Yugoslavian U-20 national coach Mirko Kozic holding the U-20 World Cup championship trophy in 1987 (FrontRowSoccer.com photo)

(Editor’s note: Some 30 years later, this game is still one of the most memorable that I have ever witnessed and that is saying a lot. Wish all matches had the excitement, drama and passion this one did)

By Michael Lewis

Soccer Week Writer

SANTIAGO, Chile — If the best revenge is indeed a dish served cold, then Brazil had its supper somewhere in Siberia on Oct. 21.

The big chill came from Yugoslavia and the last numbing effect from midfielder Robert Prosinecki, whose 25-yard free kick with 61 seconds remaining in regulation avenged a near-crippling foul on a teammate and lifted his team to a stirring 2-1 come-from-behind quarterfinal victory. The win eliminated the two-time defending champions in what was without a doubt the best game of the FIFA Under-20 Cup.

How can Yugoslavia top this? By defeating East Germany in the semifinal on Oct. 23.

Only seconds before the goal, Brazilian defender Anderson Batista Cardoso brutally fouled defender Slavoljub Jankovic seven yards slightly to the top right side of the penalty area.

As Jankovic tried to hobble out of the way from the scene of the crime, the 10 Brazilian field players formed a defensive wall in the penalty area. Up stepped Prosinecki, who fired a 25-yard bullet over the wall and goalkeeper Ronaldo Soares Geovanelli into the upper left-hand corner of the net.

It seemed the tournament had been decided with that one kick as the estimated crowd at Estadio Nacional jumped to its feet and roared while the Yugoslavians raced to their small pack of fans. Prosinecki noticed that Jankovic was still limping, so he ran over, three him over his shoulder and brought him to his jubilant teammates. Jankovic eventually was helped off the field after the final whistle, but his teammates, so overcome by the moment, ran a semi-victory lap around the north-end of the field before entering an underground tunnel that took them to their locker room.

At time, it was difficult to believe there were 17- to 20-year-olds playing this game instead of seasoned professionals, the quality was so high. Their performance certainly impressed Walter Gagg, FIFA technical department head, who has seen his share of memorable games.

“It was, with a doubt, the best game to now,” he said. “It was a game that had everything — great speed, technique, excellent shooting and great saves. It is a pity there had to be a loser.”

Yugoslavian coach Mirko Jozic, who said he stayed up the previous night studying videos of Brazil, was as gracious as he was candid afterwards. In fact, he was not certain the best team had won.

“I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate the team from Brazil,” he said. “I can sincerely say today the best team did not win, but these things do happen in sports.”

He received no argument from his Brazilian counterpart, Gilson Nunes. “We are holding our heads up because we were able to show the strength and force of Brazilian football,” he said. “As I said when I arrived here, if we would have had more time to train the team, the results would have been better, because as the competition kept rolling on, I saw Brazil grow even more.”

It had been a fairly even game for the opening 20 minutes before the Brazilians solved Yugoslavia’s defense and penetrated deep into its area. Their Persistence finally paid off as Alcindo Satori scored off a 10-yard shot on a ball misplayed by the Yugoslavian defense as time was running out in the half.

“In the first half, Brazil had the initiative,” Jozic said. “Brazil had God on its side as it was fortunate to score in the last minute and we had the same luck in the last minute of the second half.

But before their second goal, the Yugoslavs had to score their first goal, which they did on Predag Mijatovic’s six-yard head shot off a cross-field free kick at 51:30.

The usually calm Brazilians turned vicious after the goal, going for the players rather than the ball. That strategy eventually backfired for them, but not before a senseless foul by Brazilian midfielder William Cesar de Oliveira knocked crafty Yugoslavian midfielder Zvonmir Boban out of the game at 76:38 and to a local hospital with an extremely sore leg.

William was awarded a yellow card, which was not enough for Jozic.

“Boban had a very hard foul on him that should have been punished with a red card,” he said. “Only the referee of this game can only say why he did not punish him with a red card.”

But Jozic stopped short of accusing Brazil of being nasty for the sake of being nasty. “I would not say some of the players had bad intentions,” he said. “In the heat of the game, many things happen.”

Many things do, such as Cardoso’s foul on Jankovic as time was running out. Prosinecki, who had done everything but score for Yugoslavia up to that point, then scored.

“I am the luckiest man in the world,” he said. “I haven’t had the opportunity to take many free kicks recently because I am the youngest player on the team [back home — Red Star Belgrade].”

In between the rough stuff, Yugoslavia and particularly Brazil, played some of the fanciest soccer this side of Rio. The Brazilians, however, only were thwarted time and again by Lekovic. His most memorable stop came at 67:28, when he barely tipped away a 22-yard shot by midfielder Bismarck Baretto Faria.

“I thought it would go into the goal,” Faria said. “It was a good shot and the goalkeeper did a good job. It was not luck on his part.”

An intriguing pattern has emerged for Brazil in a number of international tournaments. It seems that when Brazil plays beautiful soccer — as it did in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups and in this U-20 World Cup — it has been eliminated in the second round.

Perhaps Brazil should try to win ugly once in a while.

“It is not a good comparison to the reasons of losing this game” Faria said. “In the World Cup, there are professional players who are more experienced and have other reasons why we lose. The only reason why we lost is that God didn’t want us to win.”

For one night at least, God must have been Yugoslavian.

Front Row Soccer editor Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He has written about New York City FC, New York Cosmos, the New York Red Bulls and both U.S. national teams for Newsday and has penned a soccer history column for the Guardian.com. Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and National Soccer Coaches Association of America, is the former editor of BigAppleSoccer.com. He has written seven books about the beautiful game and has published ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. It is available at Amazon.com.