Argentina, the defending World Champions, were shocked by Cameroon in the opening match of the World Cup 1990. It put them in such a situation, where they can’t lose in the remaining matches. Surely the matches against the Soviet Union and Romania won’t be easier. The Soviets were one of the better sides of the event and despite losing 2-0 to Romania, they landed on Naples with high hopes, where Diego Maradona and Argentina were waiting for them.
Naples was the place of Maradona. Still today he is regarded as the God in Naples. The support for him would be enormous out there because, at San Siro in the opening match, he was booed by a section of the crowd – a display as a part of politics between North and South Italy.
The match began in the evening and Argentine goalkeeper Nery Pumpido, who had a rough start to the event, was charged-up to give his best at Naples. But in the first half, Pumpido broke his legs and was replaced by an unknown figure named Sergio Goycochea, whose preparations were limited and in the league that he played in Colombia was suspended due to shooting at a referee.
Alvaro Ortega was shot near his hotel after officiating in an uneventful draw between Deportivo Medellin and America – a bitter truth of football league in Colombia in those days where the drug mafias ruled the roost.
Meanwhile, Goycochea was not even supposed to play in that World Championship, as there were no doubts about the starting goalie of the Albiceleste being Pumpido.
But in life, there comes an opportunity, which when you grab it with both hands, your life changes.
The life of Goycochea would not remains the same in the remaining part of the event.
Argentina won the match by 2-0 despite Maradona escaping yet another handball event.
Goycochea made quite a few brilliant saves and in the second match, he would be tested by Romania and Gheorghe Hagi. Argentina took the lead through Monzon, but Romania came back exploiting a mistake of Goycochea – he did not where the ball was and Balint equalized.
You make a mistake and the doubts would grow.
The confidence in Goycochea’s abilities as a keeper was extremely low in the high-voltage affair against the hot favourites – Brazil. The commentators of BBC and ITV were expressing their lack of faith in Goycochea when he was totally mesmerized by the attacking prowesses of the Selecao.
Brazil left Argentina clueless but on that afternoon at Turin, it was not just Selecao’s day, who missed chance after chance and had to leave home courtesy of the “Holy Water Scandal”.
An unimpressive Argentina survive yet again courtesy of treachery and luck seems to support their negative-minded football display.
The quarterfinal at Florence was against another impressive side of the event – Yugoslavia.
But throughout the 120 minutes Argentina did nothing but only attempted to hold the Yugoslav off.
And they were successful in taking the game to the sudden death – penalty shootouts!
For Yugoslavia, Dragan Stojkovic hit the post and Argentina took a two-goal lead through Jose Serrizuela and Jorge Burruchaga. Robert Prosinecki reduced the deficit and after Maradona was stopped by the Yugoslav goalkeeper Tomislav Ivkovic and Pedro Trolio missed, Savicevic brought Yugoslavia into the contest.
The penalty shootout became a tense affair after a dull 120-minutes contest.
Dragoljub Brnovic had the greatest of all opportunities to put the eastern Europeans 3-2 ahead and on the brink of the last four.
Goycochea had other ideas, however, diving low to his right to deny Brnovic. Gustavo Dezzotti then put Argentina into the lead, before Goyco ensured his side a place in the semis by flinging himself to his left to keep out Faruk Hadzibegic’s effort.
Goyco said to FIFA.com in an interview, “When Diego missed against Yugoslavia, I said to him: ‘Relax! I’m going to save a couple’. The fact is though, that was more a case of wishful thinking than me being sure of myself. From the position and the run-up he took, I knew Brnovic wasn’t going to hit it very hard. It was just a question of waiting till the very last moment to see how he shaped to hit the ball”.
“Gabriel Calderon had played with Hadzibegic in France and he told me that he usually put them to the keeper’s left. I weighed things up: it was the last penalty, he had to score to bring them level and it was a critical situation… I felt he was going to go for the side he felt more secure about”.
Argentina were through to the semifinals.
At Naples, they would face the hosts Italy and after a tense 120 minutes of negative football displayed by Argentina, the match would be decided via penalty shootouts again!
It was going nice for Italy until Roberto Donadoni was stopped by Goyco and when a shaky Aldo Serena missed the vital penalty, Argentina would feature in the finals yet again.
Goyco said, “With Donadoni, I changed my mind during his run-up. He was very talented and it was the fourth penalty, and I thought he was going to play it safe by hitting it to my right. But when I saw him walking up very slowly and stopping and looking at me, I did a little shuffle to put him off”.
“I knew exactly what I was going to do with Serena. We were in the lead, he was 6’4 (1.93m) tall, he was totally left-footed and I was logically expecting him to put the ball to my left. I went that way, knowing that I’d find the ball there”.
“Every time I watch those penalties it takes me back in time. The stadium went all quiet after Serena’s kick. It was as if someone had turned the volume down and only my team-mates’ microphones were left on. I felt as if I was playing a match on a little pitch in my hometown when I was a kid.”
The final was the repeat of Mexico 86 – Argentina would meet the best side of the tournament West Germany in Rome.
Argentina’s plan was simple – hold the Germans off and drag the game to the penalty shootouts.
But this time, luck did not support negativity.
Andreas Brehme took a perfect penalty against which Goyco turned to the right side, but was defeated by the pace.
Argentina ended up as the runner-up, though Goyco felt, it was like being the champions as, throughout the one month, Argentina played poorly but still played in the finals.
The four penalty stops made by Goyco in Italia 90, crucial stops that helped La Albiceleste make the Final and a tally which, decades later, remains a record for a single World Cup. Though West Germany’s Harald Schumacher also has four spot-kick saves to his name, they were made over two tournaments: Spain 1982 and Mexico 1986.
Goyco would become a hero in Argentina and still today, people have not forgotten his heroics in Italia 90.