The Hakuna Matata series kicks off with Rocco Cammisola’s memories of World Cup 1994, and how Roberto Baggio was almost saved from being the villain of the piece.
“Never trust a post. Especially if you’re a goalkeeper. There will be times where you’ll bless it, perhaps even kiss it. Then other times you’ll want to kick it around.”
Vanni Spinella, sports pyschologist
Sunday 17th July 1994, the date of the World Cup final. Italy and Brazil would face off once again, invoking memories of epic encounters in years gone by for those who are old enough to remember. In the early afternoon on that Sunday a friend of the family, caught up in the excitement and hyperbole, asked me who was going to win. She had asked hoping to get an excitedly partisan response. Instead I replied, matter of factly, stating that it was simply impossible for me to predict a future event. Told her.
The final produced few memories as the game ended 0-0, and so did extra time. The iconic images of the penalty shootout are those that are remembered – along with Diana Ross shanking a ball past the outside of the left post, bringing the goal posts down in tears of laughter no doubt. The sight of Il Divino Codino (the divine pony tail), Roberto Baggio, calmly chipping the ball over the crossbar is engrained painfully on the memory of many Italians. Baggio shoulders most of the blame for that defeat but none of those scenes would have ever come to pass had it not been for a post.
Speaking some time after the game, Italian goalkeeper, Gianluca Pagliuca had said that his legs were trembling with nerves for the only time in his career. They will have trembled some more when in the 76th minute, Mauro Silva picked the ball up 30 yards out and unleashed a shot toward the Italian goal. Gianluca Pagliuca watched it the whole way before snatching at the ball. Then, disaster struck and the ball spilled from the goalkeeper’s grasp. In a moment where seconds felt like minutes, the stopper stood with his feet planted and his neck craning around to his right unable to do much about the situation. His eyes widened and his face filled with panic, as he watched the ball bounce and then continue it’s trajectory toward the goal. It would have done, had it not been for a post.
As the ball rebounded from the post onto the ground, panic and despair transformed to joy and, more importantly, relief. The kind of relief witnessed on a man’s face when he is informed by his partner, on the day of their anniversary, that they ‘aren’t doing presents this year’. Gianluca allowed himself to indulge in this moment of relief. He kissed his glove and pressed it against the post. A tender moment of gratitude shared between a man and his tools. Pagliuca had kissed the post.
In those few seconds, Pagliuca could’ve become the reason for Italy’s World Cup failure. His pre-game nerves would’ve been completely insignificant compared the deep depression he would surely have been plunged into by the National backlash. I was just seven years of age during the ’94 World Cup. I have blurry memories of bits of games involving Nigeria, Bulgaria and the Republic of Ireland (Ray bloody Houghton) but none are as clear as this moment from the final. This is my first footballing memory, from a time where things were much much simpler.
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