The fourth in the series offers a critical evaluation of the teams and players from the nineteen-seventies.
Three tournaments were held in the seventies, two in the Americas (1970 and 1978) and one in Europe (1974). Brazil were dominant in the first tournament before fading as the decade progressed. In the two other competitions the Dutch emerged as the most dazzling World Cup side in 1974, only to see the prize elude them in Germany and again four years later in Argentina.
Mexico in 1970 witnessed what many still regard as some of the finest matches and the finest team in World Cup history. Jairzinho scored in every game. Banks performed miracles with a wonder save. Gerd Muller scored goals for fun, including two hat tricks, and the quarter final winner against England. Italy and West Germany recorded a seven-goal extra time thriller. Pele nearly scored from one kick off, agonisingly missed after a stunning dummy, and opened the scoring in the final before nonchalantly teeing up Carlos Alberto to complete a famous victory against Italy.
Some still regard this tournament as the best ever. Sadly it was also the end of the road for a superb Brazilian side which struggled throughout the remainder of the decade. Muller won the Golden Shoe for scoring ten goals in six games. Only Ronaldo in 2002 (eight goals) has come close to matching this feat in the modern era.
FIFA dispensed with the traditional knock out games in 1974, replacing them with a second stage consisting of two groups of four teams. Neither this procedural move nor a sullen, defensive Brazil ever seemed likely to stop the Dutch rampaging towards the final. Cruyff, Neeskens and Co. strolled through both group stages, easily beating Argentina and the holders along the way.
West Germany were the other finalists, although events may have taken a different turn had the hosts not lost to East Germany in the first group stage. This defeat meant they wouldn’t face Holland until the final after advancing through the weaker half of the draw.
The final itself was a masterpiece in contrasts, Cruyff teasing the German defenders with a mesmerising run to earn a first minute penalty before the ruthlessly efficient Muller found space to slot home the second half winner for West Germany. It was his fourteenth and last World Cup finals goal.
Four years later the Dutch were back, this time in the fervent atmosphere of Argentina 1978. Cruyff had decided not to come along, a setback some believed would hamper his countrymen. They were wrong. Holland again breezed through to the final in the tougher half of the draw. Archie Gemmill’s superb goal for Scotland threatened to halt their progress, but the Dutch made light work of a potentially difficult second stage.
Despite a wealth of talent, the other half of the draw saw the hosts struggle through the first group stage. The likes of Osvaldo Ardiles and Mario Kempes, then the only Argentinean in the squad who played outside his country, seemed unable to rouse themselves much beyond average in the first group stage. Only a thumping win over Peru, who seemed mysteriously lackluster after their earlier exploits, would eventually deny Brazil and guarantee Argentina a place in the final.
Kempes gave Argentina a first half lead only for the Dutch to equalise with eight minutes remaining. Then, with seconds left, Rensenbrink struck a post. Reprieved, the hosts delighted the Buenos Aires crowd with two extra time goals. Once again the Dutch had fallen to a remorseless but inferior side.
The choice of Best World Cup Player Of The 1970s goes to a forward who was at the top of his game in 1970 and 1974. He terrorised defenders in this period with his predatory instincts, superb awareness and remarkable effectiveness both on the ground and in the air. His goals almost dragged West Germany to the final in 1970 and proved vital on home soil in 1974. The award for Best World Cup Player Of The Seventies goes to: Gerd Muller
The series continues soon with Best World Cup Player Of The Decade Part 5: the 1980s.