The Final of the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™ remains fresh in the memory for former Argentina player Gabriel Calderon, which is understandable given the significance of the game to him.
Victorious alongside Diego Maradona at the 1979 FIFA World Youth Championship and a World Cup debutant at Spain 1982, the ex-midfielder reached the pinnacle of his 18-year career in that Final 24 years ago, running out at Rome’s Estadio Olimpico in place of Jorge Burruchaga with 37 minutes remaining.
Now a vastly experienced coach, the 54-year-old Calderon is a member of the FIFA Technical Study Group, which is analysing the action on the pitch at Brazil 2014. Breaking off from those duties, he discussed his Italy 1990 Final memories with FIFA.com and looked forward to Sunday’s repeat meeting between Germany and Argentina.
FIFA.com: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you look back on the Final of Italy 1990?
Gabriel Calderon: A lot of things all at once. There was the joy of beating Italy to reach the Final, and then the five days before it, which seemed to go on and on. Getting to sleep was not easy at all. I was so anxious waiting to know whether we'd be world champions or not.
What’s it like to play in a World Cup Final?
It’s big. A lot of things go through your mind, but it’s something you can’t really get your head around. At the time you just see a full stadium and your opponents facing you. It’s just another game to you. But a few years later you start to realise what it all meant.
What do you remember of the match itself?
That we didn’t have much left in the tank. We had four first-teamers out through suspension, Diego [Maradona] had an ankle that was giving him real problems and Burruchaga wasn’t in great shape either. They went into the game a lot stronger, but we put up a good fight against them all the same. It was a tough match and not a very good one. We didn’t let them play their game. We knew we were going to have the odd chance, and one came our way with the penalty on me that was never given. Then, five minutes later they were awarded a penalty. It was obviously going to end that way, with a free-kick, a corner or a penalty. And they got it.
How does that game compare to the Brazil 2014 Final?
So many years have gone by that it’s hard to compare the two. One similarity is that we also had the best player in the world back then, though Diego was really struggling with his injuries. He played because of his character, but physically he wasn’t on the same level as before. And while [Lionel] Messi’s not playing like a 'Playstation player', as I call him, he’s in pretty good shape and we’re not missing anyone, even if [Sergio] Aguero and [Angel] Di Maria are both carrying injuries. This Argentina side is in better shape than the 1990 one.
In those finals you usually came on from the bench. How do you rate Alejandro Sabella’s substitutes?
Argentina has a good bench. [Martin] Demichelis, [Lucas] Biglia and [Enzo] Perez proved that by coming on to do a good job against Switzerland. It also depends on how fit Aguero and Di Maria are. They’re both very important players. Having them fit and healthy can give you a lot of options up front.
Both sides feature players who appeared in Germany’s 4-0 defeat of Argentina in South Africa four years ago. Do you think we might see a repeat of a result like that here?
Anything is possible in football, but if you ask me Argentina played a very open game that day, which played into Germany’s hands. They also got the early goal too. I can’t imagine this game panning out the same way. Argentina are playing very well as a unit and I can’t see them conceding a lot of goals.
Germany did put seven past Brazil in the semi-finals, however. Can a result like that affect the mindset of the Argentina players?
No, it can have the opposite effect. Argentinians are born competitors, as you’ve seen here. When they realised that Messi wasn't going to do it on their own, they changed. The team were aware of that and they’ve become more compact, which shows how professional they are. They’ve also got people up front who can cause you problems. The turning point came against Switzerland but they went out and did it again against Belgium and the Netherlands. Germany will have to work very, very hard to beat Argentina.
What will be the key to the game?
Messi’s contribution is going to be vital for Argentina. Germany are not an easy side to contain. After all, here they are playing like a South American team, but with the mindset and physical prowess of a German one. If we’re going to hurt them, we need Leo to be at his very best and for him to get help from everyone – from (Gonzalo) Higuain, Perez, Di Maria and everyone else. The key’s going to be Messi, though.
Are you a good spectator?
If I’m not directly involved in a game, then I’m usually pretty relaxed when I’m watching. I really suffered watching the last two games, though, and I guess I’ll be suffering even more watching the Final.
Do you have a prediction for us?
I’m terrible at predicting results, so I don’t I’m afraid. On paper Germany are going into the game the stronger of the two sides, but finals are always 50/50. Argentina will compete very well – that I am sure of.