When somersaulting Sanchez shouldered Mexico’s hopes

  • ​Hugo Sanchez's sister was an Olympic gymnast

  • Scissor kicks and somersaults were his trademark

  • Cramp left Sanchez unable to take a penalty against West Germany

In the mid-1980s, this was one of the most famous and oft-seen celebrations in football. Hugo Sanchez was a scoring sensation, after all, and in the midst of a record run of four straight seasons as La Liga’s top marksman. His speciality was the chilena – spectacular scissors kicks – and the Mexican striker’s manner of celebrating them with somersaults was also a nod to his childhood training as a gymnast.

It was in that sport, in fact, that his sister represented her country at the 1976 Olympic Games – ten years before ‘Hugol’ arrived at the 1986 FIFA World Cup™ with the hopes of the host nation resting on his shoulders. The pressure was intense, and was intensified by the need to boost a country that, just a few months before, had been struck by a devastating earthquake.

“We saw it as our job to bring a little happiness to all those people who had suffered so much,” explained Sanchez. “As a team we made something positive out of it and helped speed up the recovery process. It inspired us to go out and get good results, the fans got behind us, and we improved on our performance at Mexico 1970.”

El Tri did indeed enjoy a creditable campaign, topping their group and advancing to the quarter-finals before losing out in a shootout to penalty masters West Germany. Sanchez, though, did not play the starring role anticipated, with his poacher’s finish in Mexico’s opening win over Belgium his only goal of this or any of the three World Cups in which he played.

Even in the match against Bulgaria, in which this photograph was captured, the memorable moment – a magnificent chilena goal to break the deadlock – was provided by Manuel Negrete. “We had been team-mates at Pumas and we worked on things like bicycle kicks,” Sanchez told FourFourTwo. “He improved his technique a lot and I wasn’t surprised to see him score that goal. I was thrilled for him.”

Sanchez, for his part, struggled to scale such heights, even missing a penalty in the hosts’ 1-1 draw with Paraguay. “That was good in one way because it showed everyone I was only human,” he said. “I’d won all those titles with Madrid and people thought I was superhuman. I hated missing penalties, but in that way it was positive for me.”

It was, however, altogether tougher for Sanchez to seek out a silver lining from Mexico’s defeat on penalties to West Germany, when he found himself unable to participate in the shootout. “I felt powerless,” he recalled. “I couldn’t take a kick because I had cramp in both legs after playing a really tough match in 40-degree heat. I was one of the designated penalty-takers and it was horrible not being able to do my bit.”

Did you know? The 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™ is the subject of a detailed, dedicated exhibit at the FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich.