditionally plays.
At least it looks are if we shall go back to a knock-out system after the first eliminating groups, in 1982, and high time. The other thing that must be done is to impose stringent standards on the World Cup referees. Play may have been pretty undistinguished in the 1978 tournament, but decent refereeing would unquestionably have made it better.