World Cup 1990 - Hosts Italy

April 25, 2006
By John Brewin
(Archive)

While remembered fondly on these shores for England's best finals performance since 1966, this was, in truth, a poor World Cup.

It's a saying amongst Dutch football fans that poor quality tournaments are always won by the Germans. And while Dutch-German emnity ought to be borne in mind this tournament most definitely proved that rule.

West Germany, soon to become plain old Germany after reunification, hit the ground running in the group stages with a 4-1 thrashing of Yugoslavia and a 5-1 thumping of the United Arab Emirates.

Lothar Matthaeus had been released from his marking role of 1986 and was leading the attacking charge. He grabbed three goals in those first two games, setting out his stall for a finals of immense personal achievement.

Holders Argentina were not the side of 1986, with Maradona carrying a knee injury and his colleagues, with the exception of Claudio Caniggia, not up to the standards of four years previous.

In an amazing opening game, African football arrived on the world stage when Cameroon defeated the holders with a goal from Francois Omam-Byik. Despite having two men sent off for some disgraceful tackling, the Cameroons held on.

Argentina eventually qualified in third place from their group behind Cameroon and Romania, a skin of the teeth approach which would continue through the tournament.

The other surprise packages were Costa Rica, who had come second in their group behind Brazil after wins over Scotland and Sweden.

Of the other favourites, hosts Italy looked strong. However, converting the vast number of chances they created was a problem.

Enter Salvatore 'Toto' Schilacci, a late addition to the squad who burst on to the scene with a winner against Austria and another against the Czechs.

The other goal against Czechoslovakia was a tremendous solo run by Roberto Baggio, the new prince of Italian football.

European champions Holland, meanwhile, had succumbed to their old folly of in-fighting and only just squeezed into the second round behind England and Ireland.

There the Germans took their revenge for defeat in the Euro 88 semi-finals with a 2-1 win. The game became infamous for a disgraceful spitting incident between Frank Rijkaard and Rudi Voeller.

Brazil too perished at the round of sixteen. Against Argentina they dominated possession, hitting the woodwork on a number of occasions until Maradona awoke from his torpor. A weaving run was followed by a perfect through ball to Caniggia who did the rest to kill off the Brazilians.

Cameroon continued their amazing run with a 2-1 defeat of Colombia, thanks in no small part to the comedic keeping of Rene Higuita, whose suicidal attempt to dribble round Roger Milla resulted in the veteran striker's second goal.

Similar romance was provided by the Republic of Ireland, playing in their first finals, and knocking out Romania in a thrilling penalty shoot-out in Genoa. Never pretty to watch, Jack Charlton's side won friends with their unstinting work ethic.

After a trip to meet the Pope in Rome, their tournament was ended by the hosts and a goal by Toto Schillaci. West Germany progressed after beating Czechoslovakia through a Matthaeus penalty.

England spoilt the Cameroon party with an extra-time win despite twice being behind. Argentina's ugly roadshow continued with a penalties win over Yugoslavia, for whom Dragan Stojkovic and Robert Prosinecki had dazzled all tournament.

Despite missing a penalty himself Maradona would face the hosts in his adopted hometown of Naples.

It went down to the dreaded spot-kicks again. Schillaci had put the Italians ahead but Caniggia equalised. A rough-house approach by Argentina prevented the Italians' passing moves and though Giusti was dismissed early in extra-time it was back to the lottery of penalties; a lottery the Argentinians were now used to.

Maradona converted after Milan's Donadoni had missed and then Aldo Serena missed too. Tears were shed as the azzurri went out.

The other semi-final in Turin is a game of English legend where, in keeping with much of football history, it went to penalties and the Germans won.

Brave England, who had improved steadily all through the tournament, finished fourth after losing to Italy in the third place play-off.

The final, perhaps uniquely, saw West Germany as the peoples' favourites to win. Argentina had alienated with their foul play, theatrical diving and constant hounding of the referee.

Maradona was a leading culprit and the footballing demi-god of 1990 had been replaced by a moaning, complaining primadonna dwarf.

In the worst final yet the Germans triumphed when, in an apt fashion, Andreas Brehme converted an 85th-minute penalty after a foul on Rudi Voeller.

Argentina had been looking to play for penalties once again having had Pedro Monzon sent-off for a foul on Klinsmann. Monzon achieved infamy as the first ever player to be dismissed in a final.

The game collapsed into farce as the Argentinian players surrounded the referee. Dezotti followed Monzon down the tunnel in the dying seconds and the Germans had their revenge for Mexico. Maradona's tears of joy from four years earlier were replaced by tears of self-pity.

The crowning achievements though had been those of Matthaeus, who lifted the trophy, and coach Franz Beckenbauer who became the first player to both captain and coach a World Cup-winning side.