Once Upon a Time in Mexico: The 1986 World Cup as a John Ford Western

Who does not like an action packed drama where the hero emerges victorious single handedly destroying the enemy force? Trinankur Banerjee tells us one such epic tale here at Goalden Times. Only difference is that the story unfolds on a lush green football ground.
 
 
The article got featured in Guardian’s ‘Favourite Things Online This Week” column.

 
It would not be an exaggeration to say that God created Latin America and said, “Let there be Football!” If a certain Jorge Luis Borges lends his pen to create mystical short stories about the sport, then who are we, mere mortals, to deny that football is Latin America’s staple diet? I am not a football historian or a football analyst. I am just another cinephile who likes to understand the undercurrents and ripples of certain narratives in football. If that interests you, you can journey with me to discover how a single world cup forged the John Wayne of Football—the mythical hero, the misunderstood genius—Diego Armando Maradona.
 
The hero in the American western (film) is a loner, a wanderer—forever roaming cities in his search for justice. He is a modern knight who shall protect the woman and the land when the weak cannot. If need be, he will rise up to the need of the hour as the knight in the bloody armour. But, as Westerns have taught us, every hero needs a narrative. If westerns comprise series of signs like horses, women, and the gun, then football is also an amalgamation of the boot, the jersey, and the ball. They play for their jerseys, these heroes of the future. However, not everyone can be a western hero, for they lack the narrative. If Johan Cruyff is reminiscent of Greek tragedies, then the 1962 FIFA World Cup is a classical Hollywood film where the hero can travel through every obstacle to reach the ultimate solution. However, neither Garrincha nor Cruyff could become the western hero. That was because, before one became the hero, one needed to take the fall.
 
The narrative of fall and redemption is a characteristic of Westerns. In his magnum opus, The Searchers, John Wayne faces the horror of his mistake that led to the slaughter of his brother’s family. It is the guilt that calls for redemption. After a series of events, when the final epiphany of redemption arrives, the audience breathes a sigh of relief as Wayne takes Debby up in his arms and whispers, “Let’s go home, Debby.” It is this moment of redemption that converts the sinner to a mythical hero. I believe that is the case with a certain Diego, the hero of our super western.
 
To start with, the myth of Maradona being the loner genius who single-handedly turned the course of events and football history is perhaps the most important factor that contributes to his status of a modern cowboy. However, there is more to it than meets the eye. Before becoming a hero, he took a fall. It was perhaps the greatest fall in football history—“the hand of god”.
 
When 22 players walked out in the bright sunshine of Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca on 22nd June 1986,they couldn’t probably have been aware that a western was going to unfold on the field. In the next few hours, the hero took the fall. According to folklore, the hero denied the truth. Cynicism rippled around the world. Greatness came under scanner, vociferous debates started. But if there is a fall, there is redemption. I still believe if Argentina had won the game by that goal and even gone on to win the cup, the myth would not have been complete. But, that didn’t happen. Something else happened—a shoot-out with boots and balls. In the 54th minute, as the hero took the ball near the centre line in his own half, no one knew what was going to happen. The rest I will describe in a parallel cutting of a shoot-out common in westerns—a man with a gun against an army with guns, a man with a ball against an army creating a barricade of boots.

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Only Peter Shilton stands in the way of the prey, the redemption, and the falcon. He will make him crawl for mercy with his boots, and he does. The ball rolls into the net and he runs towards the corner line in ecstasy. The redemption achieves its sense of finality—leaving three Peters, two Terrys, and billions worldwide dumbstuck.
 
It is our western hero who faces his nemesis now, his evil other. He will shoot him in his heart in a fair duel and the blood trickling down on the floor will write a new story of justice tomorrow when the small town awakes from its slumber. The hero walks off from the bloodbath—alone, satisfied—and everything is again right in the perfect world.

6

This interpretation may be entirely banal or eccentric, but it is true that when I see the ball roll into the net every time in YouTube, I can hear a whisper—“Let’s go home, Debby.” This tremendous feat could only have been achieved by an eccentric, an outlaw with a law of his own, a genius, and, above all, a man who loved his jersey like the western hero loves his woman. Football found its Antigone in Cruyff and its Banquo in Ferenc Puskás. Here is to the John Wayne of football—the nobody and the somebody—Diego Armando Maradona.

 
 
 

100 Most Memorable World Cup Moments (70-61)

The beautiful game returns to its spiritual home with the World Cup 2014 in Brazil. We at Goalden Times are revisiting the 100 most memorable moments from the past editions. Some are inspirational, some are controversial. Some will leave a smile on your face, some will make you wanting for more. You will find everything here. The first installment: Moments 70 – 61.

70.

Match: Italy vs Chile
Round: Group Stage
Venue & Date: Parc Lescure, Bordeaux, France, 11th June, 1998

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Italy had included Roberto Baggio in the World Cup squad despite his long absence from the national team, after he guided them to a win against Poland in the qualifiers. Baggio, a prolific scorer and a star of the early ‘90s, was past his prime by now and had been fighting for his usual number 10 role following the emergence of a young Alessandro Del Pierro.

Italy started their World Cup campaign against Chile who had a team boasting of talented and dangerous players like Iván Zamorano, Marcelo Salas and others. Italy took the lead against the run of play in the tenth minute through Christian Vieri. But the Chileans fought back to equalise via Salas on the stroke of half time. Things turned even better for the Latin American forward just four minutes after the restart as he doubled his tally with an expert finish.

Italy were looking down the barrel for a major upset. Attack after attack was being thwarted; Chileans started looking more and more resilient at the back. Baggio was trying to orchestrate things from the middle of the park, dropping down behind the lone strikers, creating space. Then, in the 85th minute, Baggio got the ball on the right side, and tried to send down a cross, which struck the opposing defender’s hand, and the referee awarded a penalty to the Italians.

There was a minute between that moment and the actual penalty, where Baggio, had his hands on his knees, head down. Enrico Chiesa, tried to come and talk to him about it only for Dino Baggio to take him away. It was like revisiting the ghosts of the penalty shootout against Brazil in the final of 94 edition where Baggio had missed his shot by a distance. It was another tricky situation – a loss in the opening match would have made advancing to the next round very difficult.
After a while, even the Chilean supporters started clapping and cheering for Baggio. Baggio gathered himself, took the ball and started walking towards the penalty spot. He calmly put the ball down and never looked up. He had the same run-up like four years ago, and this time he did not give the goalkeeper a chance. It was joy for Italy; for Baggio, it was salvation. He did not celebrate the goal, just ran back to the centre circle with his team mates. Somewhere, there was a tear hiding in every football fan’s eye. That moment stood out, from everything else, during the World Cup of 1998.

69.
Match: Germany vs. Argentina
Round: Quarter-final
Venue & Date: Olympiastadion, Berlin, Germany, 30th June, 2006

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Post the Maradona, Matthaus, Brehme and Buruchaga era, the two football powerhouse nations were facing each other for the first time in a World Cup match after 16 years. Erstwhile West Germany won that final of Italia 90 from a controversial penalty, and images of a crying Maradona are still vivid among football fans across the world. This time the stage was quarter-final, and Germany was the host nation. Argentina played some beautiful football en route to the quarter-final, defeating Serbia & Montenegro 6-0 and Mexico 2-1. Germany was slowly gaining confidence, though many football pundits picked Argentina as favourite to win the match.

Argentina had a larger share of possession during the barren first half, but failed to penetrate the German defence and could not create any clear cut goal-scoring chances. But soon after the resumption, Argentina took the lead as Roberto Ayala leaped over Miroslav Klose and headed in a Juan Riquelme corner from the right side. Argentina was controlling the possession very nicely after the goal and a strong defence line led by Ayala and Fabricio Coloccini did not allow Lukas Podolski and Klose to take a sniff at the Argentine goal.

All was going well for Argentina and the host nation was heading for an early exit from the World Cup. The first sign of misfortune appeared for the albecelestes in the 71st minute when their goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri stretched his rib-cage muscle badly when trying to clear a cross. He had to be subbed off and Atletico Madrid keeper Leo Franco replaced him. By the 79th minute, Coach Jose Pekerman had made two more substitutions which changed the course of the match. He replaced Riquelme – arguably the best midfielder in the world at that time, and who was controlling the game from midfield – by a more defensive minded Esteban Cambiasso to see off the game, and brought on Julio Cruz for Crespo up front to freshen things up by injecting a new pair of legs. Lionel Messi and Javier Saviola were left on the bench. Germany equalised within a minute, as Klose headed in from close range after a Michael Ballack cross from the left was deflected in from Podolski. Certainly the sting of the Argentine team vanished. The match slipped into a dull affair in the added extra time, and ended 1-1 after 120 minutes. Now Argentina was on the back foot as they did not have Riquelme, Crespo in the line up to take penalties.

Germany and Argentina both had all-win records in the World Cup penalty shoot out till that time. One of them had to taste their first heart break. Oliver Neuville and Julio Cruz opened the penalty shoot out perfectly, both scoring hard penalties in the left hand and right hand corners of the goal respectively. Ballack gave Germany 2-1 lead before Jens Lehmann saved a low shot to the left from Ayala. Podolski then placed a grounder towards the left to make it 3-1 for Germany before Maxi Rodriguez defeated Lehman to the right hand corner to reduce the margin to 3-2. Though Lehmann was defeated in two penalties, he guessed all the three penalties right. It was seen during the shoot out that Lehmann was taking out a piece of paper from his socks and looking at the paper every time an Argentinean player walked to take the penalty. It was believed that Lehmann watched videos of Argentine players taking penalties, and worked out a most-probable scenario for every Argentine player which way they would take their shot. Tim Borowski scored with a low left side shot, and made it 4-2, and Lehmann again guessed it right and saved Cambiasso’s penalty diving towards his left. Sheer anticipation and presence of mind by Lehmann helped Germany defeat Argentina in the penalty shoot out, and make it to the semi-final, where they lost to eventual winners Italy by 0-2.

There was a scuffle between players and coaches after the shoot out, as members of both teams were seen throwing punches and jibes at each other near the dressing room tunnel of the stadium. It was Argentina’s cup to lose. They lost it due to tactical blunder from Jose Pekerman, and situational awareness from Jens Lehmann.

68.
Match: Italy vs. Haiti
Round: Group Stage
Venue & Date: Olympiastadion, Munich, Germany, June 15, 1974

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Haiti qualified from the CONCACAF zone, for their first time and it remains their maiden appearance in the World Cup so far. To their dismay, Haiti was placed in the same group along with pre-tournament favourites Italy, Poland and Argentina in Group 4.

Haiti’s first match in the competition was against Italy. Italy attacked from the beginning as expected and Haitian defence was busy clearing the ball from their penalty area throughout the first half, with their goalkeeper Henri Francillon making some incredible saves. Haiti surprised the football world by taking the lead right after the match resumed in the second half. Receiving an inch perfect pass from Philippe Vorbe, Emmanuel “Manno” Sanon raced past Italian defender Luciano Spinosi before dribbling past Dino Joff to put the ball inside the empty net. That goal broke Dino Joff’s standing record of 1142 minutes of international football without conceding a goal. Haiti got lost in the excitement of that moment, Italy regrouped and scored three goals within the next half hour to win the match 3-1.
FIFA meanwhile had introduced dope testing in World Cup for the first time in 1966. The previous two editions in England and Mexico did not have any casualties, but the unfortunate account opened in 1974. Haiti’s 26-year-old defender Ernst Jean-Joseph tested positive for using banned or prohibited substances in the match against Italy and was subsequently banned from the rest of the tournament.
Dr. Patrick Huguex, a 27-year-old French, who was the team physician for Haiti during the 1974 World Cup, revealed to the media that Jean-Joseph had taken a stimulant substance, which used to be sold in the market under the name “Preludin”. The medicine helped a person to increase physical activity and reduce fatigue. Jean-Joseph initially pretended that it was a drug taken to protect him against asthma, but later gave in. But he remained adamant that no one else from the Haitian team had taken the drug.

It was not very clear how he received the drug in the first place, though later investigation revealed that a physician from Haiti had prescribed the drug to the player. Next day after the drug test, he was spotted rambling around dejectedly in the hotel lobby. Then Haitian officials dragged the screaming player away, beat him up in full view of the world’s press, jostled him into a car to the airport and flew him back to Haiti.

Haiti team could not recover from the stigma and the trauma of seeing their team mate treated so harshly by their own countrymen. Thereafter, they conceded 11 goals in the next two matches against Poland (0-7) and Argentina (1-4).

67.
Match: West Germany vs Netherlands
Round: Round of 16
Venue & Date: San Siro, Milan, Italy, June 24, 1990

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West Germany came into the Italia 90 to avenge their loss in the final four years ago. Netherlands also had a team full of stars but they failed to gel as a cohesive unit and limped through the group stages, failing to win a single game and scoring only twice. The sides met in the round of 16 in San Siro, Milan. Interestingly, it was labelled as another Milan Derby as Andreas Brehme, Lothar Matthäus and Jürgen Klinsmann from Inter lined up for the Germans to face Dutchmen Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard from AC Milan.

The tension between the fiercest of rivals – an enmity which dates back to World War II – was evident from the onset. West Germany had some scores to settle after they were knocked out of the European championship two years back by the same opponents. Both sides had also played each other en route to the World Cup during the qualifying stages which yielded no winner. Furthermore, following fan riots during the match in Rotterdam, the fans were not ready to give an inch to their counterparts. It was never meant to be a peaceful affair in front of a full arena of 75,000.

Around the 21st minute, Rijkaard tackled Rudi Voller fiercely to earn a yellow card from the Argentine referee Juan Carlos Loustau. Rijkaard certainly did not like Voller’s antics after receiving the foul and he spat on him. Voller went crazy at that and protested to the referee – he even pointed at the Dutchman’s curly hair to demonstrate –but irked the referee a bit too much and got himself booked. From the resulting free-kick, the pair came to blows again in the Dutch penalty area. Rijkaard tried to lift Voller by his ear and curly hair and once again emptied his mucus saliva on the mulleted German. The confused referee could not identify the main offender and showed straight read cards to both of them on the 22nd minute. Rijkaard was still fuming and he repeated his spitting act towards Voller while going through the players’ tunnel.

The match itself took a back seat following this incident. In the 51st minute, Klinsmann scored the opener followed by a second goal from Brehme with eight minutes left. The Dutch made it 2-1 through a Ronald Koeman penalty on the 89th minute but the Germans ultimately saw the game out.

Rijkaard went on to receive a three-match ban from FIFA for his offence. An otherwise sober, soft-spoken gentleman, Rijkaard got separated from his wife just before the tournament and that is supposed to have unsettled him leading to this incredible incident. Some also suggest that the San Siro crowd on that day was really hostile and was making racist chants towards a number of Dutch players which made Rijkaard lose his cool. Nonetheless, he apologised to Voller a few months after that and the pair even came up together in 1996 for a charity show. But till today, Voller cannot explain why he was sent off. It was one heck of a sight – something that has overshadowed the illustrious careers of these two fine footballers (and later on managers).

66.
Match: Netherlands vs Argentina
Round: Quarter-final
Venue & Date: Stade Vélodrome, Marseille, France, July 4, 1998

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Some incidents in football remain etched in our memories for a long time. That could be a piece of dribbling skill, an athletic save by the goalkeeper, a moment of madness or an awe-inspiring goal. In today’s countdown, we will revisit one of the best goals from the modern World Cup era.

Netherlands came into the footballing space through the “Total Football” philosophy, with all its positional minutiae, with its short and accurate manoeuverings of the ball. So, it is perhaps astonishing that the finest goal ever scored by Netherlands was as direct as it can get, coming from a long ball directly out of defence.

Before the start of the 1998 World Cup, there was a definitive buzz around the Netherlands team that it had a team with the drive and class to imitate the legendary Rinus Michels’ great side of 1970s. In the prevailing two decades, the Dutch had failed to make it past the quarterfinals. They have always managed to draw fan support with their brilliant display but the ultimate honour had always – and it is true till date – eluded them.

Draws against Belgium (0-0) and Mexico (2-2) in the group stages somewhat dampened the growing expectation, though they came up with a 5-0 mauling of South Korea in between. But as always, in spite of having a plethora of world class players, Netherlands were far from fluid. In the Round of 16, they needed a stoppage-time winner from midfield industrialist Edgar Davids to send Guus Hiddink’s side into the quarterfinals, where Argentina awaited.

Patrick Kluivert opened the scoring in the 12th minute but six minutes later Claudio Lopez equalized for the Argentines. The match did not produce any major talking points after it was drably headed for extra time. Netherlands were on the back foot and were laboured after Arthur Numan was sent off in the second half. Argentina were looking to be favourites and make their extra man count, had the match gone on for another half. However, in the 87th minute Ariel Ortega, Argentina’s indisputably talented but erratically explosive young playmaker, lost his calm. He got the marching orders after headbutting Dutch shot-stopper Edwin van der Sar. Two minutes later, Dennis Bergkamp stepped in to finish the game.

The Arsenal No. 10 had enjoyed a wonderful season having propelled the Gunners’ domestic Double triumph settling into an inspired striking role at Highbury. But so far in this match, despite an assist for Kluivert’s opener, had been astonishingly silent.

As defender Frank De Boer kicked a 60-yard diagonal pass towards him, it looked like a late desperation for the Dutch, who generally preferred building an attack through a neat passing game. But Bergkamp, after an eye-contact with de Boer, anticipated and ran towards the ball to give him some six yards space from the defender, Roberto Ayala. The sublime technician ran in a straight line, jumped up to collect the ball coming over from his shoulder and killed it dead with his right instep inside Argentina’s penalty area. His second touch took him through Ayala’s legs in a surprise nutmeg and provided a stiff angle at the goal. The third and final touch was an extravagantly steered shot on top of the bounce, lifted over the onrushing Argentine goalie Carlos Roa with the outside of his right boot curved towards the far post. Just three touches from Bergkamp with his right foot and Netherlands were into the World Cup semi-finals.

It appeared as if Bergkamp just pulled the ball out of the air like it was a tennis ball on a string. Bergkamp agreed it was the best ever goal he has scored in this career. It was a defining moment for the Oranje and the raw emotion of the occasion was evident as Bergkamp celebrated wildly, his face covered in his hands to hide his tears.

65.
Match: England vs Portugal
Round: Quarter Final
Venue & Date: Veltins-Arena, Gelsenkirchen, Germany, 1st July, 2006

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Portugal was on a high after the success of Euro 2004 where they finished as runners up. They stormed past their group and then came the infamous Battle of Nuremberg. Portugal won that match against Netherlands but a flurry of cards meant the Portuguese had to tinker their system to compensate for the suspended players. Also they fielded a team with five players on the verge of one match suspension if they were to progress to the semis. Against them were a struggling England side who had laboured their way – albeit with the virtue of facing some relatively easier teams – this far.

The match was drab affair which went goalless even after the extra time. More goals were missed than scored even in the penalties where Portugal edged past England by 3-1. But this feature is not about that. This is to do with two club mates– Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Wayne Rooney of England, both playing for Manchester United at that time.

Rooney was known for his volatile temperament from his young days. A little provocation can ignite the beast inside him and it is said that no one knew it better than his club mate Ronaldo. Before kick-off, Ronaldo bumped his head into the back of Rooney’s – not very joyous in opinion of many. Then in the 62nd minute, England’s talisman stamped over – which he claims was accidental – the Portuguese defender Ricardo Carvalho and was promptly given the marching orders by the Argentine official Horacio Elizondo. Ronaldo was very vocal during this whole incident and was waiving for an imaginary card even before the actual red card was shown. Then as the dejected Manchester United striker dragged himself off the pitch, his club team-mate gave a mischievous wink to the Portuguese bench.

Ronaldo later apologized for his involvement in the entire episode. He attributed his act towards emotions running high during the match. Rooney also acknowledged his stance and clarified that even he himself had tried to get Ronaldo booked in the first half for diving. Both of them were equally guilty, as per Rooney, or equally committed as they were just trying to win the game for their country. In fact Rooney was relieved that media did not criticise him much for his red card – as the attention was on his teammate Ronnie – like David Beckham in 1998 World Cup or Garry Neville in Euro 2000. They went on to play for another 3 seasons for Manchester United without showing any signs of dispute in public.

64.
Match: Uruguay vs. Ghana
Round: Quarter-final
Venue & Date: Soccer City, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2nd July, 2010

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Uruguay, after a long time, was coming out of the shadow of its more illustrious South American neighbours Brazil and Argentina in 2010 World Cup. Diego Forlan was having time of his life in the middle, and the defence also looked solid this time round. After winning the group consisting of France, Mexico and host South Africa, they defeated the spirited South Koreans in the round of 16, and faced Ghana in the quarter-final.

Ghana had impressed all in their maiden appearance at the world stage four years ago. This time they fared even better and had made it to the last eight – after edging past USA 2-1 in the round of 16 – to face Uruguay as the last hope of the African continent.

The match was later considered as one of the best matches in the tournament, with both the teams playing free flowing attacking football. Luis Suarez and Asamoah Gyan, two leading strikers of their respective teams, kept on attacking and missing chances. The Ghanaian goalkeeper Richard Kingson made some spectacular saves throughout the match. Suleh Muntari gave Ghana the lead in the added injury time of the first half, through a 40 yard left footed volley. Diego Forlan equalised for Uruguay from a free kick on the left at 55th minute, with the ball swerving viciously during its flight. The match failed to produce any more goals during 90 minute and went into the extra time. The added extra time was also full of actions, but was heading for a penalty shoot-out, when the World Cup “moment” happened in the 120th minute.

Ghana was throwing body towards the Uruguay goal for a final attempt to score the winner. They received a free kick towards the right side, and the Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera missed the flight and failed to clear the ball properly. The ball landed at the feet of Stephen Appiah who shoot it towards the goal. Suarez was standing behind defender Jorge Fucile, and was right at the goal line, where he blocked Appiah’s shot with his knee. The ball rebounded, lobbed up and Dominic Adiyiah headed the ball towards the goal again. As the ball was about to cross the goal line, Suarez – who was still at the goal line behind Fucile – saved the ball with both hands just like a normal goalkeeper. The Portuguese referee Olegário Benquerença correctly gave the marching orders to Suarez.
Ghana was awarded a penalty. Gyan stepped up and the whole continent was about to erupt into joy as that kick would have been the last action of the game. A goal from Gyan would take Ghana to the semi-final of the World Cup as the first African nation. To everyone’s dismay, Gyan blasted the shot into the crossbar and the ball flew over. The match went to penalty shoot-out – Gyan took the first penalty for Ghana and this time he scored. In the end Uruguay won 4-2 via penalty shoot-out, and Ghana was out of the competition.

Later Suarez revealed that it was an “act” of spontaneous reaction, and he was happy his spontaneity allowed his country to qualify for the semi-final. He celebrated wildly after the win and was never sorry about his handball, stating “I made the best save of the tournament… The ‘Hand of God’ now belongs to me.” Ghana’s coach Milovan Rajevac was dejected at the “football injustice.” Uruguay’s coach Óscar Tabárez though defended Suárez saying that the player did not violate the spirit of the game and the referee was also right in showing him the red card. He added that Ghana missed the penalty which could have won the game for them and now they have none to blame. The debate is still a hot topic – whether players in that situation should be demeaned as a cheat, or praised for their inventiveness.
FIFA seemed to be happy with the Uruguyan’s version as his ban was not increased for unsportsmanlike conduct. Uruguay missed the “player” Suarez though in the semi-final and lost 2-3 to the Netherlands.

63.
Match: England vs. Brazil
Round: Quarter-final
Venue & Date: Stadium Ecopa, Shizuoka, Japan, June 21, 2002.

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England qualified from the group of death in 2002 World Cup behind Sweden, leapfrogging Argentina and Nigeria. They demolished Denmark 3-0 in the round of 16 match-up and faced Brazil in the quarter final. Brazil, on the other hand, qualified from the easiest group on paper, beating Turkey 2-1, China 4-0 and Costarica 5-2. They then saw off a spirited Belgium 2-0 in the round of 16.

England were better prepared for the game having faced tougher oppositions along the way. But Brazil started the game brightly in the initial exchanges of the match. England took the lead against the run of play via a Michael Owen goal in the 23rd minute when a long pass from Emil Heskey around midfield bounced off Lucio who was having a hard time keeping up with the pace of Owen. Owen then lobbed the ball over an advancing Brazil goalkeeper Marcos. Brazil increased the number of attacks after conceding the goal, but Sol Campbell-led English defence stood firm and England were about to go into the breather 1-0 up. In the dying moments of the first half, the ball was deep inside the Brazilian half where Paul Scholes and David Beckham “missed” a tackle. Ronaldinho picked up the ball, ran through the pitch dodging past three English players and passed the ball to an unmarked Rilvaldo inside penalty area who scored with a swerving left footed grounder. England 1-1 Brazil.

The World Cup moment would arrive in the 50th minute of the match. Brazil was awarded a throw in, and Cafu casually threw the ball to Kleberson’s feet, who was tackled from behind, rather roughly by Scholes. Referee Felipe Ramos awarded the free kick to Brazil, 42 yards from the goal, and towards the right side of the pitch facing England’s goal. There was no wall per say, as most of the players of two teams were lined up near the edge of the penalty area, expecting a cross from Ronaldinho, who was due to take the free kick.

The England goalkeeper, David Seaman was about 3 yards off the goal line, expecting a cross as well, and preparing himself to rush forward to reach for the ball. When Ronaldinho chipped the ball in from the free kick, everyone along with Seaman thought it was a cross. Seaman took one step forward, and soon realised he was in trouble. It was not a cross – the ball was chipped straight in the direction of the goal. Two English players including Danny Mills were running towards goal to cover for the cross, but they were diagonally behind Seaman expecting a cross. The ball looped inside the goal, entering the goal below the right corner of the post, and a hapless Seaman failed to backtrack in time. Ronaldinho erupted in joy and his Brazilian teammates joined him in wild celebrations. Sven Goran Eriksson looked shell shocked, Seaman looked embarrassed and the steam was out of England’s tank. Brazil led 2-1.

Ronaldinho was later shown a straight red-card harshly due to an innocuous foul on Danny Mills, but England failed to take any advantage on the remaining 32 minutes of the match. Brazil went through to the semi-finals and went on to win the World Cup for a record fifth time.

62.
Match: Argentina vs. England
Round : Quarter final
Venue & Date: Aztec Stadium, Mexico City, Mexico, June 22, 1986

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Some moments define a lifetime of football events. Some moments leave a permanent mark on the memory. Some others have little or no association with football at all yet manage to occupy critical mindshare for a lifetime. Moment “62” of our countdown series is one such moment, which is etched in every memory associated with football.

Argentina and England had issues on and off the field. Politically, these two countries were never best of friends, being pitted against each other in the Falklands War. On the field, too, they’ve earlier had some fierce encounters. This encounter was shaping up to be a great one as well. England defeated Paraguay in the previous round, and Argentina narrowly edged past their South American neighbour Uruguay 1-0. Diego Maradona was slowly emerging as the great player the football pundit predicted before the Cup.
Argentina started the match as favourites, and England was very shaky in handling the Argentine attacks. The first half ended 0-0, and the BBC commentators predicted something major was about to happen. He was bang on! Something major did happen in the second half alright.

Arguably, the best illegal goal and the best legal goal in World Cup football were scored by the same person, within 5 minutes of each other in the beginning of the second half. Throughout the match till then, whenever Diego Maradona received a ball, four or five English players surrounded him leaving a lot of place empty for Jorge Valdano and Jorge Buruchaga. However, those defenders failed to tackle Maradona on most occasions, as they feared that if they went in for a tackle, he would beat them.
So when Maradona received a ball inside the English half around the 51st minute and started his run, four defenders surrounded him, and, not surprisingly, did not even try to tackle him as he kept advancing. Glen Hoddle, Peter Reid, Terry Fenwick were all moving around an advancing Maradona, and left space open on the right side of the pitch. Reaching the edge of the penalty area, Maradona realised there were too many English players around him (six to be precise), and released the ball diagonally towards Valdano, who was about to enter the penalty area from the right side, and continued his own run anticipating a one-two wall pass from Jorge. However, the original pass from Maradona did not land on Valdano’s feet, and Steve Hodge tried to hook the ball with his left foot to clear it. Hodge mis-kicked the ball, which then looped towards an advancing Peter Shilton. Maradona was in the face of Shilton by that time, and both of them jumped together for the ball.

Maradona being 20 cm shorter than Shilton, reached the ball first and the ball was “headed” inside the empty net. Peter Shilton ran immedeately towards the Tunisian referee Ali bin Nasser upholding his hand in the air, while Maradona ran towards the sideline celebrating. Later Maradona confessed that he was shouting towards his team mates to join him in the celebration as he feared the referee might have disallowed the goal otherwise.
Other English players joined Shilton in protesting the goal, but the goal stood. Argentina took a 1-0 lead.

In the press conference following the match, mischievous Maradona said the goal was scored “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”. The famous ‘Hand of God’ term was thus coined by him at that moment, and became immortal in the world of football. Bobby Robson was obviously not so amused and termed it as the Hand of Rascals. Though later Bobby did admit that it was only possible for the little Argentine genius to fool thousands of spectators, referee, tv camers in open daylight.
Four minutes later, in the 55th minute of the match, Maradona showed another glimpse of his brilliance. This time around, nobody doubted the legitimacy of the goal, nor could anybody deny that it was the best goal they have seen in their lifetime. That goal deserves another moment in our countdown. Watch out for it!

61.
Match: Czechoslovakia vs Brazil
Round: Final
Venue & Date: Estadio Nacional, Santiago, Chile, June 17, 1962

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It was the World Cup final, and the stadium was packed to its 70,000 capacity. The match was a repeat of an earlier one from the group stages which had finished goalless. Brazilians were defending their crown without an injured Pele and 15 minutes into the match, Brazil again found themselves a goal down, in a repeat of the final four years back. Josef Masopust capitalized on a clever pass from Adolf Scherer to make it 1-0 for Czechoslovakia.

History was with the Brazilians – four out of the last six cup winners had to come back after falling behind. And Brazil did come back within a couple of minutes – just like they did in the 1958 final – equalising through Amarildo, after an error by the thus far unblemished superb Czechoslovak goalkeeper Viliam Schrojf. He had left the first post gaping in anticipation of a cross from an acute angle and Amarildo was quick to spot it leaving Schrojf bemused. The Czechs had a valid penalty claim turned down when Djalma Santos handled the ball in his own box. At break, the score was tied at 1-1.

Zito, the Brazilian playmaker, converted a cross from Amarildo in the 68th minute, to round off a move which he himself had started. Brazil were 2-1 up but certainly not done for the day. The final nail in the coffin was driven in the 77th minute through another hauler from Schrojf. Schrojf, a veteran from two previous World Cups, was having a superb tournament but unfortunately had to endure one of the worst matches of his career. He spilled a simple high hopeful ball from Djalma Santos, probably the sun got into his eyes, right on to the foot of Vava, who slotted the ball in an open net.
With that Vava would go on to be the tournament’s highest scorer (after a draw of lots) and also became the first player to score in two different World Cup final matches. And trailing at 3-1, the Czechoslovaks just couldn’t get back into the game. Brazil had successfully defended their title for the second time in the history of the competition.

Viliam Schrojf was named goalkeeper of the tournament, just before the final kickoff, for having a superb tournament till the final. Guess the jury would have given it a second thought after the final.

What’s with Argentina?

The 1986 World Cup was a memorable event in more ways than one. The tournament was pulled off beautifully, albeit the skepticism surrounding Mexico hosting the tournament following the devastating earthquake. The kind of football on display that year was matchless. Nations like West Germany, Brazil, France, Spain, Denmark, Belgium, England and Uruguay along with the champions, produced superlative football that year. Several players like Zico, Platini, Littbarski, Butragueño, Laudrup (Michael), Scifo, Linekar and Francescoli left a lasting impression ; however one man rose above the rest to attain a ‘God’-ly status.
The following World Cup, four years hence, was a different ball game altogether for Argentina. Although they managed to make it to the final, after much struggle, Andreas Brehme’s penalty made West Germany taste its sweet revenge of 1986. The final game was appropriately described by George Vecsey of The New York Times as, ‘Winning Ugly, Losing Ugly, Just Plain Ugly’. The 1994 World Cup witnessed an unfortunate exit of a great football playing nation. The team had been a tad disoriented post the suspension of their talismanic leader and Gheorghe Hagi’s Romania probably had played their game of the tournament to eliminate Argentina.
The last time Argentina senior team won a title was the 1993 Copa America. It’s been eighteen long years now. Is the team falling back owing to a dearth of talent? Winning 5 FIFA World Youth Championships (now FIFA U-20 World Cup) between 1995 and 2007 and 2 successive Olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008 might suggest otherwise. Argentines are dominating
the international club football scene for some years now; however, there seems to be some issues within the national team, right from the selection process to the manner of play on the pitch. Fans back home in Argentina blame it on the Argentine Football Association (AFA) president Julio Grondona. Grondona had taken

over as the president of AFA following the World Cup triumph in 1978, and the 1986 World Cup win had cemented his position at AFA. Recent allegations against him suggest he is running it as a personal business for the last 15 years or so. He’s got the media and the general people to back him by having the manager include several popular players into the team, without much care for the team strategy. Grondona has plans to re-contest in the forthcoming AFA elections due in October. There was a protest demonstration held on August 2, in front of the AFA offices in Buenos Aires demanding Grondona’s resignation.
One may wonder how far the allegation surrounding Grondona is true. Let’s consider this year’s Copa America. Carlos Tevez was initially not a part of manager Sergio Batista’s plan. In the friendly matches held prior to the Copa, Tevez was left out. Could be because he once refused to play for the national team or could be Batista, having already worked with
       
many of the players in the current squad in Olympic 2008, didn’t find a specific role for Tevez in the team. However, for the Copa, Tevez was named in the starting line-up in the first 2 games. There is no denying that Tevez is supremely talented and had a great season at Manchester City, albeit the tactical chemistry not being fluid between him and the rest of the players. The allegation here is Tevez being the most popular national team player back in Argentina, Grondona had instructed Batista to include him in the team and in honoring the In the 1998 World Cup, Argentina’s (and arguably Real Madrid’s as well) then best player was left at home because of his long hair! Everybody demanded Ariel Ortega; he made a mistake, and got all the blame while
the president, the manager sacrificed his original plan and we found a lacklustre team in the first 2 games.
After a few brilliant matches in each tournament, the players pretty much resembled the NBA players from the movie Space Jam, who, devoid of skills after the aliens take away their power, moved about like zombies, lifeless; without any chemistry, cohesion or tactic, they stepped over each other’s feet, out of position, and with no leader in the middle.
One concern, however, has been common since the 1998 World Cup – that of inappropriate selection of players and / or playing them in unsuitable positions. Surprisingly, not only the coaches, but Grondona, the media and the fans, have always demanded certain players to play and more often than not these players have been brought in at the middle of a crisis when the chances of failure have been high. And once that happens, then the media starts blasting the players and as a consequence, they get so emotionally drained that they find it tough to recover.
manager, Daniel Pasarella still had every chance to destroy River Plate by hiring Juan José “J. J.” López.
River Plate’s relegation this year is ample testimony to where Argentine football has reached. AFA has a plan to merge first and second divisions the next 6 months. This apparently is Grondona’s plan to get the votes of the second division clubs. The project is on hold for now and a topic for a separate discussion.
In the 2002 World Cup, manager Marcelo Bielsa left Juan Román Riquelme, Javier Saviola and Santiago Solari, and got 35 year old Claudio Caniggia in the team. Fernando Redondo was ignored once again although he was the player of the match against Brazil at Buenos Aires in 1999 where Argentina won 2-0 under Bielsa. There was Pablo Aimar, who was flourishing at Valencia, having made it to two consecutive UEFA Champions League finals in 2000 and 2001 and at the time, acknowledged as one of the most creative players around. Aimar needed the World Cup to cement his status as an Argentine great, but he was benched. Bielsa
       
got him in when it was too late, in the must win last group stage game against Sweden and put him in the central midfield alongside Ortega, a situation where he was more likely to fail, and he did. In the earlier games against Nigeria and England, he was used merely as a substitute. The same people who had demanded his inclusion later felt that he may not be that good. Aimar was never the same again; in fact he didn’t get a decent opportunity to redeem himself. A player who could have been one of the greatest in his generation was set up for failure by external circumstances, and then hung out to dry. However, Bielsa who had an equal, if not greater responsibility came out with his reputation intact, in spite of not managing to survive the group stages of the tournament.
2006 was complicated. Manager José Pekerman, the man behind the success in the World Youth Championship, looked all set to carry it to the senior level. For some reason, he left Javier Zanetti and Walter Samuel at home. Hernán Crespo and Saviola played with great chemistry. Many wanted Tevez and Lionel Messi to start although they were better off as super-subs against tiring oppositions. In the quarter-final against Germany, Tevez started instead of Saviola, as Pekerman gave in to the popular demand. The chemistry between Saviola and Crespo could not be recreated by Tevez. Notwithstanding the issues, Argentina scored early in the second half and looked all set to progress beyond the Quarter Final stage for the first time since 1990. However, the good deed was undone by a momentary lapse of reason by Pekerman. He took off Crespo and Riquelme to bring in Julio Cruz and Esteban
Cambiasso. One may have felt that Argentina is leading and needs to consolidate their defense and justify Cambiasso’s introduction, but with Riquelme’s departure, the team lost its key player, who was holding the team together and channelising the play from midfield. To this date, Argentine fans fail to comprehend Pekerman’s rationale behind Julio Cruz’s introduction, while the likes of Messi and Saviola were made to cool their heels on the bench. Cruz was not even a regular at Inter Milan.
2010 was more like seeing the nation go on a suicide mission; one couldn’t possibly do much to prevent it with someone like Diego Maradona at the helm. Maradona, the magician with the ball, was never quite known for his tactical ability. Zanetti was once again ignored, when he could have been the ideal leader at the pitch, and this was perhaps also the time to have Cambiasso in the team, especially due to what they had achieved at Inter Milan that season. Argentina won all the group games and the 2nd round against Mexico, but the portents were visible with the team being too much dependant on Messi. Predictably, Argentina were badly found wanting against the tactically sound Germans and went out with a whimper.
Messi’s goal scoring statistics for the club and the national team is so in contrast that critics find it easy to put the sole blame on him. Thankfully he is still quite young and a powerhouse of talent. But if the ‘blame it on Leo’ game continues, the young man may find the burden beyond his scope to tackle, and consequently Argentina may lose arguably one of the best players to have touched the ball. The manager needs to ease the pressure and
       
provide him with more space to play. Apparently, a convenient solution might be to have Messi take over as the leader. There, however, lies a fundamental flaw in such a thought process. Messi to me is not a born leader. Javier Mascherano, the only footballer with 2 Olympic gold medals, is clearly not an ideal leader either. Neither is his performance awe-inspiring nor does he maintain a stable head on his shoulder.
Well, it’s indeed been a difficult couple of decades for Argentina fans. I have spent many a painful night seeing Argentina choking at critical moments – be it in the World Cup, the Copa America or the Confederations Cup since 1993. There were times when my wife could gauge the outcome of an Argentina game from my sleeping posture. It was not until I read Orhan Pamuk that I learnt how severe pain has its way of being manifested. It’s like acid-filled grenades exploding in my veins as I sort through my bundle of fond memories with the way the team may have played in the past; distracting myself, briefly and intermittently, until the same memories would propel me deeper into the void.
I am greatly concerned about this national team’s future. Most people are looking forward to Javier Pastore. The question is, do we really want him to play in such dire conditions? I see 2002 all over again, Pastore is the new Aimar now. If he fails to live up to the expectations of his followers, fans may look out for another target like Erik Lamela.
Alejandro Sabella has been confirmed as the Argentina coach until after the 2014 World Cup finals, contingent on Argentina qualifying for
the tournament. Is he the right man? We would like to hope so. His managerial stint with Estudiantes de La Plata, where he won the 2009 Copa Libertadores, earned him a lot of respect. But he needs to be given time and space which may not be a real possibility with

Grondona and his men running the show.
I am not too sure what might ensue as a consequence to the protest against Grondona. Argentine football needs to revive drastically; else one of the best generations of footballers would be overshadowed by other football playing nations. I’d rather let Grondona, the media and fans take the blame for the current state of affairs. A revamp of the domestic league could perhaps keep more Argentines at home, and help improve the coordination among them and compassion for the country. Argentina national team needs a capable coach who can make the right decisions. With more able leaders, this nation is bound to recover from this abysmal state and relive the golden times.
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Indranath Mukherjee follows South American and European football. Apart from Football, Film and Music keep him going. You can follow him on twitter @indranath