Not so long ago it would have been as foreign to the American taste as ortolans or haggis. Now it's on in Argentina, and Americans are paying heed. Out of the hurly-burly of the first 11 days of World Cup soccer play, eight of 16 countries will survive to take part in the second round. Forecasting these extravaganzas is notoriously difficult. Three World Cups ago, Italy, a great soccer nation, was eliminated by, for heaven's sake, North Korea. Nevertheless, on the current form of the four groups that are engaged in round-robin mini-tournaments, the countries that have the best chances of going forward would seem to be these: host Argentina, Italy, West Germany, Poland, Brazil, Spain, Scotland and the Netherlands.
Whether they do so depends considerably on the way the men shown on these pages perform. So often World Cup play produces one dramatic figure. In 1966 it was Bobby Charlton of England; in 1970 Pelè of Brazil; in 1974 Franz Beckenbauer of West Germany. You may be looking at the superstar of 1978.
Last month Dalglish (red shirt) scored the only goal of the European Cup Final to give Liverpool (which paid Glasgow Celtic $792,000 for him in 1977) the trophy for the second successive year. In the Scottish style, he is at his most dangerous running straight at a defense. He has both speed and fine control, shielding the ball, changing pace, then cutting at full speed toward goal.
West Germany, Center Forward
Fischer has to take the place of Gerd Müller, West Germany's highly successful striker in the '74 World Cup. The two men's styles differ sharply, however. Fischer is less intuitive, though he may possibly be better at ball control and has the ability to wriggle through bunched defenders and get his shot in. And he is better in the air, as above, and at heading the ball.
Argentina's coach, Luis Menotti, says that Passarella is the new Beckenbauer—a large claim. But Passarella fills Beckenbauer's old "libero" role as a free-ranging back who can move swiftly into attack and, like the German, he is adept at anticipating plays. Passarella is captain of the Argentine side, and it will be his large responsibility to take the penalty shots.
The old term "inside forward" perhaps suits Zico's role on the Brazilian team better than "striker." He is expected to forage for the ball and do some defensive work as well as head for goal But it is for his goal scoring that hopeful Brazilians call him the "new Pelè." Zico, though, tends not to be as consistent as Pelè was. In the finals he could be a disaster or a Cup winner.
In the absence of Johan Cruyff from the Dutch team, much will depend on Neeskens (left), Cruyff's longtime teammate. Neeskens is strong: in Holland they call him "Bull." He is also very fast and a powerful striker, but his main function is to create scoring opportunities for others. He had a pivotal role in the "Dutch Whirl" that so nearly won Holland the Cup in 1974.
Poland, Right Wing
At 27, Lato is a veteran of the 1974 competition and was the top scorer in that tournament with seven goals. He is somewhat austere off the field—giving no interviews. In games he breaks very fast and has a dangerous and accurate right-foot shot. Call him "Bolec"—meaning bolt—as the Polish fans do. They consider him the finest player they have in that country.