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“Scoring a goal at the Germany 2006 World Cup was like touiching heaven with my hands" says a nostalgic Javier Saviola. The former Barça man scored 200 career goals, but that was for Argentina was a very special one for him. It was the only time he appeared at the tournament and it was an experience he'll never forget.
Germany 2006 was your first World Cup. What's it like to play at the World Cup for Argentina?
It was one of the most important experiences of my life. Since I was a kid I had dreamed of playing at the World Cup, there's no other competition like it. Luckily, in 2006 I was picked by someone I knew well, José Pékerman, and got to fulfil every footballer's dream.
I enjoyed every second of it. We had a great team, with some tremendous players. We were a very united group with a blend of youth and experience. For example, Leo Messi, who was also going to his first World Cup but he was still very young.
Was there added pressure playing alongside Leo Messi at a World Cup?
Leo was only just starting out so that was no pressure. He wasn't even a regular starter, he rotated in the forward line. He was young and only just being introduced to the team. But for an 18-year-old to do the things that he did at the World Cup showed us that he was a player with some very special talents.
You had great forwards in that team like Crespo and Tévez. Did you have the fire power to go far?
Yes, we had awesome strikers. Lethal, incredible, we could rotate them and the level was just as high. There was healthy rivalry within that squad. You were competing with the very best Argentinian forwards of the era. That's what we had in Germany, a team that played good football with strong me up front.
Argentina has had historic forwards like Kempes, Batistuta and Di Stéfano. Does that add to the pressure on Argentinian forwards?
Because of how seriously the country takes it, all the players feel the pressure of playing for Argentina. Football is part of life there, people tell you about the history of the national team, the fans are thinking about the team 24 hours a day, and the team needs to rise to the occasion in every position.
But that's also motivating?
Of course! The fans go everywhere en masse and with such passion. There are people who give up everything to go to the World Cup, their family and everything they have, just to cheer on the team. It is so motivating to play for fans that follow you everywhere.
In Argentina, the World Cup is more than football. Did the Argentinian fans get their passion across to you on the pitch in Germany?
They certainly did. In 2006 I was aware of how much effort people make, a country with so many troubles, who come to cheer on the team. I realised how crazy and excited people get about the team.
Germany 2006 showed me how much passion there is for the Argentina team“
Even better if you score a goal. How did it feel to score on your World Cup debut?
First, it was dream just to be named to the squad. but to score was the icing on the cake. I'd always wanted to score at a World Cup. It was one of the most important goals of my life.
And why kiss the badge in celebration?
The Argentine shirt is the most important thing for us. I kissed it because everyone in Argentina is always dreaming of becoming a footballer. They have such passion for this sport and playing for the national team is the best thing that can happen to you.
You were given the MVP for your debut. Was the exciting?
It was the peak of the many great things that happened that day. I gave everything that day, just the fact of being there, then scoring, then getting the man of the match. And we beat Ivory Coast. There is no margin for error at a World Cup and I scored a goal that benefited the team. I couldn't ask for more.
But then came Germany. The saying that football is 11 versus 11 and the Germans always win held true.
(Laughs) Yes, losing to Germany was one of the low points of my career because we had such a good team and could have gone a long way. But we came up against one of the traditionally strongest teams and they're so hard to beat at World Cups. But it was very close game that we lost on penalties.
How does it feel to lose a game like that on penalties?
I was furious and it was so painful. But we competed well against one of the favourites to win the trophy.
Would you have liked to play in that match?
Whenever I played it was a privilege. It was incredible to get to play and score for a team that had so many top class players. I'd have liked to have played more, but I also respected how good my team-mates were.
Did that team feel like a family?
¡Yes, it was spectacular. We ate roasts together, it was so nice. I don't just remember the footballing part but also the amazing feeling between the players. I enjoyed it all. Apart from the football, it was just being there with all those players. That was the fondest memory.
Getting knocked out meant the love-hate relationship between Argentina and the World Cup resurfaced.
In Argentina, love and hate are always around the corner (laughs), they take you to the limit. There are always difficulties in my country and football is always on the borderline between good and bad. When you lose, you always know it's going to be a tough blow for everybody.
Did Germany 2006 change you as a footballer?
Of course it did. It was the most important thing that happened to me as a footballer. To go out onto the field and hear the anthem, knowing you are representing 40-50 million people and you are one of the eleven chosen to play in their name.
Scoring a goal at the World Cup is like touching heaven with your hands“
16 years on and with another World Cup about to begin, what memories still linger?
I still remember the goal I scored on my debut. I'll never forget that and the image is always coming back into my mind. Both the build-up, the goal, and the celebrations afterwards, knowing that I had my my family happy, but also my friends and everyone in Argentina. It was like touching heaven with your hands.
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