Diego Maradona in Kolkata (Image: AFP)
Typical German kampfgeist – fighting spirit – was threatening to destroy Diego Maradona’s dream, till a man with Kolkata history salvaged it.
After taking a 2-0 lead in the 1986 World Cup final, Argentina had allowed West Germany to equalize in front of more than 100,000 spectators in Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium. There were four minutes left on the clock. And though Argentina were still the better side, you could never count the Germans out. With just one more opportunistic goal, they could undo Maradona’s dazzling exploits that had carried Argentina to the final.
Maradona then found a loose ball in midfield and wedged an accurate first touch pass with his left foot to put Jorge Burruchaga through. Burruchaga controlled the ball, outsprinted a West German defender and scored with a precise finish. It was 3-2 Argentina. The victory immortalized Maradona, who died on November 25 at the age of 60.
Just two years earlier, Burruchaga was in another huge stadium, India’s very own Eden Gardens. He was a member of Argentina’s team at the 1984 Nehru Cup in Kolkata.
A popular invitational event at that time which attracted talented international colts, the Nehru Cup was one of the stops for Argentina in their preparation for the 1986 World Cup. Burruchaga aside, a few other names from the World Cup squad were in Kolkata. They included goalkeeper Nery Pumpido and defensive midfielder Ricardo Giusti.
The team was coached by the obsessive Carlos Bilardo, who was also in charge in Mexico. (A story goes that after Argentina won the World Cup and the players celebrated, Bilardo was still fretting over the two goals they conceded to the West Germans.)
In Kolkata, one of Argentina’s matches was against India. A rout was expected. However, a spirited India lost only by a solitary goal, that too late in the match. To date, it is rated one of India’s best performances.
India was coached by Ciric Milovan of Yugoslavia. Goalkeeper Atanu Bhattacharya was rated one of the best in Asia then. The rest of the team comprised some of the finest names in Indian football history, such as Krishanu Dey, Manoranjan Bhattacharya, Shabbir Ali, Parminder Singh, Prem Dorji, and Victor Amalraj.
The teams were level till the 79th minute, when Ricardo Gareca chested a high ball in the goalmouth and blasted a right-footed volley into the net.
But it was Burruchaga who wore the No. 10 shirt in Maradona’s absence, and also scored with a Maradona-like left footer against Romania before a packed Eden Gardens.
Argentina did not win the Nehru Cup. It was Poland who took home the trophy. But two years later, Maradona’s side were the toast of international football. And it is worthwhile to remember that Kolkata helped Burruchaga warm up for the big stage, and score the most important goal in the history of Argentinian football.