For the first time in 16 years, the tournament returned to South America. And not with a little controversy.
This political situation had led many countries to consider boycotting Argentina for its human rights abuses but diplomacy on the part of the junta meant that eventually every qualifier lined up.
Holland had led the calls for a boycott but they would still have to do without Johan Cruyff who had promised wife Danny that he wouldn't travel to South America.
West Germany, similarly, were without Beckenbauer and were a shadow of the side that had won in 1974. The favourites were the hosts, for whom Mario Kempes, a veteran of 1974, had become the complete striker.
Chain-smoking, hippified coach Cesar Luis Menotti could also count on the talents of skipper and sweeper Daniel Passarella, midfield playmaker Osvaldo Ardiles, Kempes' strike partner Leopoldo Luque and keeper Ubaldo Fillol.
He even had the luxury of leaving 17-year-old wunderkind Diego Maradona out of his final 22-man squad.
But the Argentinians had a difficult time in the first round where they faced a French team featuring a young Michel Platini. After a highly narrow 2-1 victory, Argentina needed a win against the Italians to remain in their preferred base of Buenos Aires. They failed with Roberto Bettega scoring the only goal for the Italians.
Holland meanwhile, were struggling without Cruyff and narrowly squeezed through in a group won by Peru, Teofilio Cubillas making a welcome return to the finals.
Scotland needed to beat the Dutch by two clear goals and after Archie Gemmill scored a legendary goal to put them 3-1 up, they were in dreamland. Not for long, as Johnny Rep scored the goal that took the Dutch through just four minutes later.
The second stage saw the Dutch reunited with the West Germans in a repeat of the final of 1974.
It took a late goal from Rene Van Der Kerkhof to secure a draw against them but the group's real threat were the Italians, for whom Bettega and Paolo Rossi formed a strong strike partnership ahead of the usual tough defence and midfield.
After Holland beat an Austrian side featuring the legendary Hans Krankl 5-1, the fight for a place in the final went down to the wire.
Willy Brandts put past his own keeper to put the Italians ahead but soon made amends by equalising.
It took a forty-yard thunderbolt from Arie Haan to win it for the Dutch and take them into their second successive final.
Now based in Rosario, Argentina started well with a 2-0 win over a strong Polish team but Brazil looked odds on to go through. After a goalless draw between the old rivals, Argentina had to beat Peru by four clear goals to reach the final.
After one of soccer's most controversial results they did just that. Peru keeper Quiroga had been born in Argentina and there was more than a whiff of junta interference.
It has since been alleged that some $50m was paid into a slush fund for the Peruvian football authorities.
Whatever the truth of that allegation, the final itself was not without controversy.
The kick-off was delayed while Argentinian officials made a song and dance about a lightweight cast on Rene Van Der Kerkhof's arm.
But Holland rallied and substitute Dirk Nanninga, as he had predicted to press before the match, headed in ten minutes from time.
Then came the moment which confirmed the Dutch as World Cup history's nearly team - Robbie Rensenbrink's shot against the post in the last minute.
In extra-time Kempes took a full grip on the game, beating three men before knocking in a rebound off keeper Jan Jongbloed into the net.
He then set up Daniel Bertoni five minutes from time and Argentina, whatever allegations about drug-use and corruption have followed, went down history as 1978 World Cup champions amid famous scenes of tickertape celebration.