SIVAN JOHN on a South American derby at the 1990 World Cup which he just had to watch, even if it meant defying the rules
The year was 1990 and like every kid who loves football, the one thing that we were looking forward to was the Copa Mundial of Italia’90. However, due to the time difference between the host nation and Malaysia, most matches kicked off late. Living under a strict regime at home meant that I wouldn’t be able to watch some of the matches.
As Argentina were drawn to play Brazil in the round of 16, this is one game that I couldn’t afford to miss it for the world. Nevermind if the next I had to wake up early for school. After all, if there is one reason why I love the World Cup, its Argentina.
Argentina’s campaign in this World Cup has been horrendous to say the least. Defeat against Cameroon on the opening day, was followed up with victory over Russia and a draw with Romania. That’s hardly a defending champion material, let alone a side featuring Diego Maradona, one of the all-time greats. Luckily enough, Argentina finished among the four best third-place teams to progress beyond the group stage.
Meanwhile, Brazil cruised through their group with a clean 100 per cent record. Though not the most attractive squad ever assembled, in Careca, Romario and Bebeto they have enough firepower to see off anyone. This made them among the hot favourites, but the second round matchup ended up being a baptism of fire for them. Of all the third-place teams, the Gods have destined them to meet their South American nemesis.
Everyone knows when it comes to a derby matchup that form becomes irrelevant. Being hot favourites, on paper, means nothing. There is everything to play for. An Argentina versus Brazil game at the World Cup is sure to stick on everyone’s lips.
Deep down I had a belief that, for Argentina, this could be the game changer in this tournament. As a result, I was going to defy whatever rules were in place to watch this game. At about 9pm, which was an hour before kick-off, I did my usual routine of going to bed. Pretty soon everyone else was asleep. With just a minute left before kick-off, I sneaked out of my room and made my way to the living room in extreme silence.
Before I switched on the television, I muted the sound. So with only actions on the football field that was left in front of me, I had to make up on my commentary. You could only imagine what I was going through my head during the game. On one hand, I had to be very cautious in hoping no one woke up or needed to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. The other, I had to keep my focus on a game.
Brazil were dominating right from the beginning. It was a cagey situation, with the men in yellow attacking from all angles. The number of chances they created was just staggering. Alemão did a good job in neutralizing Maradona, who was naturally the focal point for Argentina. Forty-five minutes gone, it was already too much for me to deal with.
When the second-half underway, the script was still the same. Then came that moment. It was as if watching an epic trilogy movie being compressed into just 30 seconds. As more Brazilian players begin to surround him, he saw the doors of heaven opening up for him in the form of Mauro Galvo’s legs. A nippy Claudio Caniggia was right there to receive the blessings from above. He tangoed past the onrushing Taffarel before slotting the ball home. Brazilian utopia is on the verge of turning into an ultimate purgatory.
There was still 10 minutes go, which felt like 10 hours. I was in a catch-22 situation, with an angel telling me it’s time to go and the devil insisting that I should hang in there. Of course, I made a pact with the devil. I didn’t want to leave the game now, only to wake up in the morning to a different outcome. As the clock was ticking down, all I wanted to see was the referee blowing the final whistle. As soon as that happened, I immediately went to bed. The next morning, I pretended to the best of my ability as if nothing happened.
This also happens to be the last time Argentina have met Brazil at the World Cup. The patrimony of this game still lives on even after 28 years. Partly because of the Holy Water in which Branco claimed he felt dizzy after drinking a bottle of, given to him by a member of the Argentine training staff, was allegedly fused with tranquiliser.
But that didn’t stop the Argentine fans from turning this game into the most ultimate example of football banter. Thousands who crossed the border for the 2014 World Cup made their presence felt by signing to the tune of “Brasil Decime Que Se Siente”. From Rio to Belo Horizonte, they sang to the lines of “Que el Diego los gambeteó, Que el Cani los vacunó,” with pride and contempt.
28 years on, its one of those games that I will forever remember!