Saturday, June 5, 2010

A notch up the football scale – Central and North America. Since ranking is ranking no matter what, the pathetic region was usually considered third in the world order, thanks to Mexico. The only country outside Europe and South America with passable domestic football, already professional for years and importing foreign players, as well as regular World Cup finalist. NASL was not yet buying old European stars, so the whole region was practically Mexico… which failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, a huge surprise. Regardless the failure Mexico deserves a few lines, because of two records.
Until 1998 Antonio Carbajal was the only player in the world who played in 5 World Cup finals – 1950, 1954, 1958, 1962, and 1966. The legendary goalkeeper born in 1929 retired in 1966, after playing for Club Espana and Leon in the Mexican league. Lothar Matthaus equaled Carbajal’s record in 1998, but it is unlikely another player to achieve that, let alone better it.
Antonuo Carbajaal between Chava Reyes and Guillermo Sepulveda – ‘El Tigre’. Mexican stars all, but only Carbajal is familiar to the world.
Carbajal was already in the history books, but history books are known for additions. In 1972 one Velibor Milutinovic arrived in Mexico City to join UNAM. His arrival attracted little attention, although deserving more – the Yugoslavian player was one of the very few European players to go to Central and South America. In Mexico itself it was rarity and remained a rarity – the next European vintage came in mid-1990s!
And here is new boy Bora smiling with new UNAM teammates: from left - Héctor Sanabria, Miguel Mejía Barón, Ramón Alberto Ramírez, Arturo Vázquez Ayala, Antonio De la Torre, Velibor "Bora" Milutinovic, José Luis "Pareja" López, and Genaro Bermúdez. Second from right is the coach – Angel Zubieta. ‘Los Pumas’ with European flavor.
Bora came from FC Winterthur, Switzerland, after rather adventurous career. Born in 1944, he started in his native Yugoslavia, of course. First with the small FK Bor, then in the better OFK Beograd, than – Partizan (Belgrade), where he played along his two brothers Milos and Milorad. Milos Milutinovic was a big star in Europe in the late 1950s and early 60s, but younger Bora was just a journeyman. However, good enough to play for AS Monaco, OGC Nice, and FC Rouen, before moving from France to Swutzerland, and from there – to Mexico, where he played to the end of his career in 1976.
UNAM with pet puma naturally and always smiling Bora (with the ball) around 1974.
Bora married a Mexican and became Mexican citizen, and stayed in his new country to coach. And coached he did – he led Mexico to the World Cup 1986. Much more followed – he is the only coach appearing in 5 World Cups, leading Mexico in 1986, Costa Rica in 1990, USA in 1994, Nigeria in 1998, and China in 2002. Presently, he is coaching the national team of Iraq – since the beginning of 2009. True, not a single really powerful national team, yet records are records. Once again, it is unlikely this record to be broken (unless Bora breaks it) and it is a record belonging to Mexico as well, since the coach is Mexican citizen.
In 1995 my Argentine-born friend Diego spotted Milutinovic in an airplane, remembered me, and asked for an autograph. Good natured as ever, Bora obliged:
‘To Vesselin from Bora’ in Serbian.
Nothing of the above existed in 1974 and nobody was able to foresee it. It all happened much later. But started in the early 1970s, when Mexico failed to qualify for the World Cup.