No.8: Jorge Burruchaga, Argentina’s Unlikely Hero (Mexico, 1986)
It’s difficult to quantify a moment. So far in this series we’ve had instances that last a few seconds, classic games played over 90 minutes at least and even staggering runs that have lasted almost an entire competition.
But for a soccer player, the absolute pinnacle—the zenith moment, if you will—has to be scoring a winning goal, late on, in a World Cup final. Can it possibly ever get any better than that? In our previous segment, we looked at a man who did exactly that in Andres Iniesta. But in the 1986 final, a scenario presented itself that was arguably even more dramatic.
The World Cup that was played in Mexico 28 years ago is synonymous with the genius of Diego Maradona; we’ll come to him later in this feature. But the climax of that tournament—played at the Azteca Stadium in front of 114,600 people—had the most dramatic conclusion to a final in the competition’s long history.
Maradona’s heroics had ensured Argentina a place in the final, where they would meet a West Germany team that had been typically tough to beat throughout the World Cup. In truth, it was the latter who were the favorites against what was a relatively average Albiceleste team, aside, of course, from their mercurial No. 10.
The German side knew that too, and from the outset they looked to shackle the diminutive maestro. Sure this would free up space for the rest of the Argentinean players, but was a risk worth taking if it meant neutralizing Maradona’s influence, wasn’t it?
Unfortunately for the Germans, that didn’t pan out to be the case. Jorge Burruchaga whipped in a dangerous ball in the 23rd minute, and defender Jose Luis Brown was there to give Argentina the lead. Germany continued to pin down Maradona throughout the second half, but that afforded plenty of space to the rest of the Argentina players. Jorge Valdano doubled Argentina’s advantage 10 minutes into the second half and the game looked done.
At this juncture, the Germans had to come out and attack. They pushed forward with purpose and gave themselves a lifeline courtesy of Karl-Heinze Rummenigge’s strike 16 minutes from time. Then, the unthinkable happened, as Rudi Voller struck just seven minutes later to bring West Germany level.
But in amongst their delirium, the German team had switched off in their defensive responsibilities. And just three minutes after they’d restored parity, the ball found it’s way to Maradona. Typically, he produced a sublime through ball into the feet of Burruchaga, who burst through the Germany defense:
What happened next?
That strike from Burruchaga was enough to win the match for Argentina giving the Albiceleste their second World Cup in eight years. But Germany wouldn’t have to wait long for their revenge, as the two sides would meet again four years later. That time, the Europeans got the better of their South American rivals with a 1-0 win.
Since Maradona inspired that triumph in 1986, Argentina have failed to win a World Cup. Aside from reaching the final in 1990, they’ve never really come close. With the tournament on their home continent this time round, they’ll be desperate to put that right.