The 1978 World Cup opened in a blaze of glory in Buenos Aires for Argentina, but in picturesque, provincial Mendoza, far to the west of the capital, within view of the Andes, there must have been an air of anti-climax as Holland found themselves starting their campaign against Iran.

  The stadium, built especially for the 1978 World Cup, was impressive enough, but the pitch was far too soft, and the climate in this wine-growing region did not suit the Dutch team at all, the southern hemisphere winter bringing about bright sunlight, sharp shadows and a distinctive drop in temperature when the sun went down.

Line-up v Iran

  Dutch line-up against Iran, not the best picture in the world,
sorry, but the shadows don't help.
Krol, Jongbloed, Willy van de Kerkhof, Rijsbergen,
Rep, Suurbier, Jansen, René van de Kerkhof,
Haan, Rensenbrink, Neeskens, plus local mascot.

  The Dutch wore a rather unappealing all orange strip for this game, and the subsequent match against Peru, presumably deciding that the traditional black shorts were no longer fashionable, or something.



Rijsbergen spots Johan Cruyff in the crowd   As it turned out, the unfancied Iranian side battled hard to exploit their few moments of fame on the world stage, and more than once discomfited the ponderous looking Dutch defence, most notably an early break by Hossein Faraki which could easily have given them a shock lead. More often, though, they simply retreated into their half of the field, stuck rigidly to their 4-4-2 defensive formation, and invited Holland to come at them. Although often embarrassed by the Dutch aerial supremacy, they looked quite comfortable defending on the ground.



Rensenbrink's first penalty   Shortly before half-time, the Iranians' inexperience showed through when René van de Kerkhof intercepted a loose pass in the centre circle, and cut into the penalty area before being clumsily and unnecessarily tripped by Nasrullah Abdollahi. The injury which Van de Kerkhof sustained in this incident required him to wear a protective lightweight cast on his wrist for the remainder of the competition, with controversial consequences in the Final. Rob Rensenbrink opened the scoring from the penalty spot.



  The second half saw the Dutch gradually asserting their superiority, in terms of fitness and organisation, as the Iranians settled for damage limitation rather than chase a draw and risk humiliation.

Rene van de Kerkhof in action against Iran

  Rensenbrink's second goal, when it duly arrived, was rather a simple affair, meeting René van de Kerkhof's excellent cross from the right with a firm header. The third Dutch goal was another penalty. Rep's run into the Iranian defence from way out was the highlight of the game by some way, and it inevitably ended in his being brought down by a posse of four defenders. Andranik Eskandarian was cautioned for knocking the ball out of the referee's hands, but it did seem one of the easier decisions he had given in what was in most aspects a particularly sporting opening game. Rensenbrink completed his hat-trick from the spot, and the result was beyond dispute.

Rene van de Kerkhof again



Rene with his famous plaster cast
  Iran's route to the Finals had been long and arduous, 14 matches unbeaten in the vast Asia/Oceania section from which only one team qualified in those days of European and South American domination of the world game. They had given a creditable account of themselves on this day, and were to do even better against Scotland next time out, but Holland had never really been in danger of dropping the points.