Dealing in goals

Surprising revelations in Colombia on Wednesday, as a close associate of the Cali drug cartel revealed his organisation’s apparent involvement in one of the most infamous football matches in World Cup history – Argentina’s 6-0 thrashing of Peru to reach the final of the 1978 event, which they went on to win.

Fernando Rodríguez Mondragón, the son of one of Cali’s main drug traffickers, made the claim in an interview with Colombian radio station Radio Caracol, whilst promoting his new book El Hijo Del Ajedrecista 2, in which he claims to reveal the secrets of much of the Colombian cartels’ murkey dealings.

The match, decisive in the second group stage of the 1978 World Cup, has been controversial because with Brazil already having played earlier in the day, the hosts knew how many goals they needed to win by to progress (four), and against a talented Peruvian side, smashed in no fewer than six in what many feel was a suspiciously easy match. Conspiracy theories surrounding the game were lent credence by the fact that Peru’s goalkeeper was a naturalised Argentine.

There were also claims – most famously in the English-speaking world by Simon Kuper in the 1994 book Football Against The Enemy – that shortly after the match, large shipments of grain and other goods were transferred from Buenos Aires to Lima by the military government who placed such huge propaganda value on the outcome of the tournament. The latest revelations of Colombian involvement appear unrelated to this, and it’s worth pointing out, perhaps, that Kuper wasn’t actually working from any hard evidence when making his claims.

Mondragón claims that his father and his uncle – the two capos of the Cali cartel at the time – offered the Peruvian national side an ‘unspecified’ amount of money to fold in their match against Argentina, in order to put Brazil out of the tournament. Quite why they would so dearly want Brazil eliminated, he doesn’t care to explain, but it’s re-opened the debate as to the validity or otherwise of the result. There are plenty of Argentines who are sceptical about any World Cup won by the host nation, and it’s more than possible that the military government’s attempted interventions in 1978 are a big reason for this. But outside influence from Colombia?

One thing the conspiracy theories have never sufficiently explained is quite why Peru, who were supposed to be throwing the match, came out all guns blazing and actually hit the post not once but twice in five minutes in the early stages, before Argentina took the lead. Some Peruvian players have also changed their stories since the match, and of course there’s the fact that Argentina, focussed on getting a big win to reach the final, with Mario Kempes leading their attack in front of one of the most insanely partisan crowds in World Cup history, just might have actually been pumped up enough for the game to smash any side in the world to pieces that night.

The revelations from Mondragón are undoubtedly interesting, though – and although those not intimately involved with the tournament’s organisation will surely never know the full story, it’s always fun to see a new and unexpected twist on a somewhat tired old tale.

Another interesting statement from Mondragón was that the same cartel, in the late 1970s, donated US$300,000 to América de Cali to help pay the club’s Argentine manager Carlos Bilardo’s contract – Bilardo went on the manage the Colombian national side at the 1982 World Cup before, of course, taking charge of Diego Maradona Argentina for his- erm, I mean, the team’s succesful 1986 World Cup campaign.

Maradona himself was also mentioned by Mondragón, with the drug dealers apparently offering US$3 million to him for a six month contract with América de Cali, which of course he didn’t sign, preferring to move to Boca Juniors. The talks resulted in a ‘friendship’ between the parties, according to Mondragón.

All in all then, he’s opened up an old debate – but he’s also answered us one question. We now know exactly who Maradona got his merchandise from…

One thought on “Dealing in goals

  1. Glad to see that you wrote about this.

    As an Oranje supporter who hated the Argentine regime and thought the tournament shouldn’t have been played there (i.e., like Kuper in all respects), I’ve always tended to give some credence to the claims, but you are of course right that we are almost certain never to know the truth.

    Failing to provide any evidence of a motive (at least in the radio version) is obviously the weakspot of Mondragon’s story. One also wonders why he didn’t include such a blockbuster in El Hijo Del Ajedrecista 1 (unless he had a multi-book deal from the beginning).

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