Leopoldo Luque has died aged 71 ©Getty Images

Argentinian football is mourning the passing of 1978 World Cup-winning striker Leopoldo Luque at the age of 71.

Luque had been hospitalised at the Clínica de Cuyo in Mendoza before Christmas and struggled to recover from COVID-19.

Hospital sources said he had suffered a fatal heart attack and had a history of cardiac trouble.

His former striking partner Mario Kempes led tributes describing Luque as "a great soccer player, a great friend and companion".

Kempes added: "Rest in Peace and fly high friend!"

Kempes posted a picture of the pair taken last year when they were together in Mendoza.

Osvaldo Ardiles, a midfielder in the 1978 team, insisted Luque had been an "instrumental figure of our triumph in the World Cup of 78".

Argentina's 1978 World Cup triumph was the country's first ©Getty Images
Argentina's 1978 World Cup triumph was the country's first ©Getty Images

"Nobody suffered more to achieve it," continued Ardiles.

"It was a great honour to have him as a companion. 

"Impossible to have someone better by your side."

Argentinian newspaper La Nacion described Luque as "a luminous human being and an extraordinary footballer".

The greatest moments of his football career came at the 1978 FIFA World Cup, but were tinged with tragedy when his brother Oscar died in a road accident during the tournament.

Luque scored Argentina’s first goal of the tournament in a 2-1 win against Hungary and four days later, his memorable long-range effort proved the winner against France. 

It was described in the French paper L’Équipe as "a shot from a cannon from 20 metres" and lauded as one of the goals of the tournament. 

It made sure of Argentina's qualification for the second phase. 

Later in the match, Luque dislocated an elbow but that evening came the news of the tragedy involving his brother.

Luque was allowed home to mourn and did not play in the next two matches, though the team carried a banner saying "Leopoldo we are waiting for you".

He returned to the side for their second-poll-phase match against Brazil, a brutal 0-0 draw which left Luque nursing a black eye.

In their last second-round match, Argentina needed to beat Peru by four clear goals to reach the World Cup final. 

Luque scored the fourth goal himself and Argentina eventually won 6-0 on an emotional night.

He also played the full 120 minutes in the World Cup final victory over The Netherlands.

In club football, Luque won five titles with River Plate and later went into coaching in Mendoza.

Luque was capped 43 times for Argentina, including a memorable appearance alongside Diego Maradona at Hampden Park in Glasgow in 1979 when both players were on the scoresheet against Scotland.

Maradona, often considered the greatest football player of all time, missed out on selection for the 1978 FIFA World aged 17, and died in November aged 60.