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Argentine anniversary gets cold shoulder

Buenos Aires: Argentina’s attempt to celebrate their 1978 World Cup victory was greeted with an empty stadium, freezing cold conditions and political demonstrations on Wednesday.

A paltry crowd of just over 6,000 watched a match between a current Argentine side and a team that included three members of the team who achieved the first of the country’s two World Cup wins 25 years ago.

Argentina also hosted the competition — the last World Cup to be staged in South America — and many of the spectators attracted attention with banners protesting at the military dictatorship which ruled the country at the time. The game was played at the same River Plate stadium that staged the final in which Argentina defeated The Netherlands 3-1 on June 25, 1978.

“Justice and punishment for the genocides,” read one banner. “Punishment for the guilty,” said another.

Human rights organisations estimate that up to 30,000 people disappeared between 1976 and 1983 in the so-called ‘dirty war’ under the military junta.

Outside the ground, protesters held up photos of some of the people who disappeared. One banner read: “Inside they played a World Cup. Outside, a country was being lost.”

Goalkeeper Ubaldo Fillol, defender Alberto Taratini and midfielder Daniel Valencia were the only members of the 1978 team to turn up.

Others, including striker Mario Kempes, midfielder Osvaldo Ardiles, defender Nolberto Alonso and captain Daniel Passarella, were all absent despite being invited.

The current team included striker Gabriel Batistuta, who scored a record 56 goals for Argentina before retiring after the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.

Batistuta scored twice and Ariel Ortega a hattrick as the current team beat the 1978 team 5-2 in a match which was divided into one half of 35 minutes and one of 23.

The 1978 side also included Jorge Burruchaga, who scored the winning goal in the 1986 World Cup final against Germany.

“It was very emotional because I never thought I would see Batistuta, Ortega, Burruchaga, Tarantini, Fillol and Valencia in the same dressing room,” said Batistuta.

Batistuta was given a special award for his record goal-scoring exploits for the national side. The 34-year-old scored 57 goals in 78 internationals but never tasted World Cup glory, the 1998 quarter finals being the nearest he got to a final in three renewals.

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