World Cup One-Hit Wonders: Goycochea, the “Notti Magiche” Killer

“If a penalty shot ends less than 60 centimeters far from a goal post, you can’t save it.” This is the essence of penalty shootouts, according to an Argentinian goalkeeper who happened to become a hero during the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

Sergio Goycochea was not even supposed to play in that World Championship, as there were no doubts about the starting goalie of the Albiceleste being Nery Pumpido.But Pumpido had a rough start at Italia ’90. The incumbent World Champions of Argentina were incredibly defeated by Cameroon in the opening match, the only goal being the consequence of a blunder from Pumpido himself. Coach Carlo Bilardo confirmed him in the lineup, but in the second Group Stage match the Argentinian goalie injured his leg.

Still, Diego Maradona and his teammates managed to sneak into the next round, and Pumpido’s place was taken by this quasi-unknown outsider.

Back in the day, Sergio Goycochea played ofr Millionairos in Colombia, and was little known even in Argentina. Odds were totally against the Albiceleste, as they prepared to face Brazil in a Round of 16 match in Turin. The Selecao indeed dominated the game, hitting three posts, but were shocked by a lone goal from Claudio Caniggia, serviced by  El Pibe de Oro Maradona with a brilliant assist.

In the Quarter Finals, Argentina were paired against the most talented Yugoslavian selection ever. It took a penalty shootout to decide the outcome. Goycochea saved two shots, and off they went to the next round.

The next opponent were the World Cup hosts Italy, trained by Azeglio Vicini, and led by Salvatore Schillaci. Those were the days of the Notti Magiche (“Magic Nights”) for the Azzurri, who still had to concede a single goal, and were ahead on their way to capture the world title at home. Schillaci scored after just a few minutes, giving the impression that it would be another easy win for Italy.

But Argentina decided to lower the match tempo, and in the second half Caniggia got the better of goalkpeer Walter Zenga to give his side an equalizer. The outcome was decided on penalty shootouts, once again. The Azzurri missed two shots, with Roberto Donadoni and Aldo Serena. Both were saved by Goycochea.

The Final was a rematch of the previous World Cup edition’s last act – with Argentina facing again Franz Beckenbauer’s (recently reunified) Germany. The game played at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome ended up being the most boring Final ever seen in a World Cup, with no scoring chances at all. But, with only a few minutes left, and Goycochea probably looking forward to a new shootout showdown, Germany were awarded a penalty…

Defender Andreas Brehme, who played in Italy with Inter, went on the penalty spot. He delivered a shot that must have ended just 61-62 centimeters far from the post – as El Goyco did touch him, but couldn’t stop it. Germany became World Champions. Maradona ended up crying.

If that match would have ended on penalties, maybe the outcome would have been different. Maybe Goycochea would have become even bigger of a hero. But that would have been too much to ask to fate for somebody who started the competition as a backup goalkeeper…

Check out the other World Cup Meteors in our countdown:
10) Ahn Jung-Hwan, the Korean Killer of Italy

9) Stephan Guivarc’h, the Goalless World Champion
8) The Asamoah Gyan Penalty Nightmare
7) Yordan Letchkov, the Bulgarian Who Made Germany Cry
6) Cuauhtémoc Blanco, the Mexican Juggler of France 1998

5) Oleg Salenko, a Day of Football Insanity
4) Mario Gotze, Hero for One Night Only