Goal.com's exclusive series continues as we profile the most efficient player of every World Cup from 1966 onwards courtesy of the Castrol Index system. Today it's the turn of the Golden Boot winner for the World champions of 1978...
Goal.com’s exclusive series continues as we profile Mario Kempes, Argentina's first World Cup winning number 10 who was immense in the summer of 1978.
"The crowd were willing it over the line. It was a goal of real suspense, and it finally sneaked in," the words of Mario Kempes describing his match winning second goal in Argentina's triumph over the Netherlands back on home soil back in 1978. The goal was the striker's sixth of the tournament with Kempes instrumental in the Albiceleste's charge to the crown.
A young Kempes had made his World Cup debut back in 1974 but along with his country he failed to shine and didn't score a goal as Argentina exited limply finishing bottom of the second group phase. By the time the finals rolled around four years later Kempes had established himself as one of the world's top marksmen and had just won back-to-back Pichichi awards with Valencia in Spain.
As one of just two foreign based players in the squad Kempes joined the squad in May while his team-mates had been together preparing since February. Kempes said in a FIFA interview years later that he'd been made to feel as though he'd been there for the past three months with no bitterness or jealously evident in the camp. Togetherness was key to Argentina's campaign.
He said, "The other players had it tough - being shut away from the world for so long was a big sacrifice - but in the end it all paid off."
Indeed, even though the tournament wasn't all plain sailing for the hosts. Kempes didn't get on the scoresheet in the first group phase as Argentina finished second behind Italy. This meant they would have to face fierce rivals Brazil, the talented Poles and surprise package Peru in the next group.
Kempes was vital at both ends for Argentina against Poland. He popped up with an early header to get off the mark and shortly before half-time, Kempes punched away a certain goalscoring opportunity for Poland with an effort that a volleyball player would have been proud of. He remained on the pitch as Poland missed the penalty and Kempes then added a second goal in the second half.
Luck was certainly on Argentina's side, it seemed. A stalemate draw with Brazil followed before Argentina's infamous clash with Peru. Kicking off after Brazil's game had ended, the hosts needed to win by four and duly thumped Peru 6-0 with Kempes adding another brace.
The forward would score a total of six goals in the tournament and would chip in with two assists, not to mention his handball intervention against Poland. Kempes also completed a competition high 68 dribbles.
After being destroyed by finalists Holland 4-0 four years earlier there was no shortage of motivation for Kempes and company on June 25 in the Estadio Monumental. There was also the small of matter of winning the World Cup for the first time, too.
Holland, minus the Castrol Index winner of 1974 Johan Cruyff, provided stern opposition but it was Argentina who grabbed the lead before half-time. Once again it was Kempes who created some space for himself and slotted home from close range to send the ticker tape flying around Buenos Aires.
The Dutch equalised late in the second half and almost sneaked a winner through Rob Rensenbrink. However, extra time was upon us and it was here that the resolve of Mario Kempes once again came to the forefront.
Showing his strength and refusal to be beaten, Kempes pinched his second with a goal that required a poacher's instinct to finally get it over the line.
Kempes recalled years later, "I remember dribbling round two defenders and the goalkeeper coming towards me. I struck the ball and it came off the keeper's midriff and bounced up, but I'd kept going and had to backtrack as it was coming down. I just managed to get the sole of my boot to it before the two Dutch defenders who were running towards me, and the ball bobbled over the line."
He added, "It wasn't the prettiest goal I scored, but it was certainly the most thrilling."
Say that again. Daniel Bertoni later made it three and the World Cup trophy would remain in Argentina as the host nation emulated West Germany's feat of four years earlier by winning the tournament. Kempes also grabbed the Golden Boot and the lifetime adulation of his country, although as he pointed out many years on his razor played a role too!
The striker hadn't shaved for a few weeks going into the tournament and sported a beard in Argentina's opening two games in 1978. Coach Cesar Luis Menotti encouraged him to shave it off saying it might change his luck in front of goal. With the beard removed, the goals started flying in and Argentina were on their way.
Kempes added, "After that (the goals against Poland) whenever the coach saw me, he'd say 'You're due a shave today Mario aren't you?' That was the famous story of the goals and the moustache."
To find out more about the series log onto the Castrol Football Legends site
Tomorrow: Paolo Rossi 1982