By Robson Sharuko
HARARE-IT’S the 10th anniversary of the infamous “Battle of Nuremberg” an explosive and ugly 2006 World Cup showdown between Portugal and the Netherlands in Germany that produced four red and 16 yellow cards – setting a new record for a FIFA sanctioned international football match.
Forty-four years earlier, the infamous “Battle of Santiago” – fuelled by anti-Italian feelings in Chile who were hosting the 1962 World Cup – exploded when the South Americans took on the Azzurri with players exchanging blows amid unprecedented scenes of violence on the pitch.
The Chileans were angered by damaging media reports in Italy describing the capital Santiago as a backwater dumpsite “where the phones don’t work, taxis are as rare as faithful husbands, with a population prone to malnutrition, illiteracy, alcoholism and poverty and proudly miserable and backwards.”
The two Italian journalists who penned that inflammatory piece, Antonio Ghirelli and Corrado Pizzinelli, were forced to flee Chile while an Argentine journalist, mistaken for an Italian in a bar in Santiago, had to be hospitalised after he was brutally beaten up by the natives of the Chilean capital.
Last week, former Zimbabwe goalkeeper, Bruce Grobbelaar, recalled the “Battle of Cairo”, an ugly 1994 World Cup qualifier between Zimbabwe’s Warriors and the Pharaohs of Egypt before 120,000 fans in the Egyptian capital that was marred by violent scenes with the Liverpool legend and his coach Reinhard Fabisch being hit by missiles thrown by the mobs from the stands.
The Warriors, then known as ‘The Dream Team’, arrived in Cairo unbeaten in their World Cup campaign, including having inflicted defeat on the Pharaohs in Harare, and needed just to avoid defeat to win the group and qualify for the final nine-team qualifying phase for Africa’s three spots at the 1994 World Cup finals in the United States.
And when striker Agent Sawu thrust them into the lead, after just four minutes, the crowd could not stomach it and even though the Egyptians rallied to lead 2-1 by the break, the crowd remained on the edge given Zimbabwe needed just another goal to go through. Hooligans targeted Fabisch, Grobbelaar and Henry McKop.
McKop was a defender, who is now retired. He played for Zimbabwe Saints, Bonner SC, Bristol City, Shelbourne, Vorwärts Steyr, Mamelodi Sundowns, Spartak Pretoria, Wits University and AmaZulu.
FIFA nullified the result of that match, after Gabonese referee Jean-Fidel Diramba and match commissioner George Lamptey said, in their reports, that the atmosphere inside the Cairo International Stadium was not conducive for a fair result, and ordered a replay on the neutral fields of Lyon in France which ended goalless with Zimbabwe winning the group.
Last week, speaking on the African football podcast, The Mesfouf and Koshary show, Grobbelaar recalled the wild events of that infamous “Battle of Cairo” in 1993.
“It didn’t start just with us being struck by objects. There’s a thing about being fair and then there’s a thing about being not nice and fair. They were not nice, but they weren’t fair,” he said. “We go to Egypt and they put us in a hotel on the edge of the desert with no air conditioning. They did not put us downtown where the hotels are good.
“It’s a difficult situation, you get into the Olympic Stadium and you have 120,000 people in the stadium and you go one up, what do you think they’re going to do? They start breaking the stadium to throw rocks at you.
“The rocks are coming. There’s a track around, but the rocks are still coming. I get smacked because the ball boys are too scared to go across the track right near the people to get the ball, so I’m running to get the ball.
“I get bonked on the head. There’s a bit of blood, I wipe the blood away so there’s blood on my glove and they picked it on camera. Our coach comes out of the dugout; he gets struck, gets a big cut and is on the ground. We go back to the hotel and we’re getting chased by everybody else and we couldn’t even come out of the hotel to have a drink.
“So we made a submission that it was unfair and FIFA (agreed).”