“It just wouldn’t stop snowing,” recalled Rabah Madjer of 13 December 1987 in Tokyo, where the Algerian was to represent Porto against Penarol in the Intercontinental Cup. “It was absolutely freezing and I didn’t know how we’d be able to move a ball in such thick snow.”
That wasn’t the only thing ingesting the Dragões players with pessimism as they walked out at the National Stadium. Penarol had appeared in four previous Intercontinental Cups, beating Benfica, Real Madrid and Aston Villa in their last three, while Porto had never participated in the fixture. South America had won eight of the last nine Intercontinental Cups, with Juventus’s defeat of Argentinos Juniors on penalties in 1985 the only exception. And while the Uruguayan giants would be at full strength in Tokyo, the Portuguese underdogs had, since conquering Europe earlier that year, sold their principal star Paulo Futre to Atletico Madrid and would be without the injured Celso and Juary in the Japanese capital.
Over 68,000 – a staggering crowd given the sub-zero temperatures – witnessed 40 action-shy minutes as the snow rendered impossible stringing passes together or dribbling. Then the ball fell into Madjer’s path, down the right. The 29-year-old faked to shoot, prompting a Penarol defender to go sliding fruitlessly past him into the white blanket, before unleashing a fierce left-foot drive. The ball flew past goalkeeper Eduardo Pereira and seemed destined for the bottom corner until, just inches from crossing the line, it stopped dead in the snow. Fortunately for the men in blue and white, Fernando Gomes got the better of a Penarol defender and forced the ball over the line to break the deadlock.
It just wouldn’t stop snowing. It was absolutely freezing and I didn’t know how we’d be able to move a ball in such thick snow.
Such was the difficulty the players had trying to pass the ball in such conditions that Porto kicked off the second half by simply punting the ball as far as they could into the opposition half. That indicated Tomislav Ivic’s men were out to hold out for a 1-0 win, and they were only ten minutes away from achieving that when Penarol midfielder Eduardo da Silva lofted a free-kick into the opposition box, substitute Matosas flicked it on, and Milton Viera scrambled home the equaliser.
The remaining ten minutes of normal time passed with little incident and no goals. So, too, did the first half of extra time.
But ten minutes before penalties would have decided the destination of the trophy, Madjer produced a stroke of genius that belied the conditions and would have been worthy of settling any game. Augusto Inacio broke up a Penarol attack and whacked the ball upfield. Uruguayan Obdulio Trasante got to it first, but he was immediately challenged by Madjer. The ball broke just in front of the north African, sinking into the snow. Instinctively, Madjer struck it first time. Incredibly, he generated enough height and distance for the ball to lob goalkeeper Pereira, bounce just before his line and trickle over it.
The attacking midfielder had completed an admirable turnaround of fortunes. Just two years earlier he had been dumped by French second-flight side Tours for being tactically inept. Now, after his sumptuous back-heel inspired Porto to an unforeseen victory over Bayern Munich in the European Cup final, another of his trademark wonder goals had helped them rule the world.
“It was a fairy tale,” Madjer recalled. “That goal in Tokyo was the one I remember with most pleasure. The back-heels were more beautiful (he also netted a marvellous back-heel against Belenenses), but that made us the champions of the world. The timing was perfect, it was in extra time. And it was a really nice goal too, from a long way out and made all the difficult by the snow.
“I was elected the man of the match and I won a car. I took it back to Portugal and I’ve kept it ever since. It’s still there, in my garage. I’ve had the same car for 23 years and it’s like new. It’s never given me problems – not even one! Japanese makes are without doubt the most reliable. But that’s just the cars, not the Japanese weather. Did you see it that day in Tokyo? It snowed, it snowed, it snowed and it didn’t stop snowing.”
Fortunately for Porto, their No8 was capable of producing magic in that snow.