“It was a battle,” says Rubén Cano, the scorer of the winning goal in the game against Yugoslavia in 1977, in Belgrade.
“That was the most violent encounter of my life. A trap with a very bad environment. They were very malicious.” Pirri, the captain of the Spanish team, still shudders when he remembers the Battle of Belgrade on November 30, 1977, the match in which Spain’s extraordinary run began in qualifying for the World Cups. The victory against Yugoslavia by 0-1 granted the passport for the 1978 Argentine tournament, since then 12 championships have been chained. For the memory, the bottle to Juanito Gomez when he retired from the field with his thumb down directed at the public and the goal stumbling from Ruben Cano at the Estrella Roja stadium, packed with over 66,000 excited spectators.
“The Yugoslavs needed to win by more than two goals to qualify and they came after us. From the beginning they were used with a lot of violence, with very hard tackles. They had bad intentions and wanted to do damage. In addition, the public was crazy. It was a tremendous environment, very unpleasant. I insist, the most difficult game of my life “, emphasizes the one who was a Madrid idol, an atypical player, capable of combining his sports activity with medical studies. José Martínez, Pirri, added 41 caps with Spain and 16 goals. Real Madrid he played 561 games and scored 172 goals. After retiring, he joined the white club’s medical and technical departments. He is now 76 years old.
“That was very dangerous and we thought something was going to happen to us. They went to hunt us down and they caught me after a quarter of an hour, with an entry of Kustodic, who then played for Hercules. It entered me from behind and broke the peroneal sheath on my right ankle. He came to me with a bad idea, because if he enters you from the front you can dodge him, but from behind you have no salvation. He injured me and I had to withdraw of the field. It broke me and I was afraid I would not be able to play the World Cup in Argentina, fortunately it was not like that, “recalls, 44 years later, the versatile Real Madrid player.
The Yugoslav Federation created a very hostile environment. The selector Ladislao Kubala He warned that he feared that the players would be poisoned and that is why he ordered food and water to be brought from Madrid. “They told us to be very aware of everything, that they could poison us. We arrived in Belgrade the day before the game and barely left the hotel. We were very guarded, “he explains Ruben Cano, the author of the goal of that victory with which it all began. A nationalized Argentine who is already 70 years old and who came to the national team after standing out at Elche and Atlético de Madrid.
THE DRUNK PUBLIC AND THE DOGS
“It was a real battle. The atmosphere was hellish since the warm-up. There were no fences and the public shouted at us and wanted to enter the field, the police had to use the dogs to stop the violent ones. People had been partying for two days and there were many who were drunk “, adds the forward, who signed 12 games with Spain and four goals.
“They also played qualifying and were very violent from the start of the game. I remember that as soon as they started they made a terrifying foul on Eugenio Leal, then they went after Pirri, whom they injured. They came out very aggressive and that was war. They hit us with the ball in play, but also when we were not on the plays. They insulted us, spit on us and pulled our hair and they kicked us from behind when the referee was not looking at them, “recalls the forward in a telephone conversation from the municipality of Lomas de Zamora, in the province of Buenos Aires.
“We controlled the game well, we didn’t have too much trouble, and they had a great team. So, Yugoslavia was not divided and had players from Croatia, Serbia or Montenegro. They were good, but I think they lost a lot of strength by being so aggressive with them. They needed to score two goals and that gave us peace of mind. I was fortunate to score the winning goal. That was the most important thing in my life for all that it represented for the country. I also got other relevant ones in Elche, Atlético, Tenerife, Rayo and Atlanta, but it wasn’t the same. I was super happy, because my goal was to play a World Cup, either with Argentina or Spain. I had a chance to go to the 1974 German championship, but I was injured. Then I decided to play for Spain and I was right. Playing the World Cup in Argentina made me very excited “, says the former rojiblanco striker, who, after working as technical secretary of the club led by Jesus Gil At Atlético, he was so tired that he decided to withdraw from football forever. “I was very saturated, Jesús Gil got into a lot of trouble and then it all fell on me. For a short time I dedicated myself to representing players, but I soon understood that I didn’t like that world.”
The culmination of the Belgrade coven was the bottle received by Juanito in the 76th minute, when he left the field, replaced by Dani. “I was sitting on the bench and Juan collapsed right in front of me. I could not believe it. They had to take him out on a stretcher. It was terrible. And the players and the public were too excited,” laments Pirri.
“We qualified and ran to the locker room, we were happy, but very concerned about the impact received by Juanito. We did not know what would become of him, everything was very dramatic,” adds Rubén Cano, who emphasizes that football, fortunately, has evolved for the better: “The football of today has nothing to do with that of that time. referees allowed the aggressive ones a lot, the highest quality players suffered the persecution of rivals who were going to stop them as it was. Now the players are more prepared and cared for. “
Reference from elmundo