Those who are lucky enough to be of my generation will remember Espana 82 as the first World Cup that they could follow. I was almost seven at the time and collected the Panini album with a passion memorising every single footballer from Laszlo Kiss to Dominique Rochetau. The World Cup started while we were still at school and I still remember the Stella Maris College Chapel packed to the brim with parents assisting their sons’ First Holy Communion with the dads very distracted from the general run of affairs since Italia – Peru was on at the same time. That was June 18th 1982 and the match started at 17.15. The chapel twice echoed with muffled cries of goal. The first at the 19th minute of the match when Bruno Conti put the azzurri ahead then at the 84th minute when Ruben Toribio Diaz scored after an assist by Teofilio Cubillas.
Released for the summer I followed the rest of the World Cup from quiet Marsalforn where I was destined to cry for the first time after a football match when the perfidious Italians defeated my chosen team with three Rossi goals. But the most interesting part that I remember was a discussion with my neighbour Kevin Mompalao (now Dr.) which probably must have occured later in June while revising the results on the Panini album. At the start of the tournament, Magyarorszag (or Hungary) had played El Salvador and trounced them 10-1 with 5 goals coming from two players named Laszlo (3 Kiss, 2 Fazekas). It was then that Kevin and I both agreed that the mighty Magyar team would proceed to win the Cup. If they manage to score 10 goals in one game then they would beat anyone.
In a child’s world it would not matter that El Salvador have Ricardo Guevara Mora and not Dino Zoff in goal. The relative weakness of different opponents would not register. 10 goals were simply too much. The fact that Belgium would qualify above Hungary by winning two matches 1-0 (Argentina and El Salvador) and drawing with the Magyars went over our heads.
In a child’s world the Malta that drew yesterday with Croatia would be a great team. Last week in a round of friendlies before the competitive matches, Malta drew 1-1 with Sanchez’s Northern Ireland. On the same day mighty Brazil of Kaka, Ronaldinho, Robinho, Ronaldo and Emperor Adriano were drawing to Croatia. Yesterday Malta drew with Croatia (and therefore could draw with Brazil) and yesterday the same Northern Ireland that drew with Malta defeated England (so Malta could defeat England too).
Unfortunately the real world is much more cynical. That is why in 1982 it was Dino Zoff and not Zico, Falcao, Socrates and Eder who lifted the World Cup to the shouts of “Campioni del Mondo! Campioni del Mondo! Campioni del Mondo!”. That is why Brasil became Tetracampeao after Baresi, Baggio and Massaro shot their penalties to the stars in 1994. That is why we will never see Stephen Wellman curl a magnificent freekick during a World Cup final stages.
Finally, one important consequence of yesterday’s achievement in Ta’ Qali as seen from a Juventus fanatic point of view… Zlatan Ibrahimovic must have, even for a split second, entertained positive thoughts about my country. A child’s view that’s true…. but isn’t the innocence of childhood wonderful?