Burruchaga: The longest, most exhilarating run of my life

FIFA.com: Senor Burruchaga, how important has the FIFA World Cup ™ been in your life? Jorge Burruchaga: It's been very important. I think one of the main objectives for every player starting out is to represent their country. Back in 1985, after Argentina had secured qualification for the following year's finals in Mexico, all we thought about was being included in the squad. I was in an unusual situation in that I went off to play in France, which was a very different environment and one in which I was unsure if I'd succeed. At the time Carlos Bilardo told me something I'll never forget. He said: "If you do well, you'll go to the World Cup. If not, I won't be taking you." That's why I spent the year thinking about the finals and making the sacrifices I did. In the end though, it was worth it. Those couple of months in Mexico were the happiest of my life.

What is your earliest memory of a FIFA World Cup? That would be 1978 obviously. I also followed Germany 74, but I was very young and there wouldn't have been many televisions at the time. In 78, it was held in Argentina and I was 15 at the time. I watched all the matches and went out celebrating in the streets with my friends from the neighbourhood every time we won a game. Then, of course, there was the Final, after which we went to the city centre and did something we thought we'd never be able to do: shout out that we were finally champions of the world.

Eight years later, as a player at Mexico 86, you helped Argentina fulfil that dream once more. What emotions did you feel during those finals? Very powerful ones. The first stemmed from the fact that Carlos decided we should go to Mexico a full month before the finals. I'll never forget touching down in Mexico because, being the first squad to arrive, we had the country's entire media on top of us. I have this abiding image of us on the bus being escorted by the local police, who were there to stop the people getting too close. We didn't know what was going on, but it quickly brought home to us the challenge we were facing, how far we'd come and the significance of the World Cup. From that moment on, we were motivated, focused and determined to have a great tournament, in spite the problems that had gone before.

With the experience of Mexico behind you, I imagine you felt very different four years later at Italia 90. Yes, it was different, both because of my prior experience and the context. Naturally, for us the idea of playing the tournament in Italy was much more appealing, although our objectives and hunger for success were the same. What was different, though, was that I could help those members of the squad who were making their finals debut. I was able to explain to them what was at stake and what it means to have the entire country rooting for you, because sometimes you don't realise what it is you're defending when you pull on your national team's shirt. Perhaps the main difference was that we'd already won the title four years earlier.

Although Argentina reached the Final again in 1990, that game is not remembered as a great footballing spectacle. What do you recall of that match against Germany, and do you think it was a good game? No, but what I remember about that side, and what few people take into account, is that we had enormous problems with injuries and suspensions, not the mention the fact that we lost our opening game to Cameroon. Yet for all that, we made it to the Final, eliminating several of the favourites, like Brazil, Yugoslavia and Italy, along the way. That group showed all of Argentina that they were proud to fight for the country's honour right to the death, as we say here. For me that was the most redeeming feature of that Final. There is no doubt but that Germany deserved to win, although not in the manner which they did. We still feel that the penalty that led to the decisive goal shouldn't have been given, although they should have been awarded one for a challenge by Goycochea on Buchwald in the first half, which the ref failed to spot. But yes, Germany were better than us that day and deserved to win, just as we had done in 1986. Still, that Argentinian side made it to consecutive Finals, which was no mean feat.

So you feel there was no foul by Roberto Sensini on Rudi Voller in the incident that led to the decisive penalty. For me, it wasn't a penalty. Sensini got his foot to the ball and Voller collided with his leg. But as I said before, I think they should've had a penalty in the first half after a Goycochea challenge, which was a lot clearer. It was a pity as we were hoping to take the game to penalties, and we looked on course. Unfortunately, that erroneous decision proved enough to settle it. However, they were the better side that day, and we've never denied that.

In 1986 it had been Argentina's turn, but that night in 1990 it was Germany's name on the Trophy. What do you remember about the presentation ceremony? Feelings of anger and impotence, of knowing we had come so close. But on an individual level, our consciences were clear because, in spite of all the obstacles in our way, we had still made the Final. We had to do without Batista, Giusti, Olarticoechea and Caniggia, while Ruggeri, Maradona and myself were all carrying injuries that almost prevented us from playing. Oscar had to go off in the first half, while Diego being Diego struggled on. That's why, in spite of the huge frustration of losing, we were at peace with ourselves, knowing we had almost pulled off the impossible and achieved our goal. We lost out by the narrowest of margins.

Can you tell us a bit about Carlos Bilardo? What kind of coach is he? The truth is that, nowadays, we coaches apply a great deal of his methods. The difference is that he was doing it way back in 1983. He's someone who never lets up. He lives each day with a lot of intensity and pays great attention to detail. Let me give you an example: he never liked seeing players with their hands on their hips during training, because he thought an opponent might interpret that as a sign of fatigue. He was always analysing video footage, which was not the norm back then either. I'd go as far as to say that he brought about a transformation in Argentinian football - a far from simple task. He was forever coming up with new concepts, some of which had us a bit perplexed, but in time, we got used to his style and came to realise how far-sighted he was about everything. He predicted everything that would go on to happen in the world of football.

Is it true that he declined to celebrate after the team's victory in 1986 because you had conceded two goals from corner kicks in the Final. It certainly is. There was a metaphor he would often use when we were getting together for training. He'd say that when I crossed the ball, Ruggeri would get his head to it in Spain and someone else would get the rebound in Italy. He was already thinking about how we would move the ball between us, even when we were scattered around Europe. Bilardo placed a lot of emphasis on dead-ball situations, so he was genuinely saddened when we let a two-goal lead slip in the Final by twice conceding from corner kicks. He was fuming and berated us for it, even after we'd won the match 3-2 and were all euphoric. But that was just the kind of thing you expected from Bilardo. Back then, you could finish a game happy about how you'd played, and he'd pick you up one the one mistake you'd made. But it was always because he wanted you to improve.

For many people, the most memorable game of Mexico 86 was the Argentina-England match. What can you tell us about that game? We were hoping for England and not Paraguay , as we'd already had to face Uruguay and knew how tough it was playing against a South American that knew you well. We tried to set aside all the problems between the two countries and focus solely on the sporting side of things. We wanted to win so as to reach the semi-final, because we knew that if we got that far, we'd have a great chance of going all the way to the Final.

That day will always be remembered for Diego Maradona's goals. That's true. I was fortunate enough to see that historic goal at close hand, and for me it remains the best goal I've ever seen at a World Cup. I took off and followed Diego when he swivelled past the English players in midfield to begin his run. The amazing thing was that the pitch was not in the best of condition but, Diego being Diego, he ran with the ball practically stuck to his feet. Later in the Final , you'll see from the video I could just about keep the ball two or three metres ahead of me. Diego had no such problem, being the genius that he was.

Near the end of his run he shaped as if he intended to pass to me. Of course, that was just to fool the last defender who was coming towards him, and even I believed it. Even as he prepared to shoot, he had the intelligence to go to ground as the defender lunged at him. After he'd scored, I'll always remember running after him towards the corner flag The first thing I said to him was a traditional Argentinian insult, : "You son of a bitch! What a goal!" But it was said with utter delight, because he'd just scored an impossible goal given the condition of the pitch. Somehow, being the genius that he was, he'd managed it, and all while moving with the grace of a dancer. That was Diego for you. I think that goal encapsulates all that was great about him as a player.

And what can you tell us about that first goal? Did you realise Diego had used his hand at the time? To be honest with you, he fooled even me. I was on the opposite side to him in that move, which would have been to his left. I genuinely thought he'd scored with his head, especially as Shilton hadn't got far off the ground and looked badly positioned. Moreover, Maradona was convincing, celebrating a goal that was difficult to see and which many of us missed. Afterwards, he said to us 'Come on, let's celebrate', and, of course, we all did. That's part of football. Sometimes things go for you, and other times they don't. However, we all felt that his second goal made up for that first one, almost like it had counted double.

On the subject of Maradona, how important a role did he play in that campaign, and what surprised you most about him? I remember he hadn't been at his best during the qualifiers and looked to be feeling the effects of the season in Italy and all the travelling. But just a few days into our stay in Mexico, you could notice the change. His workrate was infectious and, as captain, he led by example. He was determined to improve on the 1982 World Cup and the image he'd left - he told us as much himself. His motivation rubbed off on all of us. Seeing him like that gave everyone a boost. However, I'd have to say that while Diego was outstanding at that World Cup, so too were his team-mates.

What was the atmosphere like on the day of the Final? The atmosphere at the Azteca was unbelievable. The stadium looked magnificent, really beautiful, although we knew the atmosphere there put us at a disadvantage. The Mexican fans were siding with Germany, but we still really fancied our chances. Having gradually got better as the tournament wore on, we felt this augured well for us in the Final. We'd expected to see Brazil or France in the Final, in fact we thought the French would beat the Germans in the semi-final, but it was Germany who went through. When you walk out there on that pitch, you realise you're just one step away from glory and from making all the sacrifices worthwhile. All that crosses your mind as the national anthems play.

Some of your team-mates have said that, for them, this was the most emotional time. Was it the same for you? Yes, for sure. It makes you feel really moved and incredibly motivated. You remember that you are representing all these people as well as your family, and that you're living something very few players get to experience. The magnitude of that doesn't necessarily sink in at the time, but years later, when you see others in the same situation, the memories come back and you realise its importance. Among our players, for example, that was what really motivated us. I was beside Valdano and we just looked at each other. There was this really special connection between us all, which is hard to put into words.

In that Final, Argentina's first goal came from a free kick of yours that Jose Brown expertly headed home. Was that a training ground move? Very much so. Any dead-balls from out wide were the responsibility of Maradona or myself, and we had to flight them away from goalkeepers, unlike they do nowadays. We also had some great headers of the ball like El Tata himself, Ruggeri, Batista, Cuciuffo and Giusti. They always won a lot in the air. The great thing was that everything we'd practiced worked out on the day. Many people said that goal was down to their keeper coming for the ball and missing it, but mistakes are part of football as well. Later we made a couple of mistakes ourselves and let them equalise.

Did you think the game was over as a contest at 2-0? Yes. After Valdano got our second, we thought they wouldn't come back after that. However, Bilardo always told us that as long as the German players had a breath in their bodies, they'd keep fighting. And he was right: they came back and levelled the game. In that situation you might have expected Germany to go on and win it from there, but we showed a degree of composure and confidence that you don't often see in times like that. At first there was silence and some "accusing glances", as Valdano put it, but we didn't need to scream at each other to realise we had to go and look for a third goal. Argentina became world champions because we were brave and the best team, which is why we didn't panic. We went in search of what we felt we deserved, which was the World Cup, and we got it.

What did you and Maradona say to each other after Germany had equalised? We were hurling insults and just couldn't believe that they'd equalised. I said to him, "Right, let's go and win this thing." We all felt the same, and no one was screaming or blaming anyone else. In football the most deserving side doesn't always win, but on that occasion we deserved to be world champions.

Then came your goal, the winner. The move began when Ruggeri headed a long ball away from near our area. Enrique was first to the clearance and slipped the ball to Maradona, who was near the half-way line. When I saw the ball going towards Diego, I figured the German defence would try and catch us offside. That's why I came from the opposite side and shouted to Diego, who almost had his back to me at the time. He later told me he hadn't heard me, which is quite possible. Diego used to play like he had eyes in the back of his head. So he fed the ball through to me and I took off. Briegel was marking me, but I never saw him or even sensed he was close to me on that run.

It's incredible how many things people have told me about that goal. They said I knocked the ball on too far in front of me; that I ignored Valdano shouting for it to my left; that Briegel almost caught me. All I was focusing on was the goal in the distance. What I could see clearly, though, was Schumacher, as he was all in yellow, which not only made him easier to see him, it also helped me work out how far I was from goal. It must have been a 40-yard run, which I finished with a right-foot shot. The plan was to chip it over him, but I ended up slotting it through his legs. I didn't see Valdano who was running alongside me through the middle, and nor did I hear Briegel behind me.

It felt like the longest, most exhilarating run of my life. To celebrate my goal, I dropped to my knees and raised my arms, and then I saw Batista. He was exhausted and went down onto his knees in front of me. I always say that because of his beard, it looked as if Jesus had appeared to tell us we were now destined to become world champions. When we went back to kick off again, Valdano said to me, "This time yes, we're champions of the world." We shed tears of joy, as there were just three minutes left.

What went through your mind at the final whistle? Bilardo had taken me off after the goal, so I ended up watching the last few minutes alongside Nestor Clausen. Isn't football a wonderful thing! There I was enjoying our crowning glory with one of the many great friends I've made through football. We shared an intense couple of moments, praying for the game to end quickly. He was the first person I hugged at full time, after which we all went off to celebrate. It was stupendous.

Then came the moment when the Trophy was unveiled. I was one of the last to get my hands on the Cup. Diego was the first, obviously, then Nery and the rest. Tapia passed it to me, although I only had it for a few seconds. I only had time to kiss it, raise it up high and thank God. We took photos later, and when we looked at them they were hard to take in. At that moment, you don't fully realise what you've done. For us that realisation probably came when we returned to Argentina and saw all the people. It was truly impressive, not just the Trophy, but being able to say 'We're the world champions'. Those are magical words.

What do you think of the Trophy itself? It's beautiful. And it was worth putting our hearts and souls into. It makes you think of so many things: the qualifiers, how hard it all was. We had to really work for it. Bilardo took a lot of criticism for his approach and tactics, but when you win the Cup you can say it was all worthwhile, you were part of a great team and you made lots of friends on the way. Everything revolves around winning the Cup, doesn't it? Money can't buy all this. It's about the glory, and that's priceless.

And you still get emotional after all this time. That's what I mean. When you achieve something really huge, no matter what your job is, I don't think you actually realise it at the time. Now that I've got the Cup and I can look back on so many memories, I can tell you it was really worth it - all the hard work and sacrifice, missing out on all the things a normal 20-year-old kid does. I can sit here now and tell you how we did our part.