Michel Platini - France

Playing in their first World Cup since 1966, France drew the short straw of being in the same group as Argentina and Italy. A revival as a footballing power almost certainly means a new generation of players; in the case of France their hopes and expectations were all centred one player: Michel Platini. Born on 21 June 1955 in Joeuf, Platini made his debut at the age of twenty-one for the unfashionable club side Nancy-Lorraine, before transferring three years later to Saint Etienne and later on Juventus. His quality was recognised at once, as he was picked to play for France in the same year he made his club debut. A speciality of Platini’s was the free kick, as he showed in his very first match for France in a friendly against Czechoslovakia when he succeeded in scoring from one. Never lacking in confidence, Platini liked to direct operations from midfield; his flicks, delicate passes and back-heels often putting unbearable pressure on the opposing defence. Platini’s finest period was to come later, after he had joined Juventus, when he was voted European footballer of the Year no less than three times. The French team was, perhaps, a little bit too reliant on his skills, and thus France’s only significant success was the win of the European Championship in 1984.

Paolo Rossi – Italy

The Italy of 1978 still had much of the catenaccio attitude, even though their defence was weaker than it had been for years; yet as an attacking force it was much more potent that any of its predecessors. Twenty-two year old Paolo Rossi had made his professional debut six years earlier for Juventus, but his career was soon blighted when troubles with his legs forced him to undergo several cartilage operations. Juventus decided that the best thing to do was to loan him out to the less renowned clubs Como and Vicenza. At Vicenza he was converted to a striker, a decision that was vindicated when Rossi became the top scorer for that season in the Italian second division; moreover, Vicenza themselves won promotion. The following season Rossi scored twenty-goals in the top division, a wonderful return in that defence minded league. His reward was to be picked for Italy in 1977, and to be a member of the squad that travelled to Argentina in 1978. Rossi was an exceptionally fast, lightly built, player who was well nigh impossible to man mark and had an almost devilish ability to anticipate and score from optimistic through balls. There were some who thought that this unfancied side would have actually won the competition in 1978 if they had only abandoned some of the negativity that seemed ingrained.

Dino Zoff - Italy

Dino Zoff was thirty-six years of age at the time of the 1978 World Cup. A vastly experienced goalkeeper who always looked comfortable when grabbing the ball or kicking it away to safety. A team winning a corner against Italy with Zoff in goal could virtually forget about scoring, such was his knack for anticipating what was to come. Zoff’s early career was with Udinese, he later went to Mantova and then Napoli; however, he only started winning things at club level when he moved to Juventus in 1970. Zoff had made his debut for Italy no less than ten years previously, only losing his place in 1970 following a temporary loss of form at the time of his move to Juventus. Zoff went a record 1,142 minutes for Italy without conceding a goal from 1972 to 1974. Zoff displayed almost the same level of dedication as England’s Gordon Banks when it came to training and preparation; his one weakness was that he did not possess Banks’s shot-stopping power.

Marco Tardelli - Italy

Marco Tardelli began playing professional football for third division Pisa in 1972. Within two years, at the age of twenty, he was turning out for Juventus. Originally a fullback, Tardelli was moved into midfield where he struck up a formidable partnership with Romeo Benetti. Tardelli quickly adopted Benetti’s penchant for hard crunching tackles, which gave the Italian team a great deal of security and a platform for launching quite devastating attacks. Tardelli was much more creative than this brief picture would indicate, in many ways he was the fulcrum of this Italian team. Four years later he would be at the height of his powers and score one of the finest goals ever seen in the World Cup. The prominence of Juventus players, there were nine in the squad of twenty-two, gave the Italians a cohesion that others lacked.

Mario Kempes - Argentina

Mario Kempes, and he was rated so highly that Luis Menotti made him an exception to the rule that only home-based players were eligible to play for Argentina. Just a month short of his twenty-fourth birthday at the time of the World Cup, Kempes was the top scorer in the Argentine league in 1974, and the top scorer in the Spanish league in 1977. As tall as most central defenders, Kempes had an impressive heading ability which, unusually for someone of his height, was coupled with impressive ball control. Exceptionally fast on the ground, he was well nigh impossible to dispossess. Kempes running full tilt at a defence was the stuff of Argentine dreams, and a living hell for his opponents; hell because Kempes could easily exchange highly accurate one-twos with his striking partner, making it impossible to know what to do. Because of his height and speed, opposing teams had to be careful when attacking, just one slip and the ball would be booted upfield with Kempes in pursuit and likely to score.

Osvaldo Ardiles - Argentina

Soon to be wildly popular with Tottenham Hotspur fans, Osvaldo Ardiles was an immensely enthusiastic, workaholic midfielder for Argentina, who never let his comparatively small size shake him from his determination to thread through the most delicate of passes. With a superb sense of balance, Ardiles could twist and turn, and then set off at speed to apply the most terrifying of passes to those ahead of him. Impossible to faze, Ardiles could dribble through and ignore the most questionable of challenges. Ardiles made his debut in 1976 for Argentina against the Soviet Union, little known outside his homeland in 1978, the twenty-six year old was to make a most exciting impression both on and off the pitch. Keith Burkinshaw the manager of Tottenham Hotspur was in Buenos Aires for the World Cup and to sign players, for he had heard that Ardiles was available. In the event Burkinshaw signed not only Ardiles, but his colleague and friend Ricardo Villa. The presence of these two Argentine players transformed the prospects of Tottenham who won two trophies in 1981 and 1982 with them. It was unfortunate, and a personal tragedy for those most directly affected, that the Falklands war between Britain and Argentina broke out in 1982, the war persuaded Tottenham that it would be prudent to lend Ardiles to Paris St. Germain for one season. Although extremely popular with Spurs fans, Ardiles was subjected to some mindless barracking by opposing fans upon his return. Ardiles later moved to Blackburn Rovers and Queens Park Rangers, but his best years were with Argentina and Tottenham.

Zbigniew Boniek - Poland

Poland, narrowly deprived of a place in the 1974 final by West Germany also unearthed a new player. Zbigniew Boniek, also known as “Crazy Horse” for his frequent, and often totally unnecessary, battles with the footballing authorities. Born on 3 March 1956, twelve year old Zbigniew Boniek played for the youth team of the army club Zawisza in 1968. Later on he moved to RTS Widzew Lodz in north-western Poland. A hard worker and a confident player; there were doubts in his teenage years that Boniek would make the grade, for he was small and frail. By the time the 1978 World Cup began, Boniek had been an international for two years and was well used to playing foreign teams owing to the success of Widzew Lodz. On the pitch Boniek never gave less than 100% and was always on a look out for whatever scraps fell his way as a top class striker, the most dangerous facet of his game was his devastating shooting ability, he also had the priceless ability of making it next to impossible for opposing defences to divine his intentions. In 1982 he was able to cross the Iron Curtain and play for Juventus.

Zico - Brazil

The great white hope of Brazilian football in 1978 came from an impoverished background. Slight of stature, Artur Antunes Coimbra, nicknamed Zico, was born on 3 March 1953 in Rio de Janeiro. Taken on by Flamengo, for whom Zico played all his club games save for a brief spell with Udinese in Italy, the malnourished fifteen year old had to be given a special diet to acquire the necessary body strength. An out and out striker, Zico marked a partial return to the traditions that made Brazil favourites with the neutral. His phenomenal technique was such that he was the absolute master of the ball at his feet, and practically impossible to dispossess. Utterly fearless in the attack, Zico not only scored with his feet, but also by heading, which was somewhat surprising for someone so small. In his footballing career he managed to score a mind boggling 643 goals. He had been picked to play for Brazil in 1976 and carried the hopes of the nation in 1978. Unfortunately the weight of expectation was too much for Zico in 1978, and he never really showed his true class, he was not helped by some unfortunate refereeing.

© 2006 World Cup Years Ltd.