The world cup and I

Today is the first day of the world cup. While I fully expect the verbe and savoir faire of Paulo Wanchope to whip those german animatronic figures into submission [1] I started thinking...

The first cup I remember is Argentina 1978. Which, of course, we won. Thanks maybe to a shady grain shipment to Peru, maybe because Cruyff refused to come to the country, maybe because we had the world's strongest guy playing [2], maybe because the host nation had won like 60% of the time so far, but we did win.

I saw Argentina-Hungary in a movie theater with the screen decorated as a huge TV one day after it was played. Since we lived under a bloody dictatorship, everyone had to standup while we saw the taped anthem-singing, and there was a sort of desperate mandatory patriotism. But anyway, I was 7, it was fun.

Then came Spain 82. I was in school during most matches, so I didn't actually see almost any of them. We had a rather nice team, with Maradona and Ramon Diaz, but we met Brazil, which had a marvelous team. Then the final was the average versus the depressing, and the depressing won. Italy won with goals by an actual, proven game-fixer. And somehow noone remembers that.

Mexico 86. The first cup where I saw every damn match. And of course, one of the most memorable cups ever, since, again, we won. And we had the best player in the cup by some margin.

Of course, not everything could be flawless, and a deeply mediocre english team feels that they would have won except for the "Hand of God" goal. Well, here's the thing. If the english had won, it would have been injustice of such a mind-bending size, armageddon would have happened right there, 21 years too early.

Not to mention that the bitter dudes simply can't enjoy being beaten by the second goal [3].

Sure, we had to play only England, Belgium and Boxcar Willy [4] but then again, we have been on the "Group of Death" for 8 years in a row.

When you play in a park or schoolground, if there is a player that's incredibly good (or everyone else is incredibly bad) we say "with that gay, it's stealing". Well, in 86, with that guy, it was freaking armed robbery.

Italy 90. I have high blood pressure. I blame Italy 90. We started by being the first champion ever to lose the opening match, against Cameroon, because we didn't play Caniggia until minute 70. In the following ten minutes, two Cameroon [5] players got redcarded. If he had played from the start, we would have won by default because Cameroon would have ended with 5 players on the field.

Maradona had his left ankle the size of a grapefruit, and the color of Merlot. He could barely walk.

Our goalie was injured in the most gruesome accident I ever saw in a football field. On the slow motion reply you can see his leg turn into a Z in a very wrong way.

Then we played Russia where Maradona committed a clear penalty and wasn't called [6]

We seemed to advance in every round by penalties, and were pretty much unable to score at all.

In the match against Brazil, we were so overmatched it was kinda funny. And then we had two chances. One went in, the other hit the crossbar. Brazil had about 400 shots on goal, and we had the luckiest guy on earth on goal, so...

We played Italy. We had one chance to score. It went in. They tied.

We won on penalties, thanks to the most incompetent penalty kicker I ever saw [7]. Serena, wherever you are, if you ever need a drink, I'll buy you one, round-footed-wonder!

The finals. We were without the only guy that could score in the team. Without our best defender. Our best player was so bandaged he couldn't use shinguards. Everyone was way too old. Batista was playing like Boris Karloff's Frankenstein. We had ran out of players, out of ideas, out of time.

And we lost. Because of a penalty. Which was not a penalty (see the replays, really).

There have only been two players ejected on a cup final ever. Guess who they were?

But you know what? The guys played like god damn lions. If you are great, then you are supposed to win. We were not great. We were not even average. That team was a lot of senior citizens, one fast guy, a crippled wonder and duct tape. And they got to the finals. It was as if a smart, poor fat guy with acne and bad breath picks up Nicole Kidman, but doesn't get to have sex with her. He is still to be admired.

Then came the real heartbreak. USA 94. That cup never happened. I refuse to think about it.

France 98... so so. We got to quarter finals, which was about right. We could have gone further, but Ortega is the dumbest player in the universe, and he decided to headbutt a dutch in front of the referee.

Japan-Korea 2002. We were favourites. We were the best thing since sliced bread. Our coach was a mad genius. A tortured soul. We had the last chance to play one of the most implacable scorers of all time. We had a dazzling midfield. A solid defense. We had beaten Brazil in Maracana a little earlier. We were kickass.

We had a hard group. It was tight. We lost a close match to England. We had to play Sweden and we had to win. But we didn't.

I was living in Buenos Aires and didn't have a TV, so I had to go to bars to see the matches. Argentina-Sweden was played at some ungodly hour, like 3AM, and I went downtown to see it.

Of course, we were one goal short. And we were out of the cup. I had never seen Argentina fail to exit the group stage. And I was at 5AM in the street, in mid-winter, feeling really, really, really bad. Which means that of the last three cups, two have been horrible, one half-decent.

Since Maradona retired, that's our harvest. This time... this time we had a decent team, coached by a nice guy. We have a proabable superstar, but he's too young and a little injured. We have a terrible goalie, an aging defense, a lot of above average forwards... I say semis, or quarters. If we get any further, it will be in the Italy way, not the Mexico way.

But dammit, I will be watching.

[1] Yeah right.
[2] You can see Kempes dragging no less than three rather large dutch people hanging from his shirt. And he didn't even slow down.
[3] I actually prefer Maradona's Belgium goal.
[4] Our side of the draw were all bums.
[5] Everyone remembers this Argentina team as thugs. Cameroon was about 10 times as rough, and noone remembers because they were the feel good story of the cup, with Milla being 56 years old or something. But if you attacked them, you ended barefooted, flipping in the air.
[6] God plays defense, too.
[7] Except Palermo, who missed three (3) penalties in the same match. Then again, he actually kicked two of them decently.


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