Only a Diego Maradona double in the semi-final could halt Belgium's unprecedented progress at the 1986 FIFA World Cup™ in Mexico, where the Red Devils profited from the presence of a supremely gifted 20-year-old with a formidable array of technical skills – Enzo Scifo.
The son of a Sicilian miner who had emigrated to Belgium, Scifo had already been playing international football for two years when Mexico 86 came around. Like many young boys in his home town of La Louviere, he spent his formative years kicking a ball around in the streets, before progressing to the schoolboy ranks of the local club.
Scifo scored a scarcely believable 432 goals in four seasons with La Louviere, earning himself the nickname 'the Little Pele of Tivoli' – Tivoli being the club's home stadium. Not surprisingly, his performances did not go unnoticed and the youngster was snapped up by Anderlecht. His star continued to rise with the Brussels club as he netted 135 goals in three seasons with their youth teams.
Scifo's first-team debut came in August 1983 in a friendly against Barcelona. The youngster immediately endeared himself to the Anderlecht supporters by twice nutmegging none other than Maradona. At 17 years of age, he had the world at his feet. Anderlecht coach Paul Van Himst gave him his league debut against Waterschei and he did not look back.
He would collect the Golden Shoe award for the best player in the league in 1984 and the Belgian Football Association did not waste time completing the necessary paperwork to confirm his naturalisation ahead of that summer's UEFA European Championship in France, Scifo making his debut in a warm-up friendly against Hungary seven days before the Red Devils' opening game.
Irresistible in qualification for the 1986 FIFA World Cup – he hit his first international goal in the opening win over Albania – Scifo arrived in Mexico as the talented spearhead of a well-balanced Belgium side that would prove their strength and resilience by reaching the last four. Scifo played in all seven of his country's matches, scoring twice: in the 2-1 first-round victory over Iraq and in the thrilling 4-3 defeat of the Soviet Union in the last 16.
Despite his tender years, Scifo played with the poise of a seasoned veteran, even if he occasionally took the more complicated option. His ability to retain the ball proved telling in the quarter-final triumph over Spain, which the Belgians edged 5-4 on penalties after a 1-1 draw. But the Red Devils' adventure was to come to an end in the semi-final against Argentina, when a certain Maradona exacted his revenge for that double nutmeg years earlier. Nevertheless, Scifo had cemented his reputation as one of the finest young talents in world football.
Courted by some of the biggest names in Europe, he opted to join Inter Milan but would move on just one season later after failing to establish himself with the Italian giants. A succession of injuries threatened to stall his career further but, after a brief stint at Bordeaux, Scifo rediscovered his form at Auxerre under the paternalistic influence of coach Guy Roux. Clearly rejuvenated, he had an outstanding tournament at the 1990 FIFA World Cup, scoring in Belgium's first-round victory over Uruguay and shining in the narrow second-round defeat by England when he was denied a spectacular goal by the woodwork.
After another season on the banks of the Yonne with Auxerre, Scifo returned to Italy with Torino, where he played in the 1992 UEFA Cup final against Ajax, before joining Monaco. In 1997 he finally came full circle, returning to Anderlecht, the club where 12 years earlier he had made his first-division debut.
An ever-present for Belgium at USA 94, he appeared at his fourth and final FIFA World Cup finals in France in 1998, earning the last of his 84 international caps in the 1-1 draw with Korea Republic that ended their campaign in the first round. It was with Anderlecht that Scifo savoured the final success of his long career, winning a fourth league title in 2000. He retired the following year because of arthritis before embarking on a career in coaching.
|28/06/1986||Puebla||FRA||4:2 a.e.t. (2:2, 2:1)||BEL||Match for third place|
|25/06/1986||Mexico City||ARG||2:0 (0:0)||BEL||Semi-finals|
|22/06/1986||Puebla||ESP||1:1 a.e.t. (1:1, 0:1) 4:5 PSO||BEL||Quarter-finals|
|15/06/1986||Leon||URS||3:4 a.e.t. (2:2, 1:0)||BEL||Round of 16|
|11/06/1986||Toluca||PAR||2:2 (0:1)||BEL||Group matches|
|08/06/1986||Toluca||IRQ||1:2 (0:2)||BEL||Group matches|
|03/06/1986||Mexico City||BEL||1:2 (1:2)||MEX||Group matches|