With the World Cup on the horizon, England’s immediate future was unfortunately to take on the role of warm up act for nations who would be competing in West Germany in the coming weeks. The first of those nations were to be Argentina, making a first visit to Wembley since the infamous afternoon in 1966 which saw the dismissal of their captain Antonio Rattin and the branding of the South Americans as “animals” by Sir Alf Ramsey.
Following the perceived injustices of ’66, the Argentinians insisted on the referee for the match being a fellow countryman, an incident which is incredibly rare in senior international football, and one the England players would feel was an unfair one by the end of the game.
Memories may have been long, but there was just one survivor on the field from the World Cup quarter final eight years previously, Roberto Perfumo of Argentina, who would be captain for the evening.
For England, Joe Mercer introduced Liverpool’s Alec Lindsay for his international debut at left back, a decision which saw skipper Emlyn Hughes move to right back. Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking both came into the midfield.
Highlights of the match was shown as part of BBC’s Sportsnight programme, with David Coleman on commentary duty, who advised viewers that England were “looking for some respectability after being beaten by Scotland so emphatically last week.”
The early pattern of the game saw Argentina’s back line push high up the field, compressing the midfield area and forcing England’s forwards to try to break in behind them. It was a risky tactic, but with the defence looking highly drilled, it was effective, with seven offsides in the opening 16 minutes.
Frustration was telling with the English players launching themselves into some wild tackles, and showing signs of dissent to the officials. Coleman could sense the problems facing the home side, observing that “England seem a little bit puzzled about what to do with this Argentinian defence.”
When they did crack the offside trap, England looked very dangerous and they came close to opening the scoring after 25 minutes. It was a clever run by Mick Channon that finally opened Argentina up, striding forward on the right hand side and unleashing a powerful shot that was pushed onto the post by Daniel Carnevali in the Argentine goal. The keeper was extremely fortunate that the rebound came off the inside of the upright and hit him on the heels, allowing his defenders to scramble the ball clear. It was a moment that confounded Coleman who was in the midst of proclaiming a goal: “Yes…err…he didn’t know anything about it, an astonishing save.” Once he saw the replay and had time to gather his thoughts, he very quickly changed his tune: “It flew away from his hands and he actually knocked it away with his heels without knowing what day it was” adding “That’s one of the flukiest pieces of goalkeeping we will ever see at international level.”
England were now making much more progress in an attacking sense, using the full backs to drive forward from deep areas, negating the offside trap by running with the ball. Alec Lindsay was an early proponent of the attacking full back, and he created a superb opportunity with one penetrating run. His powerfully driven cross could only be pushed away by Carnevali, falling to Brooking six yards out. Unfortunately the West Ham man could only sidefoot the ball wide of the open goal.
England though did make the breakthrough on the stroke of half time. Again it was a full back making a run, this time Hughes, which saw the skipper brought down on the edge of the box. Although the free-kick was wastefully given away by Keith Weller, Argentina failed to clear their lines and Colin Bell slid the ball into the path of Channon, the Southampton man coolly rounding the keeper to slot home, Coleman stating that the “Argentinians were found out.”
Although not shown on the footage I have (which came from ESPN Classic’s Dead Good Match series) the website ITV football highlights 1968- 83 said that as the teams went off for half time, the Argentine captain Perfumo was protesting to the referee. Hughes took exception to this pushed Perfumo away, only to be set upon by Ruben Glaria, who head-butted the England skipper. (http://homepage.ntlworld.com/carousel/ITV/WorldCup74.html)
Whether Glaria was removed by his manager or at the insistence of the referee will never be known, but the centre half did not reappear for the second half, replaced by Enrique Wolf. England certainly were fired up and doubled their lead ten minutes into the second half. Again it appears there were claims for a clear penalty, but the feed I have seen does not show this incident. David Coleman is however talking about it as England took a short corner. The ball was played into the box where it bobbled about with the defence unable to clear. It fell to Bell who fired a fierce shot against the crossbar from eight yards out. Fortunately for England, Frank Worthington showed excellent reactions to flick the ball into the net.
The response was an instant one from the visitors who cut the lead with a goal from Mario Kempes. The man who would shoot to world prominence in four years time was in the right place to tap into an empty net after Peter Shilton could only push a cross from Ruben Ayala into the strikers path.
The rest of the game saw England become more and more frustrated with some of the challenges being allowed against them by the Argentine referee, losing their focus on attacking the goal and instead taking their anger out on Argentine legs. The referee would have his own revenge in the closing minute when he gave his fellow countrymen an extremely debatable penalty.
Substitute Rene Houseman paled the ball to Kempes on the right edge of the penalty area, but the striker appeared to take too much time, dallying on the ball and allowing Hughes to get a tackle in. The referee though took note of Kempes’ theatrical fall and had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot, to the dismay of the England captain. The Argentinian number 9 picked himself up to rifle the penalty past Shilton into the bottom right hand corner of the net, securing the visitors a barely deserved draw.
“The final whistle blows to boos from every corner of the stadium” commented Coleman as the referee brought the game to an end moments later adding that the game was “a piece of international education, because they have to learn to deal with this sort of treatment.”
Argentina would head to West Germany for the World Cup, where they would reach the second stage before being handed a lesson of their own by the Dutch. England also headed to Germany, but behind the Iron curtain to provide warm up opposition for the first time qualifiers from East Germany.