Pumpido: Argentina were a great team with a unique figure

29 Jun 2021
  • Argentina crowned world champions 35 years ago today

  • Victorious keeper from Mexico 1986 recalls achievement with FIFA.com

  • "We could’ve scored another goal or two in the Final," he says

Nery Pumpido would have loved to meet up with his former Albiceleste team-mates on 29 June to celebrate the 35th anniversary of their triumph at the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™. However, because of the Covid pandemic, the event will take place via video call. 

Poignantly, it will be the first anniversary without Diego Armando Maradona, the outstanding figure in a team that wrote one of the finest chapters in the history of Argentinian football. 

"Memories of Diego will always be there. It’ll be strange to celebrate what we achieved and, at the same time, feel that great sadness from not having him with us," said Pumpido in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.

The Santa Fe native, who was the first-choice keeper for Carlos Bilardo in 1986, represented his country 36 times. An unused squad keeper at the 1982 World Cup and a starter at the 1990 edition until an injury ended his tournament, he will forever be associated with Mexico 1986.

FIFA.com: What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think back on that World Cup? Nery Pumpido: The emotion... I'm not one to rewatch old games, apart from maybe a few clips or goals, but not entire matches. And especially not these days. None of it comes close to capturing what we experienced back then. Incredible as it may seem, my memories of it are still very vivid even though 35 years have passed. They still have the power to stir a lot of emotion. 

And to think that the team arrived in Mexico heavily criticised... What was it like trying to deal with that situation? The criticisms were harsher than we expected, but they served to motivate us and unite us in adversity. We had some doubts of our own, but every player experiences that before a tournament like this. However, we had two important team talks before it got underway – one in Colombia and one when we got to Mexico – which strengthened the group and helped us go into the first game in good shape. 

What was the feeling after your 3-1 opening win over Korea Republic? The main one was relief. It was an important result, because there were a lot of us making our World Cup debuts, so it was vital to get off to a winning start. It gave us confidence, and that brings with it a sense of calm, which in turn allows you to play better. 

1986 World Cup Finals, Mexico City, Mexico, 2nd June, 1986, Argentina 3 v South Korea 1, Argentina's goalkeeper Nery Pumpido saves as defender Oscar Ruggeri watches (Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images)

How was that debut for you personally? You were stepping into the shoes of Ubaldo Fillol, a world champion whom you yourself rated as the best keeper you’d ever seen... I was lucky enough to be at the 1982 World Cup with many of the champions of 1978, including Fillol. And while that was great, I was waiting for my chance. I knew I was replacing a world champion, someone I admired, but in the moment you don’t think about who your predecessor is. You only care about performing to the best of your ability, which I did. What's more, I think [that opening game] was my best match, even if I made some good one-on-one stops in other games. Sometimes that's enough.

Going back to the team, what would you say was the main attribute acquired during the group stage? Consistency. Even against Italy, who we went behind to, the team showed character and conviction. The other key thing that happened in the opening phase was that we adapted to the climate, which in the long run was critical. We arrived well in advance of the tournament and were better prepared than anyone to cope with the smog and altitude of Mexico City.

When did you start to feel that Argentina could go on and win the title? A lot of the guys will say it was after beating Uruguay in the last 16, but for me it was after eliminating England in the quarter-finals. It was there that I sensed a widespread belief, both in terms of our football and our mindset, that we could be champions. There was a lot of confidence, though not overconfidence, and total commitment.

Some say the best match was Belgium in the semis. Would you agree? I don't know if it was the best, but it was our most composed win. And it's no small thing to win the semi-final of a World Cup relatively easily.

What do you remember about the Final against Germany? That we were superior. Those two goals they scored are a bit misleading, because they came from dead-ball situations and don't tell the full story of who dominated the game. But if you watch it again and analyse it, I think the winning margin could’ve been two or three goals. We were the better team.

You were 2-0 up but then they pulled it back to 2-2. Did you ever doubt you’d win? No, never. That team could bounce back from anything, not only in terms of the football and the physical toll, but mentally too, which is why we had such self-belief. In addition, Germany weren’t as well adapted to Mexico City as us and were physically spent [by the end]. Even after making it 3-2, we could’ve scored another goal or two.

You got to hoist the cup aloft right after Maradona. What was that moment like? Raising the trophy is the ultimate... You win the Final and then look forward to that walk to pick up the trophy. That moment is the culmination of three years’ work and all of that is reflected in the trophy. I’m repeating myself here, but it really is the ultimate!

29 Jul 1986: Argentinian goalkeeper Nery Pumpido holds the trophy aloft after the World Cup final against West Germany at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. Argentina won the match 3-2. \ Mandatory Credit: Mike King/Allsport

What about afterwards? Is there anything about the private celebrations you can tell us? It was extraordinary! I remember we went back to the team HQ and did a lap of honour at the training ground. However, by then we were eager to pack our bags and get back to Argentina to celebrate with family, friends and our people.

Was returning with the trophy seen as a kind of pay-back for all the pre-tournament criticism? We never looked at it that way, at least I didn’t. We just cared about celebrating. Seeing more than 200,000 people between the Plaza de Mayo and the Casa Rosada was unforgettable. The whole week was one celebration after another, which is how it should be.

It’s been said that Argentina could not have won that World Cup without Maradona. What’s your take on that? I don't know... Remember that the pre-finals Diego was not the same as the one in Mexico, where he became the best in the world. I think we were lucky that Diego was in the team, and we took advantage of that, but Diego also capitalised on having that team behind him. History has demonstrated this: in the last eight World Cups where we’ve had one of two best players in the world [Maradona or Messi] in our team, Argentina reached three finals but only won one. This shows Argentina were a great team with a unique figure. It's very difficult to win a World Cup and you need a team to do it.

How much did Carlos Bilardo have to do with it? He was fundamental, the main factor in the title win, and ahead of his time as a footballing tactician. Everyone says he was crazy, but he was the smartest of all. He was convinced about what he wanted and knew how to get that across. He was also able to form a strong and tight-knit group that shared his conviction.

Will you be looking at any of your mementos from the Final? Well, I gave my jersey to a friend, but it was then stolen from him and ended up in the hands of a collector. I tried to contact him but to no avail. I’d really like to have it back, so hopefully that’ll happen... My sister-in-law has my gloves and another friend has my boots, so I only have the medal, which I only really take out when someone asks to see it. It's the only thing I have left, but it's the best souvenir of all!