Sergio Goycochea is sitting on a chair, about to give an interview, having returned from Italy 1990 as a FIFA World Cup™ runner-up with Argentina just 24 hours earlier. As the reporter puts a question to him, the camera pans in on the two of them. The blinds are totally down, but that does not keep out the infernal, deafening din from the street, where dozens of fans have gathered to literally sing the goalkeeper’s praises.
“I went with my wife to a hotel in the centre so we could get some sleep,” says the interviewee, speaking on the first day of the rest of his life, trying to make sense of it all. Nothing would ever be the same again, though. The keeper had travelled to Italy as an understudy to Nery Pumpido, a world champion at Mexico 1986, but returned home a hero for life.
Ask Argentina fans for their Italy 1990 memories, and they will tell you about Diego Maradona, his ankle swollen to the size of a watermelon, weaving his way through the Brazil defence to set up Claudio Caniggia for the only goal of their Round of 16 tie. They will also mention Jose Basualdo hoisting Caniggia aloft as the striker celebrates scoring the equaliser in the semi-final against the Italians, and Maradona’s tears in the wake of defeat to Germany in the Final.
Above all, though, they will recall the four penalty saves made by Goyco, crucial stops that helped La Albiceleste make the Final and a tally which, nearly 27 years later, remains a record for a single world finals. Though Germany’s Harald Schumacher also has four World Cup finals penalty saves to his name, they were made over two tournaments: Spain 1982 and Mexico 1986.
Goyco arrived in Italy with a reputation as a very talented keeper but he was not necessarily the first goalkeeper every Argentinian fan expected to be listed top of the squad sheet. In actual fact, his previous stint between the posts had come for Millonarios in Colombia, in 1989, the custodian having moved there a year earlier after recovering from a troublesome shoulder injury.
Born on 17 October 1963, Goycochea represented his country at the FIFA World Youth Championship Australia 1981 despite the fact he was playing for a second division club at the time. He made his top-flight debut in 1983 with River Plate, winning the league title, Copa Libertadores and Intercontinental Cup with them in 1986. With Pumpido the club’s first-choice keeper, however, Goyco found opportunities hard to come by.
Italy 1990 was not the only high point of an international career that began in 1987, with the keeper forming part of the squads that won the Copa America in Chile in 1991 and retained the trophy in Ecuador two years later, La Albiceleste’s last senior title to date. With 45 appearances to his name, Goycochea is his country’s fourth most-capped goalkeeper of all time.
He played his last match in 1998, with Newell’s Old Boys, having had spells with Racing Club (Argentina), Brest (France), Olimpia (Paraguay), Cerro Porteno (Paraguay) and Internacional of Porto Alegre (Brazil), to name just some of the clubs he ran out for.
Goyco’s World Cup record would not have happened without luck playing a hand. Originally Argentina’s third-choice keeper, he moved up one place in the pecking order when Luis Islas withdrew from the squad just before the tournament in protest at not being given the No1 jersey. Then, in Argentina’s second group match, against Russia, Pumpido broke his right leg. All of a sudden, Goycochea found himself thrust into the spotlight.
After conceding a solitary goal in the games against the Russians, Romania and Brazil, Goycochea kept Yugoslavia at bay in a goalless quarter-final. In the resulting penalty shoot-out, Maradona and Pedro Troglio both missed from the spot, giving Dragoljub Brnovic the opportunity to put the eastern Europeans 3-2 ahead and on the brink of the last four.
The Argentina keeper had other ideas, however, diving low to his right to deny Brnovic. Gustavo Dezzotti then put Argentina into the lead, before Goyco ensured his side a place in the semis by flinging himself to his left to keep out Faruk Hadzibegic’s effort.
A few days later, the keeper reprised his heroics at the legendary Stadio San Paolo in Naples, where the Argentinians held the tournament hosts to a 1-1 draw after extra time. With the score tied at 3-3 in the resulting shootout, Goycochea guessed Roberto Donadoni’s intentions, pulling off a similar save to the one that thwarted Hadzibegic.
Maradona converted this time to give the South Americans a 4-3 lead, before Goyco made it penalty save number four, flying to his left to block Aldo Serena’s firm drive. In the process he dashed Italian dreams and became a lifelong idol for millions of Argentina fans.
One penalty he could not stop, however, was the one that Andreas Brehme converted to give Germany victory in the Final, though as the keeper told FIFA.com, that runners-up spot felt like a title in its own right. “To my mind, it was as if we were world champions anyway.”
“My biggest asset? I always focused on stopping shots, using my intuition and the information I’d been given, knowing how to read body movement and the minds of penalty takers and to read the moment too. The closer you get to the end of shoot-outs, the more the pressure ramps up. It’s not the same to take the fourth penalty and to know that if you miss it then your team’s out. And from a technical viewpoint, you also need power in your legs to be able to get close to the posts and be in a position to save the ball.
“Penalty takers have to walk 50 metres before they take the kick, and that works in the keeper’s favour. I never said anything to them because I didn’t want them to hate me or get angry and focus their thoughts. I just looked them straight in the eye and tried to plant some seeds of doubt.
“When Diego missed against Yugoslavia, I said to him: ‘Relax! I’m going to save a couple’. The fact is though, that was more a case of wishful thinking than me being sure of myself. From the position and the run-up he took, I knew Brnovic wasn’t going to hit it very hard. It was just a question of waiting till the very last moment to see how he shaped to hit the ball.
“Gabriel Calderon had played with Hadzibegic in France and he told me that he usually put them to the keeper’s left. I weighed things up: it was the last penalty, he had to score to bring them level and it was a critical situation… I felt he was going to go for the side he felt more secure about.
“With Donadoni, I changed my mind during his run-up. He was very talented and it was the fourth penalty, and I thought he was going to play it safe by hitting it to my right. But when I saw him walking up very slowly and stopping and looking at me, I did a little shuffle to put him off.
“I knew exactly what I was going to do with Serena. We were in the lead, he was 6’4 (1.93m) tall, he was totally left-footed and I was logically expecting him to put the ball to my left. I went that way, knowing that I’d find the ball there.
“Every time I watch those penalties it takes me back in time. The stadium went all quiet after Serena’s kick. It was as if someone had turned the volume down and only my team-mates' microphones were left on. I felt as if I was playing a match on a little pitch in my hometown when I was a kid.”