Joga Bonito

An inveterate Brazil fan (of course not to the extent that I would have a heart attack and die if my team lost) my loyalties (at least for this year) started shifting midway during the Brazil-France match. And this transformation was brought about by the sensational soccer skills of one of the greatest players of his times— Zidane. As one gaped in awe at his awesome ball control and situational awareness (witness the way he pinpointed the looping ball onto Henry’s foot) one became aware of how, football, the team game that it is, still depends so critically on the spark provided by a single individual—a fact brought out most acutely by Brazil’s inability to find that “one” with Ronalidinho looking off-color and Ronaldo, the angry, overweight humpty dumpty, trying to dive the moment the ball reached his feet.

I am not a football connoisseur. I have never been able to grasp the subtle strategic nuances of the game, nor appreciate the geniuses of coaches. In order for me to get into a game, I need a few things: sparkling dribbling, ground passes, high drama and most importantly the presence of a character or two in the ranks. This possibly explains my aversion for Germany (traditionally a great “team” that plays a regimented style of Spartan soccer—-of course they have changed their style this World Cup), Ireland, Belgium and a whole lot of European sides whose teams almost wholly consist of efficient, characterless assembly-line players depending on aerial balls and headers to score goals.

Blame this on the way I was initiated into soccer—my first idol was the greatest dribbler, mid-field general and larger-than-life character of the modern football game: the indubitablly God-like Maradonna. There has never been one player who has dominated a tournament so much as Maradonna did the 1986 World Cup. This man was everywhere, defending behind Neri Pompido (the Argentine keeper), splitting defences with his precise through-balls to the feet of Burruchaga and Valdano and then, sometimes, just to show that he was the greatest, running through defences like an unstoppable juggernaut, caring little for the expectant Argentine forwards.

My abiding memories of him would be his inspired run through the legendary Belgium defence—dribbling like a maniac, the Belgians tripping and shoving and Maradonna maintaining his balance all through (the man could not usually be brought down unless he wanted to), his drawing three Brazilan defenders away and giving Claudio Cannigia a pass in front of goal (this was in the 1990 World Cup where Brazil dominated the match throughout but were undone by this bit of magic at the very end) and of course his Hand of God goal and the blitzkrieging run through the English defence that followed “that” goal. Not only his football but everything about this man was dramatic: his hand and facial gestures at the referee, his exaggerated “dives”—something he did with greater frequency as he got older and his out-of-control off-field activities (drugs and mafia connections).

But transcending all the drama and all the hype was his scorching genius: when he stepped onto the field, there was him and then there were 21 others.

Another of my favourite characters was Cameroon’s Roger Milla. Now Roger Milla was no Maradonna—-not by a long shot. But he brought to the field a kind of infectious joyousness—in sharp contrast to the grim countenances of his opposition. And that dance at the corner flag was the stuff of legend.

Brought out of retirement by Cameroon’s qualification for the World Cup in 1990 and brought on as a late substitute, Roger Milla would almost invariably score himself bringing an almost languid relaxation to the game. My abiding image of him would be the cheekiest goal of all-time when he got the ball from under the feet of Colombia’s showboating goalie Higuita and put the ball in the net, with a smile on his face throughout.

Which reminds me of my favourite team from the 90s—the Colombians. Now they never scored many goals (their finishing was atrocious) and lost most of their matches. But when they played, it was poetry. Carlos Valderama, with his leonine mane of hair would be the commander who, together with Rincon and Asprilla, would pass the ball in pretty triangles—making the opposition dance to the Colombian tune. Passing balls between the legs of defenders, wrong-footing one or two opponents at a time: they seemed to be more intent in embarrassing the other side and making themselves look good, rather than scoring or winning.

I loved it. Just like I loved those moments of individual brilliance—Saeed Owairan’s run through the entire Belgian team, Michael Owen’s dream goal against Argentina being two that come first to mind. And those moments of drama: Zico and Platini missing their penalties in the 1986 Brazil vs France game, the great Peter Shilton’s anguished face as he makes a mistake of stepping out of the goal and a loping ball goes over his head into the back of the net……..the more I think of it, the more I realize that there are just way too many to do justice in a blog post.

And as another Word Cup passes (or shall soon pass), and scores and records are forgotten, many more such glorious moments are added to the memory stack—Rooney’s moment of petulant rage, the 24-pass goal, Hislop’s heroics, McBride’s stoic expression betraying no pain as blood covers his face, and Zidane’s magic, like the last flickerings of a dying conflagaration, lifting his team to the heights of glory.

This indeed is a game worth dying for.

61 thoughts on “Joga Bonito

  1. Yes, Very poignant. I remember much of the same stuff. Then, to add, Roberto Baggio in the 90 Cup. And the 94 brazilian team with romario, bebeto and the others. Legends were made. And legends are being made in this cup too. Some of those, we shall see in the tournaments to come. Robinho, Messi, Podolski in 2010.
    Good article.

  2. dang it…….how did you get a hold of my post and post it befor me? 🙂

    The 4th of July promises much excitement, and I’m also waiting for the Fra-Ger semi.

    Zidane rules! (And France so deserved to win).

  3. I am not a football connoisseur.

    Doesn’t suit a Bong, especially the Great one 🙂 but then the rest of the post proves it wrong so it ends well 🙂 Couldn’t agree more with your concluding line. Zizou refuses to go out on a losing note.

  4. Yeah i told my french roommate that after 10 minutes of the brazil france game he has a billion indians supporting his team for the finals. I have a special place in my heart for team Zambia, who never made it to the world cup because the team died in a plane crash in 93. Zambia got a B team together and with the legendary Kalusha Bwalya (who was on a different plane) got to the finals of the Africa Cup in 94. This B-team would have been in the world cup but for some extremely shoddy refereeing. It was so bad that the referee involved never officiated an international match again.

  5. That was a wonderful tribute to my all time favourite player, Maradona! I think I got initiated into football because of his antics. Even though he didn’t dominate as much in the 1990 world cup, he was still such a presence and you kept on expecting some extraordinary feat from him everytime he got the ball. Lovely post, differnt from your usual but the personal touch adds a lot.

  6. Great post. Two minor points, though.

    Valderrama played for ColOmbia; Columbia is over in your country.

    And I think you meant the pony-tailed David Seaman, not Peter Shilton, who saw Ronaldinho’s looping free-kick go over his head into the net in 2002. Ruined the career of an otherwise competent ‘keeper.


  7. @BaghaBoy: Yes Messi….hopefully another Maradonna in the making.

    @Sunil: Right ! Zidane rules….and sorry for getting there before you 🙂

    @Patrix: Thank you..

    @Mosi Lager: Its a pity. Just like the greatest generation of Hungarian football players were lost to the world due to a plane crash.

    @Chetan: 1990 I remember he had an inwardly growing toenail which kept him in great pain.

    @JAP: Fault 1: Sorry my mistake.

    Fault 2: Not so. Confused by my supposed memory failure, I looked up on good ole’ wikipedia as to Shilton’s last competitive match —the 90s semi-final (he did subsequently play in the inconsequential 3rd team playoff)

    It was goalless at half time, but shortly after the restart Shilton was left powerless by Andreas Brehme’s free kick which looped horribly off Paul Parker’s shin and dropped into the net over Shilton’s head, despite his furious backpedalling attempts to tip the ball over.

  8. @J.Alfred Prufrock
    A similar incident to the one you are referring to happened in the 1990 world cup semifinal. England vs. Germany. A free kick by the Germans (I think it was Brehme who hit the freekick) hit Paul Ince and looped over Peter Shilton.

  9. Yeah, I’m not football freak either, but the team which seems to play for the joy of it does seem like fun (Argentina vs Germany – the result totally sucked)

  10. “It was goalless at half time, but shortly after the restart Shilton was left powerless by Andreas Brehme’s free kick which looped horribly off Paul Parker’s shin and dropped into the net over Shilton’s head, despite his furious backpedalling attempts to tip the ball over.”

    Boss…i remember that 1990 match vividly…I loved Brehme a lot…that guy never missed a penalty…I still remember that free kick so vividly.

  11. awesome post GreatBong! and yes, your post mirrored my feelings as well. A die hard brazil fan, I couldn’t help admiring Zidane’s mastery with the ball on Saturday’s match. infact, when Brazil lost i was disappointed but couldn’t help feeling that Zidane and the french team deserved the win. Oh well!

  12. fabulous memory for someone who is “not a football connoisseur” …

  13. “…my first idol was the greatest dribbler, mid-field general and larger-than-life character of the modern football game: the indubitablly God-like Maradonna.”

    Beautiful, beautiful line. Exactly my feelings about the great player. I was never a football follower, but somehow World Cups were different. If I remember right, in the Argentina-Italy match in Naples (WC ’90) where Italy was kicked out, a large section of the crowd was cheering for Argentina since it was led by Maradona- who played for their home team Napoli. Imagine the situation: your country is playing and you are cheering the opposition captain. Such was the fan following of that man! Italians never forgave Maradona for this…

  14. So I did manage to rekindle some old memories …. Someday I will tell my grand-children this sory :))))

  15. Zizu deserves every bit of the glory…and I hope he wins the cup for France…..would be a fine end of the genius’s career….. nd the magic that graced the 2006 and 1998 WCs…..

  16. GB,

    You did rekindle old memories. Soooo many of them actually. Would be real injustice not to mantion some and put down others. So I wont put down individual feats and great players names.

    Taking things further from Mosi’s comment… some of highlights of WC football have always been BAD refreeing decisions.

    Australia vs Italy anyone? (2006)
    Its not just this world cup, the ones in past too. One of these has been the Germany vs Argentina finals (1990) where I thought Germany was wrongly “awarded” a penalty. Germany did win the cup, but what about the refree? why arent they penalised to an extent that people dont dream to even think about football again? would surely love to castrate a few of those guys.

    Would love to know what happens to refree’s after wrong decisions. Though I do follow football, this is something I have never looked into. There are so many of these memories from past world cups along with the famous ones (Baggio sudden death is a favourite).


  17. For me the memories would be Argentina’s 24 pass goal vs Serbia, Australia’s come from behind win against Japan,Ghana’s defeat of the Czech republic, the Portugal Holland slugfest. Brazil simply didnt have a Plan B against France, they expected that they would just score goals left,right and center, and when the French defence stymied them, they didnt know what to do. My prediction would be a Germany vs France final. I was disappointed at Argentina losing, but again Pekerman’s strange tactics didnt help their cause. England is the most overrated, overhyped team and a team that cant score 3 penalties doesnt deserve to be in finals.

  18. Like the game itself, a beautiful post.

    indubitablly God-like Maradonna

    Tongue-in-cheek ? 😉

    If God was on the field during the quarter-finals – he was in form of Zizou. He restored some sanity to a WC that has been marred by bad refereering and on-field theatrics (note the drop-down in agony with hand to the face routine).

    Btw, add to the stack of memories – Maxi’s goal against Mexico. Also Colombia reminds me of the rather sad episode of Andres Escobar.

  19. Soccer is drama driven at high octane speeds. Can’t think of it any other way. Can’t have enough of the passion play 🙂
    Enjoyed reliving a bit of memory here. Thanks.

  20. Read somewhere that when Maradonna was at his peak, There used to be a popular saying ” If you want to make the greatest footballing team comprising players from all generations, It’s got to be Maradonna and 10 others”

  21. Ronaldo, the angry, overweight humpty dumpty, trying to dive the moment the ball reached his feet….hahaha..priceless!! However, one got to see very little of Messi..:((.

    Great post!

  22. It was with a sense of deja vu’ that i watched France beat Brazail – AGAIN in a WC. Yes i remember as a child watching that [in] famous Brazil-France encounter when Zicco missed twice. I believe 5 people in Brazil died that day.

    To be fair to Brazil they had one bad day. And that was enough. I guess its France’s divine right to be Brazil’s nemesis. Till they met France, Brazil was cruzing along.
    The moment France eliminated Spain [another of the so called tournament favourites] i knew it was it for Brazil.

    With Brazil out, i guess most of us will be inclined to support Germany. I would like a Germany-France final and Germany winning.

    Great post, as usual greatbong.

  23. Great post on a great game, though like all other worldcups, this one too had its moments – your colombian reference reminded of that goalie who was shot because he couldnt save penalties, thus making them lose.

    The 26 pass goal, and the Zidane’s whole play in the last game – priceless moments in this world cup!


  24. Roger Milla’s goal in the 1990 was more of a blunder by Higuita when he tried to act smart. I think it was somwhere from the centre of Colombia’s half where Milla snatched the ball from under the dithering feet of Higuita.
    Have a look at this scorpion kick that is supposed to have been invented by him, simply amazing –

    BTW Higuita would have taken part in the 1994 world cup but for the fact that he was behind bars for being part of a kidnapping ring.

  25. Great post..Zizou was simply fabolous in the game and even though I am a fan of Brazil be default (my 1st team is Italy, then Brazil), I really did not feel bad they lost, rather it was France who won. so seeing an all-european semifinal after a long time…

  26. Nice post GB. Let me share a few of my favorite World cup memories. The first one I watched was the one in 1982. Times were different then. There was no cable or internet those days. World cup used to be huge thing. I still remember going to the maidan with my cousin brother to watch my first east bengal mohun bagan game. It was he who taught me the nuances of the game. A hardcore communist that he was- he told me as was the ideology of most of the youth of Bengal at that time- “always suport latin America and if every you support a european country …it should be a eastern european country which is a communist country. Never support those fucking capitalist bastards”, and then turned his attention to the latest edition of filmfare magazine. I was perplexed.

    “Why?”, I asked.

    “Well, football is a great leveller you see…those capitalist countries exploit those poor countries and the football field is the place where everything evens out. ”

    Russia was still USSR then , there were 2 germanies, Zico played for Brazil , Platini for France and Paolo Rossi for Italy. I wasnt old enough at that time to develop a serious interest in the game but could see the disappointment in the faces when Brazil were ejected.

    Come 1986 and the Mexico. I still remember that there was some structure above the Azteca stadium which used to cast its shadow on the pitch when the match was played. Football was a bit different then…not as physical as now and I instantly developed a liking for the latin american style of football based on their short passes and dribbling and dodging. But compared to their defences, the european teams had better defences. Brazil became my fav team followed by Germany. My cousin screamed, ” what …west germany…are you crazy? Nazis…bastards…never support them”, and then added, ” but they have great tenacity, can equalize at the 90th minute”. Everywhere ..on buses, trams and in school, the discussion was only football . Art loving Kolkata unanimously seemed to exude that they liked Brazil as they elevated football to the level of art. Whatever be the time of the year, there seemed to be ready supply of crackers in everone’s homes ready to be burst whenever Brazil won. And then in 1986, it was precisely for those very reasons that Kolkata took a liking for Maradona. Those matched against Belgium and England were seminal ones . The final was memorable. I still remember Matthews man marking Maradona, Rumanige scoring that header and Valdano scoring that equalizer. Maradona was everywhere…every mom who took their son to football coaching wanted his son to be a maradona. In our school team, there was a huge fight between the coach and one student’s mom- “you have relegated him to to defence. How dare you? I mean he is a forward- like Maradona “, the mom shouted.

    Sport was different then. Cricket was hardly played as much as now and India’s matches abroad and Australian test cricket could only be heard- on radio. In 1990,I still remember the frenzy and excitement in my school when the world cup approached. A bubble gum company used to give a card featuring a world cup player with every unit and collecting them and trading them became a huge hobby. [years later in US I see that baseball fans have the same hobby and sometimes these trade for 1000’s of dollars]. It was an age where the hormones had still not flared- boys had not yet got a taste of porn or their first cigarettes. We used to play football religiously everyday. We had sleepless nights before inter school matches. And magazines like Sportstar , Sportsworld and Anandamela and Anand Bazar Patrika ensured that the mercury went right through the roof even 1 month before the world cup. I still remembered the gloosy pages of the sportstar and their wonderful colored posters of footballers. By the start of 1990 world cup, I knew about all the stars and the would-be stars. My room was covered with posters. Right above the study table was the one of Careca- the one whom the media said would win the cup for Brazil that year. Surreptitously hidden behind it was a poster of Steffi Graf serving with her knickers visible- in those days that was as erotic as it could get. Sure enough Careca scored twice in Brazil’s first match to give Brazil 2-0 win. Calcutta rejoiced. But the focus was on Argentina and maradona too. Argentina defeated Brazil on one of the saddest days of my life- that pass to Cannigia. My admiration for Maradona turned into a seething hatred. I felt the world has broken. The only hope was Holland, by that time another fav team by their heroics in 1988 euro cup- that Marco Van Basten zero degree goal in the final. Gullit, Van basten, Rikard, Koeman …what a combination! Teams like cameroon also captured the imagination of the people..and went into the quarter finals.

    Rudi Voellar and Rikard were both red carded in that ugly match between Germany and Holland. Holland lost 2-1. I felt like dying. I just wanted the world cup to go in anyone’s hands but Maradona and Argentina- the team that had ejected Brazil. Ireland won an emotional penalty shootout vs Romania. Uruguay- another highly hyped team before the team having Enzo Francescoli and Reuben Sosa, lost to Italy who kept on advancing after the invaribale and ineviatable Salvator Schillachi strike. But this time, instead of Maradona, Argentina had an unlikely hero in Sergei Goycochea- who beacme the first penalty shootout hero of football- and perhaps the original hero for keepers like Ricardo and Lehamann nowadays.

    Talking of Penalties, one player who was a master of it was Gary Linekar and it was his double penalty strike that broke Cameroon hearts. Goychochea was again the hero as Argentina went to finals beating Italy on penalties where Germany awaited them. Schillachi scored again in the 3rd place match and bagged the coveted golden boot. England were sent home in the semis- taking the fair play trophy with them. The whole world waited with bated breath for the final. On the day of the final- at Wimbledon- Boris becker played Stefan Edberg in an all time classic and Edberg won. However Germany lifted the cup after Andreas Brehme’s penalty was even too much for Goycochea. Lothar Matthews- the man who had marked Maradona in 1986 lifted the cup while Maradona watched in tears.

    The 1994 world cup was different in the sense that it was played in US- a sports mad country except for soccer and cricket. By that time, Maradona was such a legend that strikers like Gheorghe Hagi came to be known as ‘Maradona of the Carpethians’. But hosts USA sprung a surprise by beating Columbia who were another team that I admired. That match also saw Escobar score a semside goal- a goal which would cost him his life later on. Brazil had a great team captained by Rai, with players like Dunga, Branco and Romario and Bebeto in the forward. And Argentine supporters had 2 new heroes- Batistuta and Aeriel Ortega along with the now fat and slow Maradona. But people still sais about him- ‘mora hati lakh taka’. The usual teams made it to the pre-quarters with the surprise in the perpetual pre-quarter finalists mexico and the hosts USA. In one of the greatest comebacks in history, Romania stunned Argentina with a 3-2 comeback win. That match shall be forever be etched in my kind as both teams attacked as if there was no tomorrow. If one team took the lead, the other tried to equalize as if their life depended on it. But Argentina went out as Hagi got the better of his nicknamesake. Italy beat the perpetual cant-go-beyond-quarters Spain and the Sweeden , the team that played such enterprising football with people like Brolin and Dahlin edged past Romania in another classic penalty shootout to the semis . Another memorable world cup match was when Bulgaria led by the talismanic Hristo Stoichkov taught a lesson in set pieces to Germany. But Brazil (thru romario) and Italy went through top finals on sheer experience and big match temperament. Could Brazil do it? Italy dreamed a victory thru their star pony tailed striker . People said that Brazil just could not do it with such a powerful Italian defence and their catreziani system of playing- and perhaps Mario Zagalo knew it. The final seemed destined for a penalty shootout. I could not believe that a player like Baresi could miss a penalty. But a bigger and pleasant surprise awaited me when Baggio shot into the crowd when he took that last shot. Finally justice had been done- Brazil were the champions.

    I have selective memories of the 1998 edition- you know why- Brazil flunked in the finals 🙂 ….but just to recollect my poignant memories- Davor Suker and Croatia’s gaint killing progress…the way they raped Germany. Another fondly remembered match is when Holland and Bergcamp tamed Argentina 2-1.

    For the 2002 editions, I wont forget the performances of those 2 Asian teams and joint hosts -Japan and South Korea. France went from hero to zero in round 1. Paraguay progressed on the back of their inspirational goalie, captain and free kick specialist- Chilavert. The Argentina England match was some high volatge match and Beckham , in perhaps his only big time performance- scored and led his team to victory. But really no other team deserved the cup more than Brazil – I am blessed to have seen Ronaldinho’s strike against England and Ronaldo’s final coup de grace was a lesson to one and all losers in the world that there is always a second chance in life for redemption.

    What about 2006? Well now with all latin american teams eliminated its an European cup. And as we have seen in European cups, any team can win. In fact I dont care from now on as to who wins. The only outstanding memory for me till now is that 28 pass goal. But if I had to bet, I would put my money on Portugal and their great coach Luis Phillipe Scolari – hes a great coach no doubt. Last match Ericsson after losing said that he really didnt know how to imrove in penalities- I mean what kinda comment is that! But I always have felt that Engalnd was a hyped team- projected more than it actually was by its media . But I no more see the world cup with the wonderous eyes that I saw as a child. I never can again. So when the guys with whom I watch the matches with beer in hand , people who have been chrsitened to the game with ESPN Star Sprts EPL matches say..”See that pass…that cross”….it doesnt touch me as it does them….and I dont think that any school kids in Calcutta nowadays collect those bubble gum cards nowadays….but Im pretty sure that they quite enjoy an after school football match- come rain or shine.

  27. Regarding that Hand of God Goal-
    here’s an interesting read.

  28. Adding to your poignant ending list.
    Oliver Khan never lets a single goal before the final and fumbles with a simple shot from Ronaldo in the final.
    I really can’t understand how a nation (India) is being driven crazy like this when its own team is nowhere near qualification. Just thinking what if the rules allowed us to play barefoot in 1950. The mania has caught us so much that we are having a corporate football tournament in tidel park, chennai- first of its kind.

  29. I think it was ICC’s lackadaisical attitude and the unwillingness to change that has stunted cricket’s growth as a global game. ICC may not admit, but racism has always been rampant; it was only after big moolah started coming from the Asian nations, that it has reduced.
    Secondly, cricket was kept elitist for too long, what with just 8-9 nations playing, and others were’nt allowed to come in. Bangladesh can never hope to win against Australia, at least in the near future. But Ghana can hope to beat Brazil in football. Maybe the inherent nature of both games is different, but the fact remains that quality in cricket has been confined to a few nations. Even Brazil needs to qualify for the FIFA world cup, while in cricket the 8 burra sahibs can relax.

  30. @yourfan2:
    ahhh, anandamela and sportsworld, etc … quite nostalgic

  31. @yourfan2
    as good as GB!

  32. Wonderful !!! Thanks, Arnab, for rekindling all those old memories. 🙂
    Like you and yourfan, I too would like to share some memories with you.

    I was too young in 1986 to feel the WC-fever and used to sid beside my dad and watch the matches. He himself was a footballer in the years of his youth and had always been a passionate supporter of Brazil. It was the WC’86 that made him a convert. He became Argentina’s, or rather Maradona’s fan. So did I, because I had liked the colour of their shirts and Maradona’s crucifix-shaped earring. 🙂 This liking only increased when I discovered he too was a naturally left-footed player like me. 🙂

    In 1990 I was 4 years older and had been aptly educated by dad about the game, that the football world was divided in only 2 parts – Europe and Latin America and all its nuances and different styles of playing (For example: Europeans play defensive football whereas Latin Americans play attacking football. Europeans play tough football while Latin Americans play entertaining and artistic football etc etc). I started watching the matches, again with dad, deciding that I’d have only one team to cheer for – ARGENTINA. When Roger Milla’s Cameroon beat Argentina, I felt so heartbroken that even now if there is a match involving any African Team, I keep praying that they lose. And, trust me, it comes naturally. I don’t have any grudge or hatred for Africans. It just keeps playing at the back of my mind. Even Andeas Brehme’s penalty conversion in the final couldn’t make me as sad. I remember the Prince of Football shedding tears after losing, in his light-blue striped shirt and with the crucifix-shaped earring on.

    Came WC’94 in the U.S.A and this time I was even more educated about the game, the teams and the players , thanks to Anandamela and Sportstar. I had made a list of players who were not exactly big stars then but were the ones to watch out for. One of them, Marco Antonio Etcheverry of Bolivia, was red-carded 2 minutes after he stepped into the field and ould never play again as his team couldn’t make it to the 2nd round.

    Oleg Solenko of Russia scored 5 goals (a WC-record till date) in a single match against Cameroon and in the same match Roger Milla not only became the oldest ever World-Cupper but also scored a goal.

    Gheorghe Hagi of Romania and Hristo Stoichkov of Bulgaria are the two best free-kick takers and long-range shooters I have ever seen. Roberto Carlos or David Beckham also have scored goals like those but not so consistently and artistically. Stoichkov was a magician with the dead ball. His Bulgarian teammate Yordan Lechkov (now, the Hon’ble Vice President of Bulgaria)wasn’t far behind. I still wonder how a naturally bald person like him scored those unbelievable goals with his head.

    Alexi Lalas of the USA was one of the best defenders seen in that WC. Although he was nowhere near Maldini, Dunga or Cafu, he definitely made a mark.

    In Argentina’s opening game against Greece Batistuta scored a hat-trick and Prince, all of 34 by then, scored the fourth goal. What a goal it was !!! And, two days later, he tested positive with nephidrine in his urine sample and was barred to play international football ever again.

    Emeka Ejugo of Nigeria became the first footballer who has played in Kolkata maidan as well as in the WC.

    The Arab, Saiyyad Owairan scored a gem of a goal.

    Brazil came in with Ra’i as their captain but after he had a dressing-room fight with coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, the captaincy was handed over to Dunga and Ra’i never played for Brazil again. The Defence comprising of Cafu and Dunga, Midfield with Leonardo and Aldair, Forward-line with Romario and Bebeto, Brazil just stole its way to my heart. Leonardo was a joy to watch. So was the Romario-Bebeto combo. The reserve-bench had young 17-year-old Ronaldo. The only two teams that could put up a fight against Brazil were The Netherlands in with Dennis Bergkamp , Frank Rijkaard and Aron Winter playing their hearts out in the quarter final AND Sweden in the semis.
    Thomas Brolin and Martin Dahlin of Sweden made a dangerous forward line then. Henrik Larsson was young, fast and had l-o-n-g curly hair then (he is totally bald now). Had their defence been a bit stronger, they could have become a very strong contender for the WC. However, they had to be content by only getting the 3rd place by thrashing Stoichkov’s Bulgaria 4-0 in the play-off match. Stoichkov’s only failure in the WC’94.

    Italy, after a disappointing and disheartening start, thanks to the late picking-up by Roberto Baggio, made their way to the final to face Brazil.

    And, it was too boring a match to be a world cup final between teams who at that time were 3-times’ world champions.
    However, Baresi’s and Baggio’s costly misses in the sudden death gave Brazil their 4th WC.

    In 1998, with my plus-two exams on the cards, it was very difficult for me to convince dad to let me watch matches late at night. I couldn’t watch all of them, but did watch most of them. Ortega’s and Beckham’s red cards, Owen’s spectacular (almost Maradona-like, but not quite there) goal. England’s and Argentina’s premature exits. Dangerous Croatia marching their way through to the semi-final only to be beaten by France, thanks to defender Lilian Thuram’s two goals (his only international goals till date). And, emergence of another magician in the football field namely Zinedine Zidane. Then in the finals, this magician gave Ronaldo nightmares and epileptic fits and scored twice. Emanuelle Petit once to give Brazil the shock of the century (20th century) by thrashing them 3-0. After the times of Platini, France once again became a superpower in Football holding Zidane’s hand.

    2002 was a cake-walk for Brazil again and they were just too good for their opponents in the final, Germany. England lost the quarter final to Brazil. Argentina, France, Italy nobody could make it to that level. France, in fact, was the biggest disappointment as they had a first-round exit losing to Senegal, a new entry. Oliver Kahn was the only difference between Germany winning and not winning the WC and his mistakes in the final proved to be lethal.

    In Euro 2004 France came back to form pretty soon and ousted the favourites England, again thanks to Zidane for his two goals, and Beckham for his missed penalty. They made it to the finals but only to be beaten by the surprise team Greece.

    In all probabilities, it is going to be the last world cup for the greats Zidane and Figo. I hope France and Portugal would have met in the finals instead of in the semis. But as that is not possible, with only the semis and the final to go, and with all my favourite teams (Argentina, Brazil, England and The Netherlands… in this order) out, I definitely want to see a France-Germany final which France will eventually win because I feel that would be the best possible farewell to any footballer, more so to the magician called Zinedin Zidane.

  33. @ Debolin: in Euro 2004 France was beaten by Greece in the QF. England was ousted in the QF by Portugal through penalties (Beckham shot over the bar).

    The game you are talking about was actually the first group game for France and England. England went ahead, but France came back through Zidane’s free kick and injury time penalty. Of course, Greece won the finals by beating Protugal for the second time in the tournament.

  34. @Ramki: Yep..

    @Sameer: Which is why I have never been much of a Germany fan….not much joy in their game.

    @Yourfan2: Yes the drama of that moment is etched in the mind.

    @Aqua: And so they did.

    @Bonatellis: The thing is that I am not able to appreciate strategy…for instance what distinguishes Scolari from the rest or how do Basten and Klinsmann compare in terms of strategic acumen.

    @Joy Forever: A situation like Eden Gardens perhaps ? 😉

    @Udayan: :-). And even then Ronaldo will be trying to increase his tally of goals.

    @Gourav: Amen

    @Vivek: I suppose they never officiate another international FIFA game again. But what about cricket match referees? How come those idiots with their biases are allowed to continue match after match?

    @Ratnakar: Totally agree with the hype around the English team—I just did not understand how different they were from previous English teams…

    @BongoPondit: Oh yes, Maxi’s goal…

    @Rajesh: Welcome..

    @Shravan: Indeed.

    @Abhijit: Thank you

    @Kaunteya: I will be supporting Italy to take out Germany and France to win the Cup (contingent on Zidane continously displaying his sublime skills)—Portugal has played the game way too rough for me to endorse them.

    @Suyog: And so they are.

    @Rajeev: Yes was aware of that—one colorful character he was.

    @Vikas: Never been able to understand why Latin Americans cant go the full distance in Europe—they play club soccer in Europe and the conditions should be familiar to them.

    @Yourfan2: Wow. Again this comment is a post in itself–beautiful. Your mention of Sportstar and their full page posters brought back memories—in those days even before the games started, we almost had the full line-ups memorized…

    Only one clarification: you said Valdano scored the equalizer—I think you meant Burruchaga who scored the winning goal…Brown(header from corner) and Valdano (pass from Diego) had put the Argentina 2-0 up only to get the lead whittled away by Rummenige till the decider by Burruchaga…. I hope I am right…not totally sure.
    @Ram: India and World Cup…aahhhh lets not even go there.

    @Harsh: Soccer’s rules are such that it is possible to sneak in a goal at the very end and win while in cricket, you need to dominate over some period of time in order to get a win.

    @deBoLiN: Lovely. Always feels nice when a post jogs the memories of those who visit the blog.

  35. Wow!

    Seems like all of us have our ‘trips down the memory lane’ with nearly the same milestones along the wayside. I was particularly pleased with dEbOLiN mentioning Alexi Lalas of USA who played in 1994 — I thought I was the only to carry memories of him.

    Mine starts thus:

    “…The first football World Cup I remember having followed was the 1982 Espana, which was won by Italy. This I followed through the colourful pages of Sportstar — arguably India’s finest sports magazine…”


  36. Problem is people do die for the game, and I’ll always remember the Colombia-USA match that resulted in the tragic shooting of the Colombian defender Escobar.
    Very nice post, brought out those moments that I remember so well, especially on Roger Milla who was such a favorite.. will never forget that dance :). Watching the Ger-Ita match right now, and so wishing Italy would win!

  37. This brings me memories from my very early childhood. Cannot believe I can recall Higuita. I was 7 or 8 years old in 1990!

    A more detailed post on Maradona when it is possible would be great.. 🙂

  38. Zizou is one of the all time greats….serves people right for writing him off so early…ill probably be writing a tribute to him a few years down the line for single handedly getting me to understand and enjoy football (infact i posted a bit abt him here

    i never realised football could be so delicate and gracefull till i started watching Zidane…
    its amazing how my memories of football are associated with this one player =P
    fingers crossed the win the semi final today

  39. @ BongoPondit :
    Yeah….sorry…my mistake. Thanks a lot.

  40. @GB: he he… got your joke. But it was a bit different. A very similar situation occurred when India was playing against Australia down under, and it was Steve Waugh’s last game. Both teams had won a test each, and Steve stood between India and victory in the 3rd. I’m ashamed to admit, that I wanted the match to be a draw. I later found that many, and I mean MANY, of my friends shared my feelings. We loved Steve just too much to see him retire on a losing note. 😦

  41. Plane crash-Hungary, I am sorry but surely you don’t mean Duncan Fletcher’s Manchester United Team… Hungary’s Magic Magyars reached the finals of the 1954 World Cup, led by the portly Ferenk Puskas (the Galloping Major)… there they lost tragically to the West Germans… Incidentally the West Germans have prevented two of the most attractive and brilliant teams from becoming World Champion, the aforementioned Hungarians and Rene Michell’s Dutch team in 1974 (Obviously the Argentine team this year won’t be ranked that high, but they certainly were the best on show this year….)… as Linekar said football is a game “for 22 people that run around, play the ball, and one referee who makes a slew of mistakes, and in the end Germany always wins….”

  42. @Rahul: Lalas now does expert commentary on ESPN in US.

    @Bidisha: Italy won! Yiyee!

    @Pratyush: The benefits of being old….I have seen Maradonna.

    @Szerelem: Just like many of ours is with Maradonna.

    @Joy Forever: No I still wanted India to win !

    @Dealer: Sorry I meant the Manchester United team of 58…wonder why I thought it was the Hungarian team. And well not always does Germany win… we saw yesterday.

  43. Nice post. And thanks for reviving memories.
    Being a daily passenger in Munich metro, I realize everyday the heat of WC with every bone (though being from Kolkata that’s not something unfamiliar). The population of the city increased by 5 times last month.
    And today seems to be the national mourning day. So less crowd in the trains and buses. Even in my lab. Few colleagues even crying still.

  44. Thank God for that (Germany losing) … today I am of divided loyality…. Zizou and Figo, two of the greatest icons of this generation, actaully I think I will go for Portugal, I still cannot forgive Zidane for the indiscretion (now repeated to add some more salt to the wounds….) in the 1998 Word Cup Finals…

    The Man U team was led by Duncan Edwards… (not Fletcher) and were of course the famous Busby Babes…

    So Portugal it is…..

  45. Ranjan Chakravarty July 5, 2006 — 3:43 pm

    @Anirban: Munich is one utterly fabulous city and you are fortunate to be present there during this special and historic time! Marvellous!!!

  46. greatbong,
    kudos for sticking with italy; this WC, otherwise has been “pundits” nightmare. None of the so called favourites are going through. Who would have thought that a team that could not beat USA and would have been eliminated by Aussies were it not for some shoddy referring, reach to the finals?
    In the end it was Italy’s day and game. I mean, i could sense from the body language of the Germans, during the national anthem stand up b4 the match, that Italians would dominate.
    The first goal was a classic. I mean what a beautiful set piece was that?
    I have lost all the bets in this WC. Three teams i was rooting for were kicked off.

    I am thinking of calling the managers of each of the remaining teams and bargain a price for supporting their opponents. For i am sure whichever team i support will loose 🙂

    Yea, i agree though that after seeing the way Portugal played against netherlands, you don’t feel like supporting them. They have been plain nasty. Even Figo, was, with all due respects to his skills, a drama-baz # 1 in that game.

    But since you talked of characters in your post, how bout Ronaldo for some? He is one of those characters you either love or love to hate. He was caught on the cameras winking , after Rooney was sent off. And also the way he took that deciding penalty kick; there was not an ounce of nervousness in that kid. In fact he simply was too confident or was too smartly playing a mind game with Robinson. I mean how cool was that?

  47. >>> Bangladesh can never hope to win against Australia, at least in the near future. But Ghana can hope to beat Brazil in football.

    There is a reason which nobody has talked about till today. Cricket rules are not equal. The game itself, by rules of game theory and probability , is not fair .. Ohh come on, cricket must be the only game where winning the toss can decide win or loss in the game. Plus the stupid rain rules. Just a few minutes of rain can change the pitch conditions if the covers are not quickly put on, test match or one-day, it doesnt matter.

    Football is much more fair mathematically because if it rains, it rains for both teams. If the pitch is bad, it is bad for both teams.

  48. In Euro 2004 France came back to form pretty soon and ousted the favourites England, again thanks to Zidane for his two goals, and Beckham for his missed penalty. They made it to the finals but only to be beaten by the surprise team Greece.


    @Debolin, Great post, but just a small error. I think it was portugal who beat England in Euro 2004 and were beaten by Greece in final. Perhaps you are talking about Euro 2000.

    BTW, Portugal was a real good team this year. My dark horses. Too sad they lost. They lacked a good finishing. Pauleta and Postiga are not great strikers at world level. REally delightful to watch on the field, compared to dull, dour and boring France. It works for France, fine, but then they are unimaginative and uncreative, except Zizou. They play slow and like mechanical robots programmed to play. Even the well organized Germans look better on the field compared to them.

  49. ooopps forgot to add.

    What do you guys fancy about the final. I think Italy have a good chance. Pirlo and Cannavoro , the men of the match against Germany, as per me. Good work by Camaronesi too, except the final minutes when he looked tired.

    And whoa, del Piero back to his scoring ways.. Amazing. And the silently working Totti, setting up attacks for Toni and Pirlo.

    France are going to have a bad time. They are up against the best last-3 combination in the world – nesta, cannavaro and buffon. And a good counterattack.

    Italy all the way…

    In fact, except for Zizou and Makelele, France dont even deserve to be in the finals.

  50. I think Italy wins 1-0, but I have rarely been right this time.

    About football and death, one of my cousins actually died as a result of the stampede during the famous Mohun Bagan match with Pele’s Cosmos in 1977.

  51. Malauda Abidal Makelele July 7, 2006 — 4:05 pm

    Why did the Sardar beat up the French football team coach?
    Cause he was shouting Ma-lauda – Abi-dal – Ma-ke-lele!

  52. Chappel's Excuses July 10, 2006 — 10:44 am

    GB, that’s pretty much my journey as a football(no, BraziL!) fan! Remember the Argentina-Brazil Second Round in 1990? That one where Brazil pretty much played tic-tac-toe with the Argentines for about 80 minutes and suddenly Argentines scored on the break, breaking our hearts in the process. How I hated them for that- my mental aversion of Argentina was cured only recently after THAT goal in the Serbia match in this World Cup.
    Germany, even in this cup, I thought were more efficient than flairful. I mean, only this time they were efficiently attacking instead of efficiently defending a 1 goal lead.That way, it was either great luck or superb strategy by Italians to score in 119th minute. Anytime earlier, and I am sure Germany would have found a reply!

    Anyway, IMO, Italy were undeserved winners – though their game was superb technically, or so I am told by people with pretensions to better understanding of football. Brazil, Argentina, Spain, France and Portugal would have been my picks in that order. Too bad FIFA referees dont listen to me when deciding whom to give controversial penalties to:-)

  53. gb: you wrote “@Harsh: Soccer’s rules are such that it is possible to sneak in a goal at the very end and win while in cricket, you need to dominate over some period of time in order to get a win.”

    do i need to remind you of a certain sixer? 😦

    – s.b.

  54. About football and death, one of my cousins actually died as a result of the stampede during the famous Mohun Bagan match with Pele’s Cosmos in 1977.

  55. Nice one Arnab. Read this earlier, but couldn’t comment due to (what else!) lack of time, to properly frame my thoughts.

    Specially this coming after the post in which you took jabs at the Bengali footballer lover (forgot the post, but it had a picture of some Tapas Paul movie).

    The thing is I love football.
    Don’t know if it has to do with anything with my being a Bengali, but certainly heredity played its part. My father played for Mohun Bagan (2nd division – and then had to move out of football due to family obligations – the usual : football is not considered to be a livelyhood option for the middle class.) I, along with my brother, started playing football when I was 6 or 7, with my father, in the NRS Hospital football ground (Campbell ground) And since then it’s an unbroken love. I was a regular for my school, my college. {Maybe I too could have taken up football as my career, but that never could have been the case, after what happened to my father}
    The thing that I’m trying to establish here is : that not Bengalis have a blind attraction for Brazil, some DO play the game, appreciate the nuances and love it. Every moment of it.

    I’m following the WC since 1990 (was 9 years old then) and still have vivid memories of most of the events you so lucidly described here. You know what the thing with Brazil is ? It’s the title of your post. It’s the beautiful game and no other country play it (over the years) as beautifully as the Brazilians. [You probably know and agree with all this, nonetheless, I’ll still say it]

    And what ails Indian football ? The following would my answer :
    1. The (inherent) Indian physique – Football is a body contact game and the more statuesque your figure, the better your chances are, in all departments of the game – kick power, speed, winning challenges, heading the ball. Agreed that Japan and South Korea have, to some extent, proved this wrong, but in football, it is always good be 6 feet rather than 5’5″.

    2. The strata from which the players coming – Due to certain reasons (some of which are below) the proffessional Indain football players do not come from a strata of society which are too ambitious or have the power to think big. Neither, a lot of them, have the basic intelligence to understand the finer nuances of the game. [I’m not trying to get any particular society, just trying to see the things at a micro-lever]. This mentality has to change for any to happen to Indian football.

    3. The administration – with people like Priya Ranjan Das Munshi around, things can never, ever be good for the game. And not just PRDS, the structures at grass root level has to change : the ball (yes, this basic amenity is not always readily available), the grounds, the coaches, the clubs. I do not have an answer to how these will change, but they have to.

    4. The mindset of the general people – most Indians tune into football once in only 4 years. The glorification of cricket, to the extent, that all other sport is not given their due, is something I totally disagree and protest. [I completely agree with the fact that since in Cricket we have won the WC, the most fan following will be for this game – absolutely. No denying that fact. But why push other sports down ?] There has to be a passion for a game to grow, to be nurtured along. Sadly in India, except for some regions, this hasn’t been the case.

    A long comment. Hope you’ll reply.

    And to reiterate once again – you’re the BEST !

    ~ Krishanu

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  59. i can see most of the guys here are germany haters….

    but somehow i have always been a germany fan…. may it has got to do with which world cup was your first … those who saw the action first in 86 are mainly argentina fans…. those in 94 are brazil fans… i saw wc first time in 1990 and i became a german fan…

    I have always seen German team as a David playing against the Goliaths of football .. against all odds .. with pure hard work and determination ..

    they just emphasized again and again the power of playing as fight till end and to keep coming back from death…

    there are many teams which play football which is pleasing to the eyes… but none other than germany play with pure heart and determination to win against all odds..

    That explains their record in WC… not going out before quarters since 1954 .. a record which none other teams can match…

    their win in 90 WC was a totally deserved one..they beat the best to achieve it… holland..england and then argentina…those who believe Argentina deserved it more…just think it was Germany’s third successive final in as many world cups.. after heart breakingly losing the 86 final when they came back from 2 -0 to make it 2-2 and then saw it slipped in the dying moments..was there any other team who deserved it MORE for the 1990 WC ???

    no other team could have come back and won against the Giant teams like Hungary and Holland in 54 n 74 respectively…
    most of you find it tragic but i certainly believe those two days as the Win of Spirit over gift..

  60. this is the video of that Epic match between holland and germany in 1990WC..

    i think the scoreline 2-1 is just stuck with these two teams..

    first germany winning 2-1 in 74 final..

    then holland taking revenge in 88 euro semis again a 2-1

    and then here in 90 wc where germany avenged it again with a 2-1 :=)

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