How to Score Against ze Germans, by Jorge Valdano

“We’d better put the story in context: we’re at the World Cup in Mexico; we’ve just beaten England and Belgium with a couple of full-on Maradonazos. Against England in a match that has since come to occupy a central part of football’s mythology, Diego resolved the matter both as a citizen (the best goal in the history of football) and as a criminal (‘the hand of God’). Against Belgium, Maradona scored two more brilliant goals, this time after short slaloming runs, to lead us to the final. Tons of Maradona but very little team, was how it felt.

“What’s more, against Belgium the last move of the of the match was scientific proof of the huge gap between Maradona and the rest of the team. El Negro Enrique punted the ball down the right-hand side towards Maradona. Diego galloped after the Belgian centre back and despite jostling with him he managed to nick the ball off him with the gentlest touch of his toe. It was incredible that he had made up the ground, incredible that he had won the ball, incredible that he hadn’t lost his balance…

“It had seemed obvious that the ball was going to go out for a goal-kick but the Belgian ‘keeper Jean Marie Pfaff came out of his goal just in case. In those days Maradona was reinventing the footballer’s relation with time and space, so he was able to reach the ball, stop it dead and take Pfaff out of the game in one move, before rolling it over to me as I arrived at the penalty spot so that I could finish the job. As my own relationship with time and space wasn’t the same as Diego’s, I sent the ball five yards over the bar. The final frame: that infernal whistle, personal humiliation and Diego clapping his hands: ‘It’s alright, it’s grand, don’t worry about it…’ It was true. He didn’t need to worry about anything.

“It’s the 29th of June 1986, it was midday, the Azteca was resplendent despite the suffocating heat, and the ref got the Argentina-Germany game underway. The first half finished 1-0 to Argentina, thanks to Brown’s goal. In the second half everything seemed under control. My job was to man mark Hans Peter Brieguel, whose name, according to the ingenious translation by the Mexican journalist Ángel Fernández, meant ‘German National Railways’. It was no walk in the park: he was an intimidating player who had been a pentathlon athlete and it was my job to follow him all afternoon. What torture! Up and down, up and down, when I went forward he marked me, when he went forward I marked him, always down the righ-hand side.

“In the tenth minute of the second half I followed him down to the edge of our box, but when I realised that the cross coming in from the far side was going to be intercepted by Nery Pumpido, I took off down the right, asked for the ball and though ‘Alright, now it’s time for you to follow me’. That’s where the best little adventure of my career began, an adventure that would last exactly 17 seconds.

“My run took Brieguel by surprise and he let me go. I managed to get away from one German, whose name I don’t recall, and I sped off… On my way I was faced with another group of Germans who made me check back, which was just enough time for the tenacious yet nameless German to throw himself at my feet and scutter the ball away.

“Luck wasn’t on his side as he it got to Maradona. For my part, and God only knows why, I decided to change direction and make a diagonal run from right to left. No sign of Brieguel. Maradona turned and gave the ball to el Negro Enrique, who crossed the halfway line at full speed, the ball at his feet: one, two, three touches…

“Meanwhile, I had made a run behind Diego and was about to race past Enrique when he slipped the ball through to me just before I passed the last defender. I controlled the ball with my left foot and, being 35 yards out, gently prodded it in the direction of the goal. I just had to follow the ball and use the time to decide where I was going to put the ball.

“I’ve said before that as I made my way towards the box I improvised a pithy prayer: “Go in, go in, pleeease.” But the truth is that many things went through my head. For example, my miss in the semifinal that had overshadowed the entire build-up to the final… “I mustn’t get distracted”… I knew that that move, if it ended in a goal, would make me a little happier for the rest of my life. And if it didn’t go in… “I have to concentrate!”… On everything that I had done to get me to that situation… “Just think of the shot, think about the shot”….

“Schumacher was coming out of the goal and I was on my way into the box, with no support and tilted slightly to the left. I decided to widen the angle even further so that I was almost sideways in front of the goal: if Schumacher covered the far post I could go round him on the outside; if he left a gap, i’d shoot. I shot. With the inside of my right foot, it went in close to the post. 2-0.

“When I knew the ball was going in the first thing that went through my head, like a lightening bolt, was the certainty that “This isn’t happening to me.” Half expecting someone to wake me up, I let out a roar and pointed to the subs’ bench, to Marcelo Trobiani, my roommate who had not only helped me to get over that miss in the semifinal but as part of the therapy had helped me to imagine what this moment would be like: “You’re going to score in the final and you’re going to celebrate it with me.” He was the first to hug me and then the rest of the lads arrived. I ended up flattened on the pitch by half the team, my pulse at 200 a minute. Impossible to be any happier.

“But we had to get back up because the match wasn’t over. For a minute I forgot that these were Germans and I felt like I was the world champion already. They would pull two goals back and tie the game so that we had to start again, until Burrchaga scored the third without them having enough time to react. 3-2 and this time we were a team, not just Maradona. And this time we really were champions!

“Even though you’re a footballer, even if you’re a striker in a great team, even if it’s a World Cup… Even if you’ve dreamed your entire life for that one moment, you feel as if these things only ever happen to other people. Once more: “This can’t be happening to me.”

“It seemed so unreal that when I got to the dressing room, after the lap of honour, I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. The moment seemed to dictate that I should but there was not even one tear to dignify that happiness, that feeling of accomplishment. Two years had to pass until that goal felt entirely mine. My brother would send me cassettes from time to time with messages, music and different things. I’d put the cassette in my walkman and go off to exercise in peace. One day I was running through the park opposite my house when suddenly, in between two songs, I heard the voice of José María Muñoz, commenting on the goal i’d scored against Germany, commenting in that voice that for we had believed the only voice in football during our childhood. That day I understood how, for the people of my generation, words complete football. You see, unwillingly and embarrassed as I was being in public, I started bawling like a child. It was true, I had scored that goal.”

That was the reading from the Book of Jorge; this waqs going to be the homily, but  it’s 10:45 and the teams are coming out on to the pitch.

  • Suffice it to say that this should be the best match of the World Cup, the most intriguing clash, among other reasons because that it features the only two teams in the competition not to digrace themselves yet.
  • Regular, dear, handsome readers will be aware of our revelling in the death of metrosexuality in the elimination of Sven, Domenech, Capello & Co. and the relative success of the macho South Americans, etc. Nonetheless, we think Jogi Löw is a bit of a legend and the only manager who has done as good a job as el Diego in this competition (apart from Bielsa).
  • Whatever happens today, too, we insist that Maradona has done a fantastic job so far. He has been brilliant, not just a cheerleader, and it is up to the players now to make the most of their opportunities.
  • We point to the fact that when the German poets were plunging the depths of the Romantic spirit 200 years ago, Argentina were leading the push for South American liberation from the stuffy Spanish. This is a grudge match, yes, but it is also a love affair.
  • As pegamequemegusta’s missus would testify, however, were she given the chance, love hurts.
  • Vamos Carlitos, vamos Masche, vamos Messi, vamos Otamendi carajo, y aguante Argentina la puta que te parío!
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