The World Cup in Italy, according to Fernando Signorini: the legend of the burned flag and how many millions made Maradona lose to Italy

If you had to take stock of the 1990 World Cup from today's perspective, what would you say?

– At a distance it occurs to me that, for different reasons, Argentina had much more than it deserved, because there were a lot of problems from the start: players who suffered injuries, going through the round thanks to the penalty shootout, in that lottery that always favored us, and then ends up solving the final by the same route in a game in which I have no doubt what would have happened if Caniggia, Batista, Giusti and Olarticoechea had not missed it.

Do you think Argentina could have been champion?

– I think another rooster would have crowed, but things were as they were. The other day, coincidentally, I received a video of Calderón's move in which the referee was facing, three meters away, and it was impossible for him not to receive a penalty. I wonder how he did to see the lack of Sensini, in which he was about 20 meters away and covered, and did not see Calderón's. These are things that remain forever and that feed the doubt about the honesty or credibility that some have and the political interest that there is in football.

Which Maradona was the one from Italia 90? Because Mexico 86 was an unstoppable Diego, but he came to this World Cup with some physical problem: his toe, his knee …

– Yes, in fact the preparation was exactly the same. We started almost three months before, just as it had happened in Mexico, traveling every Monday to Rome with Dr. Dal Monte so that he could make that World Cup visible and prioritize. Since the tournament was organized by Italy, there were a lot of connotations because he was in Napoli, where he generated a lot of annoyance to the power and opulence of the north. He was coming in fantastic form, but a week after the opening game against Cameroon in Milan, one of the sparring fans put a flat-iron on him and ripped off the nail from his big toe on his left foot. That plunged him into a state of anguish, of unease, because he had done so much to get there in the best way, that Dr. Dal Monte himself placed a carbon fiber so that he could defend himself against rubbing. In addition, before each game he was infiltrated.

And then the ankle.

– In the first match against Cameroon, they put a flat on his shoulder that almost ripped him off. Later, a tremendous foul against the left ankle that left him swollen in a brutal way. Just that ankle he had suffered so much with the injury that Andoni Goicoetxea caused him years ago. I remember telling him one day to go out on flip flops so that all international journalism could photograph him and realize the aggressiveness with which the adversaries were going to confront him. Despite the days and the continuity of the World Cup, he could never recover that freshness again. It was as if a great pianist had been hammered in the wrist. That affected his emotional state and we were very concerned. And then other issues were added.

More and more obstacles.

– Sure, because Argentina was a bit the team to beat but not "because of Argentina" but "because of Diego"; and I think that the match against Italy in Naples was the straw that overflowed the glass and filled the patience of power. It also broke a business estimated at more than 600 million dollars to the Italian Federation for the sale of merchandising and all those questions. Ciro Ferrara himself, before the game, was next to Fernando De Nápoli, Diego's partner in his club, and said: Tell the captain of non scherzare, doviamo vincere noi (Tell the captain not to screw up, we have to win ourselves). They had six different costumes for the different ceremonies they were going to have after the World Cup and the last one was all white to be presented at the Quirinal Palace (Government House). They were already world champions.

I was on the other side, covering that World Cup, and the day after the semifinal between Argentina and Italy, in the first training session of the National Team, an Italian journalist said poor these boys, because those who play in the Italian league will pay for it in the following seasonAnd indeed, Maradona fell with positive doping and Caniggia had a lot of problems too.

– Yes, but I think Diego paid for it because his lemon already had little juice. If that had been when he was 24 years old, I would have continued to endure it because they are also hypocrites. They wanted to kill him forever, but what he generated was much more important to power than what he could say.

Another thing that surprised us after the game in which the national team eliminated Italy is that organizationally, and although the final was missing, the World Cup had already ended.

– Yes, yes, the World Cup for Italy clearly ended there. Make no mistake about it. I also remember that when the game ended at San Paolo, that I entered the court and we hugged each other, I told Diego myself that this was the final that had to be won and that the Cup was won by whoever wanted (laughs) . So it also served as an argument to try to comfort him when he lost to Germany. When he came downstairs crying, I hugged him, grabbed him, and asked him why he was crying. Tearfully, he replied that it was the World Cup that he wanted to dedicate to Dalma and Gianina. So I told him that the girls needed their time, which was what they didn't have. That served to make him react immediately and enter the locker room encouraging everyone, congratulating them. I remember that he asked me to go to the dressing room in Germany to bring him the shirt he changed with Lothar Matthäus.


And how did you live that match between Argentina and Italy at San Paolo?

– It was like they wanted, but they couldn't. Many Neapolitans wanted to encourage Diego, but they also wanted to encourage Italy. There was something in the air that I do not know exactly what it was, that did not allow them to exteriorize either to one side or to the other. I think if Italy won, they would have been sad for Diego. It was a dual feeling that was difficult to resolve.

And the later silence of the stadium, when Italy is eliminated?

– I remember that when the game ended and we went to the extension, I went down with Gringo Giusti to the locker room, because he couldn't stay on the court because he had been sent off. We saw the extension on TV and Julio Grondona, who was there, said that you shouldn't be so demanding. After that comment we went to see what was left in the RAI office and saw the penalties there. When Aldo Serena kicked and Vasco Goycochea cut him off, Gringo jumped up and went out to celebrate. I was very embarrassed because I saw Giampiero Galeazzi from RAI and the other two chroniclers with sadness that fell from their eyes. I think I apologized to them and I walked to celebrate the grass. It was impressive. That was a silence that was heard everywhere.

Diego arrived at that World Cup with many problems due to the way Jorge Valdano ended up off the list. He was also angry when Carlos Bilardo gave the lineup against Cameroon and took Caniggia out of the eleven. It was different than in Mexico, right?

– Yes Yes. I believe that there Bilardo gave more importance to the fear that the opponent could generate, than the security that the same team could generate. In fact, Caniggia entered against Cameroon when there were two expelled. A lot of situations were generated, but I also remember that in that first match, when the warm-up took place in the San Siro gym, the two teams were five meters away. They were like two rectangles. When Diego entered with his laces untied and began to play little games passing the ball from one side to the other, as he did, the rivals stopped running and stretching to see him. They were shocked, until their physical trainer yelled at them to make them react. Afterward, everyone wanted to take pictures with him. It was very funny, although the result was very unexpected and nobody imagined that after such a defeat Argentina could go that far. Football has those things, because Argentina did not deserve to reach the final, but other times it also had to lose. Soccer has those mysteries. It is as Marcelo Bielsa says, that what is achieved is rewarded and not what is deserved.

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I remember the match against Brazil in Turin, and with the qualification to the quarterfinals, I rarely saw Maradona so happy. I remember him with a red and white headband, like a headband, at the press conference.

– But that was not only to win the classic, it was also a triumph over most of the Italians who wanted Argentina to lose. It was a double triumph, and then it was celebrated in a different way. And also, because in real terms, Diego knew that Argentina had to have lost by four goals, and that also generated an amount of anguish during the game that was released with that explosion of joy afterwards.

How did the preview live when they found out that Brazil was playing in the round of 16? Because Argentina came without a firm step, as one of the third, while Brazil came as first in the group

– But that team had been here since 1986. It was a very solid group from the soul. And also everyone knew they had that card, that different sword width. I remember that that morning of the game we were staying in a hotel. It was about 15 kilometers from the court, it seems to me, and Carlos Bilardo's brother arrived, I think with his brother-in-law and nephew. They came to get the tickets, but Carlos was sleeping, so they were worried because they were afraid they would not be on time for the game. I told them to hope that I was going to wake him up and they didn't want to, they told me that this was going to drive him crazy. So I went, but you saw that he was full of cabal (laughs).

Over there you altered one …

– Sure … I knocked on the door and heard on the other side "Who is it?" (imitates his voice). "Me, Carlos." "What happened?" He asked me. He was lying on the bed, with his legs bent, his hands crossed, and I told him what was going on with his relatives and the tickets. Then he gave me the envelope and I left. When the game ended and Argentina ends up beating Brazil, when I get on the bus at the festivities, I said to Bilardo "listen to me one thing, don't come to me now with the cabal because I don't want to know anything" (laughs)

Sure, I was going to ask you that, because I thought "you rang", knowing Bilardo … "Now wake me up on the morning of each game and bring me the envelope"

– No no no…. So I anticipated and said "wake up alone" (laughs).

And did you accept it or did you come back to it later?

– Yes … He was laughing because he was in the middle of the euphoria, because I remember another game that was on the verge of emotional breakdown, which was the penalties against Yugoslavia, because there is a moment when I think it is Diego who fails , and then I, far from having any optimism, thought that it was all over. And we started to go down along with Grondona and another leader of the AFA, and a cameraman who was walking around said "Forza Yugoslavia" and I said "Va fanculo" or something like that and it turns out that Pam! Goyco saves him and then we stayed again and then Argentina ended up winning. This was all a way to cut nails. I think each game was an EKG under effort.

In addition, Argentina played like never before in a very hostile terrain practically always, because I do not remember if so much against Yugoslavia in Florence, but in the opening match, in Milan, all San Siro insulting Maradona, with Brazil in Turin …

– Everybody!

The final against Germany in Rome

– Do not forget also that it was rained, wet, because he had the fracture of Nery Pumpido and that brutal penalty from Diego at the corner exit against the USSR, because the referee eats it and does not see it, because if not, there we we were out in the first round.

What a moment of Pumpido's injury! Because at that moment that corner came for the USSR and Goycochea, at the time of his debut, the ambulance in which Pumpido was in front of him …

– Yes, yes, yes, there were tremendous moments … Or the day of the final, when Pedro Monzón was expelled. Some time later, we went with Menotti to the Sampdoria, and there played Jürgen Klinsmann, who had a great relationship with me, and told me that he had never been kicked in his life as brutal as that. Look how it was that he remembered it perfectly.

Diego Maradona greets an opponent after the heroic victory against Brazil
Diego Maradona greets an opponent after the heroic victory against Brazil

Was all these obstacles hardening the group, or was it already a group prepared for everything?

– No doubt I was prepared, but each of these things served to make them more united. In that sense, if something was missing, that helped.

And how was that about the flag of the concentration in Trigoria, which they say had been ripped from the mast?

– That's like when you are at home, there is a jar of dulce de leche open and there is your four-year-old boy and he is the only one who is in the house and says "they ate the dulce de leche, who was it?" (laughs) It was obvious. Carlos came screaming like a desperate man who burned the flag … Who will believe you? (laughs) But of course … If that was closed to shit … But it was a resource that he also commented that they used when Students played the Intercontinental final against Manchester United, and days before the match, Osvaldo Zubeldía, who was the DT, He saw the team and was very worried and wondered what was wrong, that the players were afraid, and he said to Bilardo, "something must be done", so they went to the sidewalk, began to break it and threw bricks at the window and they entered later and said "these degenerates, criminals, tomorrow we have to go over them." It served to motivate. It is a resource that is used many times and who can definitively say if they can have any benefit. If the result is favorable, they will say that it worked, and if you lose, that it was useless.

And after the final, when he did not say hello to Joao Havelange, the FIFA president, did Maradona say something in the dressing room?

– It was obvious because you remembered that the problem with Havelange had been around since 1986, when he said that under these conditions you could not play, and Havelange, as a stay pattern, said that the players keep quiet and play, which I told Diego “You were wrong there. They shouldn't have played, you shouldn't have kept quiet and they had to stop playing in the middle of the World Cup ”, to see who was going to play. Are Havelange, Blatter, Grondona going to play? They weren't going to play, were they? But the players have not yet discovered the immense power they have and continue to choose to be part of the underdog, and the oppressors remain the same.

When the Argentine team lost against Cameroon, was it an internal earthquake or not so much? Because although the other two parties in the group were still missing, Bilardo was already saying that about returning disguised as Arabs or that if they lost, the plane had better fall …

– Yes, I remember that we were in Trigoria, in the concentration and there was a meeting, which I obviously did not witness, but we were having mate with Monzón and Patón Bauza in their room and Burru came (NdR: Jorge Burruchaga) and said "This guy is crazy … He said to crash the plane when we return and I have to go with my family" (laughs). No, the players fundamentally complained because the majority had been left behind because it had been a very violent game and the referee had not acted with the necessary rigor.

Did you perceive any hostile weather in Trigoria or were you so isolated that nothing came?

– We were absolutely isolated. There you did not find out absolutely anything. I perceived it in some television program, which many did not see either because they were playing tricks or if not, they occupied their time differently, and very few newspapers arrived, which seems good to me. And besides, most of them couldn't read Italian either.

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