Jose Luis Cuciuffo: The world champion who accidentally shot himself

Jose Luis Cuciuffo became world champion with Argentina alongside Diego Maradona. His life ended tragically.

When you think of the 1986 World Cup, Diego Maradona inevitably comes to mind. Last but not least, with his “hand of God” and various irresistible performances, what was probably the world’s best player at the time led Argentina to the World Cup title at the tournament in Mexico. But the talented playmaker did not see himself as the sole savior of the Albiceleste. One player in particular became the center of his homage.

“Cuciuffo has become a monster player,” Maradona later said, followed by the ultimate praise: “He didn’t expect to play much, but in the end he was in cover like Beckenbauer and shooting like Zico.” But of whom did Maradona speak so respectfully?

Jose Luis Cuciuffo was one of the unsung heroes at the 1986 World Cup. National coach Carlos Bilardo nominated the defender for the tournament, although Cuciuffo had not previously played a single international match. At the tournament itself, he featured in every game except the opening game against South Korea, including the final against Germany, which Argentina won 3-2. In the semi-final against Belgium, he set up the 2-0 win by Maradona.

Cuciuffo was not a player who sought the limelight. And apart from the 1986 World Cup, his career gave little reason to do so. His career in club football took him to Olympique Nimes in the French league for three years in 1990, where he played with Eric Cantona, among others. Otherwise, Cuciuffo always stayed in his native Argentina, where he finally ended his career in 1994.

Jose Luis Cuciuffo: The unsung hero of the 1986 World Cup

Cuciuffo was on a hunting trip with friends in Bahia San Blas, around 600 kilometers from the Argentine capital Buenos Aires. Suddenly, Cuciuffo’s pickup collided with a hole in the ground and he lost control of the car. In the midst of this turmoil, the gun Cuciuffo held between his legs, the barrel pointing upwards, suddenly discharged itself. The projectile hit Cuciuffo in the stomach, shredded the liver and finally lodged in the aorta.

Although Cuciuffo was initially treated on site, he succumbed to his injuries on the way to a hospital further away. In doing so, Cuciuffo became the first Argentine world champion – including the 1978 team – to die. The police then investigated negligent homicide and temporarily arrested one of his companions. But it was an accident that took Cuciuffo’s life.

The fact that Cuciuffo enjoyed great popularity in Argentine football was evident at his funeral. Numerous prominent football representatives, including his former national coach Bilardo, Nery Pumpido and Sergio Batista, traveled from Buenos Aires to Cuciuffo’s home town of Cordoba, where he was laid to rest.

Twelve years after his death, Cuciuffo was finally honored with a bust unveiled in the children’s playground of Plaza de los Burros in the San Martin neighborhood. It was there that Cuciuffo first kicked a ball as a child. Delegates from Cordoba’s three biggest clubs were present at the ceremony, as was his daughter. That evening they all looked back on a special player, for whom even Diego Maradona had special words.