Monthly Archives: July 2017

2018 Hall of Fame balloting: Early predictions

Earlier today, baseball fans saw five men inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame – players Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez, and executives John Schuerholz and Bud Selig, the latter serving as commissioner for over 20 years.

Here are some of the first time eligible players I think will be included on the ballot (in alphabetical order)

1. Chris Carpenter
2. Johnny Damon
3. Livan Hernandez
4. Jason Isringhausen
5. Andruw Jones
6. Chipper Jones
7. Carlos Lee
8. Hideki Matsui
9. Jamie Moyer
10. Scott Rolen
11. Johan Santana
12. Ben Sheets
13. Jeff Suppan
14. Jim Thome
15. Omar Vizquel
16. Kerry Wood
17. Carlos Zambrano

Holdovers from the previous ballot, listed in order of voting percentage on the 2017 ballot

1. Trevor Hoffman
2. Vladimir Guerrero
3. Edgar Martinez
4. Roger Clemens
5. Barry Bonds
6. Mike Mussina
7. Curt Schilling
8. Manny Ramirez
9. Larry Walker
10. Fred McGriff
11. Jeff Kent
12. Gary Sheffield
13. Billy Wagner
14. Sammy Sosa

Who I think gets in:

1. Chipper Jones (1st ballot)
2. Trevor Hoffman (3rd ballot)
3. Vladimir Guerrero (2nd ballot)

My predictions for the Veteran’s Committee ballot, for those who made the greatest contribution between 1970-1988.

1. Dave Concepcion – Player
2. Steve Garvey – Player
3. Bob Howsam – Executive
4. Tommy John – Player
5. Billy Martin – Manager
6. Marvin Miller – Executive
7. Jack Morris – Player
8. Dale Murphy – Player
9. Dave Parker – Player
10. Alan Trammell – Player

Who I think should get in (alphabetical order):

1. Steve Garvey
2. Dave Parker
3. Alan Trammell

And now the waiting game begins.

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Photo courtesy of 


College towns

Although it’s still about three or so weeks away – I think it’s the week of August 13-19 – Welcome Week will soon be upon us. It’s the busiest time of the entire year for us at work, and it’s one week. This will be my fourth time doing the college rush.

Even though I wasn’t as fond of college as I was high school, and I’ve been out for six years, it’s still a lovely atmosphere, or at least in my opinion. There is a beautiful atmosphere to this city during the school year that you lose in the summer months. Yes, there is less traffic in the summertime, and yes, it’s a lot quieter on weekends, but aside from the obvious economic benefits, Indiana University is still an amazing school. The culture has its ups and downs, sure. Even if this is just me, there is something reassuring about knowing that the students are coming back every year. Without IU, who knows if Bloomington would be what it is today? We’ve still got some growing to do, but as my dad likes to say, it wasn’t a terrible place to grow up. I count myself very lucky to have a degree from a Big Ten school, a public Ivy, and any other distinction the campus has to it.

I understand the mentality that a lot of native Bloomingtonians (I’m assuming that’s the right term for us?) have, especially college-age, which is to want to get out of town. I can’t say I haven’t thought about it myself. And it’s probably essential to do so in order to really grow, to be a citizen of the world. But I worry that they’re letting too much of it go – perhaps Bloomington isn’t in a person’s long-term plans. But you were still here for it. We may not have a lot, but we do have some things. And some of those things, like the Showalter Fountain, are amazingly gorgeous.

If and when I get the chance this year, I’d like to try to walk around the campus during Welcome Week festivities. I’ve probably exhausted all my adjectives by now, but I find that the atmosphere is very refreshing. I’ve also heard I blend in well; many would assume I’m a student now, as opposed to being finished for almost seven years now (!!). I don’t know how much of this comes from being a child and brother of academia, but if you can finish an undergraduate four-year degree, you’ve done something good in your life. Treasure that. It’s a surreal feeling, but it’s one you earn. What comes next, we don’t know. Just do what you can.

One of the local restaurants here in Bloomington has a saying: “Welcome, or welcome back.” Let me welcome back all returning students and welcome in the new ones. Welcome to the Hoosier family.

Only a motion away

Every time July 23 comes around now, I’m going to be forced to remember it. Of course, it’s a reference to when my mom died. Today marks the third anniversary. They say it’s supposed to get easy with time. I surely hope that’s the case.

Actually, I had a reason to smile today. With my sister Dinska and her family in town, it’s always nice to see my niece Zanna and nephew Vince. It’s been seven years since I had seen any of them, and Vince hadn’t even been born yet (he’s five right now, and Zanna was a newborn the last time I saw her).

I think this was the first time all of my dad’s kids (including Chris, my stepbrother) were in the same room at the same time. Nick left me photos of my childhood, and Dinska says she sees a lot of me in Vince, particularly the curly hair. But it was a little bittersweet to see some of the photos. Seeing Mom in happier times helped me remember that she had a lot of love in her, but after her problems got too great to overcome, it was never the same. Those last six years were tough on all of us.

I think I’ve said all I really want to say, so I’d like to let a master craftsman – Paul Simon, in this case – play us out.

No, I would not give you false hope
On this strange and mournful day
But the mother and child reunion
Is only a motion away, oh, little darling of mine

I can’t for the life of me
Remember a sadder day
I know they say “Let it be”
But it just don’t work out that way
And the course of a lifetime runs
Over and over again.

No, I would not give you false hope
On this strange and mournful day
But the mother and child reunion
Is only a motion away, oh, little darling of mine.

I just can’t believe It’s so
Though it seems strange to say
I never been laid so low
In such a mysterious way
And the course of a lifetime runs
Over and over again

But I would not give you false hope
On this strange and mournful day
When the mother and child reunion
Is only a motion away.

Oh the mother and child reunion
Is only a motion away
Oh the mother and child reunion
Is only a moment away.

1990 FIFA World Cup: Italy

Unfortunately, one World Cup has to be ranked the worst. For most, Italia ’90 takes the honors. It’s a shame, actually, because while the play was ugly, there were numerous storylines that we captivating. This World Cup saw one team who had survived sectarian conflict and partition to ride a shocking upset run all the way to the quarterfinals; it saw America return after a 40-year absence, in rehearsal for its own hosting duties; it saw an already famous operatic tenor catapult himself into a global icon and introduce many football fans to classical music, in arguably the best blend of art and sports ever; it saw a player from Yaoundé come out of retirement at age thirty-eight, and lead his team of Lions into their own quarterfinal berth; it saw a goalkeeper shatter records for shutout minutes in World Cup play; it saw two bitter rivals play over 120 minutes in a classic match in Turin, which wouldn’t even be enough to settle things, and one man’s tears become a lasting image of passion in a country that was said to lack it; and it saw a lower league journeyman striker come out of nowhere to win the Golden Boot for leading scorer, and then just as quickly fade back into obscurity.

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(The 1990 World Cup logo. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.) 

1990 FIFA World Cup 
June 8-July 8 

Host: Italy 

Champion: West Germany 
Runner Up: Argentina 
Third Place: Italy 
Fourth Place: England 

Golden Boot: Salvatore Schillaci, Italy (6 goals) 

After Mexico had become the first country to host the World Cup, Italy would follow suit four years later. For many, this made sense – Italy had won three championships, had been runner-up once, and had one of the best domestic leagues in the world. Then-FIFA president Joao Havelange of Brazil selected Italy in 1984 for hosting duties. The only other serious bid came from the Soviet Union, one year away from the brink of collapse. Indeed, this World Cup would be the last of its kind – for the last time, two points would be awarded for a win. By the time the U.S.A. hosted four years later, it would be three points. Additionally, with the geopolitical climate of Europe about to undergo radical changes, it would be the final official appearances of teams like the old Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. Indeed, one year before the Cup, one of the most monumental events of the twentieth century occurred in Berlin, West Germany. On November 9, 1989, protesters started destroying the famous (or infamous) Berlin Wall. Over the next few weeks, as the wall came down, a once-partitioned country came back together, the culmination of almost a century of political turmoil in Germany. After the Cup of 1990, a united Germany would come together. Many felt they would be unstoppable.

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(The Brandenburg Gate came into full view in late 1989 as the Berlin Wall was torn down. Photo courtesy of U.S. News.) 

Qualification and preparation 
Initially, 116 teams began the qualification process, but three teams’ applications were rejected for financial reasons: Belize in North America, and both Mozambique and Mauritius in Africa. Hosts Italy and defending champions Argentina qualified automatically. Many favored the Argentinians again, because of a strong lineup that still featured Diego Maradona in it. Additionally, he played for Napoli, one of Italy’s teams in Serie A. Many in Naples saw themselves as outsiders within Italy, and Maradona would later use that to his advantage. In South America, Brazil qualified easily along with Uruguay. Advancing to an intercontinental playoff was Colombia, attempting to qualify for their first appearance since 1962. Against the OFC representative, Israel, Alberto Usuriaga scored on the home leg in Barranquilla to help the Colombians advance. Colombia had two well-known players that year, both on and off the field. The first was a goalkeeper who shared many of the traits of former German keeper Sepp Maier: gaudy outfits, long permed hair, and a tendency to be reckless with ball. He was a goalkeeper with the mentality of a midfielder. Later in his career, he would popularize the “scorpion kick,” where he jumped in the air from his own goal box, and kicked the ball out with his feet behind his head. It was the one and only Rene Higuita.

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(Rene Higuita would become a beloved symbol of the Colombian team. Photo courtesy of Daily Express.) 

The other had an even longer hairstyle, and was known for his great attacking instincts. The problem was that he wouldn’t or couldn’t play any defense. Still, like Higuita, Colombia would have another legendary player in their history in Carlos Valderrama.

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(Carlos Valderrama was known just as much for his hair as his excellent play, probably the best Colombian player in history. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

Brazil’s road to qualifying was shockingly harder than expected. Their lack of superstars finally seemed to be catching up to them, and they only advanced after a controversial moment during a head-to-head matchup with Chile. During that match, Chilean goalkeeper Roberto Rojas went to the ground after supposedly being hit with a flare that was thrown from the crowd. Already down 1-0 with only twenty minutes to go, a loss would have eliminated Chile. With Rojas down on the ground, his Chilean teammates left the field and claimed the pitch was unsafe. The match was left unfinished. Under FIFA rules, they could have restarted the match from start, or punished Brazil. But later video evidence showed that while a flare was thrown, it landed much too far away from Rojas. Additionally, there were no powder burns around his face, but rather scrapes from what was later revealed to be a razor. In other words, Rojas was faking the whole thing. Chile was immediately disqualified (along with the 1994 qualifiers as well), and Rojas was banned from any form of professional football for life.

Also disqualified from the tournament were the reigning hosts, Mexico. They were penalized for using overage ineligible players in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. As a result, the final CONCACAF Championship was now anybody’s for the taking. And a first-timer would emerge from the group, with little-known Costa Rica taking first place on goal difference. They would be appearing in their first World Cup ever.

One spot was left up for grabs. It would come down to one last match between the United States and Trinidad and Tobago. Things hadn’t gone well for the U.S. They were required to win on the road and had gone several matches in a row without scoring. Additionally, it was arguably Trinidad and Tobago’s best team, nicknamed the “Strike Squad.” All the hosts needed was a draw to get in.

Coming into the capital city of Port of Spain on November 19, 1989, the famous Hasely Crawford Stadium was filled to capacity. As a matter of fact, it was overflowing, with 30,000 spectators in a stadium that held about 22,500 or so. It was billed as “Red Day,” a national holiday on the island. This was the American team, made up of college kids and semi-pros. Sure, they’d be hosting the World Cup in 1994, but still, it was the U.S….wasn’t it?

The Americans, knowing their history and desperate to make a good showing before their turn as hosts, attacked from the opening whistle. John Harkes, one of the first high-profile American players to play in England, had several good chances early. Trinidadian midfielder Elliot Allen had two chances of his own, but American keeper Tony Meola was up to the challenge. As the game approached the half-hour mark, neither team had broken through. Then the Americans went on the attack. Off a throw-in, the ball took a bounce and found its way to defensive midfielder Paul Caligiuri. A college standout at UCLA, Caligiuri would later become the first American to play in the Bundesliga in Germany. But he had looked sluggish, and wasn’t known as much of a scorer. He lobbed a left-footed shot from just behind the eighteen-yard box. Trinidad goalkeeper Michael Maurice was caught off guard. He would later argue that the sun was in his eyes. Whatever the reason was, the ball escaped past him, and landed in the back of the net. Because of a lack of a professional league, the U.S. Soccer Federation was planning to end the contracts for the national team the following month. Some had talked about taking away hosting duties in ’94. But Caligiuri changed the face of the U.S. soccer team forever.

It was American soccer’s version of “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” The hometown fans fell silent. Despite desperate Trinidadian attempts for an equalizer, Meola kept them off the scoreboard. The United States held on for a historic 1-0 upset win. It was the first time in 40 years the United States would play in the World Cup. In those years, the Cup had changed around them, from offensive firepower to defensive efficiency. Even if they weren’t ready for the big stage yet, it was a huge step towards relevancy of the world’s game in America. It would no longer be a niche game. Soccer was now an American sport.

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(Paul Caligiuri scored arguably the most famous goal in American history. Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated.) 

(The Caligiuri goal. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

If America’s story was great, then Europe’s only newcomer was just as much. Ireland (or Republic of Ireland, as FIFA has them listed) had made great strides by qualifying for the 1988 Euros, and upset England along the way. For a country that had undergone decades of sectarian violence between Catholics in Ireland and Protestants in Northern Ireland, many fans would have been okay if they had just shown up to play. But led by former England player Jack Charlton, Ireland had some players on their squad – goalkeeper Pat Bonner, defender David O’Leary, and scorers Ray Houghton and Tony Cascarino. One band released a novelty song called “Give It a Lash, Jack.” By the end of the tournament, they’d wear the glass slipper. In qualification, they finished behind Spain for second place to qualify automatically. England finished second in their group behind Sweden; Belgium and Czechoslovakia both had the same points and goal differential, with Belgium winning the group on the second tiebreaker, goals scored. Also qualifying from Europe were Romania, Soviet Union, Austria, Scotland, West Germany, Netherlands, and Yugoslavia.

England’s team was undergoing a crisis of conscience. As the 1980s wore on, many right-wing political groups had infiltrated English league matches, with xenophobic and racist chants becoming the norms. Known as “firms,” various groups of hooligans would do battle with rival firms at league and international matches. For many, the fighting was more important than the match itself. As a result, after qualification, their notorious fans were placed on Sardinia for the group stages, in hopes that they wouldn’t disrupt the tournament. It met with mixed success.

Still, there was something unexpectedly good coming out of England that year. Four years prior, the Three Lions had done a full album, to much embarrassment and annoyance. Of the 22-man squad for Italia ’90, only six showed up to record the official song. But this time, it was different: they were the guests. The song was being recorded by pop group New Order, whom many consider to be a forerunner to the boy band craze that would permeate the music scene over the next decade. The six that did stay became part of England fans’ favorite World Cup song. Even neutral fans fell in love with the song. It was too catchy not to. Additionally, Liverpool winger John Barnes, originally born in Kingston, Jamaica, created the song’s iconic moment, with a spur-of-the-moment written rap. Having gone through racial abuse throughout his career, Barnes won an unofficial contest, and soon became the best-loved part of the song for many people. Twenty-plus years later, England fans joyfully sing the song.

(“World in Motion” was a surprisingly good World Cup song. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

Another legendary moment in the lead-up was a recording of “Nessun dorma” (“None Shall Sleep”) from the opera Turandot by opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. Many opera lovers were thrilled when he, Jose Carreras, and Placido Domingo were put into a “super group” known as the Three Tenors. But Pavarotti was the most famous. And his song would transform him from a well-beloved niche singer into a global icon. Many people say that this song made them appreciate opera. His iconic moment was him holding the final notes, whose lyrics were perfect for the moment:

Dilegua, o notte!
Tramontate, stelle!
Tramontate, stelle!
All’alba vincerò!
Vincerò! Vincerò!

“Vanish, oh night!
Fade, you stars!
Fade, you stars!
At dawn, I will win!
I will win! I will win!”

(Operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti became an international celebrity after his recording of “Nessun dorma” as the tournament’s official song. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

In Asia, South Korea would qualify, as would another debutante, the United Arab Emirates. Neither team was expected to do much, but making it was a dream for both teams.

In Africa, bitter rivals Egypt and Algeria met for one of the two guaranteed spots. The first match had ended in a scoreless draw. At home in Cairo, Hossam Hassan scored only four minutes in for what would prove to be the game winner. But scenes later turned ugly, with Algerian superstar Lakhdar Belloumi accused of throwing a broken beer bottle that hit Egypt’s team doctor in the face. While Belloumi was never punished, an arrest warrant was kept active for twenty years. Algerian fans also threw pots for plants into the crowd. The other spot in Africa went to Cameroon, who beat Tunisia 3-0 on aggregate to advance. One of their members, a thirty-eight-year old striker named Roger Milla, was coaxed out of retirement for one last go around – or so he thought. Milla was about to show that even on the pitch, old dogs have their day.  And his team, nicknamed the Indomitable Lions, were about to show the world their muscle.

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(At age 38, Roger Milla became a fan favorite for Cameroon. Photo courtesy of 

Before the Cup got started, Italy had one last roster spot available. It went to a fourth striker who wasn’t expected to see any playing time. In fact, he had only had one real good season for Juventus in Serie A. Additionally, he was only in his first year with the club, making his Serie A debut at the relatively old age (at least by football standards) of 25. His Italy debut had only been a few caps at that point, also at age 25. Lastly, in a country famous for its beautiful women – and some might say even more beautiful men – he was considered “ordinary” in terms of looks. But manager Azeglio Vicini ignored all these things and picked him anyway. And soon afterwards, the Cup would be treated to “Le notti magiche di Totò Schillaci.” 

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(Salvatore “Totò” Schillaci was about to have a World Cup for the ages. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.) 

The competition
Group A

Hosts Italy were drawn in with Austria, Czechoslovakia, and the United States. Italy and Austria faced off first. The hosts started slow, with all of their big-name attackers –  Andrea Carnevale, Gianluca Vialli, and Roberto Donadoni – all failing to find the net. Many of the hometown fans expected another scoreless draw. Vicini was forced to make a decision. Many fans groaned when he inserted Salvatore Schillaci into the game (75′). But only three minutes after coming on, Schillaci latched onto a header and poked it past Austrian keeper Klaus Lindenberger. Perhaps nobody was more surprised than Schillaci himself, who pumped his fists over his head and celebrated. It was the only goal of the match as Italy won 1-0. Many of Schillaci’s teammates were unimpressed. As they correctly pointed out, “Anybody can stick out his head.” But before the tournament was over, they’d be singing a different tune.

(Schillachi’s “notti magiche” began with the winner against Austria. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

The United States was opening against Czechoslovakia. Sadly, while the Americans had made believers out of themselves, they still had a long way to go. The Czechoslovakians demolished them, 5-1. Paul Caligiuri got a goal for the United States, their first in forty years, but it was already 3-0 by that time. And in the same game, midfielder Eric Wynalda was sent off early in the second half. Against Italy, due next, they were thought to be lambs to the slaughter.

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(Eric Wynalda leaves the field with security escorts after his red card during the United States’ opening match. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

Many Italian fans seemed to enjoy this fact. They kept chanting “ten, zero, ten, zero” all game, in anticipation of the expected scoreline. But the Italians were still working out the flaws in their game as well. For the second straight game, Schillaci began the match on the bench. He entered early in the second half, and while he didn’t score, Italy nevertheless broke through (11′) through Giuseppe Giannini. As it turned out, Italy would lose their bragging rights a little bit. Yes, they won, but that 1-0 scoreline wasn’t as bad as anybody expected for the Yanks. Walking off the pitch, over ten thousand partisan Italian fans rewarded the United States team with a standing ovation. They were eliminated, but it was a respectable scoreline against a dominant opponent. In the other match, Czechoslovakia beat Austria 1-0 on a Michael Bilek penalty (31′).

By now, it was clear to Vicini that Schillaci should be in the starting lineup against Czechoslovakia. With Italy already through anyway, he figured he had nothing to lose. Nine minutes in, Schillaci rewarded his manager’s confidence, hitting another header for the first goal of the game. Later in the match, Roberto Baggio weaved his way around the defense from just behind the midfield line and added a second.

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(Schillaci’s goal celebrations were just as famous for their earnestness and surprise. Photo courtesy of BBC.)

As great as Schillaci was that year, Baggio’s goal was probably the best in terms of technique. For the hosts, Baggio was also a little bit quirky. In a country rooted fiercely in Catholicism, he was a convert to Buddhism, which many Italian fans were unhappy about. Additionally, his unique hairstyle would earn him the nickname “Il Divin Codino” – The Divine Ponytail. Baggio’s moment wasn’t quite here yet, though. It was another four years away.

(Roberto Baggio scores for Italy against Czechoslovakia. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

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(Roberto Baggio scores his goal against the Czechoslovakians. Photo courtesy of The Sun.) 

The United States would end up losing their final game to Austria, but it was also respectable, a 2-1 scoreline. Bruce Murray added a consolation goal for the Stars and Stripes (albeit due to a goalkeeper bobble), and for a while was the USMNT’s all-time leading scorer. Despite losing all three games, the United States had a blueprint for their hosting gig four years later, and earned a measure of respect along the way.

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(Bruce Murray added a late goal in the U.S.’s final game. Photo courtesy of 

Group B
Argentina was preparing to defend its title against Cameroon at the famous San Siro in Milan. But things didn’t quite turn out like they hoped. Whether it was by accident or design, Cameroon began hacking Maradona, over and over and over again. And it actually worked – Maradona would have a pretty poor game that day. About two-thirds of the way through the match, André Kana-Biyik received a straight red card. Only six minutes later, his younger brother François Omam-Biyik leaped high into the air. His head got to the ball, and he beat Argentinian goalkeeper Nery Pumpido. Just like the Belgians in 1982, Cameroon now had a shocking 1-0 lead on the defending champion Argentinians.

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(François Omam-Biyik goes up to score the goal for Cameroon. Photo courtesy of 

Determined to hold the lead, Cameroon continued their fouling tactics. One minute before time, Benjamin Massing committed such a bad foul that the shoe came off. Already on a yellow card, and already a man down, now Cameroon were down to nine players. But they held on to record the 1-0 shock of Argentina. Same scoreline, same team, same result – and both times, Argentina was the victim of a cruel joke.

In the other match of the group, a much-improved Romania side won 2-0 over the Soviets. While the USSR hadn’t collapsed yet in actual practice, cracks were already beginning to show. This was evident as Argentina rallied to beat them 2-0 and eliminate them with one game to play, with captain Volodymyr Bezsonov being sent off. Shockingly, Cameroon showed their victory was no fluke.

The Cameroon-Romania game saw Roger Milla score twice, enabling him to do his famous goal celebration with the corner flag. The Indomitable Lions needed both of them, as Romania got one back from Gavril Balint with two minutes to go.

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(Roger Milla scores one of his two goals against Romania. Photo courtesy of FIFA.) 

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(Milla was famous for celebrating at the corner flag. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

Cameroon got a little too complacent, losing 4-0 in the final match to the Soviets, in their last great moment of World Cup glory. Still, after a 1-1 draw with Romania and Argentina, it was enough for Cameroon to win the group. Romania and Argentina advanced to the round of sixteen as well, while Soviet Union went home, their last official World Cup match. Four years later, a separate Russia team would make it back.

Group C 
Perennial short straws Scotland actually had an easy group this time, despite Sweden and Brazil being in with them. But both of those teams were off their game. While Sweden lost all three games, all three of them were by respectable 2-1 scorelines, a first ever in World Cup play for a team who lost all three games. And it would set up their magical run four years later. But even with an easier group, Scotland couldn’t get the ob done, losing 1-0 in an upset to Costa Rica, with the decider coming four minutes after halftime. As it turned out, Costa Rica won two games and lost 1-0 to Brazil to take second in the group and advance.

Scotland still had a chance to qualify after winning 2-1 against Sweden. All they needed was a draw against Brazil and it would be enough. For most of the match, they held their nerve. In a scary moment, but also admittedly a pretty hilarious one, Brazilian midfielder Branco smacked Scottish midfielder Murdo MacLeod with a rocket shot to the face. MacLeod would be forced to leave the pitch six minutes before halftime.

Still, Scotland was in control with ten minutes to go, led by their best goalkeeper, Jim Leighton. But then on a shot, he fumbled the ball, and Brazilian striker Luis Antonio Correa da Costa – better known as Müller – rebounded the shop and looped it over Leighton’s head. Brazil won 1-0 and the Scottish were eliminated, again. For Scotland, it was starting to become a cruel joke at this point. No, they didn’t have that great of a team, but they probably could have gotten through with a little bit of luck.

Group D
UAE and Colombia faced off. One was in their first match ever, the other in their first in 28 years. Colombia would get the better of the debutantes, 2-0, with Valderrama adding a second after Bernardo Redin started the scoring five minutes after halftime. Elsewhere, West Germany beat Yugoslavia 4-1, with the first and third goal scored by Lothar Matthäus, and another one from Jürgen Klinsmann. Despite their star power, the two were rivals for being the “lead dogs” on the team, both internationally and later for Bayern Munich at the club level. Klinsmann was also notorious for his diving, which was something new to the game, perhaps later than expected. But Klinsmann was very obvious. Frustratingly, the referees bought his act. It would “help” the Germans later in the final.

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(Jürgen Klinsmann was a notorious diver as well as a great player. Photo courtesy of 

A goal from Davor Jozić wasn’t enough to help Yugoslavia in that match. But he came back against Colombia and scored the only goal with fifteen minutes to go in the next match. West Germany beat UAE 5-1, with the latter getting their first Cup goal only one minute after halftime from Khalid Ismail, and it was only 2-1 at the time. But two goals from Rudi Völler proved too much to overcome, and the Emirates were eliminated with one game to go.

They would go down to their third straight defeat 4-1 to the Yugoslavians, including a 2-0 deficit after ten minutes. They got one back in the first half, but it wasn’t enough. Yugoslavia took second in the group to advance. A stoppage time equalizer (90+3′) from Freddy Rincon allowed Colombia to eke out a 1-1 draw and take third place and advance to the knockout stages for the first time ever.

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(A clutch goal from Freddy Rincon put Colombia in the knockout stages. Photo courtesy of FIFA.) 

Group E 
Belgium, fresh off of a semifinal berth, seemed to be continuing their run with a 2-0 win over South Korea in Verona. They were older, but still played pretty well. But it would also be the last run for many of them – Jan Ceulemans, Lei Clijsters, and Eric Gerets among them. But with new goalkeeper Michel Preud’homme in goal, the Belgians still had a modicum of talent, even if it was slowing down. Elsewhere, Uruguay and Spain fought to a scoreless draw.

The old guard helped Belgium to a 3-1 win, with Clijsters (15′), Scifo (24′) and Ceulemans (47′) leading the Red Devils. Pablo Bengoechea (73′) added a consolation goal. Unfortunately, Eric Gerets was sent off shortly before halftime for a second yellow. Spain had taken the game against South Korea 3-1 following a hat trick from Michel. All of them were necessary, after an equalizer Hwang-bo Kwan made the Spanish nervous.

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(Eric Gerets was sent off against Uruguay in Verona. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

For the Red Devils, Gerets’ absence would cost them in the final match. Spain beat them 2-1 with Michel (26′) and Gorriz (38′) scoring, sandwiched around an equalizer (29′) from Patrick Vervoort. It was enough for Belgium to advance, but they dropped to second and Spain took the group. Similar to Colombia, a stoppage time goal allowed Uruguay to win 1-0 and take third place in the group to advance.

Group F
The most wide-open group was Group F, and there was a lot at stake. England and Ireland faced off in a rematch of Euro ’88. Many Ireland fans would have been happy for one point, let alone a goal. Things didn’t start well for Ireland, with England’s Gary Lineker scoring only nine minutes in. Ireland had chances but couldn’t convert for most of the first half.

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(Gary Lineker scores for England against Ireland. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

But in the second half, things would change. Seventy-three minutes in, Ireland got a clutch equalizer from midfielder Kevin Sheedy. They held on for a priceless 1-1 equalizer to earn their first point. Of all the debutantes, the Irish would have the best run.

(Video of Kevin Sheedy’s equalizer. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

Another shock result was Egypt earning a 1-1 draw with Netherlands. Substitute Wim Kieft opened the scoring for the Dutch, but a penalty goal from Magdi Abdelghani (83′) helped them get their first point as well.

Each of the next two matches ended in scoreless draws. The Irish were content to get a point against Egypt, but also frustrated because they couldn’t break through and get the extra point. Pundit Eamon Dunphy would begin a feud for the rest of the tournament with Jack Charlton over tactics. The stout English registered the same result against Netherlands. Every team now had two points and everything to play for.

England had a frustrating first half against the Egyptians. Finally, after 58 minutes, center back Mark Wright broke through for the winner, the only goal he scored in the shirt. But it was enough to eliminate Egypt and send England through as the group winners with only two goals.

A draw would get the others in, and even then, they’d have the same goal differential and goals scored. It looked like the Dutch would seize the advantage when they took the lead (11′) through their temperamental captain, midfielder Ruud Gullit.

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(In a critical match for both teams, Netherlands struck first through captain Ruud Gullit. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

Did Ireland have anything left in them? Following a shot that was saved by goalkeeper Pat Bonner, all the players ran forward. Bonner’s kick sailed all the day down the pitch, towards the box. Dutch right back Berry van Aerle was first and got a foot on it, but it was mishit. Unusually, it caromed back to goalkeeper Hans van Breukelen, who proceeded to bobble it. Suddenly, it was a footrace. Van Breukelen went for it along with midfielder Richard Witschge, who broke late.  Attempting to get there for the Irish was 24-year-old striker Niall Quinn. Quinn got there first and fired his shot. Sprioc!! Sprioc!! (Goal!! Goal!! in Irish). “It’s there!! Niall Quinn has done it!!” exclaimed announcer George Hamilton. Quinn had hit the equalizer that would immortalize him as a hero in his home country for the rest of his life. It was enough for both teams, as the scoreline held up after that. They both would advance to the round of 16, but because the goal differential and number of goals scored was exactly the same, the two teams drew lots for positioning. The Irish would take second and face Romania in the city of Genoa, while the Dutch would be forced to face their old rivals West Germany at San Siro. Few had expected Ireland to even get a point, let alone advance in second place.

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(Niall Quinn equalizes to get Ireland into the knockout stages. Photo courtesy of

(Highlights of the Netherlands-Ireland match. Video courtesy of YouTube.)

Knockout stages 
Round of 16 
The knockout stages opened on June 23 with Cameroon facing Colombia in Naples. It wasn’t a great match, but still entertaining. Neither team scored during regulation, forcing extra time. Still no score after the first extra period. But the final fifteen minutes would be magnificent. Right after the kickoff, Rene Higuita would become the goat. He took a pass from one of his teammates – right near the midfield line. Higuita got a poor first touch and tried to recover. Unbelievably, Roger Milla was right there and stole the ball. All Milla had to do was dribble a little further as Higuita desperately tried to beat him back in a footrace. It was no use. Milla had arguably the easiest goal of the Cup, making it 1-0. Two minutes later, he scored again to give Cameroon the victory. Colombia got a goal back from substitute Redin, but it wasn’t enough. Amazingly – and through some bonehead goalkeeping – Cameroon was the first African team ever to make the quarterfinals in the World Cup. The question was asked worldwide: What was Higuita thinking? 

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(In one of the most shocking moments in the World Cup, Roger Milla outruns Colombian goalkeeper Rene Higuita to score the first goal in the round of sixteen. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

That same day, Czechoslovakia and Costa Rica met in Bari. Costa Rica was the other surprising team to make it into the knockout stages. Unfortunately, their luck ran out, as the Czechoslovakians ran past them, in what would prove to be the latter’s final moment of real glory in the World Cup (even after splitting into the Czech Republic and Slovakia). It was 1-1 for a while, but a hat trick from Tomáš Skuhravý led them to a 4-1 victory, with Lubos Kubik scoring one of his own. For the most recent time, Czechoslovakia and/or either of its successors would play in the last eight.

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(Tomáš Skuhravý celebrates his hat trick against Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

The two rivals in South America, Argentina and Brazil faced off. Still, Brazil was off their game, and it showed, as Argentina won in a slight upset 1-0 to advance to the quarterfinals. The winning goal came with nine minutes to go. Two other moments doomed the Brazilians: captain Ricardo Gomes was sent off (85′) and at some point in the game, midfielder Branco drank from a water bottle that Diego Maradona later admitted was spiked with an illegal substance. Branco was never caught, and even if he had, he may not have been punished because he never knew about it, but it made him sluggish and off his game. Whether Maradona personally spiked the bottle or just knew about it remains a mystery.

The next match was the West Germany-Netherlands game. Not only were they famous rivals in war and football, but it ran deeper for some. In Euro ’88, the Dutch shocked West Germany – who was hosting the tournament – in the semifinals, and later won the whole thing. After the twenty-first minute, Dutch defender Frank Rijkaard and Rudi Völler battled for the ball. Rijkaard tackled Völler hard, and received a yellow card. Following that, he spat in his hair. For this, Völler complained to the Argentinian referee, and he himself was booked. Just over a minute later, Völler went to the ground a little too easily and also committed a handball inside the box (West Germany was the attacking team in this case). Völler claimed he was trying to avoid a collision with van Breukelen in goal, but not a lot of people bought it. As a result, Rijkaard got even madder, stepping on Völler’s foot and tugging on the ear as well. The referee had had enough, and sent both of them off in hopes of avoiding a full-scale brawl on the pitch. On the way back to the tunnel, Rijkaard let out another volley of spit. While they would eventually reconcile later, the testy match ended 2-1 in favor of West Germany. Klinsmann (51′) and Andreas Brehme (85′) scored for die Mannschaft, while the Oranje got a late consolation goal on a Ronald Koeman penalty. The Dutch were headed home.

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(Frank Rijkaard and Rudi Völler had a memorable tussle in the round of 16, which led to both of them seeing red. Photo courtesy of BBC.) 

The next day saw the host Italians beat Uruguay 2-0 at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico. Once again, it was Salvatore Schillaci who started the scoring, getting the first goal at 65′. He later set up substitute Aldo Serena for a second (83′) to clinch victory. His Cinderella story continued.

Another Cinderella story was about to continue as well. Ireland battled Romania in Genoa. Neither team would score and it would need to be decided on penalties. Romania went first, and scored with Gheorge Hagi, their best scorer, a left-footed midfielder just signed to Real Madrid, and nicknamed “The Maradona of the Carpathian Mountains.” Four years later, he would become a household name.

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(Romania’s Gheorge Hagi scored in the penalty shootout against Ireland. Four years later, he’d have a World Cup for the ages. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

Sheedy followed for Ireland. 1-1. Each of the next three kickers for each team scored – Danut Lupu, Iosif Rotariu, and Ioan Lupescu for Romania, Ray Houghton, Andy Townsend, and Tony Cascarino for Ireland. On the fourth Irish kick, Romanian keeper Silviu Lung furiously kicked the ball into his own net in frustration. It came down to the last kicker for each team.

Substitute Daniel Timofte came up for Romania. In goal, Pat Bonner was waiting. Timofte fired a shot, which was actually hit pretty well. Bonner dove. SAVE!!! Bonner dove in the right direction, and got his hands on it, and blocked the kick. George Hamilton merely called out: “Yep!!” The Irish contingent behind the goal went berserk. Ireland was in the driver’s seat. Now they had a chance to win. But their last kicker was hardly known for his goal-scoring prowess. Even Big Jack Charlton was reluctant to send him up. But he relented.

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(Pat Bonner makes the save to put Ireland in the driver’s seat. Photo courtesy of Sunday Post.) 

David O’Leary was Ireland’s last shot. He was an amazing defender and still holds the all-time games record for Arsenal. But he wasn’t known as a goalscorer. He’d score only one official goal for his country (shootout goals don’t count in official totals, by the way), and that would be one year later. Many Irish fans were nervous. Could he do it? O’Leary made his run up. Hamilton made the call: “The nation holds its breath…” O’Leary raced up, shot, and fired it into the top right corner. It went in, against all odds. “YES, WE’RE THERE!!” cried Hamilton. Inconceivably, Ireland was in the quarterfinals. Brazil hadn’t made it. Spain would fall against Yugoslavia one day later (mild spoiler alert, sorry). Netherlands had fallen, as had Uruguay. In 1990, the debutantes from Hibernia stood atop of all of them.

A quote from William Butler Yeats’ poem September 1913 sums up all of Ireland’s naysayers perfectly: “They weighed so lightly what they gave./But let them be, they’re dead and gone./They’re with O’Leary in the grave.” 

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(David O’Leary converted the winning penalty for Ireland to give them a shocking quarterfinal berth. Photo courtesy of Irish Times.) 

(Full video of the dramatic Ireland-Romania shootout. Video courtesy of YouTube.)

As mentioned, Spain fell to Yugoslavia, with Dragan Stojkovic scoring twice, including the winner in extra time. In the final match in Bologna, England and Belgium were scoreless and one minute away from penalties. But suddenly, David Platt sent the Three Lions through with a dramatic goal. I would write more, but it’s too disappointing. Belgium never really recovered. Their first Golden Generation was effectively over. I’m convinced that had Belgium held on to win that game, they would have made the semifinals again.

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(David Platt’s goal against Belgium sent England into the quarterfinals. Photo courtesy of 

The first quarterfinal opened in Florence on June 30 between Argentina and Yugoslavia. It seemed like Argentina was trying to play for the shootout, and they got it in this match, playing to a scoreless draw and forcing penalties. Shockingly, Diego Maradona had his penalty saved, and Pedro Troglio did as well. But Yugoslavia fell apart, with Stojkovic hitting the crossbar and two other shots saved. Gustavo Dezotti scored the winning penalty for the Albiceleste to put them into the last four again.

Ireland faced off in Rome against the host Italians. The Irish gave it their best, but again, Salvatore Schillaci would hit the winner (38′). In this case, the one-man underdog for the Azzurri outlasted the upstart underdogs of Ireland. Still, the Irish flags waved proudly from the stands. Although they were out, the Irish returned to a hero’s welcome in their home country. It had been a magnificent run.

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(Totò Schillaci’s winner sent the host Italians into the semifinals. Photo courtesy of Irish Times.)

The low-scoring, high fouling trend continued as West Germany defeated Czechoslovakia 1-0 on a Matthäus penalty 25 minutes in. While many newcomers had done well, the old guard was beginning to rise to the top.

The last match was the best. Cameroon and England faced off, and many in England were hopeful again for their best team in almost a quarter century. Additionally, they weren’t taking Cameroon seriously. The mood in the locker room seemed very jovial, as if it was an easy match. But Cameroon would put up a great fight. David Platt started the scoring in the first half for England.

But in the second half, Cameroon showed their spirit. With just under thirty minutes remaining, England committed a silly foul inside their box for a Cameroon penalty shot. It would be Emmanuel Kundé stepping up to take it. And his penalty shot found the back of the net past Peter Shilton for a Cameroonian equalizer. Four minutes later, it would almost fall apart for England.

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(Emmanuel Kundé scores from the penalty spot to tie the match for Cameroon. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

Following a counterattack from their own half, the ball was lofted into the England box. Substitute Eugène Ekéké, only on the pitch for three minutes, ran onto the ball and lofted it over Shilton’s head. Suddenly, it was 2-1 Cameroon. If the Indomitable Lions could hold on for another twenty-five minutes, they would be the first African team in the semifinals. Shilton later admitted he felt that England was out of options.

For almost twenty minutes, Cameroon had their foot in the door. Then, shockingly, they gave away a penalty of their own. There was potentially a dive from Gary Lineker, but if that was the case, it worked as referee Edgardo Codesal of Mexico awarded it. Lineker strode to the penalty spot, and put it past Cameroon goalkeeper Thomas N’Kono. With seven minutes remaining, it was 2-2 and both teams had everything to play for. Neither team scored again in regulation and it headed to extra time with the same scoreline.

Towards the end of the first extra time, England pressed forward again. Once again, it looked like Lineker took a dive. Once again, it looked like the referee fell for it and awarded a penalty. And once again, Lineker converted, giving England a 3-2 lead. Lineker’s heroics – if you can call them that – allowed England to pack its defensive lines back. Cameroon attempted to score in the second extra time session but couldn’t find it. England survived to advance to their first semifinal since 1966, when they won it all on home soil. Cameroon were out, but they had been the first spectacular team from Africa. Even if it was a little late, England’s contingent gave them much-deserved accolades.

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(Gary Lineker’s second penalty kick goal was the winner for England. Photo courtesy of

(Highlights of the amazing Cameroon-England match. Video courtesy of YouTube.)

Heading into the semifinals, Italian goalkeeper Walter Zenga hadn’t been scored on in the first five matches. In fact, Peter Shilton had held the previous record, and he was still playing in the other semifinal. It looked like Italy’s fortunes had continued when Totò Schillaci broke through in the 17th minute. His look of shock and elation became a lasting image of a tournament where underdogs had their day. The match was still young, but Italy controlled their own destiny to get to the final.

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(Schillaci’s goal celebration against Argentina was one of the Cup’s most lasting moments. Photo courtesy of BBC.) 

But even though they were host, the home-field advantage wasn’t there. Known for being a hotbed for illegal mafia activities and tight, narrow streets, much of the city of Naples felt separated from the rest of Italy. And in what was otherwise a below-average World Cup for him, Diego Maradona implied the fans to remember the injustices, real or imagined, from the rest of the country. And believe it or not, it worked. Many in the Naples crowd would root for Argentina that night. (It didn’t hurt that SS Napoli was Maradona’s club team at the time, either.)

Finally, midway through the second half, Argentina broke through on Walter Zenga. His streak of 518 minutes without conceding a goal had ended, although that record has never been broken today.

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(Italian goalkeeper Walter Zenga set a record by not allowing a goal in World Cup play for 518 consecutive minutes. Photo courtesy of FIFA.) 

Still, Argentina was running on fumes. Injuries and suspensions had all but decimated their roster. In that match, they would obtain six yellow cards, including a second yellow/red for midfielder Ricardo Giusti. Nevertheless, the negative tactics worked. As it would so many times that year, the match would be decided on penalty kicks. Could Argentina repeat their title, or would the hosts make the final?

Legendary defender Franco Baresi led off for Italy and scored. Jose Serrizuela followed for Argentina. Baggio and Burruchaga converted, and so did Luigi De Agostini and Julio Olarticoechea. It was 3-3 as midfielder Roberto Donadoni stepped up. Shockingly, he missed thanks to some inspired play from Argentina’s second-choice keeper Sergio Goycochea. Maradona scored to give Argentina the lead. It would be up to substitute midfielder Aldo Serena. He too, missed, and a weaker Argentina side would be in the finals. Sure, they’d have one more game to try to take third place, but many Italian fans went on to say they had never cried harder than that night.

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(Argentina celebrate their penalty shootout win to get them into the final. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

Further tears were to flow. The net day was July 4. England and West Germany. It would be a legendary match that later became known as “One Night in Turin.” These were two old rivals, at least in England’s mind, settling old scores. England had its best team in a generation. They were dying to face another rival in the final. They undoubtedly wanted revenge on Maradona. England manager Bobby Robson mentioned, “Win, and you’ll be immortal.” Regardless of the outcome, that match became immortal. Streets all over England were empty in the middle of the day.

The match started off slowly for both teams. While both teams had their chances, neither team could score. Surprisingly enough, England had been the more dominant side, but couldn’t put it away. One common criticism of England over the years was not just about tactics, but also that they tended to wear down much earlier in higher temperatures. But they were still in it.

But as usual, the West Germans were efficiently wearing the opposition down. Thirty minutes remained in the game when Die Mannschaft won a free kick. England lined up its wall preparing for the kick. Andreas Brehme took the kick. Racing out to block it was defender Paul Parker. But then the ball took a strange deflection. It hit Parker and floated upward. Shilton was a legend in England, but he was now forty years old and near the end of his career. It was over his head, and in the net. Soon to be united again, German fans had their own history to play for. It was 1-0 West Germany.

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(An unlucky deflection off of Paul Parker – #12 – allowed West Germany to score the first goal. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

Twenty minutes passed with no luck from England. But with England ten minutes away from elimination, Paul Parker had a chance for redemption. He got a ball in the German half, and played the ball forward to Gary Lineker. He ran onto it and poked it past keeper Bodo Illgner. And for once, the cynical English pundits rose to their feet. See why this match was legendary?

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(Gary Lineker’s equalizer kept England in the match. Photo courtesy of BBC.) 

As was the case with so many matches that year, it would require extra time. It was here that one man became an England legend, even if it wasn’t for the right reasons. As the years went on, England would grow the Premier League, oftentimes at the expense of the national team. Many fans complained that the Three Lions lacked passion. But not for Paul Gascoigne, known as “Gazza” for short. Gazza would never play in the World Cup again after this, and in fact never scored a World Cup. But his guile and heart were a dying breed in English football, or at least that was the perception. Unfortunately, those two qualities also got him in trouble.

The ball was being contested near the midfield line. Gascoigne went in for a tackle on German back Thomas Berthold. Gascoigne went in late and fouled Berthold. All of England groaned. And it would get worse – Gascoigne received a yellow card. That meant that if England made the final, he wouldn’t be eligible to play due to accumulating two yellow cards (not in the same match, but it works the same way). Suddenly, Gazza was holding back tears. He was devastated. It was so upsetting for him that Lineker created another legendary moment – he turned toward the bench and pointed at his eye. He said in the general direction of the bench, “Have a word with him.”

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(Gary Lineker attempts to console Paul Gascoigne. Photo courtesy of BBC.) 

England still had their chances late in the match. A header was played down into the West Germany box. Chris Waddle was wide open and fired. Illgner was beaten. Then at the last second, it curved slightly and hit the bottom of the post and ricocheted back out. Less than an inch the other way and England would be in that final. Agonizingly, Guido Buchwald also hit the post for the West German team, which also bounced out by less than an inch. It, too, would come down to penalties.

England had never played in a shootout before, and they were nervous. It would become England’s Achilles heel over the year. Nevertheless, they led off and Lineker scored. But as mentioned, Shilton was slowing down. Andreas Brehme scored to level it up. Beardsley and Matthäus scored; 2-2. Platt and Karl-Heinz Riedle also converted. Like the previous semifinal, it was 3-3 with everything to play for. Up stepped Stuart Pearce. He was one of England’s hard men and nicknamed “Psycho” for playing on a broken leg twice during his career. But now he was scared. He wasn’t looking toward the net, his shoulders were hunched tight, and his shorts were hiked up. He fired towards the goal. But it was hit too low. Bodo Illgner got there first and made the save. Now England’s momentum had been lost. Olaf Thon converted to put the West Germans up 4-3. It was up to Chris Waddle.

Waddle was looking for redemption on his previous miss. He also had taken some joking looks for his ridiculous-looking mullet. He raced up, kicked the ball….and then helplessly watched as it sailed high and wide over the top. It would become a common refrain for England as the years went on, especially when they were eliminated on penalties: “And England are out of the World Cup.” The Germans were in the final, a rematch of the previous final. The English were heartbroken, and now had to play the consolation game. As they were leaving the pitch, a legendary photo of Gazza appeared. He was in tears, clutching his shirt. It was his last World Cup match.

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(Chris Waddle missed the penalty to lose the semifinal for England. Photo courtesy of Daily Mail.) 

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(Paul Gascoigne burst into tears after his World Cup career ended. Photo courtesy of Daily Mail.) 

Third place match
England were devastated, and yet they were forced to play one more game. But Italy would hold on to win 2-1. It was a fantastic final twenty minutes, with Roberto Baggio (71′) leading off the scoring, and Chris Pratt equalizing. But one last time, Salvatore Schillaci came through for the Azzurri, on a penalty (86′). It was his sixth and final goal of the World Cup to lead all scorers. Sadly for him, his international career was over shortly afterwards. He scored only one more goal after that, a match which Italy lost. “Le notti magiche di Totò Schillaci” were over almost as soon as they began. Schillaci was the ultimate World Cup one-shot wonder. He bounced around the leagues in Italy and finished his career in Japan, never regaining his form. And for most of England’s players, it was their last appearance in the World Cup for them as well.

For the final in Rome, it would be West Germany and Argentina in a match very few wanted to see. Argentina had only scored five goals in the entire tournament, and their cynical tactics were winning them no fans. Maradona was booed during the Argentinian national anthem, and he cursed out the neutral and German fans twice during its playing. The crowd wasn’t on his side this time.

Truth be told, there’s very little to write about. Returning for the final, Edgardo Codesal struggled to keep the game from getting reckless. There was diving, bad fouls everywhere, you name it. With twenty-five minutes remaining, substitute back Pedro Monzon became the first player to be sent off in the final of the World Cup. He deserved it, too, going in spikes high on Klinsmann.

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(Pedro Monzon was the first player ever sent off in a World Cup Final. Photo courtesy of ESPN FC.)

Even worse, Argentina seemed to be trying to play for the shootout, not really trying that hard to score. Unfortunately enough, the Germans played into their tactics. Finally, with about five minutes to go, another controversial foul led to a penalty for West Germany. Andreas Brehme strolled up and took it, and scored. The Germans had the lead, but it felt undeserved.

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(Andreas Brehme scored the winner for West Germany. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

Later in the match, another Argentinian player, Gustavo Dezotti, was sent off for a wrestling-style tackle on Jurgen Kohler after the latter attempted to waste time. Codesal couldn’t wait for the game to end. Finally, it did. West Germany had won their third title, but it was ugly. Argentina had been arguably the worst team ever to make the final: they were the first to be shut out, and had only one shot on goal the entire match. As it turned out, the era of high-scoring finals was now a thing of the past.

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(West Germany carries off the trophy in victory. Photo courtesy of ESPN FC.) 

Fun Facts 
Franz Beckenbauer became the second person to win the World Cup as both a player and a coach. Brazil’s Mario Zagallo was the first.

As a result of injuries and suspension, Argentina had lost over half their roster by the final. Their five goals remains a low for any team making the final.

Paul Gascoigne stirred up controversy in the famous Celtic-Rangers rivalry in Glasgow several years later. As a member of Rangers, he scored and then mimed playing a flute, which is a symbol of Protestant solidarity. While he played innocent, many Celtic fans were furious.

This tournament set a record low of an average of 2.21 goals per game, which still stands to this day. Sixteen red cards were awarded as well.

As a result of this World Cup, FIFA set new rules: it would now reward three points for a win instead of two and outlawed a player passing the ball back directly to his keeper in an attempt to waste time.

England had several fans who were able to infiltrate the hooligan subculture. One 34-year-old fan was denied entry, found a way in anyway, fought a fight with Dutch fans, and then was arrested and sent home by Italian authorities.

Not including Sweden in 1938 (following a withdrawal), Ireland became the first team to make the quarterfinals without winning a match.

The Trinidad and Tobago president was later indicted by FIFA on fraud charges. He was partially responsible for the overcrowding in the final match with the U.S.

During the group stage, Cameroon became the first team to win a group with a negative goal differential. They scored three and allowed five for a differential of -2.

If you’ll remember, Tomáš Skuhravý scored a hat trick against Costa Rica in the round of sixteen. Amazingly, all three of them were scored on headers. Only Germany’s Miroslav Klose has repeated that feat (in 2002).

West Germany played three more matches before reunifying in late 1990. As a united German team, they qualified automatically as champions.

This was the final World appearance for the Soviet Union before its dissolution.

Later in his career, Jürgen Klinsmann joined English club Tottenham Hotspur. He celebrated his first goal by proving his critics right – he probably was diving. Despite this, many English fans loved him for this.

In Italian culture, the number 17 is considered unlucky. Occasionally, Roman numerals would be transposed, so XVII could be read as “VIXI.” The problem is that the latter translates as “I have lived,” or more loosely, “I am dead.” Roberto Donadoni, who missed a penalty in the semifinals against Argentina, wore jersey #17.

Czechoslovakia midfielder and captain Ivan Hasek is the cousin of famous NHL hockey goalie Dominik Hasek.

Final Thoughts 
For all of the storylines, the lack of drama and ugly play made the 1990 FIFA World Cup one that many prefer to forget. Four years later, a country that seemed to be the antithesis of everything about the beautiful game would host. Not only would their team make a shocking run to the knockout stages, but they would shatter attendance records. It was America’s turn to host the world’s game.

References and Sources 
Getty Images.
Turandot (Giacomo Puccini)
World Cup Most Shocking Moments (documentary)
England’s Worst Ever Football Team (documentary)
Gazza’s Tears: The Night That Changed Football (documentary)
World Soccer
Sunday Post

Daily Mail.
The Sun
Irish Times

U.S. News.
Daily Express
Sports Illustrated
Soccer Men 
(Simon Kuper)
The Ultimate Book of Sports Jerks 
(Michael Freeman)
And Gazza Misses the Final
(Rob Smyth, Scott Murray)
Eight World Cups: My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer (George Vecsey)
Soccer’s Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Clumsy Keepers, Clever Crosses, and Outlandish Oddities 
(John Snyder)
Soccer’s Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves, and Fantastic Free-Kicks 
(Jeff Carlisle)
¡Golazo! The Beautiful Game from the Aztecs to the World Cup: The Complete History of How Soccer Shaped Latin America 
(Andreas Campomar)
The ESPN World Cup Companion: Everything You Need to Know About the Planet’s Biggest Sports Event 
(David Hirshey, Roger Bennett)
The Mammoth Book of the World Cup 
(Nick Holt)

“Second Place” World Series: 1901-1909

We can all look up the real World Series, which began in 1903. The Boston Red Sox (named the Americans at the time) beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, five games to three. However, I thought it would be fascinating to look at the second-place teams that year. So, here’s how we’ll do this: imagine the World Series every year since the inception of the American League in 1901, except with the second-place team. Not that it would have mattered that much, but it is fun to see what the potential matchups would have been.

And I’ll do you one better: I’ll start my World Series in 1901, the first year of the American League. The authentic World Series started in 1903, so I’ll give you two extra years.

Teams will be listed first by who would have had home-field advantage in the Series (at least in my opinion; I also go by head-to-head record as a backup). Also, while it’s probably not the best thing to do, I’ll list them by their more modern names whenever necessary (for example, Boston Red Sox instead of Boston Americans and New York Yankees instead of New York Highlanders, as they were originally known). Lastly, in “head-to-head matchups,” it will be for these hypothetical series, not what actually happened in real life. I think you’ll be able to see what I’m talking about.

All information is accurate as of this writing, July 15, 2017.

1901: Philadelphia Phillies (NL) vs. Boston Red Sox (AL) 
Managers: Bill Shettsline (Philadelphia); Jimmy Collins (Boston) 
Hall of Famers: Ed Delahanty, Elmer Flick, Hughie Jennings (Philadelphia); Jimmy Collins*, Cy Young (Boston) 
Head-to-head matchups: 1 (1901)
Real Life Equivalents: 1 (1915)
*- player-manager 

It’s only fitting that the first matchup in this version of the World Series involves two of the cradles of American Liberty. While the Red Sox may have had the incentive (i.e. orders of Ban Johnson), the Phillies wouldn’t have had to wait 97 years in real life. Much like in the real version, the Red Sox played in the first World Series, except this time they fall short, albeit in a valiant fight.

Outcome: Philadelphia Phillies, 5 games to 3

1902: St. Louis Browns (AL) vs. Brooklyn Dodgers (NL)
Managers: Jimmy McAleer (St. Louis); Ned Hanlon (Brooklyn) 
Hall of Famers: Jesse Burkett, Bobby Wallace (St. Louis); Willie Keeler, Ned Hanlon (Brooklyn)
Head-to-head matchups: 1 (1902) 
Real Life equivalents: 1 (1966)* 
*Browns became Baltimore Orioles in 1954 

Ned Hanlon was one of the best 19th century managers, and given how the AL was still in its infancy, it would be hard for them to overcome Hanlon and future Hall of Famer Wee Willie Keeler, famous for the phrase “hit ’em where they ain’t.” The 1902 Brooklyn Dodgers (known as the Superbas in those days) didn’t have the best team – they finished 27.5 games back of the first place Pittsburgh Pirates – but I just can’t give it to the Browns here; they were who they were for a reason.

Outcome: Brooklyn Dodgers, 5 games to 1

1903: New York Giants (NL) vs. Philadelphia Athletics (AL) 
Managers: John McGraw (New York); Connie Mack (Philadelphia) 
Hall of Famers: Roger Bresnahan, George Davis, Christy Mathewson, Joe McGinnity, John McGraw (New York); Charles Bender, Connie Mack, Eddie Plank, Rube Waddell (Philadelphia) 
Head-to-head matchups: 1 (1903) 
Real life equivalents: 4 (1905, 1911, 1913, 1989) 

I love that we get this rivalry in ’03. Mack and McGraw were the two best managers in the early years, and faced off against each other three times (Mack won those matchups, 2-1). In this one, I give it to Mack again for two reasons: he has three Hall of Fame pitchers in his lineup (Bender, Plank, and Waddell) to complement an okay but not great lineup, and given Mack’s temperament, it probably would have served as a hindrance. Plus, the Giants have this history of falling short in the pre-LCS years, so why should anything change? While no best-of-nine series ever went the distance in real life, this one would, with the Athletics narrowly beating the Giants.

Outcome: Philadelphia Athletics, 5 games to 4

1904: Chicago Cubs (NL) vs. New York Yankees (AL) 
Managers: Frank Selee (Chicago); Clark Griffith (New York) 
Hall of Famers: Mordecai Brown, Frank Chance, Johnny Evers, Frank Selee, Joe Tinker (Chicago); Jack Chesbro, Clark Griffith*, Willie Keeler (New York)
Head-to-head matchups: 1 (1904) 
Real life equivalents: 2 (1932, 1938) 

By now, the owners realize that four out of seven is best. Like Ned Hanlon, Frank Selee was one of the best managers of the 1890s. It would be hard to pick against him here; although the Yankees had 41-game winner Jack Chesbro in the lineup, and Willie Keeler becomes the first player to appear twice (and with different teams), I think it wouldn’t have been enough. The Yankees put up a good fight, but Cubs fans, the title would have been yours in 1904.

Outcome: Chicago Cubs, 4 games to 2

1905: Pittsburgh Pirates (NL) vs. Chicago White Sox (AL) 
Managers: Fred Clarke (Pittsburgh); Fielder Jones (Chicago) 
Hall of Famers: Fred Clarke*, Honus Wagner (Pittsburgh); George Davis, Ed Walsh (Chicago) 
Head-to-head matchups: 1 (1905) 
Real life equivalents: 0 

I can see why each team finished second; they had good teams, but not great ones. Still, in this matchup, I have to like the Pirates. The AL may have been the dominant team in the first half of the century, but it started off about even. Still, in this one, it’s hard not to give it to Honus Wagner in the Pirates. There was a reason that they were called the “Hitless Wonders,” and while they upset the Cubs in 1906, I don’t see them doing the same thing to Wagner and the Pirates.

Outcome: Pittsburgh Pirates, 4 games to 1

1906: New York Giants (NL) vs. New York Yankees (AL) 
Managers: John McGraw (Giants); Clark Griffith (Yankees) 
Hall of Famers: Roger Bresnahan, Christy Mathewson, Joe McGinnity, John McGraw* (Giants); Jack Chesbro, Clark Griffith*, Willie Keeler (Yankees)
Head-to-head matchups: 1 (1906) 
Real life equivalents: 7 (1921, 1922, 1923, 1936, 1937, 1951, 1962) 

Our first Subway Series on this list! And it’s only appropriate it’s the Giants and the Yankees. Both teams come into this series looking to avenge a previous loss. In this case, I give it to the Giants, based on the pitching of Christy Mathewson, Joe McGinnity, and Red Ames. In general, I feel like the Giants also had a better lineup. The Yankees would take it the distance, but ultimately fall short in a spectacular Game Seven.

Outcome: New York Giants, 4 games to 3

1907: Philadelphia Athletics (AL) vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (NL) 
Managers: Connie Mack (Philadelphia); Fred Clarke (Pittsburgh) 
Hall of Famers: Charles Bender, Eddie Collins, Jimmy Collins, Connie Mack, Eddie Plank, Rube Waddell (Philadelphia); Fred Clarke*, Honus Wagner, Vic Willis (Pittsburgh) 
Head-to-head matchups: 1 (1907) 
Real life equivalents: 0 

Believe it or not, there was never an all-Pennsylvania series when the A’s played there. You felt like there should have been at least one all-Philadelphia Subway Series, but they never had it where both teams were good at the same time. In this version, we get a pretty close matchup, between the Philadelphia A’s and Pittsburgh Pirates. Given the pitching staff on this one, it’s no contest: the A’s win in a pretty convincing sweep. Also, former Red Sox player Jimmy Collins was acquired during the season and proves a valuable addition. Thus, the Pirates become the first team to get swept in the World Series, although they do have one title already, so it doesn’t hurt as much.

Outcome: Philadelphia Athletics, 4 games to 0

1908: New York Giants (NL) vs. Cleveland Indians (AL)
Managers: John McGraw (New York); Napoleon Lajoie (Cleveland) 
Hall of Famers: Roger Bresnahan, Rube Marquard, Christy Mathewson, Joe McGinnity, John McGraw (New York); Elmer Flick, Addie Joss, Napoleon Lajoie* (Cleveland) 
Head-to-head matchups: 1 (1908) 
Real life equivalents: 1 (1954) 

Both teams finished in second under controversial circumstances in 1908. New York, of course, had the infamous “Merkle Boner” where the aforementioned player didn’t touch second base to lose the pennant; similarly, Cleveland finished one half game behind Detroit, but rules at the time didn’t require teams to play the same number of games.  I believe the rule was amended after the 1908 season. In our version, McGraw still has the pitching, and while it’s nice to see Napoleon Lajoie play in the series, it’s not enough for him as the Giants use their pitching and lineup – and the managerial savvy of McGraw – to take their second championship in three years.

Outcome: New York Giants, 4 games to 1

1909: Philadelphia Athletics (AL) vs. Chicago Cubs (NL) 
Managers: Connie Mack (Philadelphia); Frank Chance (Chicago) 
Hall of Famers: Home Run Baker, Charles Bender, Eddie Collins, Connie Mack, Eddie Eddie Plank (Philadelphia); Mordecai Brown, Frank Chance*, Johnny Evers, Joe Tinker (Chicago) 
Head-to-head matchups: 1 (1909) 
Real life equivalents: 2 (1910, 1929)

Connie Mack was one of the best baseball minds ever. He won five championships overall, including two times where he did it back-to-back. This matchup actually occurred in real life one year later (1910). The A’s won 4-1, with the Cubs narrowly avoiding the sweep. I give it to Philadelphia again in this one as well, but I give Chicago an extra game, because they had a pretty good lineup. But against that new infield, and with a little help from a would-be Hall of Famer (Joe Jackson) along with the pitching staff allows Connie Mack to reign supreme in the first decade of my World Series.

Outcome: Philadelphia Athletics, 4 games to 2

Decade Breakdown
Total Pennants

American League 
Philadelphia Athletics: 3 (1903, 1907, 1909)
New York Yankees: 2 (1904, 1906)
Boston Red Sox: 1 (1901)
Chicago White Sox (1905)
Cleveland Indians: 1 (1908)
St. Louis Browns: 1 (1902)

National League
New York Giants: 3 (1903, 1906, 1908)
Chicago Cubs: 2 (1904, 1909)
Pittsburgh Pirates: 2 (1905, 1907)
Brooklyn Dodgers: 1 (1902)
Philadelphia Phillies: 1 (1901)

Total Championships
Philadelphia Athletics – 3 (1903, 1907, 1909)
New York Giants – 2 (1906, 1908)
Philadelphia Phillies – 1 (1901)
Brooklyn Dodgers – 1 (1902)
Chicago Cubs – 1 (1904)
Pittsburgh Pirates – 1 (1905)

Multiple Appearances by Manager
Connie Mack – 3 (3 wins)
John McGraw – 3 (2 wins)
Fred Clarke – 2 (1 win)
Clark Griffith – 2

Team of the Decade
American League: Philadelphia Athletics
National League: New York Giants

Back to baseball

So, here we are, after the All-Star Break. The second half is officially ready to begin. Thanks to a Sunday doubleheader, it’s now going to be a four-game series between the Red Sox and Yankees to begin it. Boston winning one game will allow them to keep the division lead. It could be a great race late in the season.

Boston’s big problem comes at third base, a.k.a. the hot corner. There’s never really been a great option in the last few years. Now with the Pablo Sandoval era over, and for many Red Sox fans it can’t come a moment too soon, the question is: who can play third base for Boston consistently? The frustrating part is that Travis Shaw was better than Sandoval (“Big Panda” to many) and he was traded to Milwaukee for two pitchers who have been on the DL all season. The four possible names are all scary for their own reasons – Deven Marrero doesn’t have the offense, and Sam Travis doesn’t have the defense. Tzu-Wei Lin has been pretty good so far, but he’s inexperienced and doesn’t have a lot of power. And lastly, utility man infielder Josh Rutledge is also on the DL, and may be out for a little while. Lin and Marrero have been trading the job in recent weeks, but there’s still no long term solution. If they could get somebody like Todd Frazier in a trade, that may help, but considering what they’d have to give up might be too high of an asking price.

Is there still reason to be optimistic? Of course. But now the games start to matter. And the Red Sox can’t afford a slip up.

My own 30 for 30 titles

I don’t know about any of you, but I love many of the ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries. I think it’s one of the best ideas ESPN has ever done. Here are some ideas I’d have, and potential titles of each film as well.

1. Open Class – the story of Bloomington High School North’s 1997 state championship boy’s basketball team, winning it all in the final year of “open class” basketball, a tournament where any team could win, no matter how large or small (in other words, the last time a true Hoosiers story existed in Indiana, and perhaps in high school basketball in general).

2. The Cutaway – a look at the NBC executives who were responsible for the infamous AFL “Heidi Game” between the Raiders and Jets.

3. On Fields Where Valor Led – Belgium’s soccer (football) team rallied around a governmental crisis in 2010-11 to rise to the top of the FIFA World Rankings in 2015, and the birth of their new “Golden Generation” in 2013.

4. December 1972 – how FAA oversights and a shady businessman/wannabe pilot, combined with the corruption of the Somoza regime in Nicaragua, ended up creating the perfect storm for the plane crash that killed Roberto Clemente.

5. Emperor Penguins – after facing potential relocation in the early 2000s, the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted both Marc-Andre Fleury and Sidney Crosby first overall. Now, they stand as the first team in the salary cap era of the NHL to win back-to-back Stanley Cups.

6. The Wild Card of Wimbledon – known for his notorious temper, which often cost him in tournaments, Croatian tennis player Goran Ivanisevic finally overcame his demons and won Wimbledon in 2001 as a wild card (unseeded) player against Patrick Rafter of Australia.

If anybody has their own titles/ideas, I’d love to hear them. What do you think of mine? Do some of the titles work?


1986 FIFA World Cup: Mexico

Even some of the most passionate supporters may be surprised to find out that Mexico would be the first nation to host the World Cup twice, and only sixteen years apart. While one team made a surprising run to the semifinals, one man would have arguably the single greatest moment in the history of the World Cup, perhaps even football itself. This man solidified his legend, and brought his nation back into the spotlight after almost a decade of political, economic, and sporting turmoil. Along the way, he would use a little chicanery in combination with his genius. When it was all done, his country would stand on top of the world for the second time in eight years.

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(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.) 

1986 FIFA World Cup 
May 31-June 29 

Host: Mexico 

Champion: Argentina 
Runner Up: West Germany 
Third Place: France 
Fourth Place: Belgium 

Leading Scorer: Gary Lineker, England (6 goals)

As previously mentioned, Mexico would go on to become the first nation to host football’s greatest spectacle more than once. But that wasn’t the original plan. Colombia was FIFA’s first choice, all the way in 1974, but by 1982, a crumbling infrastructure and an inability to meet the financial requirements forced them to withdraw from hosting. Mexico was named as replacement host in 1983. Even the United States put in a serious bid, and their chance of hosting was right around the corner.

Ironically, the show almost didn’t go on in Mexico either. In late 1985, with the tournament less than a year away, a severe earthquake rocked Mexico City, casting doubts on the hosting duties. But because the stadiums were all completely spared, the tournament went ahead as planned. One delegate was believed to have said, “God is a football fan.”

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(An major earthquake rocked Mexico City mere months before the tournament. Photo courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica.)

A new format was introduced that would last from 1986 to 1994 – there would be six groups of four, with the top two teams advancing automatically. The four best third-placed teams would also advance. Many weren’t sure about this, but it enabled a new round of sixteen to be created. It wasn’t perfect, but there were other ideas that didn’t work as well.

As hosts, Mexico qualified automatically. As champion, Italy also qualified automatically. UEFA saw the return of Portugal for the first time in twenty years, finishing second in Group B behind the West Germans. A first time qualifier was Denmark, led by the Olsens, Morten and Jesper (no relation), and winger Michael Laudrup. Denmark shockingly won the group, one point ahead of the Soviets. Also advancing were England, Northern Ireland, Hungary (their last appearance to date), Soviet Union, Spain, France, West Germany, Scotland, and Poland. In a two-leg playoff, the Low Countries derby decided the final spot. Belgium beat Netherlands 1-0 in Brussels, then took the final spot on away goals after losing 2-1 in Rotterdam. For the Red Devils, Georges Grün scored the goal five minutes from time to put them in. The Belgians had their own talented lineup – goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff, Jan Ceulemans, Enzo Scifo, Franky Van der Elst, Nico Claesen, among others. As it turned out, they would have their best run in their history. Scotland also advanced by winning an intercontinental playoff with Australia.

(Belgium was able to sneak into the ’86 Cup on away goals. Video courtesy of YouTube.)

Two other teams made their debut – Canada and Iraq. For the latter, they were led by Saddam Hussein’s older son Uday, and just like Mobutu in ’74, he now had an enthusiasm for it. A 3-1 victory against Syria got them in. Also making it in from Asia was South Korea, in for the first time since 1954. They held on against a surprising Japanese team, who like the U.S. had also preferred baseball. America was out once again, who lost a second round qualifier to Costa Rica to leave them out of the final round by one point. Canada took the spot, their first and only appearance in the Cup.

Africa saw two teams get in – Morocco and Algeria. The latter was furious about their controversial exit four years earlier, while the latter were in for the first time since 1970. Elsewhere, Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina qualified directly, and Paraguay survived a four team playoff. The Argentinians took a gamble on the Cup – led by Carlos Bilardo, known not just for his coaching ability but also for his bulbous nose, they opted for a 3-5-2 formation that had never really been successful domestically or internationally. But they had a star in the wings, now with Napoli in Serie A. They would win or lose the World Cup through one man, Diego Maradona, now captain of the Albiceleste. Having grown up in the Lanus district of Buenos Aires, Maradona had everything during his career: highs, lows, cheating scandals, weight gain, you name it. Perhaps nobody since Pele had taken one World Cup by storm. And it was his for the taking. As only he could, he mentioned his dislike for starting games in the midday heat in order for primetime audiences in Europe to watch. Truly one of a kind, Maradona would have a World Cup for the ages.

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(Diego Maradona became the lasting figure of Mexico ’86. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

The competition 
Group A 
In the first match of this group, the defending champions Italy were held to a surprise draw by Bulgaria, 1-1. Alessandro Altobelli scored for the Azzurri before halftime, but Nasko Sirakov equalized with five minutes remaining. Against the heavily favored Argentinians, South Korea did their best to hang in, but it was effectively over after eighteen minutes. Jorge Valdano scored first (6′) and added a second early in the second half, and Oscar Ruggeri’s strike made any semblance of a competitive match null and void. Still, South Korea got their first ever World Cup goal through midfielder and captain Park Chang-Sun (73′). South Korea fought Bulgaria to a 1-1 draw, with the Koreans finally earning a point in World Cup play. In the Italy-Argentina match, Altobelli struck early on a penalty. But then Maradona made his move, getting the equalizer 34 minutes in. The 1-1 scoreline held and Argentina were effectively into the second round.

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(Maradona’s equalizer helped Argentina scrape out a point against Italy. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

In the final match, South Korea kept it competitive, to the surprise of many who thought they were just “minnows.” They still had a ways to go, but they only fell to Italy 3-2, and were it not for an own goal in the final ten minutes, it could have been a 2-2 draw.

(South Korea put up a valiant fight against Italy, falling just short. Video courtesy of YouTube.)

Despite a 2-0 loss, and only two points in the group, Bulgaria advanced for the first time ever as one of the best third place teams.

Group B 
Belgium’s World Cup run didn’t start off that well. They lost 2-1 to the host Mexico in Estadio Azteca, with Fernando Quirarte (23′) and Hugo Sanchez (39′) leading the way. Belgian hero Erwin Vandenbergh scored a consolation goal for the Belgians.

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(Against Belgium, Hugo Sanchez scored what would prove to be the game winner. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

Under the suspenseful eye of the Hussein regime, Iraq got their World Cup campaign under way against Paraguay. Iraq almost had its moment of glory, trailing 1-0. In their magnificently worn gold kits, it looked like forward Ahmad Rahdi had put Iraq in front right before halftime, on a beautiful header. The problem was that referee Edwin Picon-Ackong of Mauritius blew the whistle a mere second before Rahdi put the ball in. No goal. Not only was it an impulsive decision, but given Iraq’s circumstances, it couldn’t have come at a worse time. The 1-0 scoreline held up, and Paraguay escaped. Iraq was heartbroken – they could have potentially earned a point. As it turned out, they would have a moment, but would lose all three games.

Belgium rallied by beating the Iraqis 2-1 in Toluca. Two early goals from Enzo Scifo (16′) and a penalty from Nico Claesen (21′) allowed the Belgians to earn the win. But Iraq did have its moment of glory – Ahmad Rahdi had his moment in the sun (59′) and score Iraq’s first and only World Cup goal. But even this match wasn’t without controversy. A few minutes before Rahdi scored, Colombian referee Jesus Diaz gave a yellow card to Basil Gorgis. The problem wasn’t the card itself, but it was given to the wrong player, and it should have gone to defender Ghanim Oraibi. Gorgis sarcastically applauded the decision and began to walk away. Red card! Just like that, it was a second yellow and a sending off. Mexico and Paraguay played to a 1-1 draw in their second match.

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(Nico Claesen beat Iraq with a penalty 21 minutes in. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

Belgium was able to sneak in for third as well after a 2-2 draw with Paraguay. Both times they took the lead but Paraguay rallied both times. Nevertheless, the scoreline held up and Belgium had been able to sneak through. Mexico won the group by beating Iraq 1-0. As it turned out, the Iraq players returned home to the same cruelty as before, with only Rahdi being spared. Iraq has never returned to the Cup since.

Group C 
Canada would also lose all three games in the Cup, this time without scoring any. But none of the games were disasters. First, Jean-Pierre Papin scored in the 79th minute to beat them 1-0. They would fall 2-0 to both Hungary and Soviet Union, the latter of whom won the group. France and USSR squeaked out a 1-1 draw, France beat Hungary 3-0, and the Soviets walloped their Hungarian counterparts 6-0. It was quickly over, with two goals in the first four minutes, and an own goal later in the game only added to Hungarian embarrassment. Hungary and Canada have never been back since. The former felt especially painful – the days of Czibor, Puskás, and Kocsis were long over.

(The Soviet Union beat Hungary 6-0 in one of Hungary’s most embarrassing World Cup moments. Video courtesy of YouTube.)

Group D 
Both Algeria and Northern Ireland had done surprisingly well in 1982; they fought to a 1-1 draw, but as it turned out, it was their last moment of the Cup, and Northern Ireland’s last significant moment in the World Cup. Brazil managed to win all three of its games, and didn’t allow a goal in any of them. Still, there was a working-man quality to this team – while they had Socrates (who scored the only goal against group runner-up Spain), nobody except for striker Careca (like Maradona, also of Napoli) had the panache traditionally associated with the Brazilian team. Many of them were great, but not superstar greats. They’d pay a price for it later on in the tournament. Spain managed to rally with 2-1 and 3-0 wins to take second.

Group E 
Many thought this was the “group of death,” featuring West Germany, Denmark, Uruguay, and Scotland. Nobody had really used that term before, but it fit. Shockingly, Denmark would win the group and all three games in it. A 1-0 win over Scotland was a good start, but given Scotland’s’ reputation as a punchline, it wasn’t seen as much. Meanwhile, West Germany was surprisingly ineffective in the early going. They were down 1-0 to Uruguay after only four minutes, and had to use a late equalizer (84′) from Klaus Allofs to get them one point. They also fell behind to Scotland in their next match before righting the ship and rallying to win 2-1. But the big shock came when Denmark beat them 2-0 with goals through Jesper Olsen and John Eriksen. West Germany did enough to take second, but there was something that was missing. The usual dominance wasn’t there. They were supposed to have a superstar team, and a superstar manager in Franz Beckenbauer. But they were lucky to take second. Fortunately, one man would help them, a midfielder from a small town called Herzogenaurach in Bavaria. He would come to life later on in the tournament, going on to win 150 caps for Germany, most all-time for his country.

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(Lothar Matthäus would help West Germany in the knockout stages. Photo courtesy of 

Another treat was seeing a cameo appearance from a future legendary manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. Before going on to an amazing career at Manchester United, Ferguson was trying to manage his native Scotland into the round of 16. They had to beat Uruguay in order to do it.

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(A young Sir Alex Ferguson led Scotland in 1986. Photo courtesy of Scottish Football Association.) 

But it was clear the Uruguayans weren’t playing around. In the previous game, Denmark had embarrassed them 6-1. They put a target on the back of Gordon Strachan, who had scored against West Germany in their previous game. Shortly after kickoff, a message was sent. Defender Jose Batista went flying in and nailed Strachan as hard as he could. And with that dirty foul, Batista set a World Cup record that will probably never be broken – the fastest sending off in the history of the World Cup. Batista had only been on the pitch for fifty-six seconds. Now Uruguay was down to 10 men for virtually the entire game. No matter, as Scotland didn’t come through, being held to a 0-0 draw, helping Uruguay escape with third place in the group and making the knockout stages, despite a loss and two draws. FIFA was not pleased, threatening Uruguay with expulsion from the tournament.

(Jose Batista was sent off in under a minute against Scotland. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

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(The foul that got Batista sent off. Photo courtesy of FIFA.) 

Group F 
Morocco would set a record of their own in this group – the first African team to make the knockout stages. Not only that, they also won the group. Following a 0-0 draw with Poland and England, Morocco held on to upset Portugal 3-1 to take top honors. What let the Portuguese down was petty squabbling over wages. Although they managed to beat England, they would finish last in the group, failing to advance despite high expectations.

After a loss and a draw, without a goal in either game, many had England down for the count as well. But in a must-win game against Poland, the Three Lions had their own hero waiting for them. He had played poorly in the first two matches, but his manager saw something in him. And sure enough, although he was known for being a working man in an increasingly flashy game, Gary Lineker came through with a hat trick, all of them in the first thirty-five minutes, giving England their much-needed win, 3-0. Not only that, it bumped them up to second in the group on goal differential. Poland would still qualify in third place. The final sixteen were now set.

(Gary Lineker scored a hat trick against Poland to spark an England rally. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

Knockout stages
The hosts Mexico faced Bulgaria in their round of sixteen match. While Maradona deservedly took the lion’s share of the glory, Mexico had a goal that rivaled any of his. 35 minutes in, Manuel Negrete received a cross into the box. It was a little too high for him, so he controlled it, and passed it to Javier Aguirre. Keeping the ball in the air, Aguirre passed it back. Negrete jumped in the air and scissor kicked at the ball. GOAL!! Many consider this goal the best in the World Cup, but the problem was, he wasn’t Maradona, so it’s been lost to history. It jump-started the hosts, allowing them to beat Bulgaria 2-0.

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(Manuel Negrete scissor kicks the ball into the net. Photo courtesy of

The other game that day featured Belgium against the Soviet Union. It was June 15 in Leon. It would be the Red Devils’ scariest match – and finest hour. The Soviet Union took a 1-0 lead into the locker room after Igor Belanov (27′) scored for them. Belgium equalized (56′) through Enzo Scifo, before Belanov scored his second (70′) to put the Soviets back in the lead. But seven minutes after that, Jan Ceulemans broke through. Arguably the Eden Hazard of his generation, Ceulemans came through big in the clutch. It was 2-2.

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(Jan Ceulemans scored the second goal for Belgium to keep them in the tournament. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

The match went into extra time still tied 2-2. In the first extra time period, Belgium finally broke through to take the lead. Little-known Stéphane Demol would be the goalscorer. Eight minutes later, the Belgians added a fourth, when Nico Claesen scored. It would be the game-winner for the Belgians. One minute later, Belanov scored his hat trick, and now it was a game again. Still, despite one last Soviet attack, the Belgians hunkered down and held on. They won 4-3 and advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time in their history. For a team known for being short on offensive firepower, they never looked so good. (For the record, though, at least two of those goals were borderline offside calls that they got away with.)

(Despite a hat trick from Belanov, Belgium advanced in an exciting match. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

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(Even in defeat, Igor Belanov was brilliant, scoring a hat trick for the losing Soviet team. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)

In what would prove to be his last real moment of glory, Socrates scored a penalty for Brazil en route to a 4-0 victory over Poland. Careca later added a penalty of his own. This was the Brazil that everybody was used to. In a battle of the River Plate, Argentina beat neighbor Uruguay 1-0, proving that rivalry was still great. Despite an unheralded back line, the Argentinians were proving Bilardo right.

Morocco and West Germany faced off. Once again, West Germany looked stiff. But late in the game, the Germans won a free kick. Suddenly, Lothar Matthäus pushed one of his teammates out of the way. He shockingly took the free kick…and managed to curve it around the defense, bouncing once and in to give West Germany the 1-0 win. For Matthäus, seen by many as a punchline even in his own country, it was his first moment of glory in the World Cup.

France beat Italy 2-0, with a goal from Michel Platini, who had been quiet in the group stage, opening the festivities. This, by the way, gets my vote for most underrated rivalry in football. You’ll hear more about it later.

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(France captain Michel Platini scores against Italy. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

For Gary Lineker, his magical run was only beginning. On what was honestly an average England team, he shone for them, getting two more goals, each sandwiched around one from Peter Beardsley. A 3-0 win over Paraguay set up a date with Argentina.

In the final match of this round, Denmark continued its run when Jesper Olsen scored on a penalty (33′). But then the Danish luck ran out. Arguably the best game of the tournament came from Emilio Butragueño, who outdid both Lineker and Belanov and scored four goals, aided by a fifth from notorious defender Andoni Goikoetxea, “The Butcher of Bilbao.” The latter had not only torn Maradona’s ACL in a La Liga game, he put the shoe in a glass case as a souvenir. Spain was into the quarterfinals.

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(Emilio Butragueño of Spain scored four times against Denmark to push them into the quarters. Photo courtesy of FIFA.)

The first quarterfinal would feature Brazil and France. Throughout the tournament, Brazil hadn’t been scored upon. Seventeen minutes in, Careca made it 1-0. But Platini (40′) finally cracked the uncharacteristically stout Brazilian defense. Neither team would create a lot of chances, and the match came down to penalties.

Brazil went first, and Socrates stepped up first. Surely, he would have the advantage. But French keeper Joël Bats was up to the task. Bats shockingly saved the penalty, and suddenly France was in the driver’s seat. Yannick Stopyra scored for France, who seized the advantage. Each team scored their next two, including one from Zico for Brazil. France also got a little lucky on their third kick – Bruno Bellone had originally hit the post, but the ball took a strange deflection, hit off the back of Brazilian keeper Carlos, and rolled in. Following a score from Branco, Platini stepped up for France. Surely he wouldn’t do what Socrates did, right? Well, actually, he didn’t. At least Socrates had his saved. Platini completely shanked his shot, sending it over the top. Now Brazil had seized the momentum. But it didn’t pay off, as their final kicker Julio Cesar hit the right side post. Luis Fernandez stepped up for France. He converted, and they won 4-3 on penalties. They were back in the semifinals. A surprisingly defensively efficient Brazil team was going home.

West Germany faced off against Mexico in Monterrey, the hosts’ only match away from Estadio Azteca. It was a pretty boring game, aside from the fact that each team had one player sent off. Thomas Berthold saw a straight red (65′) and Javier Aguirre got a second yellow in extra time (100′) to had each side down to ten minutes. A scoreless draw would go to penalties. The Germans were efficient, taking four penalties and converting all four. The Mexicans, by contrast, were fumbling around. Their second and third kicker both missed, and after Pierre Littbarski scored his penalty, there was no hope of a comeback. The 4-1 penalty final score doomed Mexico, who nevertheless tied their own record of making the quarterfinals, both times as hosts.

Belgium and Spain faced off in the third quarterfinal. It, too, would go to penalties. Few gave the upstart Belgians much of a chance. But they shockingly held their own, when Ceulemans put them in the lead (35′). It looked like Belgium may pull it off in regulation. But five minutes before time, Juan Antonio Señor equalized (yes, that is his real name). While both teams took their chances, penalties would be forced to decide it.

Señor led off for Spain and scored, and Claesen followed suit for Belgium. Next up was Eloy. His penalty was low, and Pfaff had an easy save. Belgium had the advantage. Enzo Scifo scored. Each of their next two scorers did, too, with Chendo and Butragueño converting for Spain, and Hugo Broos and Patrick Vervoort chipping away and doing the same for Belgium. Spain’s last kick from Victor went in. It was up to defender Leo Van der Elst (no relation to Franky, at least as far as I know). Leo would only win thirteen caps in three years for the Belgians, and would be off the team for good one year later. The television broadcast even misspelled his name. But he had his moment in the sun, converting the decisive fifth penalty and sending Belgium through. The Red Devils were in the final four.

(Belgium beat Spain on penalties to make the semifinals. Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

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(Leo Van der Elst hits the back of the net to send Belgium through. Photo courtesy of 

But the best match was between the bitter rivals, Argentina and England at Azteca. Twenty years of buildup had come to this. It wasn’t just the colonialism of the British that Argentina was now rebelling against, it wasn’t just the injustice of the quarterfinal match in ’66. It was a culmination of a bitter dispute over territory, known as either the Falklands or the Malvinas, depending on whom you ask. And Diego Maradona would have two memorable moments. One was pure genius, the other pure chicanery. But such was Maradona’s nature. Argentina was also known to have embrace a style known as anti-futbol, where cheating and negative tactics were promoted.

Against conventional wisdom, FIFA decided not to award the game to a more experience referee. They gave the assignment to Ali Bennaceur (or Bin Nasser, depending on some spellings) of Tunisia. Even if he had been more experienced, I don’t think he would have seen the magic coming. The first sign was right before kickoff. The shadow of what turned out to be a piñata hovered just above the ground, leaving that eerily-shaped shadow for pretty much the whole match.

The festivities were passionate even before kickoffs. Fans of both teams, including several notorious hooligan firms, fought in the streets of Mexico City. The fighting even spilled briefly into the stadium itself. The first half was scoreless, although Argentina looked the better side from the get go. English goalkeeper Peter Shilton was forced to make several saves, most of them off of chances from Maradona. England never really had a good momentum through the first half, but almost took the lead after Argentinian keeper Nery Pumpido slipped on the grass. But Peter Beardsley couldn’t convert. Argentina had controlled possession, but many thought that because of that, England had fresher legs coming out for the second half.

Early in the second half, Maradona changed the World Cup forever. It would take four minutes.

Six minutes into the second half (51′), Maradona attempted to play a one-two with Jorge Valdano. But Maradona mishit it just slightly, and the ball went towards England defender Steve Hodge. Hodge jumped in the air to clear it away, but the ball didn’t hit properly off his foot, and cleared into the air towards the penalty area inside England’s box. Maradona and Shilton jumped in the air. At 6’1″ (1.85 m), Shilton had eight inches on Maradona. But Maradona jumped higher and stuck out his head….and his hand as well. The next thing anybody knew, the ball was in the net. The English players furiously swarmed around Bennaceur, insisting Maradona punched the ball into the net with his hand. At the very least, no goal, and perhaps even a booking. But Bennaceur claimed he didn’t see it and allowed the goal. And worst of all, England was right. Later replays showed that Maradona punched the ball into the net with his hand. After the match, he cheekily described it: “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.” The “Hand of God” nickname stuck. England fans and players were furious. There was a new wrinkle in the already turbulent rivalry. But Maradona was only getting started.

(“The Hand of God.” Video courtesy of YouTube.) 

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(Diego Maradona pulls off his notorious “Hand of God” goal over Peter Shilton. Photo courtesy of The Mirror.) 

Whether or not England’s player will admit it, the chicanery rattled them. Four minutes later, Argentina reclaimed possession near midfield. He got the ball to Maradona, who raced across the midfield line. Peter Beardsley attempted to cut him off. But Maradona sprinted past him. Next was Peter Reid, and then Terry Butcher. No luck. Along the way, Valdano called for the ball, but Maradona claimed he didn’t see him (or it was too late to pass, depending on who you ask). Terry Fenwick couldn’t stop him, either. Finally, Butcher approached him and hacked him down from behind. There was just one problem – Maradona had already put the ball past Shilton for number two. After almost a decade of heartbreak within their own country, all of Argentina rose to its feet in cheers. The moment was capped off with a legendary call by broadcaster Victor Hugo Morales:

“La va a tocar para Diego, ahí la tiene Maradona, lo marcan dos, pisa la pelota Maradona, arranca por la derecha el genio del fútbol mundial, deja el tendal y va a tocar para Burruchaga… ¡Siempre Maradona! ¡Genio! ¡Genio! ¡Genio! Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta… ¡Y gooooool!… ¡Y gooooool…! ¡Quiero llorar! ¡Dios Santo, viva el fútbol! ¡Golaaazooo! ¡Diegoooool! ¡Maradona! Es para llorar, perdónenme… Maradona, en una corrida memorable, en la jugada de todos los tiempos… Barrilete cósmico… ¿De qué planeta viniste para dejar en el camino a tanto inglés, para que el país sea un puño apretado gritando por Argentina? Argentina 2 – Inglaterra 0. Diegol, Diegol, Diego Armando Maradona… Gracias, Dios, por el fútbol, por Maradona, por estas lágrimas, por este Argentina 2-Inglaterra 0.”

A loose translation is as follows:

“He’s going to pass it to Diego, there’s Maradona with it, two men on him, Maradona steps on the ball, there goes down the right flank the genius of world football, he leaves the wing and he’s going to pass it to Burruchaga… Still Maradona! Genius! Genius! Genius! There, there, there, there, there, there! Goaaaaaaaal! Goaaaaaaal! I want to cry! Holy God, long live football! What a goal! Diegoal! Maradona! It’s enough to make you cry, excuse me! Maradona, in a memorable run, in the best play of all time! Little cosmic comet, which planet did you come from, to leave so many Englishmen behind, so that the country becomes a clenched fist crying for Argentina? Argentina 2, England 0! Diegoal, Diegoal, Diego Armando Maradona! Thank you, God, for football, for Maradona, for these tears, for this – Argentina 2, England 0.”

(Victor Hugo Morales’ commentary of the “Goal of the Century.” Video courtesy of YouTube.)

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(Maradona begins his run. Photo courtesy of

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(Terry Butcher and Peter Shilton fail to stop Maradona. Photo courtesy of Daily Mail.)

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(Maradona celebrates his “Goal of the Century.” Photo courtesy of FIFA.)

Morales’ words perfectly summed up all the frustrations of the past decade in Argentina. Not even the great Pele had brought his country together like this. Argentina now had a 2-0 lead. In ten seconds, Maradona had gone from cheater to legend. It’s still called “The Goal of the Century.”

Desperate now, England was forced into an attacking situation, and brought on substitutes John Barnes and Chris Waddle. Argentina’s legs finally began to wear down, and ten minutes from time, Gary Lineker hit his sixth goal, all in the last three games, to put England back to within a goal. The three-back set for Argentina now looked vulnerable. But despite the England attack pressing, their luck ran out. Carlos Tapia almost had a third goal for Argentina, narrowly hitting the post. Argentina held on to win, 2-1. Maradona had carried Argentina on his back to the last four. Many England players reluctantly admitted that they may have also used their hands in the same situation. And although it took some time, eventually they too came to praise the second goal.

If most teams could see the writing on the wall for Argentina, most teams nevertheless did their best to stop him. Belgium would face Maradona in the semifinals. But after a scoreless first half, Maradona pulled off another spectacular performance. Unbelievably, it also came 51 minutes in. While his first was a tap-in, his second was probably just as good as his “Goal of the Century.” He took a ball in the Belgian half, dribbled around four Belgium defenders, and went back post to beat Jean-Marie Pfaff. The Belgians had their best run ever, but like England the previous game, they were completely demoralized after that. Maradona’s World Cup for the ages continued. Argentina advanced to the final with a 2-0 win.

(Maradona scores twice against Belgium in the semifinals. Video courtesy of YouTube.)

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(Belgium defenders give chase, but fail to catch Maradona. Photo courtesy of

France was also overmatched against West Germany, losing 2-0. Andreas Brehme (9′) scored early, and one minute from time, Rudi Völler added a second off the bench to send West Germany back into the final for the second straight Cup.

Third place game 
It would be border rivals Belgium and France in the third place game. Belgium took an early lead (11′) through Jan Ceulemans, and they held it for sixteen minutes. But goals from Jean-Marc Ferreri (27′) and Jean-Pierre Papin (43′) made it 2-1 for Les Bleus at halftime. Belgium later tied the score (73′) through Nico Claesen. An exciting third place game would go into extra time.

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(Nico Claesen equalizes for Belgium in the third place match. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

Sadly for Belgium and their fans, their luck ran out in extra time. Bernard Genghini (104′) scored what would prove to be the winner, and then defender Manuel Amoros (111′) added a fourth for good measure. France held on to win 4-2, but Belgium had its best finish to date. It was their finest team for thirty years, and still fondly remembered in this writer’s heart – and I was a year away from being born.

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(Bernard Genghini scored the goal to clinch third place for France. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.) 

In an attempt to neutralize Maradona, the Germans decided to put Lothar Matthäus on him man-to-man. It actually worked pretty well, except that Matthäus also neutralized himself as a result. In the meantime, other heroes stepped up for Argentina.

Argentina had its own underdog story – center back Jose Luis Brown. Brown had struggled in the South American leagues for several years, and was the last player chosen on the Argentina squad. But after Daniel Passarella went down, Brown was in the starting lineup. A true journeyman in every sense of the word, Brown latched onto a free kick outside of the German box, and opened the scoring after 23 minutes. It was the only goal Brown would ever score for his country, but what a moment to score it.

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(Unheralded defender Jose Luis Brown scored the opening goal of the final for Argentina. Photo courtesy of FIFA.) 

Brown’s goal was the only goal of the first half. Ten minutes into the second half, Jorge Valdano made it 2-0 after 56 minutes. West Germany was on the ropes. But Franz Beckenbauer made some substitutions, and two goals in seven minutes helped West Germany tie the score 2-2. But only three minutes later, Maradona set up midfielder Jose Burruchaga (84′) for Argentina’s third. It was the goal that won the Cup. In the end, West Germany couldn’t find an equalizer. While Maradona was amazing, Argentina had won on guile, heart, and a little bit of controversy, their second title in three World Cups.

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(Diego Maradona carries off the World Cup trophy. Photo courtesy of The Telegraph.) 

Fun Facts 
Argentina wore dark navy blue jerseys in the quarterfinals against England. Last-minute uniforms were put together, and large numbers were sewn onto the back with the crest on the front on the day of the game.

Steve Hodge wrote his own book about his experiences with Maradona. He took much of the blame for the Hand of God, failing to clear the ball off the line. He also shared Maradona’s jersey at the end of the game.

Led by Uday Hussein, Iraq’s team had some scary motivational tactics. Rumor had it they were forced to kick balls made of concrete with bare feet. Many players broke their toes as a result.

Gary Lineker is the only England player to win the Golden Boot (leading scorer). As great as Maradona was, he only had five. Lineker led the tournament with six, which is probably a small consolation to the match.

Northern Ireland, Canada, and Hungary made their final appearances to date (as of 2017).

Even though they’re not seen as a top team year in and year out, Belgium did set a record during this tournament – they are the first team in World Cup history to convert all five penalties in a shootout. Not even Germany, known for their penalty-taking prowess, can say that.

Maradona was once photographed wearing a Brazilian jersey, to much controversy in Argentina. He said the only jersey he wouldn’t ever wear was that of River Plate, his childhood club team Boca Juniors’ biggest rivals.

This is the last World Cup to feature both teams scoring and the match ending in regulation. All of the others have been shutouts, in extra time, or shootouts.

In his entire career, both domestically and internationally, Gary Lineker never received a yellow or red card.

Final Thoughts 
Sixteen years after Pele won his final title in the Azteca, Maradona now had the same honor. Two of the games greats book-ended each other perfectly. Although Maradona only won once and Pele three times, their rivalry as the greatest individual player rages on to this day. And the game is all the better for it.

References and Sources
Getty Images
Scottish Football Association
England’s Worst Ever Football Team (documentary)
Maradona ’86 (ESPN 30 for 30 documentary)
World Cup Heaven and Hell: Goals That Shook the World (ITV documentary)
World Soccer
Soccer Men (Simon Kuper)
The Ultimate Book of Sports Jerks (Michael Freeman)
Eight World Cups: My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer (George Vecsey)
Angels with Dirty Faces: How Argentinian Soccer Defined a Nation and Changed the Game Forever (Jonathan Wilson)
The Man With Maradona’s Shirt (Steve Hodge)

Soccer’s Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Clumsy Keepers, Clever Crosses, and Outlandish Oddities (John Snyder)
Soccer’s Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves, and Fantastic Free-Kicks (Jeff Carlisle)
¡Golazo! The Beautiful Game from the Aztecs to the World Cup: The Complete History of How Soccer Shaped Latin America (Andreas Campomar)
The ESPN World Cup Companion: Everything You Need to Know About the Planet’s Biggest Sports Event (David Hirshey, Roger Bennett)
The Mammoth Book of the World Cup (Nick Holt)

MLB updates: Fourth of July edition

Hi everybody, I hope you all had a happy Fourth of July. With the All-Star game taking place next week in Miami, we’re at around the halfway point of the season. Here’s some recent news.

American League 
In the Central, many thought the Kansas City Royals were dead and buried. And earlier in the year, they were. They had a disastrous April, going 7-16. All of a sudden, they’ve gone from the cellar to a tie for second place with Minnesota. Also, their pitcher Jason Vargas leads the American League with 12 wins. Cleveland remains in first place, but only by 1.5 games. With the Tigers and White Sox beginning to fade (the former I picked to win, despite all the predictions to the contrary; the latter I saw struggling a little bit), it looks like it’s starting to become a three-team race in the Central.

The Houston Astros have solidified their lead in the West. Seen by many as the best team in baseball, they seem to have a strong core heading forward. They have the best record at 57-27, and lead their division over the second place Angels by sixteen full games. That’s incredible this early in the season. It’s easy to see why many have them as World Series favorites in the AL. None of the other teams have really made any progress, so barring a catastrophic collapse (which has happened), I think it’s safe to say Houston is going to be the West champion.

Boston and New York are quietly resuming their rivalry in the AL East. Outfielder Aaron Judge of the Yankees looks to be the MVP favorite, as he’s in the top three in all three Triple Crown categories, and he’s only a rookie. If he does win both, he’ll join Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki as the only players to do so. Nevertheless, Mookie Betts is coming on strong in his own right, making his second consecutive All-Star team, and now starting in center field after Mike Trout went down with an injury. While Judge is probably the favorite for MVP, and catcher Gary Sanchez is also having a terrific season, the pitching has fallen back a little bit, and it’s clear to see they’re not where they were at the start of the season. From mid-June until yesterday, they’ve gone 6-14 in their last 20 games, while the Red Sox have gone 13-7 in that same span. New York went from three up to four back. Keep in mind that the Red Sox have also played two more games than the Yankees at this point, so that does also factor in. Tampa Bay is in third in the division, and mathematically fourth in the Wild Card chase behind New York, Minnesota, and Kansas City. Baltimore is at 40-43, so a winning streak could swing things around, but it could also mean a very quick crash the other way. Toronto is in last, one year removed from an ALCS appearance, but at 38-45, it’s what you would call a respectable last place, if such a thing exists.

Playoff standings (as of July 5, 2017)
1. Houston Astros – West (57-27)
2. Boston Red Sox – East (49-35)
3. Cleveland Indians – Central (44-38)
Wild Card 1: New York Yankees (44-38)
Wild Card 2: Kansas City Royals (43-40)*

*Placed ahead of Minnesota using ten most recent games as tiebreaker.

Also in contention:
1. Minnesota Twins (43-40)
2. Tampa Bay Rays (44-41)

National League 
The Chicago Cubs aren’t having a great title defense this year. Many predicted a Cubs-Red Sox World Series, but it looks like the Cubbies will have a hard road back. Still, in a weak Central division, they are in second, 3.5 back of Milwaukee. The fact that Milwaukee is leading is a surprise to many – very few, myself included, saw them coming. That doesn’t mean they’ve been playing great baseball, but a winning streak will help vault them further along. With St. Louis in third at 40-43, it’s still possible for them to catch up, but now’s the time for the Cardinals to make the move. Eventually, you’ll run out of chances.

Washington leads the NL East by nine games, the only team in that division with a winning record. Surprisingly enough, as a result of the weak division, the Atlanta Braves are in second place, only two games under .500. Their new stadium at SunTrust Park seems to be a welcome change. They’ve still got a long way to go to get back into contention, but .500 is not out of the question. But the NL East is also home to the worst team in baseball – the Philadelphia Phillies, at 28-54 (.341). Nobody really was surprised, but May and June were disastrous – a combined 15-40 in those two months, and a really horrendous 6-22 record in May (surprisingly, their longest losing streak that month was five games). Their worst losing streak was in June, losing eight in a row and scoring only twenty runs in that span.

Conversely, the best record in the NL goes to the Los Angeles Dodgers. This is a team that does everything well, and if they can avoid injuries, I think they can finally get to the World Series. They’ve had numerous close calls over the last ten years, making the NLCS four times in that span. If Clayton Kershaw can stay healthy, he’s probably the best pitcher in baseball. And the other two Wild Card leaders are in this division – the surprising Arizona Diamondbacks and the rising Colorado Rockies. While Colorado fell off the pace, the NL is down this year, so both teams still have a firm grip on the Wild Card as of this writing.

Playoff Standings (as of July 5, 2017) 
1. Los Angeles Dodgers – West (56-29)
2. Washington Nationals – East (50-34)
3. Milwaukee Brewers – Central (46-40)
Wild Card 1: Arizona Diamondbacks (52-32)
Wild Card 2: Colorado Rockies (49-37)

Who’s ready for a great second half of the season?

By the way, here’s an early look at the playoffs logo. I like its look.

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Photo courtesy of

A world of words

As simplistic as a lot of these posts are, it’s always very nice to know that there are people worldwide that read it. So far, I’ve had over 1,600 viewers from nineteen separate countries. Earlier yesterday, I got my first reader from Canada. To whomever that reader was, thank you. Hope you keep reading some of these.

Can words really change the world? Perhaps. Just perhaps. It takes more than just words to really see significant change. But oftentimes, good conversation is a good start. Thank you to everybody who reads these posts. I’m honored that you’ve taken the time.