In Italy, we call “meteora” (meteor) a football player who lives a short period of glory before fading away, back into anonymity. The World Cup is full of such stories, of players who in some way managed to find their edge right during those 30 days, once in four years, when the whole world revolves around a foot ball. They shone on the most important stage, and then quickly turned back into regular journeymen, or even worse disappeared from the calcio che conta (“football that matters”). Like a broken spell. Like a dream from which they suddenly woke up.
Antonio Guarini takes us through a journey among the Top 10 “one-hit-wonders” in the recent history of the World Cup. Some of them helped Italy climb to the top of the world, some others recall painful memories for the Azzurri. But all share the same fascinating meteora status, all found the magic formula to sparkle and shine just when it mattered most.
They may not have been Ballon d’Or winning champions, but we are sure that these names will ring a bell or two to all football lovers.
3) Sergio Goycochea, the Killer of Notti Magiche
“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 World Cup 1990 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 caused by a blunder by 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 an outsider with a cowboy face.
Back in the days, Sergio Goycochea played with the 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 by Claudio Caniggia, served by a delicious assist from El Pibe de Oro Maradona.
In the Quarter Finals, Argentina were paired against the most talented Yugoslavian selection ever. It took a penalty shootout lottery to decide the outcome: Goycochea saved two shots, and off they went to the next round.
Next opponent were the World Cup hosts, Italy trained by Azeglio Vicini, and led by Salvatore Schillaci. Those were the days of 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 only a few minutes, giving the impression that it would be another easy win for Italy.
But Argentina decided to lower the match pace, and in the second half Caniggia – again – got the better of Walter Zenga to give his side an equaliser. 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. Way too much, for somebody who started the competition as a replacement goalkeeper.
Translated by Matteo Carnevale
Check out the other World Cup Meteors in our countdown:
10) Ahn Jung-Hwan, Italy’s Korean Killer
9) Stephan Guivarc’h, the Goalless World Champion
8) Asamoah Gyan’s 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