It was the end of the spring of 1990 and I found myself living in Warsaw, Poland where at the time I was attending a Polish course at the University of Warsaw, where I just happened to meet Danilo Facca from Pordenone, Italy. Danilo and I would go on to become friends and it would also be Danilo who introduced me to Catallini, the director of the Italian Center of Culture in Warsaw at the time. This the place which during the world cup would be open to all Italians or descendents of which; like myself to come and see Italy’s matches on a large 56” screen, thanks to Catallini’s most generous invitation.
This was also a time in my life when my dedication to photography was at its highest as I was taking about a role of film a day and truly developing my talent even having my first ever photos published that very year. As for the other factors which composed my life at the time, I after having studied Polish for the last 6 months could claim with all honesty that I had become a fluent speaker of the language. This because I was able to speak my mind’s thoughts without having to think too much of the words and could just about understand everything I heard provided it did not extend in to overly complicated subjects.
However in this time in my life; photography was my greatest passion to the point that it put aside almost completely my love for football, to such extent that I had just about forgotten that the world cup was coming.
As for myself at the time, apart from being a dedicated photographer I had recently turned 23 and had hair that went down to my shoulders or at least getting their since I had not cut it since the year before. To be more specific the last time I had had my hair cut was on the day I entered the “US Navy”, only to be discharged two months after, secure in the knowledge that enlisting had been my biggest folly (though not my only) and that Navy stood for “never again volunteer yourself”. It was to a place called Great Lakes (a.k.a. Great Mistakes), Illinois that I was sent by the US Navy to discover this reality of life.
Regarding my romantic life at the time; this I must claim not to have had any specific interests though there were many ladies whom I was keeping in touch with and as a strange coincidence. It was while paying one of them a visit that I found out the World Cup had started. I was in the apartment of one of these female friends of mine at the time when she turned on the TV and much to my interest their was a football game on. It was Argentina vs. Cameroon, which at first I did not think it to be a match from the World Cup but a friendly till I noticed who was playing and realized that this was the first game of the tournament. I naturally had been aware that the World Cup was due to begin but I just had lost track of the exact day on which it would do so.
As for the game itself, I would catch it when it was close to the end with Cameron much to my surprise already in the lead by 1-0, thanks to goal scored by Oman-Biyik in the 67th minute of the game. A goal, I would see in the postgame highlights which showed how this man probably leapt over a meter of the ground to get to that ball. Being that I caught the game close to the end, at the 80 minute mark all I got to see was Argentina’s desperate struggle to get that equalizer which never came. I must confess to have been glad Argentina lost as I was hoping Italy would not have to face them in the world cup and was even hopeful they would get eliminated before the stage in which they would have to play Italy. Maradona; all things considered was still young at 29 and a man to be respected and feared; as he remained in great form. This being precisely what he proved that year by taking; Napoli to their second “Serie A” title in three years even if he did not repeat as top goal scorer for what would have been the third time in his career.
All it took was that first match, even if I did not get to see all of it to get me in the right frame of mind to see the rest of the World Cup as I like in the previous three World Cups that I had seen was once again pulling for Italy to win and this time I was expecting Italy to be crowned champion for the 4th time. Italy after all were playing at home and were always a favorite to win any tournament so why shouldn’t they win one at home. I however did not know many of the players on Italy’s national team at the time apart from Donadoni and the rest of their AC Milan players like Baresi and Maldini, not that I was even sure if they were on the national team.
It was on the evening of the opening game that I got a call from Danilo, asking me if I cared to see Italy’s first game against Austria at the offices of the Italian Institute of Culture in Warsaw. It being a place with all the amenities I have already mentioned plus the fact that many members of the Italian community in Warsaw would be present however invitation given the limited space would be restricted to Italians only or those of the same kind of blood. This meaning I could see the games there but I would have to speak Italian to prove my ancestral connection with Italy not that my last name of Truvianni would not have done the same.
I without thinking the matter twice accepted Danilo’s offer and agreed to meet him the following day, half an hour before the start of the game in a café near my apartment called “Studio M” which was at the time what could be hailed as the place to be. All those who had money or connections as well as tourists could be seen there, for this place with its paintings, Scotch Whisky (one of the few places in Warsaw that served it at the time), well dressed gentlemen and attractive ladies was like a magnet for just about any who could afford such a place. Regarding the attractive ladies, it was the owner of this place Ursula, whom I held a special relationship with as we had come to know each other well and would go on to do so even better.
Danilo and I met at “Studio M” before the game, and I introduced him to this place and all those who I knew which seemed to make a favorable impression on him as he would become a regular. Danilo and I however did not have much in the way of time that day to enjoy Studio M, as we only had half an hour to get to the Italian Center of Culture (ICC) for Italy’s first match against Austria. As for the ICC, though it was not far from Studio M it did require a 10 minute walk which made us leave 15 minutes before as we did wish to get there on time not only to get a good seat but to introduce ourselves to our fellow Italians and hear “Fratelli D’ Italia” (Italy’s national anthem).
When we got to the place with not much time to spare before the game, I found it was not as crowed as I had expected it to be with perhaps only 10 or 12 being those present. Warsaw’s Italian community not being as large in those days as it is at present. Quick hellos were exchanged before the start of the match which Italy would be playing in Rome’s Olympic Stadium and as the game began there was something magical in it. I got that feeling all of a sudden of wanting Italy to win which I had not had since Italy played in the European Cup, held two years before in Germany. Italy had not had to qualify; meaning I did not get to see matches which served as a warm up and “international friendlies” not that I saw any of Italy’s are simply not the same to get one in what I would call the proper frame of mind for a world cup.
This one the other hand was a world cup match and I after four years was seeing my beloved “Squadra Azzuri” against Austria, a team Italy had beaten 1-0 in Argentina thanks to a 16 minute goal by Rossi. Rossi however was no longer playing and this was a new day but the same hope for me was rekindled by being in this place, surrounded by fellow Italian “tiffosi”, whose constant cheering lend a true flavor of a world cup to this otherwise simple room which served as a private theatre for the members of this organization.
Naturally with Italian fans around me; it did not take long for me to get in to the spirit of cheering Italy on and after a first half of so many near misses in which Italy should have been leading by at least two goals came the half time break with a score of 0-0. Half time was used to discuss what we all felt Italy should do with most agreeing that it was Italy’s forward Carnavali; who after squandering so many opportunities should be replaced. I for my part added to the conversation that Austria’s goalkeeper was the one who should take a lot of credit much like his predecessor Frederick Concilia from world cups past.
I in what would turn out to be a bizarre twist of fate told everybody that my mother was from Peru instead of the truth which was that she is from Argentina. This given that I; for some strange reason felt Italy would meet Argentina and did not want my fellow Italians to get the impression that my loyalties were not as they should be. Of course after the game and an Italian victory I could tell them the truth but by then it would not matter cause they would have seen for whom I was pulling for in a game between Italy and Argentina.
The second half came and so did more unused chances to score or at least till Carnavali was finally replaced by Schillaci. This substitution coming with a roar of approval from not only those present at the stadium but at the ICC. It in fact did not take Schillaci (whom I did not know of till that night), from Sicily long to break the dead lock as he did so upon his first touch of the ball. Schillaci’s goal came 78 minutes in to the game, sending all Italian football fans; myself including in to a frenzy of relieve with an enormous shout of “goal”. Schillaci’s goal coming on a header despite his being short. For us however the fans all that mattered was that Italy had scored and was winning 1-0. That first goal had put us, the fans of Italy in the spirit of the world cup, playing at home and about to win our first game and apart from that we had a team that could go all the way with players capable of doing so.
The game ended 1-0 in Italy’s favor and at that moment we felt sure that we could win it all or at least go on to the second round, as it would have been practically a national disgrace if Italy were to become the first hosting nation not to make it past the first round in a world cup. Specially one that made it possible for 16 teams out of 24 to go to the second round. It was incredible though how we; who had been strangers at the start of the game had become close and even friends. In a way all brought together by more than just a game but a common desire to see the same nation win; not only this match but the tournament as they had done 8 years before in Spain. This was the magic of Italian football and once again it had come back to me and I could see it in those around me and I was sure it was bound to stay or least till Italy won the world cup.
In the week that followed I naturally as a football (calcio in Italian) fan watched the other games even if Italy’s held the most importance to me. Germany made an impressive start seeming like tanks as they cut up Yugoslavia 4-1, while Uruguay managed a 0-0 draw with Spain in spite of having a penalty called in their favor which they obviously missed and controlling much of the game. Danilo and I also became better friends during this time often going to Studio M or other places, while we talked about things other than football. Danilo telling me he had played semi-pro basketball which was not surprising he did so as a guard with his physical height of 6’2”. I at that time did very little else apart from photography, though I vaguely recall telling Danilo that I might some day become a writer, given that I was thinking of a story I might some put down on paper or pen drive which I have yet to do.
After Austria, it was the United States and though I was born in New York, I was rooting for Italy all the way when they faced the USA. Again like the first match we all got together at the ICC to watch Italy defeat the United States 1-0 and assure itself of not making history for the wrong reason of being the first host nation not to go past the first round. The game against the USA was harder than originally imagined though we did win thanks to a beautiful goal by Giannini. This in an otherwise boring match that held few highlights apart from the goal and Italy missing their third penalty in as many world cups. The US, for all its qualities on defense only came close to scoring once but fortunately Ferri was standing on the line to prevent what would have been the tying goal.
Italy however despite boring the tifossi had won, its second game and had even assured its place in the second round as there was no way that it would not be going in to next round with four points, at least as the second place team. The question was could they win their group and qualify to the next round as the first place team? This of course they could do but they would have to beat Czechoslovakia, who had also won their first two games however with a better goal difference of 6-1 while Italy’s was 2-0.
By the third game, those of us who made it a point of going to ICC to see Italy play had become a sort of family, taking an interest in each other’s lives and what we were doing in Poland. I being the one who they referred to as the photographer; given my large Minolta camera which accompanied me everywhere I went. As for our confidence it had taken a slight turn down in direction after barely beating the US who had lost 5-1 to Czechoslovakia but we still felt we could go all the way to the final and beyond. We putting pessimism aside had four points in two games and had not conceded a goal but we needed to win against Czechoslovakia; more for our moral than anything.
Italy in this match got of to a good start as Schillaci playing as a starter for the first time put us ahead at 8 minute mark. His goal was screamed by all as it really brought us back to the level we wanted to see from Italy specially after the near disgrace of drawing to the United States at home. Schillaci had taken over for Carnevali, who had not lived up to expectations and thanks to him we were now going to qualify for the next round in first place, that is if we could remain on top in the score.
Czechoslovakia in what was the remainder of that first half scored a goal of their own which did dampen moods at first but fortunately it was disallowed unjustly I might add for a non-existent offside. Actually I will never forget how even the Italian announcer felt the goal should have been allowed as did all of us but unfortunately for Czechoslovakia it was not to be. The second half saw, the man who would become one of my all time favorite players; Roberto Baggio, specially during USA 94 score one of the best goals of the tournament after 78 minutes had past which more or less clinched first place for Italy.
Italy had qualified to the next round; winning its first three matches and not even allowing one goal against. This was something to celebrate and we did so by going to a restaurant after the match. I was in a good time of life as well, my photography was going nicely with much of my work just starting to get published and I even noticed I enjoyed Warsaw during the summer. The nice ladies in their clothes of the season and the world cup was going beautifully too. I even remember speaking to a fellow student of mine from Brazil from the university in the days that followed our win over Czechoslovakia and him telling me how Brazil was not playing as well as he would like; while Italy was doing marvelously.
Regarding the first round, many things of interest happened for instance the Netherlands and Ireland finished in a tie for second place with the exact goal difference and head to head their encounter had finished in a 1-1 draw, something which today would be a problem but then was not given that third place could also qualify. In this case the Netherlands was given third place and had to play Germany, while Ireland against Romania. Uruguay had qualified by the skin of their teeth with a last minute goal against South Korea that gave them a 1-0 victory though some felt the game should have been ended by the referee before. Actually if it had not been for this almost last second goal then Uruguay would surely not have qualified as they would have had two points, same as Austria and Scotland but would have missed out because both these countries had a better goal ratio at 2-3 while Uruguay would have been at 1-3. Germany had looked good but against Colombia; who also got a lost minute goal had been brought down a level or two perhaps because they were already qualified but still Colombia did play them well in a 1-1 draw.
To me however none of that mattered as I along with the rest of the “tifossi” were feeling we could go all the way and win and that last game had only confirmed it after which we even started feeling like champions. As for me I had one of the scariest moments of my life when one day before our match against Uruguay, I woke up with what unquestionable was the biggest pain in my life. I had urinated blood the night before but did not pay it much attention at the time but the next morning the pain was like a knife in me, which prompted me to call for an ambulance. I must say I had no idea what it was fearing I had something wrong with either my appendix or perhaps worse as the pain was excruciating. I had never thought about death but at that moment I felt close to it. It however turned out to be a simple kidney stone which the doctor in English explained to me was as painful for a man as it was for a woman to deliver a child. It in a way it was strange because my sister in Rome; who had had her children through suzerain had not experienced the pains of a normal birth but she however had been through the one of a kidney stone which she got in Ecuador. The doctor also told me it was really nothing but would prefer to keep me in the hospital one night for observation, which is precisely what happened apart for me getting a bill for 100 hundred dollars the following morning.
In the hospital I saw Germany vs. the Netherlands thanks to a TV set a patient had in another room. This a match which ended in a 2-1 victory for Germany in a game that will be mostly remembered for the way Rijkaard (Netherlands) and Voller (Germany) were both sent off. The first of these two players being shown the red card for clearly spitting at Rudi Voller for no apparent reason while it was never clear why Voller himself received his marching orders.
By the time the night game came that day I had accepted the idea that I would have to spend the night in the hospital and got cozy next to the TV for the South American classic that was sure to be Brazil vs. Argentina in Turin, which I would later find out was attended by my daughter’s future godfather whom I did not even know at the time. Brazil attacked, while Maradona was kept under extremely tight marking, though this came mostly assisted by vicious fouls just when he was about to get something going for his team.
Brazil came close on many occasions but like they say that only counts for horseshoes and hand grenades which this was not and as time wore on 0-0 was still the score, until Maradona put back the fear of him in all with another play that like his famous goal of four years earlier will live forever. Maradona got the ball in midfield and passed four players, almost one after the other and than with the last of these pulling him down by his jersey he managed to get off the perfect pass with his right foot to Caniggia, who put Argentina in front 1-0 and in to the next round.
The next day I got out of the hospital, relieved to be ok and going back to the place where we all had become one voice behind Italy and to celebrate that I was not going to die or at least not then. It was in Studio M that I had me a shot of Johnnie Walker red though in all honesty I would have preferred Glenfidich and would have had ordered it if they had had it but sometimes one must make do.
Danilo and I met at Studio M as had come to be our custom before matches and I told him much to his near shock how I had spent the night in the hospital but had gotten out just in time for the match. Uruguay had always been difficult for Italy as their style is one of physical play. The last time Italy and Uruguay had played in a world cup had been 20 years earlier in 1970. This in a game that not only failed to produce a goal in a 0-0 draw but to even render any moments of interest in a match that was one of the most boring ever seen in a world cup or any where else for that matter.
Once at the ICC with us arriving almost late we took our seats for what would be a close first half that would end 0-0. by then it was clear that this World Cup was one that would not see any big victories as most games would be limited to scores of 1-0 or 2-1; as was the case with most games as even a match between Argentina and Brazil had only produced one goal. Tense however we were as we waited for the second half with me telling all about my plight of the previous day, which brought some relief to all those who had come to know me that I apparently had come through it ok. The second half started and again it would be Schillaci at 65 minute mark with a great shot from outside the box to bring joy and shouts of goal in to the ICC one more time. Another goal would be coming for Italy that day as Serena also managed to get on the score board twenty minutes after Schillaci and give Italy its pass in to the quarterfinals.
The quarterfinals came and so did Ireland; a team with a stubborn defense which we knew could upset us as they did four years later in USA 94 but that was for another time. Again like in the previous match it was Schillaci who only needed 38 minutes to put us ahead for good when he struck the back of the net. Italy would go on to win that match 1-0 though Schillaci came close to scoring another from a free kick only to have his shot bounce off the post and the line, in an effort that would have been a great goal had it gone in. Ireland however one must say left with their dignity as they only lost by one goal against Italy, who all things considered did have the home field advantage.
The semifinal came and who else but Argentina and Maradona should be waiting for Italy. I remembered watching Argentina’s game against Yugoslavia hoping that Argentina would loose and how close they came to being eliminated. Yugoslavia dominated for most of the game despite having one of its players sent of early and yet 0-0 would be the way it would end, after regulation and overtime. Maradona played that day perhaps one of the least inspired games I had ever seen from him and just as it looked as if Argentina were out after he and Troglio missed their penalty kicks, salvation came from their goalkeeper. Goycochea saved 3 penalties during that shoot out that put Argentina in to the semifinal against Italy.