When Argentina lifted their first-ever FIFA World Cup in 1978, a remarkable Pakistani born in Bhopal left his indelible mark by helping the Argentines win the prestigious trophy. It is story time and we fly to Buenos Aires.

To unearth the personal accounts for this immensely interesting story, we spoke to Ijaz Chaudhry, an eminent sports journalist with roots in both Pakistan and the UK who has written, reported and spoken on several prestigious sports newspapers and TV/Radio channels. 

1978. Argentina was politically turbulent. Democracy was in tatters, the country was in the grip of a dictatorship. That year,  Argentina also hosted both the hockey and football World Cups. The hockey event was held in March, and the football extravaganza followed in June.

When the Pakistan team landed in Buenos Aires, manager Waheed Khan told the media, “I won`t let any European team destroy the beauty of the game of hockey to win the world title through penalty corners.” 

Though, among the favourites, Pakistan had failed to win a global title since 1971: (1972 Olympics – 2nd, 1973 World Cup – 4th, 1975 World Cup – 2nd, and 1976 Olympics – 3rd). His statement caught everyone’s attention.

And what a stellar performance Pakistan had given. Right from the first match, the Pakistan team displayed a beautiful attacking brand of hockey mesmerising crowds and connoisseurs alike. 

They won each of their six pool games, as well as the semifinal (against West Germany) and final (against Holland) at the Polo Ground, becoming the first nation to take home the championship twice.

During their victorious campaign, the green shirts created many sublime records. Their total of 35 goals was a new highest for a single edition of the World Cup, while only conceding 4 goals along the way. 

Records aside, it was the style and manner in which they shattered the defences that captivated everyone. Argentines who had only vaguely heard of Pakistan before the event began to applaud them. They also caught the eye of a special someone.

It was César Luis Menotti – the iconic and rebellious head coach of the Argentine football team. Surprisingly, he had been coming to watch the Pakistan games along with his coaching staff. The Football World Cup was merely two months away. 

They also took notes. Much loved chain-smoking Menotti himself attended Pakistan’s matches. He and his assistants were even seen at Pakistan`s practice sessions. All this was also reported in the Argentine media.

Towards the end of pool matches, on a rest day, Pakistan’s manager Waheed Khan, who had played for Pakistan`s gold medal-winning team of the 1960 Olympics, was informed that Menotti had come on his personal plane to see him. 

Waheed, who was born in 1934, in the Indian hamlet of Raipur in the Bhopal district, emigrated to Pakistan in 1949 together with his parents and made his home in Karachi’s PIB Colony. They had a detailed discussion, mainly centred around Pakistan`s attacking strategy.

Among other points, Waheed stressed the use of wingers when penetration through the centre becomes difficult; midfield possession to frustrate the opponent when not finding gaps in their defence. This would lure defenders to come forward resulting in gaps. 

They discussed the strategy of double attack i.e. if a move from the right side fails then make all the effort to immediately initiate a move from the left side on the assumption that most of the opponents’ defence had become concentrated on one side. 

Menotti also personally watched a training session of the Pakistan team with Waheed, where Waheed practically demonstrated the strategy to Menotti. He noted a few points and then left the ground.

On June 25, 1978, Argentina, led by an inspired Daniel Passarella and dashing long-haired Mario Kempes, won the FIFA World Cup for the first time defeating Holland in the final, just like Pakistan did a couple of months ago.

A few weeks after Argentina won the first FIFA World Cup, Waheed Khan received a telegram in Karachi. It was from César Luis Menotti acknowledging the fact that the Pakistan hockey team’s ploys came in very handy to him and the winning squad. A story like no other.

Image attributes: 

Personal archives of Ijaz Chaudhry. 

El Grafico, César Menotti holding the World Cup won with Argentina, public domain from Wikimedia. 

El Grafico, Daniel Passarella holding the FIFA World Cup trophy, public domain from Wikimedia. 

The cup exhibited, public domain from Wikimedia.