It has been 30 years since the incident, but those who have seen it remember for a moment like yesterday. Colombia is in extraordinary defeat against Cameroon. Team goalkeeper Rene Higuita has come 35 meters from his finish to help open the game.
In the background of the memory of the Colombians is a narration by William Vinasco.
»The ball is in Higuita. He is an exceptionally good liberator. "
Higuita passes the ball to the defender, Luis Carlos Perealle. Perea, however, is frightened to squeeze the attacking Roger Milla and feed the ball back to Higuita. By the time Higuita takes control of the ball, Milla is almost caught up in him.
Normally, the goalkeeper would try in such a bad place to kick the ball into the stands or break Milla. Higuita, however, is no ordinary watchman by any measure. He has been in a similar situation before and decides to do as he always has. He tries to deceive Milla.
"No, no, Higuita," narrator Vinasco says in distress.
The 38-year-old veteran striker does not go on the hike. He grabs the ball between Higuita's legs.
»No, no, no, Higuita! No, no, no! », Vinasco shouts desperately.
Photo: Renard Eric / Corbis / Getty Images
The game is played: Roger Milla has taken the ball and Higuita is unable to block the hit.
Photo: Peter Robinson / Empics / Getty Images
It's too late. Milla runs with the ball towards the empty gap. Higuita is chasing Milla, but it's late. He no longer hits the attacker, even with a sliding tackle.
Milla places the ball in the empty net and runs to the corner flag to swing her lumbar.
“Nooo, nooo, goool!” The narrator cries so that the words are mixed up.
Cameroon wins the match 2-1. In match reports, Higuitan is acknowledged to be indeed a man worthy of his nickname »El Loco». Loco means crazy.
But even the madman has his logic that he works.
The article was originally published in Urheilulehti 19/2020. You will find similar stuff in the publication every week. Ordering instructions are here.
Photo: Mark Leech / Offside / Getty Images
Higuita was born in Medellin in August 1966 to a single mother. This one died when the boy was small. Eventually, Renen raised her grandmother. Childhood was poor. Higuita worked, among other things, as a magazine salesman to make ends meet.
He first played football on his school team. It hardly comes as a surprise that Higuita was an attacker early in his career. He was the best goalkeeper of the team, but ended up as a goalkeeper when the actual gate keeper was injured. As a goalkeeper, Higuita proved to be so advanced that he rose to the youth national team ring.
Soon Millonarios, a Bogotian, got a young fighter into his ranks. Higuita only spent the season with him, but it gave him a new direction. Millonarios ’number one goalkeeper Alberto Vivalda was known for his bold playing style. Vivalda used to come out of the area and mislead opponents. Higuita took a model from his colleague.
In 1986, Higuita moved to the Atletico Nacional in Medellin. The following year, the club was coached by former dentist Francisco Maturana.
Colombia and the Soviet Union did not have terribly anything in common in the late 1980s, but there was a similar coaching arrangement in the countries ’football. In the Soviet Union, Valery Lobanovsky successfully coached both the national team and the Kiev Dynamo. In Colombia, Maturana did the same by combining the coaching of the national team and the Nacional.
The combination paid off. 1989 was the super year of Colombian football and Maturana its chief architect. Colombia survived the World Cup for the first time in 28 years and Nacional won the South American »Champions League» Copa Libertadores. The biggest hero of the polka dot final was Higuita, who first cannoned his team as the fifth shooter to the finish line and then blocked three spots in the tube.
In December, Higuita was close to getting to shine again in the polka dot race as Nacional played against Milan for the unofficial club team world championship. However, Milan, the world's best club team, scored in the 119th minute.
The achievements were still an example of Maturana’s playful success. Higuit, on the other hand, played a special role in the coach’s puzzle, where acting as a dot specialist at both ends was mostly a nice bonus. The goalkeeper's most important gift was somewhere else.
Maturana admired total Dutch football of the 1970s. Dutch goalkeeper Jan Jongbloed used to go outside the area kicking the ball quickly to a fellow player. Higuita, trained as a striker, was able to play much more varied.
»I soon realized that we have something extraordinary in our hands: an extra field player. Thanks to Higuit, we were able to play with 11 players against ten. We didn’t force Higuita to come out of his penalty area, but our style of play encouraged it. He was a real luxury player, which made our way of playing possible, ”Maturana told Blizzard.
Maturana wanted to play his team closely. The players had to line up on five lines, which had to be ten meters apart. The pack was kept tight and the line of defense up. If the goalkeeper had been left in the box, there would have been too much space left between him and the defense.
That is why Maturana made Higuita a liberator. Today, many teams do the same, but 30 years ago the solution was surprising. Playing Colombia, which Maturana called “football of a hundred years of loneliness,” had magical lingering but also elements familiar from the present from the short-feed game.
The Colombian national team visited Helsinki in May 1988.
Photo: Juha Tamminen
In a way, the Colombian team that loved Maturana, Higuita and the entire ball control was ahead of its time. However, few believed they saw the future when they saw Higuitan.
When people first saw Higuita play, they misinterpreted his actions. They saw a mere showman soloing completely irresponsibly, ignoring the team’s advantage.
In fact, the situation was often the opposite. In many cases, Higuita only performed the role he had in the team’s game plan.
Higuita managed to play libera for years, winning the Copa Libertadores and helping the Colombian World Cup, but it did not rise to the attention of the general public until Italy in 1990.
Maturana had selected a total of nine Atletico Nacional players for the World Cup. In addition to Higuit, the line of defense was also from Nacional. The only exception was topper Andres Escobar, who had moved from the club the previous fall to the Swiss Young Boys. In practice, Nacional’s defense was also the defense of the national team. It created unity and a safety net for playing Higuitan.
In Colombia’s opening match against the UAE, Higuitan’s madness remained hidden. Colombia dominated the game, and the team’s goalkeeper remembered mainly that he looked special. Higuit had long curly hair and a plush mustache. However, he was overshadowed by Carlos Valderrama, the lion's bristle who scored a 2-0 goal.
In the second match of the first block, it started to happen. During the opening period, Higuita ran out of his area into the crowd of players, grabbed the opponent's vertical ball aimed at the attacker and passed the attacker with a clever drift. A moment later, he was on the corner flag cutting off the second pass.
In the second period, Colombia further raised its line of defense, and at the same time Higui also rose. At one point, he was already almost in a central circle with the ball before agreeing to give it up. In the second situation, he took over the high vertical pass alongside and easily wandered past the attacker chasing the ball. At the end of the match, he still blocked a penalty kick. Yugoslavia won 1-0, but the star was lit.
However, the defeat meant that in order to advance, Colombia would need points from West Germany in its final first-round match. The team played their best match of the future against the future world champion. The team played very disciplined all the way down to Higuit.
German strikers Rudi Völler and Jürgen Klinsmann had watched the game of Colombia’s Yugoslavia closely and tried to strike Higuita’s bold style of play. Neither succeeded. Colombia kept the Germans in check for almost a full 90 minutes. Then Pierre Littbarski made a spectacular save.
The situation was hopeless. There was a couple of minutes left. Just as the World Cup in Colombia seemed to be coming to an end, the team built the goal from scratch. In the third minute of extra time, the team built a space artwork. The architect was Valderrama, who fed the German defense scattered and Freddy Rincon’s most sober goalkeeper, Bodo Illgner. Rincon pushed the ball into the goal between Illgner's legs. Colombia was in the future.
After that, it was the turn of the Cameroon match.
Rene Higuita and Jürgen Klinsmann met at the 1990 World Cup.
Image: DPA / Zuma / MVPhotos
Sometimes it happens that even a good actor pulls over his role. This was also the case for Higuit. He was an entertainer whose desire to show sometimes spectacularly overcame. He could slip past three players, even if one pass was enough.
Higuita sometimes took unreasonable risks, but the Cameroon game wasn’t about that. He acted exactly as expected.
“Rene was told to come out of the penalty area when we were at a loss,” Maturana later confirmed.
The coach also said he never was horrified by what his goalkeeper did.
»Not under any circumstances. How could I have terrified the player who gave our game so much? »
Let's get back to Roger Milla's goal. Colombia was at a loss and Higita had come 35 meters from his finish. He had no intention of taking over the ball. He gave an easy pass to Perea and went back to his goal. However, Milla had smelled her opportunity and had started her one-man press.
In fact, Milla had been teasing this opportunity for a long time.
»I was lucky to play with Carlos Valderram in Montpellier. He had shown me videos of Higuita fumbling with the ball outside the penalty area. I knew that if I was fast enough, I could benefit from it, ”Milla said recently in an interview with Four Four Twon.
Already Milla’s first goal said she had done her homework. He tinted the ball to almost exactly the same place in the front corner as Littbarski had riveted his own hit in the previous game.
Now carefully prepared, Milla was able to implement her press plan. Perea panicked from seeing Milla and immediately fed the ball back. However, he didn’t bother to look at Higuit, and didn’t notice that he was already going back to his finish line.
Higuita had to stop, turn around, and finally still reach out to get the feed stopped. By the time he got control of the ball, Milla was already a couple of feet away. At this point, Higuita made his only mistake. He decided to try to mislead Millan.
The choice was natural for Higuita. He was able to easily deceive young attackers. However, Roger Milla, 38, was no boy. He snatched the ball from Higuita.
Perea was at least as guilty of the setback as Higuita, but the goalkeeper took responsibility for what happened. He called his mocha a «house-sized mistake».
»Everyone in the language of water has been waiting for me to make such a mistake. Now the wait was rewarded. However, I am not going to change my style of play due to one mistake, ”Higuita said after the game.
He also kept his word.
Higuita played 68 international matches in his career and scored three goals in them.
Photo: Peter Robinson / Empics / Getty Images
Higuita was only 23 years old at the World Championships in Italy. As a goalkeeper, he shouldn’t have been at his best until the late 1990s, but it turned out otherwise. He never played in the World Cup again.
The U.S. World Cup was missed due to a prison sentence. Drug barons Pablo Escobar and Carlos Molina were familiar to Higuitan. When Molina's daughter was abducted in 1993, Higuita delivered the ransom. He received a $ 64,000 reward for his services - and eventually a seven-month prison sentence, as the financial gain from the kidnapping was against Colombian law.
After his castle gig, Higuita didn't get to the game in time. Thus, the Colombian goal was Oscar Cordoba, who had to prove the fence when defender Andres Escobar directed the ball to his own goal in the first half match against the USA. When Escobar returned home, he was assassinated.
Escobar's fate raised many questions. One of them was, why didn't Higuita do the same after Milla's mistake?
There are many answers to this question. One answer is that it’s hard to be angry for a long time with a grinning mop head like Higuita. However, that is too easy an explanation. A better explanation is that Higuit had relationships. He was familiar to drug lords.
The third explanation is expectations. The Colombians did not expect big from their team in the Italian Games. Four years later, the situation was different. When Colombia crushed the World Cup qualifiers for Argentine guests 5-0, expectations exploded.
The team's assistant coach Hernan Dario Gomez guessed this before the end of the game. When Colombia took the 4-0 lead in Buenos Aires, Gomez turned to Maturana and said: "Now we are fucked."
Gomez's fears came true. The Colombians expected success from the team, which did not come.
»Colombia is a land of extremes. We have good cyclists and beautiful women. However, it is very difficult for us to accept that there may be even more beautiful women somewhere. If our miss doesn’t win the competition, we feel cheated. In cycling, we always believe that pedalers are the best in the world. When the best of them ranks second in French circles, we accuse him of being arrogant. All this shows that we cannot lose, ”Maturana told Blizzard.
The inability of Colombians to deal with disappointments came to light after the US World Cup, not just for Escobar but for the entire team.
»People tried to find explanations for the mafia and even witchcraft. I've heard all the possible explanations, and stories Sure enough, but the truth is that we played well enough. "
In 1995, Higuita was eliminated for the National Copa Libertadores final and the Colombian Copa for the American Bronze. However, he collected the biggest titles from one of his individual fights in the international match.
Colombia played at Wembley against England. During the opening period, Jamie Redknapp’s failed centering hovered towards the goal as Higuitalla flashed.
“Finally a ball came towards me like I had been waiting for for five years,” he later said.
Higuita jumped into the air, let the ball hover behind him, and then kicked it off with his heels. The ball flew far in a handsome arc, and Higuita welcomed the applause of the amazed spectators. Even the fact that the assistant referee had flagged the situation as an offside did not restrain the hype.
Rene Higuita had been waiting for this moment for a long time. The right kind of ball eventually came off Jamie Redknapp’s leg at Wembley.
Photo: Ross Kinnaird / Empics / Getty Images
The scorpion kick was, in a way, Higuitan’s Swan Song in the big arenas. He began to wane, and could no longer fit into the dignified crew of Colombia.
When Higuita was caught on cocaine in a doping test in 2004, most people thought, "Is it still playing?". The second thought was probably that «by now it will stop».
However, the latter bet went into the woods. Higuita continued to play. In 2006, Fifa asked Higuita in this 40-year-old interview if he would still be willing to play the familiar bold.
»It depends on how my team plays. If a team needs a libero, that’s definitely not a problem. If not, I'll just take care of the work between the poles. "
Higuita has said people remember him for two things: Milla’s paint and the scorpion kick.
»They go hand in hand today. When someone comes to congratulate me on a scorpion kick, he immediately reminds me of Milla’s goal. And when someone else criticizes my mistake, they then start talking about the fight I did at Wembley. That's the kind of football, and life too. There are winners and losers, good and evil. "
If the life of Higuitan has shown anything, then none of these definitions is final. Everyone wins sometimes - and loses as well. The boundary between good and evil does not run between people but within.
The same goalkeeper can make incredible fights and incomprehensible mistakes. He can sincerely delight thousands of people - and later get caught up in doping and drug use.
Life is not black and white. It’s an endless scale of thousands of shades that Higuita played through almost entirely. Like the Pericolombian, he was a man of extremes, but at the same time an exception.
Higuita eventually ended his career at the age of 43, nearly twenty years after the Italian Games. He has said he will not regret anything. Not from or outside the playing field. Success and failure are part of life.
When Higuita was asked how he would like people to remember him, the answer was exhaustive:
»The best they can say is that Higuita was a man where the others were. An ordinary person who made mistakes but also good. ”
Rene Higuita eventually played an extremely long career with many different stages.
Photo: Sergio Moraes / Reuters
Above all, Higuita is a man who has accepted his mistakes and is even able to laugh at them.
If a fictional essay were written about him, it could begin with a hundred years of loneliness: "Years later, as the coronavirus threatened the world, goalkeeper Rene Higuita remembered a distant day when he came out of his penalty area and tried to deceive Roger Milla."
That's what really happened. In late March, Higuita posted a picture on her Twitter account in which Milla robs her of a ball. He had attached a text to the picture, which went freely in Finnish as follows:
"If you are told not to leave your home, do not leave your home."
You can be crazy but not stupid.