Having had one son knocked down and killed by a car while playing football in the street, Antonio Carbajal’s father was adamant that he was not going to lose another, and forbade young Antonio from playing the game. A budding forward, the boy they called Tota was not about to give up the sport he loved though, and he came up with a cunning solution. In swapping goalscoring for goalkeeping and taking up position between the posts, he could see his father coming home from work and make good his escape before being discovered.
“Luckily, I didn’t pay any attention to my father,” the Mexican goalkeeping legend, who was born on 7 June 1929, told FIFA.com. “My story began on the street. When you’re a boy, you’ll play with anything. We went to the golf course in Chapultepec, stole one of the little balls they play with, and a friend made a bigger ball out of it with a lot of care and skill. That’s how my love affair with football began.”
After excelling at amateur level, the young Carbajal made his professional debut for Real Club Espana in 1948, the year in which he was also called up to the Mexico squad for the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament in London. Though he saw no action at the Games, Carbajal was intent on becoming El Tri’s first-choice keeper.
He was rewarded for his dogged determination two years later, winning his first cap for his country on a truly special occasion: the Opening Match of the 1950 FIFA World Cup Brazil, the first official game ever to be played at the Estadio Maracana. A goalkeeper who liked to keep things simple and preferred to get his positioning right than dive around, Carbajal began to grow into his role and mature as he turned his debut appearance at the global finals into a record-breaking quintet that still stands today.
Having taken his World Cup bow in the very first game following the 12-year World War II hiatus, Carbajal did not know it, but he was at the start of a relationship with football’s premier competition that would take him into the latter half of the 1960’s. Following a 4-0 opening loss to hosts Brazil, Mexico went home early after losing their remaining two group matches to Yugoslavia and Switzerland.
He fared little better during his appearances at Switzerland 1954 and Sweden 1958 also ended without him featuring on a winning side, though they did manage a 1-1 draw with Wales during the latter. But his last two World Cups – Chile 1962 and England 1966 – pointed to a brighter future for Mexican football.
Indeed, it was under Ignacio Trelles that Mexico registered their first World Cup finals win, a 3-1 defeat of Czechoslovakia in Chile. Four years later in England, the Mexicans recorded a 1-1 draw with France and a goalless draw with Uruguay, a match that saw Carbajal, who by this time had earned his father’s forgiveness for choosing football, make the last outing of his career – with his clean sheet a worthy way to set his enduring record.
Germany’s Lothar Matthaus equalled his tally at France 1998, with fellow goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon also joining him in the record books with Italy at Brazil 2014. As it happens, the next player to reach the milestone could well be compatriot Rafael Marquez at Russia 2018. For his part, the former Tri goalkeeper, whose special place in the history of the game is assured, would like nothing better than to see his fellow Mexican pull level with him on five World Cup appearances: “It’s great that he has the chance to do it. That’s what records are for: to be equalled and broken.”
“I love travelling, and I’d never played in front of so many people [during the first game of Brazil 1950]. It was incredible. I heard the cries of ‘Brazil! Brazil!’ and it really fired me up and motivated me. We had to stand and fight, even though they were obviously much better than us and ended up winning 4-0.
“The Brazilians were absolutely fantastic players. They’d bear down on my goal and sometimes they'd just turn back, saying that they were putting on a show to entertain the fans. I was grateful for that, I have to say. It’s a pleasure to come up against players like that. They were great people and rivals too. I think they started to feel sorry for us after they scored the fourth.
“Our coach [at Chile 1962] was Ignacio Trelles and he did an awful lot to help us. He really knew his football and he had a gift for saying a lot with very few words. He demanded a lot of us and it was a great honour and pleasure to be part of that national team. It all helped us achieve big things at the time.
“I always wanted to be someone and I seem to have managed it. I played my last World Cup a little over 50 years ago but people still call me and remember who I am. That tells me something.”