In The World Cup’s Finest we ask various individuals to delve into their own personal history of football’s quadrennial showpiece extravaganza, selecting a number of favourites as well as revealing what is their very first World Cup memory.
Joining us this afternoon is Richard Hayler, Managing Director of Independent Betting Adjudication Service (IBAS), who addresses two English strikers both charged with carrying the nation’s hopes in different eras, a dilemma in selecting a favourite game from tournaments of yesteryear and which World Cup was the most exciting TV ever (at that time).
First World Cup memory
31 May – 29 June (World Cup, Mexico). 1986 and Mexico, it was by far the most exciting television had been at any point up to then! When I was a boy I wanted to be a goalkeeper and the game that stands out from that perspective was the quarter final between Brazil and France, and the performance of French keeper Joel Bats. I lived Joel Bats in the playground for weeks after. The Brazilians were robbed, they had a great team and I was mesmerised by the players’ names! When all the football you watched growing up was at Vicarage Road, you didn’t (in those days) see many players called Casagrande or Socrates.
Favourite World Cup:
Gary Lineker. Maradona was the most skilful player I’ve ever seen, but I can’t have him as my favourite for obvious reasons. My favourite World Cup player has to be Gary Lineker. He was the ultimate big game, big moment marksman, when England needed a goal he turned up and delivered. To my young and over-enthusiastic mind, his equaliser in the 1990 semi-final was the most important moment in all of sport, ever! I was so glad the chance had fallen to him, he took those sorts of goals so well.
England, 1990. It’s hard to pin down a favourite. England had two great teams in 1990 and 1998, the Brazilian team of 1986 looked certainties before their quarter final exit. They just seemed always that bit more in control of the ball than any other side. The other great controllers of play were the Spaniards in 2010. Xavi and Iniesta had an almost telepathic understanding and along with Busquets and Alonso, their opponents struggled to get more than 40% of possession in any game. Having said all that, I always naturally lean towards the underdogs, so the South Koreans in 2002 and the Cameroonians in 1990 would probably dead-heat for first.
Michael Owen (England v Argentina, 1998). From a patriotic point of view, it would be Michael Owen’s against Argentina in the 1998 2nd round. It was the sort of strike that makes you believe! “This is the team, this is our year.” Owen’s star had risen in the final months of that year’s Premier League and playing alongside David Beckham it felt like England had the ingredients to be champions. I’ve decided to shut out everything that happened after the 20th minute – let’s just cut it off then? As a runner up, and a dubious one at that, it would be David O’Leary scoring the deciding shootout penalty to take Ireland through to the 1990 quarter finals. What an unlikely hero in the circumstances.
Cameroon v Argentina, 1990. So many strong candidates here. Germany’s destruction of Brazil in 2014 was a game you couldn’t take your eyes off, except to text “ARE YOU WATCHING THIS??”. I loved watching Korea turn over first Italy and then Spain in their home World Cup, especially as FIFA had taken a fair amount of flak for taking the competition to what many people perceived as not ‘proper football countries’. My most memorable game of all though would be the opening game of the 1990 World Cup where Cameroon defeated the champions Argentina.
Not only did it deliver one of the greatest World Cup shocks of all time, but it featured the most comical/brutal red card I’ve seen and then united the whole planet – Argentina apart – in willing on a mighty defensive effort to springboard Cameroon towards a campaign which, if Englishmen are honest, justified at least a trip to the semi-finals.
A less magnificent one but equally memorable was the all-out brawl between Portugal and Netherlands in the 2006 second round. The bookings counters for the spread firms must have gone dizzy trying to count them all. The Russian referee was practically juggling cards and appeared, at least, to have lost all control.
Croatia. I can’t say I have a huge favourite, although the Croatian shirt always seems to be the most striking. Scotland 1986 was interesting with the hooped shorts. When their players had their shirts untucked, it looked like they were wearing skirts!
The World Cup’s Finest is to be a regular feature during the Russia World Cup, profiling a different individual each week day, if you would like to be involved please email firstname.lastname@example.org.