Kempes and Luque, the brilliant bandoleros

We remember the litter-strewn pitches of Argentina 1978 as well as the military presence, the controversy and, from a footballing perspective, the left foot and cavalier approach of Mario Kempes, the player of the tournament and leading scorer.

Kempes was the only player in Cesar Luis Menotti’s squad for the World Cup that did not play in Argentina. He moved from Rosario Central, where he had scored 85 goals in three seasons, to Spain’s Valencia in 1976. He was an instant hit in La Liga, finishing leading scorer, and winning the prestigious Pichichi trophy, in 1976-77 (24 goals) and 1977-78 (28 goals).

The pundits were more focused on Brazil’s new wonder boy, Zico, and the absence of Johan Cruyff rather than the relative strengths of the host nation, who would, they said, only win because it was written by the Junta.

But that aside, Argentina were an exciting team to watch, largely because Menotti wanted to play fast, flowing football. In Kempes, he had the perfect forward to finish off the work started by the likes of Osvaldo Ardiles and Rene Houseman. The question was, how would Menotti use his star forward – as an out-and-out leader of the line or just behind a front three, the position he had made his own in Spain?



Kempes also had the ideal partner up front in Leopoldo Luque, River Plate’s muscular centre forward. Both dark, long-haired and leggy, accentuated by shorts that emphasised their limbs, Kempes and Luque looked like they could easily be members of a rock band such as The Doobie Brothers. There was an air of menace about them and they were both extremely awkward to defend against, especially Kempes, whose left foot was lethal, not only in finishing, but also in dragging the ball away from defenders. Kempes had the knack of creating his own chances, often by performing a seamless movement that included bring the ball under control, making space and teeing himself-up for a shot on goal. Luque, meanwhile, was fast and strong and dovetailed nicely with Kempes.

Yet Kempes and Luque had not played together for Argentina since 1976 when the hosts kicked-off their campaign on June 2, 1978 against Hungary. Kempes had been somewhat isolated by the decision to only play domestically-based players, but his currency was so strong after two years at Valencia that the chain-smoking Menotti could not afford to leave him out of the squad.

Hungary had the nerve to open the scoring in Buenos Aires in the 10th minute, stunning the passionate crowd. But five minutes later, a Kempes free kick was parried by the Hungarian keeper and Luque followed-up to equalise. This was the moment the world was introduced to the crescendo of noise that would greet every Argentine goal in 1978. Seven minutes from the end, Daniel Bertoni won the game for a relieved Menotti and Argentina’s campaign was truly underway.

Four days later, Argentina beat France 2-1, another difficult victory, but won by a superb strike from Luque, who flicked the ball up from an Ardiles pass and volleyed past goalkeeper Bertrand Demanes.  They had come through the group and just had to face Italy to decide who won Group A and stayed in Buenos Aires for the second stage.

Luque was missing owing to an arm injury and Kempes was employed as a direct front-runner. He was far less effective and Italy won 1-0, sending Argentina to Rosario in a group that would include Brazil, Peru and Poland. For Kempes, it was a return home to the club where he made his name.

Still without a goal in the competition, Kempes really came alive in the second phase. He netted twice against Poland, the first an effortless near post header that he took in his stride, the second a low shot after Ardiles found him ready to bite. Luque was still missing, but returned for the big South American clash with an out-of-sorts Brazil. A physical game ended 0-0, but the initiative had switched to the 1970 winners by the time Argentina faced Peru in the final group game. Brazil had won two and drawn with Argentina, establishing a goal difference of +5, while Argentina had +2. They needed a four-goal win to reach the final.

Kempes gave them the lead after 21 minutes, a typical manoeuvre that saw him control and strike all in one, again with the left foot. Alberto Tarantini made it 2-0 with a header just before the interval and Kempes, predictably, scored with his trusty weapon on 49 minutes. “It’s on, now!” screamed the commentators and within seconds, the fourth goal came, Luque diving full length to send the ball over the line from close range. Anything else now was pure icing on the cake and Houseman provided that in the 67th minute, leaving it to Luque to apply more salt to the gaping wound in the 72nd.  A 6-0 win that was full of conspiracy theories; remarkable, suspect, heartbreaking, joyous – name your superlative.


The Netherlands would provide the opposition in the final, a less vibrant, more pragmatic and Cruyff-less side that had matured as the competition progressed. Nobody truly expected them to win and when Kempes opened the scoring with the type of routine that had typified his game throughout the competition, taking the ball on his left and nudging it into the danger zone before scoring with a low shot, it didn’t look good for the Dutch. But they came back and equalised to send the game into extra time, but only after Robbie Rensenbrink almost induced 70,000 coronaries by striking the post in the dying embers. Kempes did it again, though, scrambling the ball home in the 105th minute after he had worked his way through the defence. Bertoni added a third five minutes from time. Argentina had won 3-1 and Kempes, with six goals, received the Golden Boot.

Kempes and Luque had played together 16 times for their country. The first time was in August 1975 when Luque netted a hat-trick on his debut against Venezuela, a game that also saw Kempes score. The duo’s record for Argentina is remarkably similar – Kempes scored 20 goals in 43 games, Luque 22 in 45. Their 17th and last appearance together was on January 1, 1981 when they lined-up against Brazil in Montevideo. That was Luque’s last international game, whereas Kempes went on to the ill-fated 1982 World Cup, his final bow in Barcelona, also against Brazil.

Kempes and Luque are, naturally given their achievements, legends in Argentina. Messi and Maradona are at the head of the queue, but these two direct, skilful and venomous strikers have one advantage over the big names of Argentine football – they won the FIFA World Cup in Buenos Aires. Forty years ago, they could have walked on the waters of the River Plate.

Photo: World Cup final 1978, Press Association.



Lima – football in the city of kings

LIMA is not renowned as a global footballing hub, although the country’s major clubs are mostly located in the Peruvian capital. The local population is football mad and they’re passionate about their teams – and bull-fighting – even though they struggle to be competitive forces in South American club competition.

Peru’s clubs have struggled to make an impact in the Copa Libertadores and in recent years, they have scarcely been seen beyond the group phase. Since Sporting Cristal, one of Lima’s top clubs, reached the final in 1997, losing to Brazil’s Cruzeiro, only eight times have Peruvian clubs made it into the knockout stage.


Lima is a city that many people are wary of because of its reputation, although crime has dropped dramatically during the pandemic. It is a sprawling metropolis that is home to around a third of Peru’s population. The Spanish, who conquered the country in the 16th century and founded the city in 1535, called Lima the “the city of kings”. Today it is popular for its cuisine and as a result, a lot of decent quality restaurants have sprung up. Each year, Lima welcomes around 2.5 million tourists.

Football was introduced to Lima and Peru in the late 19th century by British sailors and the country’s first organised league was inaugurated in 1912, a Lima-centric competition that included teams emerging from the city’s major factories – such as Sport Inca, Sport Progreso and Sport Vitarte. 

Sport Alianza, the club that became Club Alianza Lima, was formed in 1901 by workers at the local horseracing stables in the Victoria district of the city. Victoria was an area dominated by Afro-Peruvians, but football became the pastime of white Anglo-Peruvians. Very few black players featured in those early years. Today, Alianza have more fans across Peru than any other club.

Club Universitario de Deportes was formed by students in 1924 and started life wearing a pristine white kit. However, after an ill-fated trip to the laundry, the club’s strip came back as a shade of yellow. Hence, Universitario now play in cream shirts and shorts. Universitario’s support base has traditionally been from the middle and upper classes, but they have also attracted fans with right-wing political beliefs.

The clash between Alianza and Universitario is known as the El Clásico Peruano (the Peruvian classic), a passionate fixture that has often exploded into violence among the fans.

Sporting Cristal were formed in 1955 in the Rimac district of the city by owners of a brewery. Rimac is now an area overrun by what are known as Pueblos jóvenes – shanty towns. Sporting play at the Estadio Alberto Gallardo in Rimac, a 11,600-capacity ground, but their big derbies and cup games are held at the Estadio Nacional.

Deportivo Municipal were founded in 1935 and their golden period was between 1938 and 1950 when they were Peruvian champions four times. Deportivo were the first to get a taste of overseas competition when they were invited to take part in the first championship of South American clubs which was held in 1948 in Santiago.

Universidad de San Martin (known as USMP) are a relatively young outfit having been established in 2004 as the first public limited company club, and they have already been Peru’s champions three times: 2007, 2008 and 2010. Despite their impressive success, the club is without a permanent stadium.

Universitario are the best supported club in Peru in terms of attendances – in 2019, they averaged 12,700 at their home games, more than double the league average. Alianza regularly get over 11,000, while Sporting Cristal and Deportivo Municipal attendances fluctuate from 5,000 – 9,000. Universidad San Martin struggle to get more than 2,000 at most games. 


Peru were part of the first World Cup in 1930 and for a while fancied their chances of becoming a force in the game. David Goldblatt, in his fine work, The Ball is Round, suggested Lima had ambitions to become the “Montevideo of the Andes”. Peru started to develop some outstanding players and in 1936, in the infamous Berlin Olympics, they reached the quarter-finals of the football competition. Three years earlier, a team comprising Peruvians and Chileans, the so-called Combinado Del Pacífico, went on an extensive charm offensive in Europe, pressing flesh and demonstrating that South America had a lot to offer the football world. Their exhaustive fixture list included matches with Celtic, Newcastle United, West Ham, Barcelona, Saint-Etienne and Bayern Munich. The majority of the squad came from Lima’s Alianza and Universitario and some went on to become part of the Peru Olympic team in 1936, including the outstanding Alejandro Villanueva, who played for Alianza and his aerial power (he was 6ft 6in) earned him the nickname, “the Peruvian Dixie Dean”. Villaneuva died tragically young, a victim of tuberculosis in 1944.

Teofilo Cubillas

More recently, Peru charmed the crowds in Mexico in the World Cup of 1970 when a talented young player named Teófilo Cubillas helped his country reach the quarter-finals. Cubillas, a native of Lima, played for Alianza and is considered to be one of the greatest Peruvian players of all time. He scored five goals in both the 1970 and 1978 World Cups and played 250 games for Alianza. 

Peruvian football has often flirted with disaster and has faced many challanges. In 1964, over 300 people were killed in a riot in Lima during an Olympic qualifier between Peru and Argentina. This incident, the worst ever disaster to involve football was seen as a reflection of pent-up discontent over the massive inequalities in Peruvian society at the time. Some 23 years later, the Alianza team, returning from a game in Pucallpa, was wiped-out in a plane crash when their Navy aircraft plunged into the Pacific Ocean. There was also a hint of scandal in the 1978 World Cup when Peru capitulated against Argentina, losing 6-0 in a game the hosts had to win by four to qualify from the second stage group. There have been countless theories behind this astonishing result, including the agreement between the two countries for a consignment of grain to be sent to Peru if Argentina achieved the right result.


Peru’s economic decline in the 1980s impacted their footballing fortunes. Although they appeared in the 1982 World Cup in Spain, Peru were nowhere to be seen on the global stage again until 2018. South America experienced a decade of turmoil in the 1980s and in Peru – La Crisis de Los Ochentas – peaked with debt defaults in 1984, hyperinflation peaking in 1990 and 350,000 people per year leaving the country. In the 1990s, the Fujimori government led the economic recovery. Although 20% of the country lives below the poverty line, Peru has been one of the fasted growing economies in the world, although growth has slowed in the past two years. The country also has other issues to deal with such as refugees from Venezuela and Alianza have linked up with the United Nations Refugee Agency to support integration of people arriving in Peru.

Alianza have won just six of the last 30 Peruvian championships, while Sporting Cristal have secured 10 and Universitario eight. Lima continues to dominate domestic football, although the last champions were  Binacional, a team from the city of Juliaca formed in 2010.

Like most countries, Peru suspended its football league during the pandemic and attempted to restart in August. By the end of November, the 2020 season will finally be over. The chances are, a team from Lima will be celebrating.


Photos: PA