As winter approached in June 1990, attention turned away from the new president of the Republic toward Italy. The most important event in the entire universe was coming from Europe to our television screen: the FIFA World Cup 1990. This monumental event made everything else become secondary, not only in Chile, but in many countries worldwide. My friends explained their disappointment about El Mundial as la Roja - the Chilean national team - had failed to qualify. There had been dubious circumstances around their goalkeeper and national icon, Roberto El Condor Rojas in a key match against Brazil, which could have guaranteed a seed in the tournament's groups if the team could pick up at least one point. Brazil hosted Chile in the Maracaná Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, in a match Chile had to tie or win to qualify for the prestigious tournament. Chile was losing 1 - 0 at half-time and, during the second half of the match, El Condor spread his majestic wings and dove straight down to the pitch covering his face with his gloves. He claimed that a flare was hurled onto the pitch hitting him injuring him in the process. The match was suspended as the Chileans had refused to resume playing under dangerous circumstances - and insisted on scheduling a rematch in a neutral stadium. Shortly after this scandal, El Condor Rojas confessed he had deliberately injured himself using a concealed razor blade. A FIFA-established committee then disqualified Chile from this qualifying round and the 1994 round.
|FIFA World Cup Italy 1990 poster|
This national catastrophe brought out the best of Chilean fans. Without La Roja to cheer for, they began supporting the South American teams from the CONMEBOL confederation that qualified, including the defending champions, Argentina. Many of my friends and my brother jumped on the Argentina bandwagon. Maradona was the man in charge of the albiceleste as they were pooled against Cameron, Romania and the Soviet Union who had all impressed during the qualifying round. Diego Armando Maradona had played a major role in Italy's football leagues when he sported the S.S.C. Napoli colours. He became a household name as he led the Neapolitans to their golden age, being the only southern Italian team to win the Serie A League and bring home the prestigious UEFA Champions League Cup. Maradona was a cultural, social and God-like personality in the region. Many admired his fighting spirit complemented with his unparalleled skills with the ball, including the famous Hand of God incident where Argentina trounced the English in Mexico '86. Some pundits often accuse Maradona of having pulled off the most beautiful goal and the most opportunistic goal in that match. Despite harsh critics, many South Americans saw it as a major victory for the developing world against the wealth and resources of the first world. It was interesting for me to see that even football played a political role.
Argentina's World Cup campaign got off to a shocker as Roger Milla's 9-man Cameroonian Team upset the albiceleste 1 - 0 in their opening match in San Siro Stadium, Milan. This game was one of the major upsets in the history of the tournament. Many Argentine fans were furious that an African team had outclassed their so-called all-star team - Africans were often underrated by their opponents until Cameroon's performance. The following match, el futbol lindo was back in action setting the Soviets back in the standings by beating them 2-0. The next and final game in the group stage would be a piece of cake as they were playing in Naples, a second home for Maradona. The South Americans believed they would have a home advantage over Romania and the fans backing due to the skipper's popularity. On match day, this was hardly the case. The Italian fans created an unfavourable environment for both teams and the game ended in a 1 - 1 draw. Maradona, as was common during his career, lashed out at the press and the Italian fans, reminding them of what he had accomplished for Italy. He declared to the media that he felt betrayed by an entire nation and that he had outgrown his welcome in Italy. He describedthe common heritage of the Southern Italians with Argentines, noting that many Argentines originated from the poor areas of the Mezzogiorno. In future matches, some of the locals’ behaviour changed toward the Argentine squad, something that made Maradona appear as a socio cultural leader.
In the knockout stage, there were two matches with a bittersweet feeling for me as an avid football fan. The first of these brought a certain feeling similar to a conflict of interest. Argentina was facing its fierce rival Brazil, which had been historically responsible for memorable upsets in the albiceleste's football ambitions. I felt I owed a canarinha some loyalty, as it was the first country I had lived in. Nevertheless, it was virtually impossible to avoid being consumed by the swagger Argentina showcased on the pitch. When the match kicked off, I found myself consumed by the ebb and flow of the game and found myself with plenty of time to decide my allegiance. I had sworn my oath to Maradona but could overturn this decision as the game kept at a stalemate come half time. Sergio Goycochea, commonly known as El Goyco, was playing the game of his life in the Argentine net. The Brazilians could not seem to break the tight defense and kept solid at the back as well. No team managed to break the other down. This pace continued into the second half of play. It was not until the last ten minutes of the game that Argentina broke into a speedy counter attack led by Maradona, he passed the ball to the wide open Claudio Caniggia to his left, Caniggia kicked the ball to the back of the net and GOAL!!! My heart stopped. My first reaction to this wonderfully orchestrated maneuver was bursting into celebration as if I had released my inner demons. No more guilty conscience. Argentina was back on track from where they left off in 86.
|Argentina squad, Italy 1990|
The following match toward self-discovery as a football fan was the final. The South Americans were able to fight their way past the competitive teams that they had been pitted against. All that stood in their way to lift the coveted trophy, along with immortality were the West Germans. Lothar Matthaus and Jurgen Klinsman were as cup hungry as the Argentines and were going to fight over every inch of the field. The game was panning out in similar fashion to the Brazil match for the albiceleste. No matter how hard they pushed into the German area, they were met by a defensive fortress. They never lost sight of their objective and just needed a short lapse of German defense to go home with the trophy. Soon, the 80th minute mark came along. The entire stadium turned into a frenzy. A penalty was awarded to the Germans under suspicious circumstances and both teams’ tempers began to brew. The Germans scored. It literally felt like I had been shot through the heart. My brother and I could no longer watch yet could not turn away either. We believed in Maradona and his skills. We knew he could pull it off. The last ten minutes carried on in a lackluster pace. Any minute now things would change. Any minute now. The referee blew into the whistle, the German players poured on to the field, and Brian and I had to accept the 1 – 0 result. Our brave warriors dropped to the ground as if their legs had been taken away and we shared the pain in our family room. That day Santiago was quieter than usual. There was nothing to celebrate, as the world's highest accolade would not return to South America. All that kept life going was the hope that in four years, South America had a shot for redemption.