Yesterday, after watching Stefan Edberg dance to a most accomplished victory over Boris Becker in a match that went into five sets and brought us within 90 minutes of the World Cup, we settled down for the evening's senior game.
Our prayers and our money were with Argentina, may their skills and their luck, which had brought them so far, carry them through. But first there were bits and pieces of the previous day's game, the hard-lines cup. The poor Italians celebrated winning it as if they had won the World Cup itself. Later, we were to learn that the fourth-finishing English were to receive the fair-play award. Strange, we said to ourselved, that the team should be the fairest of the lot and its supporters the least sporting. Also, that the same country should produce such widely varying audiences; at Wimbledon, the most decorous and gentlemanly in the world, and in football stadia the ugliest.
As usual, Doordarshan was late. While the rest of the world had tuned into its satellite, Doordarshanwas still enaged with Mr. Karan Kapoor modelling shirts. By the time it took us to Rome, Messrs. Diego Maradona and lothar Matthaeus had completed their toss. That, possibly, was the only time Maradona was actively engaged in the game. For the rest of the 90 minutes, he was, what Indian sports writers refer to, an indistinguished passenger.
The match itself was, unfortunately, scrappy. The Germans did, for quite a while, combine well and launched raid after raid on our Argentinian goal, but the Argentinians, crudely maybe, managed to keep the balls in play and the scoresheet nil-nil. The ITV commentators kept talking about England and what it would have in the circumstances.
The Germans missed at least three sitters, the Argentinias never had a sitter that they could miss. Maradona looked lost, nobody passed the ball to him and he had nobody to pass it to. Still, everybody expected the miracle. Maradona would open his magic box and make one of his inspired movements that would result in the only goal of the match.
But for once, perhaps the only time in his career, Maradona failed, legs and hands. And the only goal that came, came from referee - a penalty kick that should never-never have been awarded.
There was not much left then. Argentina played with nine men to the German's 12, and the stadium was one large dhobi-ghat of German flags.
In the end, as women wearing Roman monuments on their heads paraded about a full-moon rose in the Italian sky, Maradona wept. He wept for his team, for his own inablity to help his team, for the injustice of the refree, and because, for him, the World Cup had ended forever.