JOHANNESBURG – In our build-up to the Fifa World Cup, our soccer writers will recall their best and worst moments ahead of the June 14 kick-off in Russia. Here, Mazola Molefe provides us with his special memories…
1 Favourite World Cup ever and why:
France 1998. I have very vague memories of the two tournaments before that, but France ’98 was special. South Africa qualified for the greatest event on earth for the first time and the country, four years into its democracy, was abuzz. No one would have missed seeing Bafana in action even if they tried.
2 Least favourite World Cup ever and why:
I was never able to watch as many matches as I would have liked during the 2006 tournament. For that reason I felt less engaged, but the games I was able to catch, including the final between winners Italy and France, were obviously incredible, although watching in disbelief when Zinedine Zidane was red-carded for head-butting Marco Materazzi remains quite an awful memory of that World Cup.
3 The most outrageous thing at a World Cup:
There are plenty that obviously didn’t jump at me at the time of writing. But the Zidane incident is difficult to miss. Another one is Andres Escobar’s own goal at the 1994 tournament while playing as a defender for Colombia. He was murdered when he returned home in the aftermath of his error, apparently as retaliation for putting the ball in his own net.
4 All-time favourite World Cup goal:
This is an emotional decision, but Benni McCarthy’s nutmeg goal to beat Manchester United and Denmark’s Peter Schmeichel to put Bafana back on level terms in their bid to qualify for the knockout stage. It was also South Africa’s first ever goal at the World Cup as debutants in France ’98.
5 All-time worst miss at a World Cup:
Yakubu Aiyegbeni of Nigeria missed an open net in a match the Super Eagles had to win against South Korea to advance beyond the group stages. They were trailing 2-1 and that would have been the equaliser to spur them on. Yakubu did manage to convert a penalty later on, but the match ended in a 2-2 draw and wasn’t enough for Nigeria to finish second behind Argentina.
6 All-time favourite World Cup save:
Manuel Neuer’s double save from two attempts by Paulinho of Brazil when Germany hammered the hosts of the 2014 World Cup 7-1 in the semi-finals.
7 All-time favourite World Cup goal celebration:
Without a doubt Roger Milla’s corner flag dance celebrations during the 1990 World Cup. As a bit part player because he was aged 38, Milla still managed to bag four goals as Cameroon finished in the quarterfinals and Milla was the toast of the town.
8 All-time favourite quote:
“Everybody in Argentina can remember ‘the hand of God’ in the England match in the 1986 World Cup. Now, in my country, the ‘hand of God’ has brought us an Argentinian pope.” – Diego Maradona on using his hand to score the most controversial goal in the history of the game during the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup against England.
9 All-time favourite coach:
Vincente del Bosque. At the time Spanish football was on the rise, he assembled the crème de la crème in the country and targeted the 2010 World Cup with impeccable success. Two years later, they were able to retain their European Championship.
Del Bosque retired in June 2016.
10 Hall of Fame and Shame:
* Most distinguished player: Pelé (Brazil)
He needs no introduction giving what he has achieved in his hey day and winning the World Cup three times with Brazil, and being the only player to ever do so. A striker with a sharp eye for goals, Pelé mesmerised football lovers all over the world from the age of 15 until he hung up his boots aged 37.
* Bad boy: Nicolas Anelka (France)
An international career that began with a lot of promise ended in shame at the 2010 World Cup when the striker was reported to have abused then-coach Raymond Domenench at halftime during their 2-0 defeat to Mexico. He was expelled from the World Cup squad and subsequently issued with an 18-game ban, which ended effectively ended his playing days with the French national team.