Alex Mott·11 November 2022
Alex Mott·11 November 2022
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Some players just hit their peaks at the perfect moment and for six weeks look like the greatest player on the planet.
It happened to Toto Schillaci in 1990, it happened to Carlos Alberto in 1970, and it happened to Kempes at his home tournament.
Kempes had been something of a controversial pick for some sections of the Argentine public with the Rosario Central man being preferred to then-17-year-old Diego Maradona.
But picked he was and took his place in the starting XI as Argentina faced Hungary, France and Italy in the first group stage of the tournament.
Two respective 2-1 wins over Hungary and fancied France put the host nation through in second place behind Italy.
As was the way back then, the eight remaining teams then went into a second group phase with the winners of each group qualifying for the final.
This was where Kempes would go down as one of the greats.
The Albiceleste faced a very good Poland side first off in Rosario, where Kempes had been playing his club football for the past four years.
And in front of that home crowd, Kempes netted twice in a 2-0 win.
He wasn’t just a hero in front of goal, though. At the other end Kempes – much like Luis Suárez 32 years later – saved an almost certain goal with his hand. Unlike Suárez, he didn’t receive a red card.
There was almost a sense of destiny about this Argentina side by this point and, needing to beat Peru by four clear goals to book a spot in the final, they battered their South American neighbours 6-0.
That result, in which Kempes would net another double, has become marred in controversy with many believing Argentina’s military Junta at the time had bribed the Peruvians to throw the game.
Without Johan Cruyff, who had decided to not go to the tournament after his family were the subject of kidnapping threats, Holland were not quite the force they might have otherwise been.
Still, Argentina wanted to make the most of their home advantage and delayed their entrance to the pitch, leaving the Oranje to face almost 80,000 Buenos Airea locals as the atmosphere grew ever more febrile.
The home side flew out of the blocks as the Netherlands froze with Kempes getting his fifth of the tournament with a neat, close-range finish.
The Dutch however, still full of world class talent, equalised just before full time to take the game into extra-time.
As reams of confetti rained down on the Monumental pitch, Argentina found another gear and Kempes netted his second of the game and sixth of the tournament to seal the win for his nation.
As the Albiceleste were lifting the trophy, Kempes would claim his own Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player and the Golden Boot as its top scorer.