TURIN, ITALY, JUNE 24 -- It was fitting that the "miracle" occurred in a city known for passionate debate over matters involving religion and soccer.
"Is the Holy Shroud for real?" was a question asked for centuries. It proved not to be, but mystery still surrounds it.
"Is Maradona finished as soccer's premier player?" has been the argument here for months among people who take their soccer with nothing short of religious fervor. Maradona answered emphatically "no" today by springing a surprise 1-0 defeat on favored Brazil. But how long the little big man who is synonymous with the 1986 World Cup can endure remains uncertain.
"I am no one's savior," Argentina's 5-foot-5 wonder said before setting up his first victory ever over Brazil, "but we'll fight to the end to accomplish the miracle."
A soccer miracle is what it took in a game that had the excitement and tension of a World Cup final. Brazil dominated Argentina but its forwards repeatedly missed scoring opportunities. Argentina goalie Sergio Goycochea, playing since Nery Pumpido broke a leg during the first round, made several stops that allowed Maradona's brilliantly created and executed play stand up.
In his single opportunity to make something happen, Maradona did. Brazil was asking for trouble, playing a 0-0 game against a team with Maradona in the lineup.
Man for man, Brazil was the better team. Argentina had a man who made up the imbalance.
At midfield in the 80th minute, he took the ball on a determined sprint, dribbled down the center of the field between two yellow shirts, and passed to his left between two more bewildered Brazilians to wide-open Claudio Caniggia.
The flaxen-haired, Italian-based Caniggia, a terrific striker, did what any sandlot player could have done given the opportunity presented him by Maradona. Brazil goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel had no chance; he came out in desperation to meet Caniggia, who swept to his left and booted the ball effortlessly into the net.
After the goal Maradona buried his face into Caniggia's chest, so happy was the man who spent another day being knocked down and always getting up. It's been speculated that Maradona, at 29, was too old for the game, was tired of the battles, and was leading a life off the field not conducive to a productive one on it. If Maradona has slowed since Mexico City, it's because of the incessant pounding he takes.
He may be tough, but he weighs only 150 pounds. How many times can he be almost buried in the turf as his penalty for breaking free?
Coming into today's game, he had been fouled 28 times, nearly twice as often as anyone else in the World Cup. He was fouled five more times today, usually with a force that would keep lesser athletes down.
One thing he hadn't done, however, was beat Brazil -- which is why he jumped with joy at the finish. He pulled on a Brazilian yellow No. 15 jersey and trotted over to the stands as a goodwill gesture to Brazilian fans. He got little reaction, because he was the one who had silenced them.
"When we eliminate a team as great as Brazil," Maradona said, "we believe in ourselves more than ever. We believe now that we can play with anybody."
Argentina's coach, Carlos Bilardo, agreed. "The players only played to 50 percent of their possibilities," he said. "Argentina is getting well and getting better."
It was an excruciating defeat for Brazil. It's a team that has everything but Maradona. Argentina, a struggling team thankful it has him, limped to a third-place finish in the first round, and advanced only as a wild card. Today was seen as departure day for Maradona from the World Cup scene.
Brazil thought its new emphasis on defense, its strong forwards and top-rated goalie would carry it to the Cup title. Its defense today was magnificent, most of the time keeping Argentina 25 yards or more from the goal. The failure was on the part of the Argentine forwards -- Antonio de Oliveira Filho, called Careca; Luiz Costa, known as Muller; and Ricardo Brito, who is Alemao.
Time after time, they were close but missed. Careca was wide with a header toward an open net. Carlos Verri, called Dunga, hit the post. In the second half Argentine keeper Goycochea swatted away a shot that clipped the post. Near the end, when Muller missed a seemingly certain goal to the left, an Italian woman began crying.
"They came so full of hope," her friend said. "The Brazilian people have been here almost a month. They are such fun, always downtown singing and dancing. This is very sad, very sad. We like the Brazilians very much."
She passed tissues to the crying woman.
If the northern Italians took it badly, consider the Brazilian fans: Many sat stunned in the stands long after the game, a man silently rolling his flag, an older man taking off his glasses and wiping away tears.
"This is soccer," said Brazil's coach, Sebastiao Lazaroni, wiping his forehead with a handkerchief. "It happens. Brazil had many chances. The only chance Argentina had, they did it. We had the action, but we did not have the goal. Their only chance, they put the ball in the goal. It's hard to analyze football except to say it's easy to lose. Sometimes we become very sad because of this."
Brazilian fans far outnumbered the Argentine following among the crowd of 61,381 in the new Stadio delle Alpi, almost in the shadow of the Alps. Italians took to Brazil because it played its three first-round games here and because of club rivalry with Napoli, Maradona's Italian team. Turin is the home of club teams Juventus and Torino.
The stadium is sure to become a landmark, unique in the roof work visible from blocks away. It features 56 double masts which support steel tension cables, hooked together like a rope ladder. The cables hold up an overhanging aluminum roof.
The sound of Brazilians reverberated, the thinking being that Argentina was going home. But as Maradona said, "Argentina is not dead. It is more alive than ever."
As much as he tried to spread the glory, Maradona received his teammates' admiration. He missed practice all week because of an ankle injury. But an admiring Caniggia said, "Only he is capable of playing on one leg." Simply miraculous, Maradona.
West Germany 2, Netherlands 1: Even without leading scorer Rudi Voeller, West Germany had too much offense for the Dutch, eliminating the European champions from the World Cup.
Voeller and Frank Rijkaard, the best Dutch defender, were given red cards and ejected for pushing and shoving in the 22nd minute. They had received yellow cards a minute before. Voeller is suspended for West Germany's quarterfinal match against Czechoslovakia.
The expulsions hurt the Netherlands more, giving the German offense more room to maneuver. Juergen Klinsmann broke through in the 50th minute, latching onto a crossing pass from Guido Buchwald and flicking it past goalie Hans Van Breukelen. Andreas Brehme connected on a curving 25-yard kick with four minutes to go.
Ronald Koeman got the Dutch goal on a penalty kick with two minutes to go.