Mario Alberto Kempes, born in Belville, Cordoba in 1954, began his career at local club Instituto Cordoba before quickly moving on to Rosario Central where he netted 85 goals in just 105 matches and established himself as a notorious goal scorer. Known as a hard-working forward, Kempes liked to attack from outside the penalty area with his surging runs goalwards and was not the traditional center-forward operating solely inside the box. His style was difficult for many defenders to handle. They never knew where they had him.
Kempes was the only foreign based player called up by coach Menotti before the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. The lanky forward had been topscorer in Spain’s Primera Liga in each of the past two seasons and was determined to show on home soil that he could deliver against the best on the sport’s greatest stage as well. In 1974, at 20 years of age, he failed to get on the score-sheet in West Germany and after the first round group stage in 1978, his name was still missing among goal scorers in the tournament.
But things would change dramatically when Argentina’s team was forced out of Buenos Aires because of ending up as runners-up in their group. Argentina’s new venue for the second phase matches was Rosario, the city where Kempes’ career took off in the early 1970s. It was here that “El Matador” found the goal scoring form that made him topscorer in the tournament.
First he sank Poland with both goals in the 2-0 win, then two more against Peru in the 6-0 demolition before he returned to Buenos Aires and the Final as a changed man. Kempes scored two more against the Netherlands and assisted Bertoni for Argentina’s third in the 3-1 win. Needless to say, Kempes mopped up every major personal award after the finals.
In Europe he had two successful spells at Valencia (1976-81 & 1982-84). He helped them win the Spanish Cup in 1979 and the European Cup Winners’ Cup plus the European Super Cup the following year. Kempes made 247 appearances and scored 146 goals in all competitions for Valencia.
In 1981 he moved back to Argentina to play for River Plate – winning an Argentinian championship with them before heading back to Spain in time for the World Cup in 1982. It turned out to be a disappointing tournament for Argentina and Kempes. No goals for “El Matador” and Argentina bowed out in the second phase.
Kempes later moved to a smaller Spanish club, Hercules, before winding down his career in Austrian football for various clubs.
BUENOS AIRES – JUNE 25: Mario Kempes of Argentina celebrates scoring a goal during the FIFA World Cup Finals 1978 Final between Argentina and Holland held on June 25, 1978 at the River Plate Stadium, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Argentina won the match and cup 3-1 after extra-time. (Photo by Getty Images)