On a day when the mighty Germans crash-landed at Port Elizabeth, courtesy Serbia, I am reminded of that awesome German team captained by Lothar Matthaus, the versatile midfield sweeper who led the Germans to victory in the 1990 World Cup. Matthaus played in five World Cups, probably the most capped German football player of all time. But what a dream team he had. And remember, it was West Germany in 1990 – not the unified team of today. There was Andreas Brehme, Thomas Hassler, Rudi Voller, Karl-Heinz Riedle, Thomas Berthold and Jurgen Klinsmann, each a possible match winner.
The seniors have all gone and today’s German team, with the exception of Klose, Podolski and another, are all new faces. It is a young team with young blood but they failed to deliver today and, according to a BBC report, the German coach is said to have been devastated by the loss. Well, perhaps from this new team will arise some stars, we can never tell. But for Germany, it’s a major blow after Klose was red-carded – a loss after 1986 in the early rounds of a World Cup is indeed something for a three-time winner.
Talking of stars, what is any World Cup Football tournament without stars? If the India-England Test series of 1971-72 led me to the charms of listening to cricket commentary on the radio, it was the World Cup of 1978 that got me into a tizzy over football (not that the Calcutta Senior Division League didn’t). And who wouldn’t, after hearing of the exploits of two gentlemen called Mario Kempes and Leopold Luque! Kempes, with his long locks and devastating runs, made it his World Cup, scoring six times, including a brace in the final. Luque, with flowing mane, though not as long as Kempes’, scored four goals in the tournament and caught the eye with incisive raids mainly down the left flank. Many a time it would seem defenders were making way as he weaved his way in and out at will, crossing the ball into the penalty area often to find Kempes within striking distance.
In 1982, it was Italy’s Poalo Rossi who scored six goals to win the Golden Boot, three of them coming in a shock win over Brazil, a memorable hat-trick. Maradona played in this World Cup as well, but he was to make a mark only in 1986 – with two goals that will never fade from public memory. Both the goals were scored in the same match against England (the game was played against the background of the Falklands War between Argentina and the U.K.). One was the ‘Hand of God’ goal (the ball had struck his hand before he scored) and the other was voted ‘goal of the century’ in a poll conducted by FIFA later. It was a dream run, perhaps never to be seen again, that saw Maradona getting past five or six English players, including the goalkeeper, Peter Shilton. It’s a tough ask from even a dribbler of the calibre of Messi.
The thrills of the World Cup endured into its next edition in Italy. Maradona had by then passed his prime and it was not the likes of him or Kempes or Rossi who thrilled. Who would ever have given a Cameroon player a chance to create some wondrous romance! He was probably nearing 40, an age when most footballers would have hung up their boots. But thankfully, Roger Milla didn’t, and wasn’t the whole world thankful for it! Two of his early goals came against Romania. The interesting thing with Milla was that he would celebrate every goal of his with a lovely little jig near the flagpole. There seemed to be an aura about him and I remember how a bunch of us left a wedding reception early to catch Milla play against Columbia. And he didn’t disappoint – two of his goals came in extra time and carried Cameroon into the quarters.
Milla turned into a legend and if you think I’m joking watch the Coca Cola advertisement that is being telecast during the Cup matches this year. You’ll find the ever-smiling Milla with one of his front teeth missing. In 1990, Cameroon rode on the Milla legend to almost threaten England. It was Milla again who came in as substitute to score and draw level. But then dreams have to end sometime. Four years later, Milla appeared fro Cameroon again, and scored one last time in a World Cup (against Russia) before his team was knocked out.
Watch the Coca Cola ad and when you have the time, tune into YouTube to catch those delightful Milla goals of yesteryear.