Following the sudden passing of Diego Maradona, we decided we had to pay tribute to the Argentina legend.
Ste McGovern and Colm Boohig caught up to discuss our reaction to his passing, why he avoided the sad fate of George Best, look at the problematic side of a “raging dickhead”, and why the England game in 1986 defined his career.
We also revisited the podcast we recorded about Maradona in 2018 in the aftermath of his antics at the World Cup in Russia, so you can listen to that in the second half of this episode. Or not. I’m not the boss of you.
When Holland came to Lansdowne Road on September 1st, 2001, they brought with them a mighty squad full of world-class talent; a master tactician and Champions League winning manager; a reputation as one of international football’s greatest forces; and a huge weight of expectation on their shoulders.
The Dutch left that day with nothing.
So how did a team featuring Ruud van Nistelrooy, Patrick Kluivert, Marc Overmars, Jaap Stam, Mark van Bommel and Edwin van der Sar fail to get a result against the Irish? How exactly was it possible that a nation that could leave Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Giovanni van Bronckhorst on the bench couldn’t beat a ten-man Ireland?
Listen to the latest episode of the Nostalgia Ultras podcast, where we discussed Ireland vs Netherlands in the World Cup qualifiers in 2001, to find out how the famous 1-0 victory went down:
Diego Armando Maradona is not only one of the greatest sports people to have ever lived. He is an enigma who has lived every day of his life to the limit. Ste McGovern and Colm Boohig are joined by Maurice Brosnan of Balls.ie to talk about everything that makes the Argentine such a fascinating figure off the pitch, from his drug addictions to his links to the mafia, from his infidelity to his Communism leanings.
Listen to episode 11 of the Nostalgia Ultras podcast:
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Some famous moments featuring Maradona we mentioned on the podcast:
The World Cup is almost 100 years old, and yet only eight nations have ever managed to scale the summit. In the past forty years, only two teams have added their name to the honours list since Argentina’s first triumph in 1978.
Even so, those countries – France and Spain – had won the European Championship in the past. They had some pedigree already, producing outstanding talent and teams over the years, just never capable of getting over the line. Either super powers like Germany, Italy and Brazil got in the way, or there was a phenom like Maradona, or worse, they just bottled it.
If anything, the long road to world glory for those two bordering states illustrates the difficulty in making that last step. They finally escaped the moniker of dark horses in 1998 and 2010 respectively, but others are not so lucky.
This might finally be the year we get a new winner though. The reigning champions are kaput. None of the favourites look especially threatening. The gap between the upper ring and the middle-class has certainly closed, with a host of teams ready to capitalise.
Who’s In Contention For The World Cup?
Belgium have come attached with for so long now that it would make a fitting nickname. The Belgian FA should trademark it and sell t-shirts emblazoned with a black horse, leaping over a giant replica of the World Cup trophy on it as flames rise all around it. Fans could bring inflatable horses, a la the big inflatable hammers that became common place on the terrace in Lansdowne Road in the late nineties. It would make for a far more original marketing campaign than anything you can do with the Red Devils monikers, already made famous by a certain English football team.
Should Belgium not take home the biggest prize in the sport, then they may have to take such ownership of the slogan before it becomes an albatross around their neck. They will end up on the heap of ‘Golden Generations’ that never attain tangible success. The term in itself is an oxymoron; no trophy-winning country ever refers to their team as the Golden Generation, as it tends to describe teams that ultimately underachieve and never end up winning any gold.
The darkest of all horses will never have a better chance to make use of their golden generation talent pool of players. Their best players are either entering or already in their prime, joined by a good mix of youthful exuberance and experience. Their first task is Japan, which is no gimme, but a relatively easy draw considering who’s left in the competition.
If we plot a route to the final, they will have to play Brazil/Mexico in the quarter-finals. I have Brazil nailed down to make the final, but we have yet to be impressed by a Selecao having met inferior opposition up to now. Mexico themselves can be considered dark horses; a talented squad of players who we know will rise to the occasion, and have already eliminated Germany from the equation. The 3-0 drubbing to Sweden is a worry however, and one can’t help but feel they are going out in the last 16 for zillionth time in a row.
Even if Mexico or Belgium make it to the semi-finals, they will have to contend with one of either Uruguay/Portugal or France/Argentina. Intimidating, for sure, and a tough route to glory, but none of those sides are unbeatable. In any case, to be the best you have to beat the best.
Uruguay themselves have a touch of Portugal 2016 about them; an unadventurous, even boring team who rely on the individual brilliance of their best players, they obtain the nous and experience to make their way through the treacherous waters of knockout football. I could see either side spoiling match after match on the way to the final, employing cunning tactics to get past teams containing greater quality than they do.
On the other side of the draw, Spain look the best bet for a run to a second final in three attempts this year. And yet, despite all their talent and their legion of born winners — some of whom have probably got more Champions League medals than goals scored — we all know the cloud hanging over them since the sacking of manager Julen Lopetegui. They are not the imperious Spain of 2010, with clear weaknesses being highlighted in each of their three group games thus far. That’s good news for their potential opponents in the last eight.
Croatia are another member of the Dark Horse Club, threatening to make an impact at major tournaments, then bowing out before the serious business even gets underway. Not only have they failed to replicate their best ever performance at a World Cup, third place at France 1998, they have not gotten out of the group stages until this summer, at the fourth time of asking twenty years later. Their Euros record only makes for slightly better reading.
If they are ever going to do it, this is the year to do so. This writer, erm, wrote them off before a ball was kicked, predicting that the troubles of Euro 2016 might reemerge in Russia. If anything, they have looked one of the most assured sides so far, tossing aside Nigeria, Argentina and Iceland with ease. Luka Modric is playing at his wonderful best, while the squad is peppered with some excellent players, such as Perisic, Mandzukic and Rakitic, to name a few. The timing could be just perfect: Modric, 32, is still at the point where he can play 90 minutes every game while bossing the midfield with his incredible passing, while their star players are currently in their prime, or as close to it as they are going to get.
Denmark, more outsiders than dark horses, face them in the second round. The Danes won’t be overawed on Sunday night, but given their lack of goals in the group stage, it’s difficult to see how they can find a way past the Croats.
Goals have not been a problem for Colombia thus far, scoring five times in three matches. The South Americans are one of the most attractive sides in Russia right now, their ambitious range of passing causing football fans to fall in love with their style of play and adopt them as their second team.
Los Cafeteros are sweating on the fitness of James Rodriguez, a critical cog in their free-flowing machine. The Bayern Munich loanee has only played one full game up to now, but the Colombians managed without him just fine against Senegal following his 30th minute substitution. His teammates appear more than capable of picking up the slack, such as Juan Fernando Quintero who has become something of a revelation in the past couple of weeks. The question is, do they start Rodriguez and hope he comes through unscathed, or rest him in the hope that he can be fully fit for later down the line? Either option is a risk.
The big advantage Colombia have over England is there wont suffer from the same level of expectation. While everyone is fully aware of the talent this squad possess, they don’t carry the same burden as the English, perennial underachievers at this level. The Three Lines don’t even fit the tag of dark horses, or favourites, or even rank outsiders. They fall into their own little category; they arrive amidst a hive of hype and leave after four games at the most. It’s a team that can’t be analysed in the way other contenders are; they’re just there.
England may think they’ve got an quarter-final lined up with Sweden (provided they beat Switzerland), and an easy route to the semi-finals, but they underestimate the ambition and ability of the teams around them, even if they are in the ‘easy’ side of the draw. The Swedes were rank outsiders before leaving for Russia, but their 3-0 demolition of Mexico just about elevates them to the status of dark horses.
With such a strong field it is almost impossible to guess who will go all the way. Even if we don’t get a new winner, we’re going to have one hell of a journey finding out who does.
Listen to our latest episode of the podcast, where we talked about Ireland vs Spain at the 2002 World Cup:
When the next World Cup comes along, it will have been twenty years since Ireland last appeared at the tournament.
More time will have passed between our jaunt in Korea & Japan and Qatar 2022, than between Italia ’90 and 2002. The more you think about it, the worse the reality gets. It is an absolute age to have not competed at a World Cup.
Perhaps that’s part of the reason why Ireland’s last game in the competition, a penalty shootout loss to Spain, has become one of the most reminisced upon games in Irish sporting history.
It might seem somewhat glib to speak of it in those terms. After all, a defeat is a defeat. But much like the quarter-final loss to hosts Italy three decades ago, Ireland’s final game at the 2002 edition was the side’s best performance of the tournament.
The void, that absence of similar moments on the world stage, and the wider it becomes, the more importance we attach to it.
We recall the moments, the big chances, Duffer’s stellar performance on the right wing, the elation of Robbie Keane getting us to extra time, the penalties – those scored and, regrettably, those missed. But most of all, we remember the tears. The ones shed by the players, but mainly the ones shed by us, the fans.
It had been a rollercoaster of a month for Irish supporters, between the seismic activity of Saipan and the opener against Cameroon, Keane’s last minute equaliser and the rout of Saudi Arabia, so much had happened. We — all of us, fans, players, staff — were tired and emotional by that stage.
But we didn’t want it to end.
Anything but that.
Then Gaizka Mendieta showed up. He didn’t even start, but then again it’s all about where you finish. And he finished with the ball, slowly bobbling over Shay Given’s outstretched leg, passing him by centimetres. “By fuck all” as he puts himself.
The collective regret has been enormous ever since. What could have been? A quarter-final with South Korea. And then what? A possible semi-final with Germany? Sure we already knew they were no great shakes.
It hurts to think about those possibilities, even still. Because we haven’t been able to fill that void. 16 years and no World Cup. Germany, South Africa, Brazil, Russia. They all got on grand without us. Ouch.
Sure we had Euro 2016, and we’ll always have it. The night Robbie Brady put that that ball beyond the Italy keeper with that beautiful mallet head of his. The emotion on that night was incredible, a few tears were shed on that occasion alright.
But it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t the World Cup.
The longer the wait goes on, the more you wonder “will it ever happen again?”
Oh, what I’d give to cry like that again.
Absolute must-watch; Japanese highlights of Ireland vs Spain, great quality too. The commentators get very excitable at times:
Highlights of the game, featuring commentary from Ian Darke, which i didn’t know existed until now: