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Last Updated: Monday, 29 November, 2004, 09:44 GMT
Two of the best
By Tim Vickery

Last week South American football said goodbye to one, and very possibly two, of its biggest stars.

Fernando Redondo lifts the Champions League trophy for Real Madrid
Fernando Redondo won the Champions League with Real Madrid
Fernando Redondo announced his retirement and Rene Higuita failed a drug test.

In different positions, in contrasting styles, both were magnificent players who made a massive contribution to the game.

It is a measure of their talent that their parting leaves a sense of frustration - because they will be missed and because they might have achieved even more.

That might seem harsh on Redondo who, in his defence, can point to the Champions League medals he has won.

But he did not even reach 30 caps for his country - which is ironic since his style of play was so distinctively Argentine.

Redondo was perhaps the last of the classic number fives of Argentine football.

It is not a shirt that belongs to a centre-back but to the central midfielder, who sits in front of his defence using sound postioning and sharp tackling to break up the opposing attacks, then sets his own side's moves in motion with short, crisp passes.

Rossi, Rattin, Batista - Redondo was a worthy heir to the tradition.

He had physical presence, a wonderful left foot and the intelligence to dictate the rhythm of the game.

Perhaps his long-range passing could have been better but with all his gifts it is a great disappointment that USA '94 was his only World Cup.

For Argentina there were times when he fell out with the coaches and times when he decided not to make himself available for selection.

It might be something he regrets in later life. The World Cup is undoubtedly the footballer's supreme test, where reputations are made and broken.

Colombia keeper Rene Higuita performs his spectacular 'scorpion kick' against England at Wembley
Higuita's "scorpion kick" is part of 1990s football folklore
Colombian goalkeeper Higuita also only played in one World Cup - Italia 90 - where he is chiefly remembered for his mistake in dribbling out of his area, only to be dispossesed by Cameroon's Roger Milla, who raced away to score.

His howler made headlines all over the world. So too did his 'scorpion' save at Wembley and his performance in the final of the 1989 Copa Libertadores when, in the shoot-out, he stopped four penalties and scored one as Atletico Nacional became the first Colombian side to win South America's top club trophy.

But Higuita's real value lay not in the spectacular but in the tactical.

His ability with his feet and willingness to take responsibility for the final 40 yards made it possible for his team's defence and midfield to push higher up the pitch.

Holland played that way in the 1970s.

But when their keeper, Jongbloed, charged out of goal he usually just hoofed the ball into the stands.

Higuita could be far more constructive. Years before the change in the backpass law he was already showing that the keeper was an intrinsic part of the team - one that could even score goals as well as stop them.

Where Redondo seemed like a throwback to a previous era, Higuita was a pioneer of what was to come.

Unfortunately Higuita grew up in Medellin at a time when the drug cartels were posing as Robin Hood figures, providing social amenities for the poor.

He was led astray, his ill-disciplined lifestyle took its toll and, unusually for a goalkeeper, he had played his best football by the time he was 25.

Even so, he can take the credit for creating a tradition, just as Redondo can take the credit for keeping a great tradition alive.

Perhaps thay could have achieved even more but they both treated the ball as a friend and for this reason they will be missed.





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