The Story Behind One of Soccer’s Greatest Embraces

There are soccer fans all over the world of all shapes and sizes. The beauty of it all is what helps many of us gravitate towards this most magical of all sports.

The passion of soccer fans is limitless. Yet at the same time there are some that take the level of fandom to new heights, for better or for worse.

Take the case of Victor Dell’Aquila. He’s the Argentine soccer fan that captured the imagination of the world in 1978 when he jumped onto the pitch after the final whistle blew in the final against the Netherlands. He ran straight to goalkeeper Ubaldo Fillol and defender Alberto Tarantini as they embraced on the ground.  That moment was forever embodied in a photo where Dell’Aquila was right there next to the two players in the greatest moment in soccer history for that country.

Dell’Aquila’s story seems pretty normal for a fan that was extremely exuberant and had the chance to be able to share a moment with two conquering heroes of a nation that found itself in strife as the height of the Dirty War coincided with the world’s greatest sporting event.

What made Dell’Aquila different was that he spent the majority of his life without upper limbs. This tragedy was due to an accident he had when he was 12 years old. He was electrocuted by a fallen light post. And in the eventual race to save his life, he had to lose his arms.

After this occurred, there was a sense of worthlessness that Dell’Aquila had.  Such was his displeasure with this situation that he questioned his own existence. “Son, you have to give your mother her life back,” remembered Dell’Aquila in an interview he gave to Argentine daily newspaper La Nación when recalling what the doctor told him was his reason for living.

For Victor, soccer became his life.  It was what helped make sense of what occurred and give solace to his current situation that he had no other choice to deal with. Soccer was his passion. Boca Juniors was his “drug,” and it was what gave his life reason and motivation.

There’s an old adage in South America: “Football always offers a rematch.” The beauty and the redeeming factor of it all is that you always have a chance to make things right.  For Victor Dell’Aquila, that chance came 10 years after his accident. After he saw Mario Kempes score the first goal, things were frenetic. Then the second goal by the Valencia man put the Argentines one step away from immortality. At the same time, that goal put Dell’Aquila one step closer to the pitch.

He would be a step away after the crowd went insane when Bertoni scored the third goal during extra time. Victor said he thought about running onto the pitch, but there was still time left. When Italian referee Sergio Gonella blew the final whistle, there was no hesitation in young Victor’s mind as he became yet another body sprinting on the pitch.  He saw only one person not moving, goalkeeper Ubaldo Fillol. The River Plate man simply crumbled to the ground and immediately broke into tears while over 80 thousand fans screamed uncontrollably.

Dell’Aquila went in that direction; but Tarantini beat him to the spot. So at that point he froze and watched. “I saw (Fillol and Tarantini) just so close. They embraced and that’s why I stopped,” said Dell’Aquila in a tribute to Alfieri after his death in 1994. “The sleeves on my sweater went forward just when photographer Ricardo Alfieri took the picture. It looked like we embraced.”

Alfieri, who years later flagged down Dell’ Aquila at La Bombonera to give him an autographed copy of the moment where he “embraced” both Tarantini and Fillol, forever captured that moment. The photographer was interviewed about the moment where rivalries were forgotten as Tarantini played for Boca from his time as a youth to his eventual departure to Birmingham City weeks after the World Cup. Fillol was the undisputed icon under the sticks for River Plate and the national team. To this day, many even say that the Albiceleste have not found a replacement for him. But on that day, a Boca player (who would play for River a few years later), a Boca fan and a River Plate icon encapsulated a moment where the only colors that mattered were sky blue and white.

Now 36 years later, Dell’Aquila was reunited with both Tarantini and Fillol to do one thing he was not able to do — “lift” the World Cup alongside his two heroes in one of several commercials released in Argentina as they look to win the World Cup for a third time.

Here is that video:

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