As a youngster and an amateur football fan, I grew up watching and witnessing the golden days of one of the most talented and prolific goal-scorers in international footballing history. One of the stalwarts and the face of the Argentinean attack of the 90s – the one and only Gabriel Omar Batistuta. Lovingly nicknamed Batigol as well as El Ángel Gabriel.
With the expressions and instincts of an untamed lion, this prolific Argentinian striker is one of Argentina’s all-time leading goal scorers, with no less than 56 goals in 78 national team appearances, having represented his country at three World Cups.
In the year 2004, Gabriel Batistuta was named in the FIFA 100 list of the “125 Greatest Living Footballers”.
Born on 1 February 1969 to Omar Batistuta and Gloria Zilli in the town of Avellaneda which was a part of the province of Santa Fe, Batistuta started his career with the club Newell’s Old Boys. After a stint with that club, he moved to one of Argentina’s biggest clubs, River Plate, where he scored 17 goals, but was later transferred to River’s arch-rivals Boca Juniors in the year 1990.
Batistuta made his debut in the national team of Argentina in a friendly match against Brazil on 27 March 27 1991 in Curitiba.
Batistuta’s illustrious and glorious international football career started when he was selected to play for Argentina in the Copa América 1991 held in Chile, where he finished the tournament as the top scorer, with six goals in six games as Argentina romped their way to victory.
Launched on the international football arena was a legend who became one of the most complete footballers of his generation, possessing an all-round game with clinical finishing, precise heading and strong free-kick taking abilities.
As the legendary Diego Maradona once said: “Batistuta is the best striker I have ever seen play the game!”
With his handsome looks and awe-inspiring capabilities, this glamorous and incredibly talented striker became an instant hit with football fanatics all over the globe. Batistuta was quick to gain fame and respect. He filmed several commercials and was invited to numerous TV shows, but in spite of this, he is said to have always remained a low-profile family man.
Batistuta played in his second Copa América in the year 1993, in Ecuador, which Argentina won again. In 1994, Batistuta also scored four goals in as many games, including the famous “Bati-triplet”, a hat-trick in the opening game against Greece in the otherwise disappointing World Cup of 1994 for Argentina, which was clouded by Diego Maradona’s suspension.
In the 1998 World Cup, Gabriel Batistuta recorded the second hat-trick of his World Cup career, becoming the fourth player to achieve this (the others were Sándor Kocsis, Just Fontaine, and Gerd Müller). In spite of the splendid performances of Batistuta, Argentina were knocked out of the World Cup by the Netherlands, courtesy of a last-minute Dennis Bergkamp winner after the two sides had played for a 1–1 draw for almost the entire match.
Batistuta announced that he planned to quit the national team at the end of the World Cup in 2002, which Argentina had aimed to win. But Argentina’s “group of death” saw the team fall at the first hurdle, managing a lone victory against Nigeria (Batistuta scored the match’s only goal). They fell to England 1–0 and managed a mere 1–1 draw against Sweden and were knocked out in the opening round for the first time in four decades.