Paul Marcuccitti

Paul Marcuccitti is a passionate soccer fan from Australia who will share his views about the World Cup in this column.

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Don't forget Mother Nature before the big match

    The first World Cup I remember watching was the 1982 edition in Spain. I can not recollect the whole tournament but I was only eight years old at the time and, given that a lot of matches were live in Australia in the middle of the night, I woke up to watch very few of them.

    Fortunately, I was out of bed for three of the best matches: Italy's 3-2 win over Brazil; that amazing semi-final between France and West Germany, won by the latter on penalties after the teams finished extra time level at 3-3; and the Final in which Italy defeated the Germans 3-1.

    It was a particularly exciting time in my home. My parents are Italian (as if my last name isn't a dead give away) and my father was actually in Spain watching his native country triumph.

    Oddly enough, I never really warmed to the "Azzurri" of later years. They're always quite competitive, of course, but the attacking zest of Enzo Bearzot's 1982 heroes has been evident too rarely since then.

    When the 1986 World Cup finals kicked off in Mexico, I decided that no amount of sleep deprivation was going to stop me following the action from start to finish. I still remember how nervous I was about sleeping through the sound of the alarm and I would check it three or four times to make sure I'd set it for AM and not PM.

    By the time Argentina and West Germany met in the tournament's decider, Mother Nature was starting to tell my body that there was only so long I could keep up this routine of sleeping five or six hours, going to school during the day and playing sport after that.

    I think the time in my home city was 3.30 in the morning when the Final kicked off. Fortunately, I was awake before the alarm sounded so I had successfully defied Mother Nature until the very end - or so I thought.

    As you'd expect, much of the pre-match talk was about Diego Maradona. Could West Germany stop him? Would Lothar Matthäus be given the job of marking him?

    Now, in this era of Diego worship, I'm going to risk a lynching and admit heresy - I actually wanted the Germans to win. Yes, they were a bit on the dull side. Yes, their progress to the Final had been steely and calculated. And yes, their goalkeeper, Harald Schumacher, should have been arrested for his attempted murder of Patrick Battiston in the 1982 semi-final.

    But the Maradona handball that opened the scoring for Argentina in its quarter-final against England had left me rather unimpressed. When, a few minutes later, Maradona's famous slalom run made the score 2-0, I turned to my father (who had stayed home this time) and innocently asked, "If he can do that, why did he have to cheat to get the first one?" I think Dad just shrugged.

    The fact that England was the victim of Maradona's crime made it worse. I followed the English league and the likes of Lineker, Hoddle and Shilton were quite familiar to me. [Until 15-20 years ago, the only hour of soccer shown on Australian television each week came from England. I'm glad to say that things have changed but the English league is still the one I'm most passionate about. Old habits die hard.]

    Anyway, West Germany did have some redeeming features. One of them was this fabulous player who I remembered from the 1982 World Cup. He had a great name too - Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. John Motson, that wonderful English commentator, seemed to relish every opportunity of excitedly calling out all four syllables ("Ru-mme-ni-gge!") whenever the blonde forward made an attempt on goal.

    Little happened in the first 20 minutes of the match but then Matthäus fouled Maradona in a dangerous position. From the resulting free kick, Argentina's sweeper, José Luis Brown, put his country into the lead. Had Schumacher stayed on his line, he probably would have saved Brown's header but the German custodian mistakenly came for a ball that he had little hope of reaching. There would be no more goals in the first half.

    During the half time break, Mother Nature, who I had the better of thus far, was starting to tell me that it was probably time I visited the bathroom. I should have gone but instead I decided to listen to what the experts on the television had to say.

    I don't know why I bothered. Even then I thought I could do just as good a job analysing the game myself. On the other hand, I fancied my chances of postponing the bathroom visit for another 45 minutes so I stayed rooted to the television.

    The second half was the stuff of legend. In the 55th minute, Jorge Valdano scored his fourth goal of the tournament to put Argentina 2-0 up. Toilet time? Not quite yet. I remembered West Germany's comeback in the semi-final of 1982. Maybe they could do it again.

    Into the last 20 minutes, things were looking grim for the Germans. They had finally started to attack but, so far, no results. But wait! They had a corner. Andreas Brehme takes it; Rudi Völler gets a touch; RU-MME-NI-GGE!

Yes! The great man had put his country back in the game.

    OK. I really, really had to go to the bathroom now. My twelve year-old body wasn't enjoying this punishment. But the score was now 2-1 and the World Cup Final was alive. There was barely a quarter of an hour left. Come on, man, hang on!

    With less than ten minutes remaining, Völler equalised for West Germany. What a match this was turning out to be!

    But, despite the excitement, I went to the toilet as the match restarted at 2-2. I just couldn't hang on any longer. Surely we were now destined for extra time. Surely I wouldn't miss anything!

    As I walked back out of the bathroom and down the passage, quite relieved I must say, I heard excited noises coming from the television.

    Oh no! Don't tell me there was a goal and I had missed it! Who scored? Was it the Germans? Had they completed the most remarkable of comebacks?

    The first thing I saw when I got back to the TV was a replay of Jorge Burruchaga's goal.

    I was devastated. Not because Argentina had gone back in front - sure I was disappointed about that. The more devastating thing was that I had missed a piece of World Cup history.

    Yes, of course I saw the bloody replay of the goal. Of course I watched the match again. But I missed the moment when the world saw the winning goal in the Final and all because I didn't go to the bathroom when I had the chance at half time.

So Mother Nature had the last laugh.

    I would not make the same mistake again. A year later, I didn't miss seeing the deflection off the knee of Tottenham's Gary Mabbutt which gave Coventry its winning goal in the 1987 FA Cup Final. And, a year after that, I didn't miss Marco Van Basten's unbelievable volley which put the Netherlands 2-0 up in the Final of Euro 1988.

    I barely need to mention that I saw every minute of the 1990 World Cup Final though it was so bad that I might as well have spent the entire match in the bathroom! Still, at least Argentina didn't win that one. If I thought that Maradona's handball had clouded the Argentineans' 1986 World Cup victory, it would have been an absolute tragedy if their negativity and thuggery at Italia 90 was rewarded with a repeat triumph. The referee, Mr Codesal of Mexico, obviously thought the same and settled the decider by awarding the Germans a dubious late penalty.

    But I digress. Let me conclude with some friendly advice in good time for the sporting feast that awaits us in June. As the big matches approach, don't forget Mother Nature. If you miss the great, historic and decisive moments when they're live around the world, you might regret it.



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