Colorado Rapids forward Claudio Lopez played for the Argentina National Team in the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cup. He shares his story of making the Argentina World Cup teams in a video interview.
THE ENGLISH TRANSLATED TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW FOLLOWS:
“You see it (playing for the National Team) off to the side until the day really arrives to have the opportunity. One always saw it as ‘out there’; that you have to go a long distance to be able to get the opportunity, to be able to show that one can be there.
For some, by luck, it comes early; and for others, later. But it can happen. For me it happened very early and it made me very happy and gave me strength to continue going forward.”
“My first game with the National Team was an exciting experience, it was very nice. At the time I had (Diego) Maradona as my coach at my local club, Racing. And he was the first to approach me and tell me that I had a chance, a possibility, to be called in to the National team. And, if the opportunity was presented, to take the utmost advantage of it and to put all I had into so that things would work out well.
About a week later I received a call from AFA (Asociación del Fútbol Argentino), from Américo Gallego who at the time was the assistant to (Daniel) Passarella (Argentina head coach). And so within the week I was training and we had to fly to South Africa. My first game was in Johannesburg. It really was an exciting experience. Unforgettable!”
“If you say is it a dream to play in a World Cup, for sure - it is. With my first call up, I became eager to wear that jersey more often. I think it’s something, at least in Argentina, that all futbol player aspire to.
After that call up I realized that they were looking after me, observing me, and so I had to double my efforts at my club, working harder to continue to get that opportunity. And with time, I was getting small signals that made it look like I could reach the World Cup: the Olympics in 1996, here, and after that came the qualifying games that they slowly were calling us in for, slowly keeping us in mind. So then it’s up to one’s work, and the day to day at your club to do what you can to try to show the coach that you can be there.”
“I had the fortune, the opportunity, to play until the last game in qualifying. The last qualifying game was at Boca’s stadium against Colombia, but the game before that we played against Chile, in Chile.
If we won that game we would qualify (for the 1998 World Cup), so we wouldn’t have had to fight the last game, only play it to win it. And I had the fortune of scoring the goal that allowed us to qualify. Beyond the significance, I was there at that moment.
And when the game ended and we returned to the hotel, before everyone returned to their homes in Europe and their clubs, I was lucky in that the coach called me to have a talk and told me to stay calm, to work as much as I could, but that I was already on the traveling list (to France). That was a great satisfaction, a great joy for me and one that involves all my family and friends. And so it was about patiently waiting for the moment for the official list to be announced and for nothing to happen, and for it to be more concrete than it already was.”
"We started to notice the pressure on the team during the qualifying process: what it meant to put on the Argentina jersey and come out at every stadium to try to win and try to show that Argentina is known for what's in known for. So we were living with that. As the World Cup approached the expectation became bigger, the hopes always increase. And beyond the fact that there will always exist criticism towards certain players that are or or not with the team, one always just takes care of his own work and try to what one knows best.
We started well. The more experienced players within the group guided us well, on a good path. And that allowed us to have a certain calmness as we approached the work for that World Cup.
"For us we lived the Argentina v England game closely in '86. We grew up with that history. So for us to confront that moment was something quite emotional. We were confronted with this game, we had arrived fairly well, but I think they may have had one point in favor in the sense that they were playing much better, or arrived in a bit better form. The first half was difficult, it took a lot to go ahead. But in the second half things calmed down. We were able to control it more ourselves. And they, even with a man down, kept playing not wanting it to get to the final stages. Unfortunately for them, happily for us, we were able to get to the later stages of the penalty kicks and tilt it in our favor. I think it was a big victory for us personally.
The day I scored the goal against Holland was an emotional day for me because on the day of my fathers birthday. There wasn't a better way to celebrate it. It all came out well. We couldn't take the game, couldn't win it or move on. But at least I had the satisfaction of having given something to a family member."
But then, the emotion and joy of the goal was truncated with having been eliminated. One always seeks the good for oneself but also the good for the group where you work. In that moment it was more important to advance and try to reach the semifinals. Unfortunately it didn't happen.