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Could the Dutch be declared winners of the 1978 World Cup?

What the Dutch national football team has never achieved on the field of play could now succeed through a criminal procedure: winning the World Cup. But first football's world governing body FIFA must decide that opponents Argentina had no right to a place in the finals in 1978. And consequently, no right to win the World Cup, which they did at the expense of the Dutch.

Argentina, the host nation, reached the 1978 final following a 6-0 victory over Peru. Argentina at the time was under a dictatorship, and won the final against the Netherlands 3-1 after extra time. It was the second loss of a World Cup final in succession for the Dutch. And they were so close to victory when a shot from Rob Rensenbrink hit the post a few minutes before the end of normal time. The score was 1-1 at the time.

Conspiracy theory
In 1978, only 16 countries participated in the finals (there are now 32) and a pool system was used for a place in the final. Argentina had to win the last group match against Peru by at least four clear goals to go through and knock out rivals and favourites Brazil.

Apart from the result, the time of the match was also significant: Argentina took to the field later in the day than Brazil and thus already knew exactly how many goals had to be scored. So all the ingredients are in place for a conspiracy theory, but how can you prove it?

A big step in that direction was recently taken by former Peruvian Senator Genaro Ledesma. He stated under oath that the 6-0 victory of Argentina over Peru was the result of a political bargain between the dictators of the two countries. The 80-year-old Ledesma told his story during the trial of former Peruvian army chief Francisco Morales Bermúdez in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires.

Dissidents
Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant writes: "According to Ledesma, at the time Bermúdez asked his fellow dictator Jorge Videla if Argentina would capture Ledesma and twelve other dissidents. This would happen under the infamous Plan Condor, in which Latin American dictators helped each other's dissidents to 'disappear' in the 1970s. In exchange, Peru would lose the match against Argentina by a large score, which would mean Argentina reaching the final.

South American media are reporting that FIFA is considering an investigation into the claim, the result of which could cost Argentina the World Cup in favour of the Dutch.

Distance
Members of the 1978 Argentine national squad distanced themselves this week from the way the World Cup was decided. Former striker Leopoldo Luque is quoted in AD as saying "With what I know now, I can't say I'm proud of our victory. But most of us didn't realize at the time what was going on. We just played football."

Justice?
It's uncertain whether there actually will be a FIFA investigation. The world football union hasn't made a decision yet. There's also the question of whether the Dutch would be happy to be declared winners in this way. Justice is a great thing, but it's much better to win on the field of play rather than on paper.

(as/tt)

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This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011 Dutch government’s decided to cut funding and shift RNW in 2013 from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW’s current activities can be found at http://www.rnw.org/about-rnw