Skip to main content

World Cup: Argentina and Iran -- a time to remember?

By James Masters, CNN
updated 2:27 PM EDT, Fri June 20, 2014
On July 18, 1994 a bomb at the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires killed 85 people and wounded 300. On July 18, 1994 a bomb at the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires killed 85 people and wounded 300.
Never forgotten
Hopes of a nation
  • Argentina faces Iran in World Cup Saturday
  • First meeting between teams since 1994 Buenos Aires bombing of Jewish Community Center
  • Leading Jewish body has asked FIFA to hold minute silence prior to kick off
  • Iran denies any involvement in bombing

(CNN) -- Nearly 20 years have passed, but Diego Goldman still can't get rid of the sensation in his nostrils.

"Do you know what it smells like? I can still smell that smell -- the one of burning flesh."

It has been like that ever since the horrific day his mother woke him from his slumber with screams usually only heard in nightmares.

On July 18, 1994, a bomb was set off at the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people and wounding about 300.

Indigenous people evicted for World Cup
Quirky ways to save on World Cup lodging
World Cup: More than football

"There were bodies everywhere," Goldman, who was 18 at the time, told CNN.

"But it's the smell which lingered. I can never forget. Never.

"I remember arriving and knowing that so many people who I knew were inside that building -- I knew so many of those who were murdered.

"I just wanted to help. I wanted to help rescue those below the rubble, and worked for hours trying to get people out alive.

"It was chaos -- there was blood, flesh ... people didn't know what to do. Some couldn't stay and help, it was too difficult.

"But there were people I knew who would have been there. I can still see people's faces."

On Saturday, Goldman, like many of those affected by the bomb, will turn his attention to Argentina's footballers and their World Cup meeting with Iran -- the country blamed for the atrocity.

Argentine prosecutors accuse Iran of helping coordinate and plan the attack through a Hezbollah cell in the region. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack, and Iran vehemently denies any involvement.

It's the first time Argentina has faced Iran in football since that fateful day -- and its 250,000-strong Jewish community, the largest in South America, wants its dead remembered.

In a June 3 letter sent to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the Latin American Jewish Community requests "at the beginning of this match, a minute of silence in memory of the victims, in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the attack and all these years of impunity."

The move, which is unlikely to be successful as a spokesman for the global game's ruling body says it has not received a request from the Argentine Football Association, has brought fresh publicity to the search for justice.

As well as the smell of burning flesh, the image of bodies laid strewn across the ground remains a permanent fixture in Goldman's consciousness after the building, the heartbeat of the Jewish community in the Argentine capital, was reduced to ruins.

"You don't forget things like that," he says quietly.

"I stood there with boyfriends, husbands, wives, girlfriends, all of us digging and hoping to find a loved one.

"I could see people trapped but I knew if I took a wrong step, more rubble could fall upon them.

"Some people just couldn't handle it -- the smell was enough to turn a lot of volunteers away.

"So many people died ... so many."

In February 2013, Argentine lawmakers agreed to work with Iran to investigate the attack -- a move which was met with skepticism.

The formation of a five-person panel -- named the "Truth Commission" -- was passed by a 131-113 vote following an intense 14-hour debate.

CNN reporter hurt at World Cup protest
Robots enhance World Cup security
Patrolling Rio's most dangerous favelas

The move was struck down by the Federal Court, which ruled it unconstitutional, and a government appeal will now be heard in the country's Supreme Court.

In 2007, Argentina requested the arrest of several Iranians in connection with the bombing, including Iran's former defense minister Ahmad Vahidi.

While the request for a minute's silence on Saturday is unlikely to come to fruition, there will be a short remembrance service before the game on Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana Beach, where Israelis, Argentines and Jews from across the world are expected to gather.

One of those hoping to be present is Mariano Schlez, who has traveled from Buenos Aires to Brazil as part of a separate project aiming to connect Jewish football fans at the World Cup.

Schlez and his wife, Paola Salem, received a charity grant to help launch activities for Jewish supporters who are in Brazil for the tournament.

Many of them will attend the ceremony on Copacabana before watching the game, which is being played 216 miles away in Belo Horizonte.

"As Jews, we are always looking to show that we want to find justice," said Schlez.

"We see this game between Argentina and Iran as a great opportunity to tell the world that this case is still unresolved and there have been no convictions."

Argentina, which won its opening game against Bosnia, will begin as a heavy favorite against Iran on Saturday.

Led by Barcelona's four-time world player of the year Lionel Messi, Argentina is expected to reach the later stages and possibly even win the tournament for the first time since 1986.

But for many, a moment of silence before kickoff in Belo Horizonte would resonate loudest.

"We're asking for a minute's silence because it deserves to be respected," Goldman says.

"I think that the world should know that this was an act of terror which has impacted on both nations.

"We cannot allow ourselves to forget what happened."

For Goldman the memories remain raw -- and the smell refuses to go away.

Read: The plot to eliminate Brazil

Read: What went wrong for Spain?

Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:23 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
After 20 years, more than 300 goals and a host of major honors, Thierry Henry has called time on his glittering football career.
updated 5:14 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
They do things differently at Sociedad Deportiva Eibar, up in the mist-cloaked valleys of the Basque country. And it is working.
updated 8:53 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
He might be struggling to score goals for Liverpool, but Mario Balotelli's cheeky tweet about the British monarch hit the spot during the World Cup.
updated 8:53 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
How Real Madrid's new stadium will look
They splash the cash on the world's best players, now Real Madrid are giving the Bernabeu the same treatment with a bling makeover.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Football world mourns South African captain Senzo Meyiwa who was shot and killed during a botched robbery in a township near Johannesburg.
updated 9:48 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
A man as a Roman centurion and who earn his living by posing with tourists gestures in front of the Colosseum during a protest where some of his colleagues climbed on the monument on April 12, 2012 in Rome. The costumed centurions are asking for the right to work there after they were banned following a decision by local authorities.
From the ancient ruins of Rome, a new empire rises. But the eyes of the city's newest gladiator light up at thoughts of the Colosseum.
updated 12:22 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Once part of Germany's largest Jewish sports club, now he's the first ISIS suspect to stand trial in a country left shocked by his alleged radicalization.
updated 10:11 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
One goal in eight matches for new club Liverpool, and dumped by the Italian national team -- Mario Balotelli has yet to shine on his English return.
updated 2:19 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Ched Evans smiles during the Wales training session ahead of their UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier against England on March 25, 2011 in Cardiff, Wales.
Should a convicted rapist, who has served their time in prison, be allowed to resume their old job? What if that job was as a high-profile football player?
updated 8:47 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
After 10 years of golden glory, it's easy to see how Lionel Messi has taken his place among the football gods.
updated 6:34 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
A football fan wipes a tear after Inter Milan's Argentinian defender Javier Zanetti has greeted fans following the announcement of his retirement before the start of the Italian seria A football match Inter Milan vs Lazio, on May 10, 2014, in San Siro Stadium In Milan
When will the tears stop? A leading Italian football club is pursuing a new direction -- under the guidance of its new Indonesian owner.
updated 6:41 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Norwegian 15-year-old Martin Odegaard is the youngest player ever to feature in a European Championships qualifying match.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Fri October 10, 2014
After revolutionizing cricket with its glitzy Twenty20 league, India has now thrown large sums of money at a new football venture.
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Get ruthless. That is Rio Ferdinand's message to soccer's authorities in the fight to tackle the scourge of racism.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
A picture taken on May 16, 2014 shows 15-year-old Norwegian footballer Martin Oedegaard of club Stroemsgodset IF cheering during a match in Drammen, Norway. Oedegaard is set to become Norways youngest player ever in the national football team.
He's just 15 and the world is seemingly already at his feet. Norway's Martin Odegaard is being sought by Europe's top clubs.