CAPE TOWN – In our build-up to the Fifa World Cup, our soccer writers will recall their best and worst moments ahead of the June 14 kickoff in Russia.
Here, Rodney Reiners provides us with his special memories…
1 Favourite World Cup ever and why:
For me, there is no choice, there can only be one, for both good and bad reasons: the 1978 World Cup hosted and won by Argentina. The two countries, South Africa and Argentina, mirrored each other at the time – at home, we were in the grip of the brutal apartheid machine; Argentina was ruled by a merciless military junta.
In both countries, there were regular occurrences of what was then known as “the disappeared”, in reference to what happened to people who fought against the two regimes. It was a time of bitter strife and oppression – and, in both countries, football served as a temporary balm for the hellishness of it all.
In the World Cup final in Buenos Aires, a fabulous Dutch team, including Ruud Krol, Johan Neeskens and the inimitable Arie Haan, were undone by the brilliance and goals of Argentina’s super striker Mario Kempes, probably the game’s very first “rock star” football personality.
2 Least favourite World Cup ever and why:
Most definitely the 1990 World Cup, held in Italy. It was won by West Germany when they defeated Argentina 1–0 at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. But it was a tournament dominated by dour defensive tactics and penalty shoot-outs were the order of the day.
Goals were few and far between and there was a marked lack of self-control with regard to discipline, with some 16 red records issued during the month-long event. It was the ennui generated by this World Cup that led to world governing body Fifa introducing the back-pass rule in 1992.
3 The most outrageous thing ever seen at a World Cup:
The 2006 World Cup final between Italy and France at the Olympiastadion in Germany when, in a tight, tense game, legendary French midfielder Zinedine Zidane lost his cool and headbutted Italian defender Marco Materazzi.
At the time, the entire planet stood awe-struck at Zidane’s reaction – afterwards, it was learnt that Materazzi had made derogatory comments about the Frenchman’s sister.
4 All-time World Cup favourite goal:
It simply has to be THAT goal: the audacious Diego Maradona slalom in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico, when he left England defenders sprawling in his wake to net a quite spectacular individual goal.
5 All-time worst miss at a World Cup:
Picture this: It’s the 1994 World Cup final between Italy and Brazil at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, in the USA. After fulltime and extra time, the teams are locked at 0-0.
In the penalty shoot-out, Brazil are leading 3-2 when up steps Italian golden boy and penalty specialist Roberto Baggio. It should be a foregone conclusion, Baggio will score, and the shootout will continue.
Not so – the Italian hoofs his attempt high, high over the bar, and Brazil are crowned champions.
6 All-time favourite World Cup save:
Strikers may hog the limelight, but goalkeepers win matches. In a 2006 World Cup semi-final between Italy and Germany, a screamer from Lukas Podolski looked destined for the back of the net, only for that man Gianluigi Buffon to do his impression of the Elastic Man and make the save to ensure the Italians won the match.
The Azzurri would, of course, go on to be crowned champions that year.
7 All-time favourite World Cup goal celebration:
It’s not even a choice; there can, again, only be one – The Roger Milla samba with the corner flag at the 1990 World Cup, when the 38-year-old Cameroon striker emerged as one of the stars of the event.
8 All-time favourite World Cup quote:
It’s got to be something from one of the greats: “The World Cup is a very important way to measure the good players, and the great ones. It is a test of a great player.” – Pelé
9 All-time favourite World Cup coach:
Franz Beckenbauer. Elegant and innovative as a player, the man who pioneered the role of the libero or sweeper in football, the German would go to win the World Cup as both a player and a coach: as player and captain, in 1974, and as a coach in 1990.
10 Hall of Fame and Shame
* Most distinguished World Cup player:
While many are of the opinion that Pelé was the greatest, for me, it’s Diego Armando Maradona.
The Argentine was, put simply, a genius and an absolute pleasure to watch. He was mesmerising and charismatic – and add to that the glue-like touch, the passing range, the dribbling, the speed off the mark and the strength he packed into his tiny, yet powerful frame.
I’ve never been comfortable with spitting at opponents in football. It’s vile; it’s the lowest of the low. So, for me, this has to be the Netherlands’ Frank Rijkaard for spitting at West Germany’s Rudi Voller after they were both sent off in a last-16 tie at the 1990 World Cup.