The embrace of the soul


  • ​One of the World Cup’s most iconic images
  • Depicts fan with no arms embracing Alberto Tarantini and Ubaldo Fillol
  • Scenes of celebration as Argentina win first World Cup

At first glance, the scene might seem unremarkable. Everyone, after all, will have seen many photographs of celebrating players with joyous, pitch-invading fans.

But this particular exchange in the 1978 FIFA World Cup™ Final was extraordinary, and became immortalised in Argentina as ‘El abrazo del alma’ (The embrace of the soul). What made the moment, and the images that captured it, so poignant was the fact the fan in the green jumper had no arms with which to hug his heroes.

That supporter, who had somehow evaded the massed ranks of police to race on to the pitch, was Victor Dell’Aquila, a double amputee since an accident at the age of 12. And while becoming part of those post-match celebrations was naturally unforgettable to him, earning the supporter fame throughout his home country and beyond, it also left an indelible mark on the players he embraced: Alberto Tarantini and Ubaldo Fillol.

“Both Fillol and I felt that when he was hugging us, the people were hugging us,” said Tarantini. “The picture [of Dell’Aquila approaching us] travelled around the world and won many prizes. But, above all, it’s a picture that stays with you. It is very hard to forget. It’s magical, really magical.”

Tarantini, as the sole representative of Victor’s beloved Boca Juniors in that triumphant Albiceleste side, had been the player in his sights. “When I spotted him, he was on the ground, in the process of praying,” Dell’Aguila told in 2003. “I went over to him, and Fillol arrived at precisely that moment.”

“I had been in the Centenario stand, behind the goals,” he added. “When the match finished, I jumped on to the pitch. It was a big risk because, at the time, a military dictatorship was in power here. When the police came to catch me, I remembered what a steward I knew had told me: ‘If the police are right behind you, go on to the pitch, because they don’t have the right to step on to it’.”

Thanks to evocative images such as this one, the ensuing seconds have become enshrined in World Cup folklore. The trio involved were even reunited in 2014, when Coca-Cola arranged for Tarantini and Fillol – accompanied by the World Cup Trophy – to pay Dell’Aguila a surprise visit. It was an emotional get-together for all three and, naturally, it culminated in a recreation of that wonderful 1978 embrace.

Did you know?
The 1978 World Cup Final is commemorated at the FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich with two of the finalists’ jerseys: one worn by Argentina’s Americo Gallego, the other by the Netherlands’ Ruud Krol.

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