World Cup 1990: A Night at the Opera


As the 1990s rolled in there was not a nation on Earth more fit to host the World Cup than Italy. Home of the all conquering Serie A and its galaxy of stars, ‘Italia ’90’ would provide football as human drama from laughter to tears all played out to the soundtrack of Nessun Dorma.

Colombia’s Birdman fan became a signature image of Italia ’90

Perfect Fit

When FIFA voted on a host for the 1990 World Cup only Italy and USSR were on the ballot paper. The Soviets boycotted the LA Olympics just weeks before and FIFA decisively opted for Italy. As home to the world’s best league, Italy had a level of infrastructure not seen before. TV coverage from Italian media was the first transmitted in HDTV whilst the stadiums were the best in the world. On the eve of the World Cup the Three Tenors concert was broadcast around the globe and Pavarotti’s performance of Nessun Dorma became the soundtrack of the tournament.

116 countries entered the draw with Republic of Ireland, UAE and Costa Rica qualifying for the first time. . Semi-finalists in the previous two tournaments France were the most notable absentee. However more controversially Mexico and Chile were disqualified, Mexico for fielding over age players in a youth tournament and Chile for their goalkeeper faking injury to get a qualifier abandoned.

Biyik stuns Argentina

Indomitable Lions Claw Maradona

The tournament opened in the San Siro on 8th June with holders Argentina facing Cameroon. Diego Maradona was back and having just lead Napoli to a second league title was still the world’s best player. There were hold overs from ’86 most notably Oscar Ruggeri and Jorge Burruchaga. There was also an exciting new talent in demon quick striker Clauido Caniggia. Cameroon’s most notable name was 38-year-old-striker Roger Milla who’d made a late comeback to the national team but started the tournament on the bench.

As the game kicked off Maradona entertained the crowd showing off his ball control, what they didn’t know was he was struggling with an ankle injury. Cameroon made an uncertain start but goalkeeper Thomas N’Kono provided a steadying presence. They soon grew into the game and the lively Louis Paul M’Fede had a shot scrambled away, at the other end Maradona almost played Burruchaga clean through but the half time score was 0-0.

Cameroon were showing promise going forward but were ragged at the back and on the hour a cynical challenge on Caniggia saw Andre-Kana Biyik red carded. Six minutes later the unthinkable happened, a hopeful Cameroon free-kick was flicked up by Cyrille Makanaky, Francois Oman-Biyik headed and Nery Pumpido spilled the ball into the net. Argentina laid siege to the Cameroon goal but N’Kono was sure handed and the goal wouldn’t come. With two minutes to go Caniggia went darting forward, rode one foul but was then body checked by Benjamin Massing who also saw red. Cameroon were down to nine men but saw out the final minutes for a stunning win.

The other game in Group B saw Romania take on the Soviet Union in Bari. The Soviets had been runners-up at Euro ’88 and the pulling back of the Iron Curtain had seen star players move West including Rinat Dasayev, Sergei Aleinikov and Oleksandr Zavarov, but this was now a veteran team. Romania had an entirely home based squad but had their own midfield magician in Gheorghe Hagi and a dangerous forward in Marius Lacatus. The Soviets made the better start and forced Silviu Lung into a string of early saves. Romania looked sharp and four minutes from the break Lacatus found space and thundered a shot past Dasayev at his near post. Ten minutes into the second half Lacatus forced Vagiz Khidyatullin into a handball and put the ensuing penalty away for a surprise 2-0 win.

Argentina now faced the Soviets on Maradona’s home ground in Naples. The Soviets had dropped Dasayev in goal and with 11 minutes gone Argentina also had to switch ‘keepers with Pumpido going off injured. Minutes later Maradona had another Hand of God moment, hand balling a Soviet header off his own goal-line, again missed by the referee. Argentina settled and a towering header from Pedro Troglio gave them a first half lead. Late on Burruchaga played a one-two and whilst the Soviets dithered he slotted home completing a 2-0 win.

The surprise packages played each other in Bari. The game was poor with Romania looking marginally the better team. In need of inspiration Cameroon brought on Milla. On 76 minutes Milla out-muscled Ioan Andone in the box and stroked home a goal out of almost nothing. Ten minutes later another loose ball was picked up by Milla who dribbled forward and lashed in the second. Romania found an immediate response through Gavril Balint but Cameroon clung on for a 2-1 win.

Cameroon were already through when they faced Soviets who required snookers to qualify. Cameroon appeared to be out of gas, a fine strike from Oleh Protasov giving the Soviets a first half lead. Aleinikov powered through and hit the bar, the rebound turned in by Andrei Zygmatovich for 2-0. Zavarov made it three in the second half and a header for Igor Dobrovolski completed the rout, but it was too little too late for the Soviets.

With qualification on the line Romania faced Argentina in a match up of number tens. Hagi made the bigger impression, tricking his way down the left and setting up Balint who forced a good stop from Sergio Goycochea. Argentina then took the lead when Perdo Monzon rose highest to head in from a corner. Romania continued to play the more enterprising football and got their reward when Lacatus’ cross caused mayhem in Argentina’s box and Balint was on hand to smash in from the knock down. The draw meant Romania finished second in Group B with Argentina squeaking through in third.

‘Toto’ Schillaci becomes Italy’s unlikely hero

Schillaci to the Rescue

Italy sported a new look team in 1990 with coach Azeglio Vicini offering a more attacking brand of football. The team still had a stingy defence lead by AC Milan duo Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini with ’82 survivor Guiseppe Bergomi now captain. Milan star Roberto Donadoni offered creativity, with Sampdoria’s Gianluca Vialli the great goalscoring hope. The joker in the pack was 23-year-old Roberto Baggio, a rough diamond in attack who’d just joined Juventus for a world record fee, Baggio started the tournament on the bench.

They began in Rome against Austria who had their own star forward in Toni Polster. Italy dominated on an emotional evening at the Stadio Olimpico but their misfiring strikers couldn’t find a breakthrough with Vialli and Andrea Carnevale missing chances. With 15 minutes to go and Italy running out of ideas Vicini brought on in-form Juventus striker Salvatore Schillaci, who’d spent most of his career in the lower leagues. Three minutes later Vialli’s cross found Schillaci who powered in the winner and Italy were up and running.

The other game in the group saw Czechoslovakia take on the USA. The Czech’s star names were creative midfielder Ludomir Moravcik and towering striker Tomas Skuhravy. The Americans were making their first appearance in 40 years and arrived with limited expectations and it proved a baptism of fire in Florence. Skuhravy slotted in the opener after 26 minutes, a clumsy challenge on Czech skipper Ivan Haslek was swiftly punished by Michal Bilek from the spot making it 2-0 at the half. Hasek headed in from a corner for 3-0, but a fine break from Paul Caliguiri gave the US a lifeline. Tab Ramos pulled a shot wide as the US briefly threatened a comeback, but Skuhravy was on hand to head in a fourth. In the dying minutes Bilek made a mess of a Panenka before Milan Luhovy slid in to make it 5-1.

The Americans then traveled to Rome to face Italy. The hosts got the perfect start when Vialli back heeled into the path of the onrushing Giuseppe Giannini who powered the ball home after 11 minutes. Italy should have gone further ahead when they were awarded a penalty, but Vialli smashed his shot onto the post. The gulf in class was evident but Italy continued to struggle in front of goal. The 1-0 win did however guarantee qualification.

Czechoslaovakia faced neighbours Austria in what looked a straight qualification playoff. The decisive moment came midway through the first half when an awful back-pass from Austria’s Anton Pfeffer sold goalkeeper Klaus Lindenberger short and he brought down Czech forward Jozef Chovanec for a penalty. Bilek smashed in the spot kick and Czechoslovakia were through.

The final group games were academic. Austria’s miserable tournament appeared to be ending on a whimper when Peter Artner was red-carded on 33 minutes. Four minutes into the second half Andreas Ogris picked up the ball in his own half, turned and powered forward, outpacing two US defenders and finishing with aplomb for 1-0. Austria guaranteed a consolation win when Gerhard Rodax finished neatly for 2-0. Ramos who’d been the best US player by a distance showed some nice control to set up Bruce Murray to score but it finished 2-1.

It was clear a change in attack would be needed if Italy were to have a deep run in their own tournament. Vicini started Baggio and Schillaci against the Czechs. The move paid an instant dividend, Giannini’s miscued volley from the edge of the box falling to Schillaci whose sharp reactions opened the scoring. But it was Baggio the Italian crowd were desperate to see and with 11 minutes to go he played a one-two with Giannini to pull away from two defenders, weaved his way into the box, turned a defender inside out and slotted home the goal of the tournament. Vicini had finally found the perfect pair.

Cayasso downs Scotland

Costa Rica Rising

As ever excitement surrounded Brazil at the World Cup. Sebastiao Lazaroni had a more pragmatic looking team. Goalkeeper Taffarel, captain Ricardo Gomes and young midfielder Dunga provided a solid base to the team with Alemao the playmaker and again Careca was leading the front line. They began against a Sweden team back from a 12 year absence with a young side that included highly touted striker Tomas Brolin. Sweden were without defensive lynchpin Glenn Hysen and Brazil took full advantage, Branco carving through Sweden to set up Careca to round Thomas Ravelli for the opener. Midway through the second half Muller got clear and crossed for Careca to bag his second. Sweden fought back and Brolin beautifully turned Ricardo to score on 79 minutes but Brazil saw out a 2-1 win.

New boys Costa Rica arrived with an unheralded squad and began against Scotland playing their fifth successive finals but never having made it through the group. The Scots had a solid defence anchored by Alex McLeish and Richard Gough whilst controversial striker Mo Johnston was a handful in attack. One major concern for Scotland boss Andy Roxburgh was the poor club form of goalkeeper Jim Leighton.

Scotland were favorites but the spectre of past failures hung over Genoa’s Stadio Luigi Ferraris. Scotland got an early warning when Juan Cayasso hit a long range shot just wide. Scotland responded with captain Roy Aitken going close from distance. Aitken was driving Scotland forward and another good move saw Johnston draw a fine save from Luis Gabelo Conejo, at half time it remained 0-0. Scotland suffered a blow when Gough aggravated a foot injury and didn’t re-emerge for the second half, four minutes later a brilliant back-heel by Claudio Jara put Cayasso clean through who placed the ball above Leighton for 1-0. Scotland countered, Johnston hauling in a cross and forcing a point blank save from Cayasso and Paul McStay’s follow up scrambled away. Scotland were penning Costa Rica in but the defence remained resolute and Costa Rica had pulled off a stunning upset.

Costa Rica now faced Brazil and Lazaroni picked a cautious looking Brazil team. Costa Rica were again a tough nut to crack and Brazil scored with an untidy first half goal from Muller enough to give Brazil an unconvincing 1-0 win.

Sweden faced Scotland. Scotland were much improved, recalled striker Robert Fleck giving them a more fluent attack. Eleven minutes in Fleck forced a corner and Stuart McCall reacted quickest in a congested box to score. Fleck was key in the deciding moment of the game, scampering down the left and squaring for Aitken whose initial shot was saved but Roland Nilsson pulled him down trying to hit the rebound and Scotland had a penalty which Johnston despatched for 2-0. With four minutes to go Glenn Stromberg sprang the offside trap to head in, but Scotland held on.

Going into the final games Brazil were through, Costa Rica and Scotland had their destines in their own hands whilst Sweden had to win by at least two and hope other results went their way. In Genoa, Sweden were on top, Stefan Schwarz twice stinging Conejo’s palms with rasping efforts. on 31 minutes Schwarz hit another venomous free kick, Conejo couldn’t hold it and Johnny Ekstrom put in the rebound.

Despite losing Brolin to injury, Sweden pressed for a second Hysen and then Stefan Pettersson almost putting Sweden out of sight. Costa Rica’s threat grew with the introduction of winger Hernan Medford who won foul down the right. Cayasso put in a fabulous cross for Roger Flores to flick in a header on 75 minutes, now Costa Rica were now going through. Sweden had to gamble and with three minutes left they were caught on the break, fittingly it was Cayasso who got Costa Rica’s winner, sprinting through to slot home and guarantee qualification, whilst Sweden were out without a point.

In Turin, Scotland were holding their own against Brazil who again lacked the dynamism of old. Aitken was again leading by example his powerful header forcing a clearance off Brazil’s line. Just when Scotland seemed to have done enough for a point, Alemao’s speculative long range effort was spilled by Leighton, Careca picked up the rebound and Muller tapped home on 81 minutes. Scotland mustered a last chance, Johnston finding himself dead centre in the box only for Taffarel to produce a stunning save and preserve Brazil’s win. Third placed Scotland’s hopes now rested on other results going their way.

Matthaus sets West Germany away

All The Kaiser’s Men

West Germany were joint favorites alongside Italy. Franz Beckenbauer was still in charge and had a much stronger squad than the one that just missed out in Mexico. Guido Buchwald was a top class centre back, the ever dependable Lothar Matthaus provided drive in midfield, Andreas Brehme a deadeye from set pieces with newcomer Thomas Häßler adding creativity. Rudi Voller was still leading the line and now had a prolific young strike partner in Jurgen Klinsmann. Their campaign opened in the San Siro against Yugoslavia who had a talented side built around a strong contingent from Red Star Belgrade including creative midfielder Dragan Stojkovic and striker Darko Pancev.

It took just 26 minutes for West Germany to open their account, aptly it was Matthaus who turned a defender and blasted home from the edge of the area. Nine minutes later Klinsmann’s diving header from Brehme’s cross made it 2-0. Early in the second half Yugoslavia got a lifeline when Stojkovic’s free kick was headed in by Davor Jozic. Just as Yugoslavia were threatening a comeback Matthaus drove from midfield, left a defender for dead and smashed in his second for 3-1. Late on Voller made it 4-1 and West Germany had put down an early marker.

The United Arab Emirates made their World Cup bow when they took on Colombia in Bologna. The Colombians looked a dark horse lead by the unmistakable Carlos Valderrama, a wonderful attacking talent. Colombia also featured versatile forward Freddy Rincon and maverick goalkeeper Rene Higuita- an early and wild exponent of the sweeper-keeper role. The UAE kept Colombia quiet in the first half but in the second Leonel Alvarez sprung the offside trap and crossed for Bernardo Redin to open the scoring. Five minutes from time Valderrama hit a beautiful long range drive to make it 2-0.

Yugoslavia needed to get back on track against Colombia. The game looked set for a draw until Jozic chest-trapped a cross and volleyed in to give Higuita no chance and Yugoslavia the win. West Germany put on a clinic in a mismatch against the UAE. Voller scored twice with Klinsmann, Matthaus and a brilliant hit from Uwe Bein running up the score. UAE’s one moment came when Khalid Ismael struck his country’s first ever World Cup goal in a 5-1 trouncing.

Yugoslavia knew a win over UAE would guarantee progression and manager Ivica Osim opted to start Pancev in attack. Yugoslavia’a attack clicked from the first whistle, veteran Safet Susic giving them the early lead and Pancev justified his inclusion by making it 2-0 after nine minutes. UAE showed some fight and Ali Thani’s header halved the deficit. At the start of the second half Pancev hit a beauty for 3-1 Robert Prosiniecki’s brilliant injury time volley completed the 4-1 win.

West Germany were already through whilst Colombia needed a point in their clash at the San Siro. Colombia clipped their usual attacking ambition and played for the draw they required with Valderrama a spectator in attack. It looked like Colombia would pay for it when with two minutes to play Voller rode a couple of challenges to play in Pierre Littbarski who fired home for 1-0. Forced to attack Colombia turned to Valderrama he instigated a passing move and played through Rincon who powered through and fired in a 93rd minute leveller to send Colombia through.

Michel celebrates his hat-trick

Michel Magic

Group E kicked off in Verona with Belgium taking on unfancied South Korea. Belgium had a fine goalkeeper in Michel Preud’homme whilst Marc Degryse was an in-form striker and veteran forward Jan Ceulemans was playing his third World Cup. Belgium’s main man however was playmaker Enzo Scifo looking to build on a promising campaign Mexico. South Korea held the Belgians to a goalless first half, but Belgium took the lead when Degryse’s lob found the corner. It was soon 2-0 when fullback Michel De Wolf hit a blazing long drive to give Belgium a solid start.

In the other game Spain faced Uruguay. Spain’s main trio from Mexico were all back in goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta, creative midfielder Michel and striker Emilian Butragueno. Uruguay were looking to improve on a dreadful ’86 campaign with playmaker Enzo Francescoli and striker Ruben Sosa their star turns. Uruguay had the better chances, in the first half Sosa’s mazy run set up Antonio Alzamendi who hit the bar. In the second Spain’s Francisco VIllarroya handball on the line gave Uruguay a penalty but Sosa blazed it over and Spain escaped with a fortunate 0-0.

Uruguay then met Belgium and again Uruguay made the better start with Francescoli pulling the strings. However it was Belgium who took the lead when De Wolf’s cross was headed in by Leo Clijsters. It was soon 2-0 when Scifo’s 30 yard screamer found the bottom corner. At the start of the second half Ceulemans powered through the middle to make it 3-0. Uruguay’ got a deserved consolation through Pablo Bengoechea’s volley but the 3-1 win ensured Belgium’s progression.

In Udine, Spain needed to find some inspiration after their poor start and it was provided by Michel. On 23 minutes his volley gave Spain the lead against South Korea. The lead lasted just 20 minutes with Hwangbo Kwan’s 30 yard rocket from a free kick bringing South Korea level. It was Michel’s day however and his curling free kick made it 2-1 on the hour. On 81 minutes Michel completed his hat-trick with some trickery in the box and a neat finish for 3-1.

Belgium played Spain in a rematch of their Mexican quarter-final. Spain took the early lead when Julio Salinas was brought down and Michel put away the spot kick. Three minutes later Belgium were level when Patrick Veervoort’s free kick found a hole in the Spanish wall. Before halftime Alberto Gorriz’s header made it 2-1 Spain. Belgium spurned a chance to equalise when Scifo missed a penalty and the 2-1 win meant Spain won the group.

The intrigue was in the other game where Uruguay needed a win over South Korea to edge old rivals Scotland in the third placed qualifier stakes. South Korea proved resilient and Uruguay were looking toothless. On 70 minutes South Korea’s Yoon Deuk-Yeo was red carded but still South Korea kept Uruguay at bay, it seemed Scotland were through. Deep into injury time substitute Daniel Fonseca won a free-kick and from the ensuing cross Fonseca rose highest to placed a header in the corner of the net and Uruguay were through.

Egypt surround Van Basten

Sardinian Standoff

Seemingly cut adrift of the rest of the tournament was Group F based on the Mediterranean Islands of Sardinia and Sicily. The seeds were England but such was the lack of optimism at home one tabloid sent them away with the encouraging headline “World Cup Wallies: We’ve Got No Chance!” Bobby Robson however knew better, England had an experienced team with a defence stiffened by they pacey Des Walker and the combative Stuart Pearce. Bryan Robson was back as skipper as was ’86 golden boot Gary Lineker, wingers Chris Waddle and John Barnes were both coming off exceptional seasons in club football. Like Italy, England had a joker, quite literally in mercurial midfielder Paul Gascoigne.

England would again start against newcomers the Republic of Ireland who’d beaten them at Euro ’88. The Irish were lead by England World Cup winner Jack Charlton. ‘Big Jack’ had built an aggressive team who were derided by some for their style but were highly effective. The key man was dominant defender Paul McGrath whilst midfielder Ray Houghton had a habit of scoring big goals and Kevin Sheedy had a wand of a left foot. Unlike their previous meeting it was England who got a positive start, Waddle’s cross finding Lineker who scrambled home after nine minutes. England couldn’t extend their lead in an attritional contest. Despite a poor display England seemed to be seeing out the win until substitute Steve McMahaon was dispossessed and Sheedy rifled in the equaliser. Ireland looked the more likely late on but it ended 1-1.

Meanwhile in Sicily Egypt faced the Netherlands. The Dutch had re-established themselves as a force by winning the ’88 European Championship. The new Oranje was built around the AC Milan triplets of sweeper Frank Rijkaard and forwards Ruud Gullit & Marco Van Basten. Between them Van Basten and Gullit had won the last three Ballon d’Or awards with Van Basten the golden boot at Euro ’88. However Van Basten was coming off an injury hit season and coaching genius Rinus Michels had made way for Leo Beenhakker. Egypt were at their first World Cup since 1934 and arrived as outsiders, but had a prolific striker in Hossam Hassan. The first half was tepid but the Dutch got the upper hand in the second, Van Basten’s cross finding Wim Kieft to give them the lead on 58 minutes. They should have made it two but Kieft couldn’t convert from Gullit’s cross. As the game entered its final phase a clumsy challenge on Hassan by Ronald Koeman earned Egypt a penalty, Magdi Abdelghani converted to earn Egypt a surprise point.

The Dutch then travelled to Sardinia to face England and were in for a surprise. Bobby Robson abandoned his 4-4-2 formation for a sweeper system. With Mark Wright at the centre of the back three and Bryan Robson patrolling midfield the Dutch struggled to create clear chances. Meanwhile the change of system seemed to free England’s creative players, particularly Gascoigne. Lineker had a second half goal chalked off but almost got on the scoresheet when Gascoigne twisted his way through and fired a cross just beyond the striker’s outstretched leg. Pearce thought he’d won it at the death but again the goal was ruled out and it ended 0-0.

In Sicily Egypt played Ireland and the Irish struggled to breakdown a cagey Egypt defence. Ireland’s best moments again came through aerial bombardment but the Egyptians did to Ireland what the Irish had been doing to others for years. Another attritional contest finished 0-0 and Charlton came in for stinging criticism from the Irish press.

Two thirds of the way through the group and incredibly the four teams were deadlocked on two points and one goal scored each. In Sicily Ireland played Netherlands and the Dutch seemed to find their groove, Gullit playing a clever one-two with Richard Witschge and smashing a shot across Packie Bonner for 1-0 on 11 minutes. The Irish hit back with a bullet header from Niall Quinn, only for the goal to be ruled out for a push. Ireland were making the better chances but Gullit was a menace at the other end, it remained 1-0 at halftime.

In Sardinia Robson had received a bodyblow with the news that just as in Mexico his namesake and captain was injured and on his way home. Without the skipper Robson reverted to 4-4-2 and England struggled to get going against Egypt who again proved stubborn opponents. Gascoigne looked the likeliest to break the dead lock but at half time it was 0-0.

England took control early in the second half, Gascoigne’s free kick saw Wright dart in front of the goalkeeper to get the header and England were ahead. With their noses in front England kept Egypt in check and saw out the win to go through.

Back in Sicily the second half Ireland continue to press but Gullit almost put the game out of sight for the Dutch with a drive from the left. Just as the Dutch seemed to be getting on top a long ball from Ireland forced Berry van Aerle into a panicked clearance which Hans Van Breukelen couldn’t hold and Quinn pounced to make it 1-1. With word filtering through from Sardinia the final minutes saw both teams settle for the draw which would take both through in a dead heat. Drawing lots was required and Ireland were handed second place and an easier looking second round tie.

Milla robs Higuita

Milla Time

The knockout phase opened with the two surprise packages in action. Cameroon travelled to Naples to play Colombia. Many questioned if Cameroon had anything left in the tank after their capitulation to the USSR, but they looked much more like the side that had beaten Argentina. Colombia had the edge but N’Kono was again solid in the Cameroon goal and the game went to extra time goalless.

Cameroon again brought on Milla, but at half time in extra time it appeared to be heading for stalemate. Then a minute into the second period the game came to life, Oman-Biyik feeding Milla who skipped past a defender and blasted a near post shot past Higuita. Needing a goal Colombia were pushing forward and Higuita’a ambitions to play sweeper saw him pick up the ball 30 yards from his line and the goalkeeper started showing his skills, Milla was onto him in a flash and picked Higuita’s pocket and went clean through to stroke into an empty net 2-0. Valderrama wasn’t giving up and he worked a nice opening for Bernardo Redin to make it 2-1 with five minuets to go, but Cameroon held on and were the first African team ever to win a knockout game.

Costa Rica hoped to continue their surprise run when they faced Czechoslovakia in Bari. On 11 minutes the Czech’s went ahead when Moravcik’s cross was headed in by Skuhravy. The Czech’s sat on their lead and on 55 minutes Hector Marchena’s free kick was headed home home by Ronald Gonzalez; 1-1. However some strangely bad defending was Costa Rica’s undoing, failing to clear a high ball which found its way to Skuhravy who headed in his second on 63 minutes. The Czechs pressed their advantage, a foul on Hasek earned them a free-kick which Lubos Kulik smashed home for 3-1. Nine minutes from time Skuhravy completed a hat-trick of headers when he fired home from Jozef Chovanec’s corner for 4-1.

Rijkaard takes aim at Voller

Grudge Matches

Finishing third in their group meant Argentina faced a second round clash with arch rivals Brazil. The Brazilians were overwhelming favorites and in the first minute Careca tricked his way through and forced a last ditch save from Goycochea. The best chance of the half fell to Dunga who headed onto the post with the goal at his mercy. Maradona was again struggling for fitness and Brazil carefully marshalled Argentina’s dangerman.

In the second half Argentina’s goal continued to lead a charmed life as Brazil twice hit the post with Alemao unlucky not to score on 52 minutes. Muller’s cross then found Careca who couldn’t quite direct his glancing header under the bar. For all their dominance Brazil couldn’t score and on 81 minutes Maradona came to life, picking up the ball and riding three challenges before playing in Caniggia who rounded Taffarel and slotted home. Four minutes later Ricardo’s cynical foul on Jose Basualdo saw the Brazil captain dismissed. Maradona could have made it two when his free kick forced a good save from Taffarel. Brazil had one last chance when Muller found himself clear but smashed his shot wide, against all the odds Argentina were through and Brazil had their earliest World Cup exit since 1966.

That game was tame compared to the evening clash between West Germany and Netherlands. For added spice the venue was the San Siro home to both the Dutch Milan triplets and the West German Inter trio (Brehme, Matthaus and Klinsmann). Gullit impressed in the early stages but the game boiled over in the 21st minute when Rijkaard was booked for hacking down Voller. From the ensuing free kick Voller recklessly challenged Van Breukelen, Rijkaard and Voller continued to fight and the referee sent both players off with Rijkaard spitting at Voller as they departed.

West Germany gained their composure at the start of the second half and took the lead when Buchwald’s cross was turned home by Klinsmann on 51 minutes. The Dutch should have equalised when Jan Wouters wrong footed Brehme but drilled his shot just wide of the far post. Jan Kohler was exceptional in the German defence as the Dutch searched for an equaliser. Klinsmann almost settled it with a rasping drive that cannoned off the post. The bad tackles particularly from the Dutch continued as did the theatrical play acting of the Germans. Five minutes from time Buchwald set up a chance for Brehme who picked his spot and curled the ball home for 2-0. The drama wasn’t over when Kohler brought down Van Basten, up stepped Koeman to despatch an 89th minute penalty and give the Dutch hope. West Germany controlled the final minutes and hung on, the European Champions were out.

Dragan Stojkovic takes down Spain

Dragan Fire

A buoyant Spain faced Yugoslavia in Verona. Spain had the better of the first half with Butragueno spurning a guilt edged chance, whilst Yugoslavia countered well with Stojkovic instigating attacks. In the second half Spain again made the better chances with Butragueno smashing the post. On 78 minutes Spain paid for their wasteful finishing when Stojkovic cooly slotted into the bottom corner for 1-0. Spain thought they’d won a penalty when Salinas was brought down but a few moments later they drew level, Michel cleverly playing in Rafael Vazquez whose cross was turned in by Salinas. The game had burst into life at the death and would be decided in extra time. Three minutes in the lively Dejan Savicevic was hauled down and Stojkovic stepped up to fire in the free kick, 2-1 and Yugoslavia were through.

Winning group A gave Italy what they wanted; an extended stay in Rome. They faced Uruguay and stuck with Baggio and Schillaci in attack. Uruguay set out to contain Italy who without Donadoni struggled to create chances, the best of the half saw Baggio tease his way into a crossing position but Schillaci couldn’t direct his shot on target. Early in the second half Vicini brought on Aldo Serena and his pass on 65 minutes saw Schillaci get a sight of goal from outside the box and lash in the opener. Serena completed his cameo when his late header made it 2-0 and Italy were through.

David O’Leary puts Ireland in the Quarter-Finals

Luck of the Irish (and English)

Ireland faced Romania in a clash of styles in Genoa. Romania made the better start with Hagi probing for a breakthrough. Ireland adjusted and grew into the game with Sheedy forcing Lung into a fine reaction save but it was goalless at full-time. In extra time Charlton brought on veteran defender David O’Leary to sure up the backline with neither side forcing the clear cut opening needed to break the deadlock, the game almost inevitably went to penalties. Hagi kicked off the shoot out with an immaculate penalty and Sheedy levelled with a thunderous striker, setting the tone for a high quality shoot out with both teams converting their first four. Then came Romania substitute Daniel Timofte, he shot too close to Bonner who got down well to make the save. To everyone (including Charlton’s) amazement O’Leary stepped up despite never scoring a goal in his Ireland career. O’Leary ran and up and smahsed the ball into the roof of the net and Ireland were heading to a quarter-final in Rome

The final game of the round proved the most dramatic with England facing Belgium in Bologna. After a stilted performance against Egypt, Bobby Robson opted to switch back to a sweeper with McMahon filling Bryan Robson’s boots in midfield. England struggled in the first half with Belgium looking the more dangerous but the scores were level at the interval. The game burst into life in the second half when Scifo’s 25 yard rocket beat Shilton but thundered back off the post, from the ensuing counter attack Preud’homme made a smart stop to deny Lineker. Robson brought on young midfielder David Platt to add more goal threat whilst Gascoigne picked up a caution that would have consequences further down the line.

The game inevitably went to extra time at 0-0. Waddle was increasingly influential for England and his cross found Platt in the centre who lashed his shot wide. Belgium continued to carry a threat with Bruno Versavel and Eric Gerets going close. England substitute Steve Bull forced another good stop from Preud’homme in what looked like the last chance of the game. Then with 90 seconds to go Gascoigne drove through midfield and drew a foul midway inside Belgium’s half. Gascoigne floated in the free-kick, which seemed to be going harmlessly wide until Platt swivelled and volleyed across goal to leave Preud’homme no chance and England had done it at the death.

Klinsmann takes on the Czechs

Scrappy Progress

The 8 second round ties had produced just 13 goals inside 90 minutes with many observers criticising the negative football many teams appeared to be favouring. The first quarter-final offered plenty of attacking talent when Argentina faced Yugoslavia in Florence. Burruchaga and Jozic both missed early chances but the game was killed as a spectacle in the 31st minute when Yugoslav defender Refik Sabanadzovic picked up a second booking and was dismissed. Despite being a man down Yugoslavia made the better chances with Stojkovic pulling the strings with Savicevic blazing a glorious chance over the bar. Argentina did get the ball in the net but the goal was ruled out for a handball by Burruchaga, despite enormous Argentine protests. In the dying minutes Stojkovic was pulled back by a cyncial foul from Juan Simon and the game went to penalties.

Jose Serrizuela put away the opening penalty but then Stojkovic smashed over the bar to give Argentina the edge. Each team converted their next kick before Maradona stepped up, astonishingly he trotted up and hit a woefully weak shot for Tomislav Ivkovic to gather. Savicevic drew Yugoslavia level, then Troglio missed and suddenly Yugoslavia had the edge. Yugoslavia blew it, first Dragoljub Brnovic saw his weak penalty saved, then Gustav Dezotti converted and Goycochea saved another tame kick to send Argentina through.

West Germany stayed in Milan to face Czechoslovakia. West Germany started well with Buchwald missing an early chance. the game was decided in the 25th minute when Klinsmann broke into the box and was brought down, Matthaus putting away the penalty. West Germany had the measure of the Czechs with Klinsmann denied by a goal line clearance and goalkeeper Jan Stejskal repeatedly called into action. Any hope the Czechs had was extinguished in the 70th minute when Moravcik tried to buy a penalty and picked up his second booking to reduce them to ten and West Germany were through.

The Irish squad meet The Pope

When In Rome…

The Republic of Ireland had surprised everyone by making the quarter-finals in Rome and now Charlton and to make good on a promise. He’d promised the squad he’d get them an audience with The Pope if they made it to Rome, Charlton delivered and the squad headed to Vatican City.

Italy were unlikely to be as hospitable at the gladiatorial Stadio Olimpico. Italy had Donadoni fit again to join Schillaci and Baggio in attack, the Italian pressed purred they had their dream team. Ireland were unruffled and produced a polished performance to hold Italy in check and carrying a threat going forward. On 38 minutes Italy’s dream team combined, Baggio picked up the ball in midfield and ran at the Irish, Schillaci played a quick pass to Giannini who found Donadoni on the right who hit a fierce drive, Bonner could only parry and Schillaci gobbled up the rebound; 1-0.

In the second half the Irish continued to compete and make life hard for the hosts but couldn’t find the cutting edge to open them up. The dying seconds saw Sheedy whip in a free kick for Mick McCarthy to head across goal but Italy scrambled away and were heading to the semi final.

‘Gazza’ takes on Cameroon

Lion Fight

The match of the round was in Naples where the Indomitable Lions faced the Three Lions. Platt was rewarded for his heroics with a start. It was Cameroon who made the early running, Oman-Biyik getting free but Shilton saved for England. On 25 minutes Pearce powered down the left and dug out a cross which Platt headed in for 1-0. Cameroon continued to impress and Libiih went close as England made it to halftime with a fortunate lead.

Milla entered the fray for the second half but England went close when Platt had a penalty appeal waved away. On the hour Milla drove into the box, Gascoigne made a clumsy challenge and Cameroon had a penalty. Emmanuel Kunde beat Shilton and the game was level. Four minutes later Milla made another clever run and pass to play in Eugene Ekeke who lifted over the onrushing Shilton and Cameroon were ahead. Platt went close again but another good move saw Oman Biyik almost make it 1-3 and England were wobbling. For all their enterprising play Cameroon’s defensive naivety came back to bite them, with seven minutes left Lineker made a quick turn in the box and was felled for a penalty. The England striker picked himself up and sent N’Kono the wrong way; 2-2 and extra time.

Cameroon started well in extra time but just before the interval Lineker burst forward, Massing and N’Kono sandwiched him in a wild challenge and England had a second penalty, Lineker again got up and fired in for 3-2. Cameroon were on their heels and leaving gaps at the back, Gascoigne made another smart run and played in Lineker who almost got his hat-trick. England finally had control and saw out the win. Cameroon’s amazing ride was over, England had ridden their luck but were in the last four.

Caniggia equalizes

Naples’ Favourite Son

Italy faced Argentina in Naples and Maradona made a plea to the Napoli crowd to back his team. Local fans responded by reaffirming their love of their idol but reminding him they were Italian and would back their team. For Italy Vicini brought back Vialli and left Baggio on the bench. Early on Maradona put the ball in the net after the whistle had gone for a foul and was jeered by the Naples crowd. Argentina were looking sharp and Burruchaga forced a smart stop from Walter Zenga. On 17 minutes Giannini’s cushioned header was smashed by Vialli, Goycochea couldn’t hold it and Schillaci was on hand to knock in the rebound.

Argentina were forced to go on the front foot and Ricardo Giusti combined with Burruchaga to open Italy up but Baresi deflected Caniggia’s effort wide. For the first time in the tournament Italy were in trouble and on 67 minutes Julio Olarticoechea’s cross found Caniggia’s head and Italy conceded their first goal of the tournament. Vicini sent on Baggio and Serena as Italy tried to wrestle back control, Luigi De Agostini going close. Caniggia was booked meaning he’d miss the final if Argentina made it and the game went to extra time.

Baggio was now running the game, forcing a brilliant save from Goycochea. Then he dribbled forward and Giusti picked up his second booking to reduce Argentina to ten men, but Argentina hung on for penalties. Baresi kicked off proceedings with an arrow for 1-0 Italy. Argentina had been poor from the spot in the quarter and Jose Serrizuela was fortunate to score as Zenga got a hand on the ball, then Baggio was lucky with Goycochea getting a hand to his spot kick but it went in for 2-1. Both teams continued to convert to 3-3, then Donadoni stepped up and his shot was brilliantly saved and Maradona rolled in the next to put Argentina on match point. Serena stepped up and Goycochea saved again and Italy were out.

Matthaus consoles Waddle

Tears in Turin

West Germany were favourites against England in the second semi-final having made serene progress whilst England had already gone to extra time twice. England made a bright start, Gascoigne twice forcing Illgner into evasive action. West Germany lost Voller to injury and for the first time in the tournament they were looking second best, but it remained 0-0.

West Germany needed a response and showed renewed vigour at the start of the second half with recalled midfielder Olaf Thon increasingly influential. On 60 minutes Häßler won a free-kick, Brehme’s shot was charged by Paul Parker but the ball ballooned up and over Shilton for 1-0. England pushed forward and Waddle had a penalty shout turned down but West Germany appeared to be doing enough to see out the match. On 80 minutes a hopeful cross from Parker deceived Kohler and ran to Lineker who got a shot away in front of three defenders and found the bottom corner 1-1 and it would go to extra time.

Both teams went for the win with Klinsmann’s point blank header forcing a reaction save from Shilton, minutes later Augenthaler played him in again but he rolled it wide. On 99 minutes Gascoigne reached to keep possession and his out stretched leg clipped Thomas Berthold, the referee brandished a yellow and ‘Gazza’ would be out of the final if England made it. The young midfielder began to sob, Lineker gestured to Bobby Robson for help and the iconic image of Italia ’90 was born. Waddle smashed a shot onto the post with Platt inches from putting in the rebound. West Germany responded with Augenthaler hitting the post, neither could find a winner and the game went to penalties.

Lineker was first to the spot followed by Brehme as the first six kicks were converted. Then Pearce stepped up and hit a powerful shot down the centre which Illgner read and saved. Thon scored and up stepped Waddle (in place of Gascoigne) who blazed over the bar and West Germany were through.

Brehme from the spot

Roman Downfall

Before the final the third placed playoff saw Italy edge England 2-1 in an entertaining encounter that saw Schillaci win the golden boot. The final itself was an unexpected repeat of 1986 but this time West Germany were overwhelming favourites. Argentina’s attacking threat was further diminished by suspensions to Caniggia and Giusti, their hopes resting squarely on Maradona. West Germany were boosted by the return of Voller and Beckenbauer opted to recall Littbarski to the starting eleven.

West Germany went on the offensive with Voller going close early. Argentina packed the defence it was clear from the outset they were happy to play for penalties, the half concluded with few chances of note. Argentina emerged for the second half without Ruggeri, replaced by Monzon. West Germany had more urgency but Brehme’s free-kicks still looked the likeliest way they’d pick Argentina’s lock whilst Maradona’s occasional run looked Argentina’s best hope.

On 65 minutes Monzon hacked down Klinsmann, as the striker made the most of it the referee dismissed Monzon, the first ever World Cup final red card. It now looked a matter of time and on 83 minutes Roberto Sensini brought down Voller and West Germany had a penalty. Goycochea guessed the right way but Brehme’s shot was perfect and is nestled in the bottom corner for 1-0. There was still time for an ugly final to get worse, Dezotti was sent off for wrestling an opponent and Maradona booked for dissent as the game descended into farce. The final whistle was blown, as Maradona weeped West Germany were champions.

Tears of a Clown


If Maradona in Mexico personified an individual World Cup win, West Germany exemplified a perfect team victory with a side that combined talent with discipline to deliver the trophy. West Germany were the best team in the tournament and deserving winners, providing a fitting final tournament before reunification.

England were the best story, their rollercoaster ride reviving interest in the game at home and setting the nation on the road to the Premier League. Ireland and Cameroon were unlikely winners too, both reaching unexpected heights and making national icons of Charlton and Milla.

Elsewhere Italia ’90 struggled to match the highs of previous tournaments with negative tactics, a record number of red cards and playing for penalties emblematic of early 90s football. That lead to the rewriting of the back-pass rule, a legacy that lives on in the modern era. The football may have been patchy but 30 years on the sound of Nessun Dorma still stirs the senses and takes a generation back to Italia ’90.

Team of the Tournament (unofficial): Conejo (Costa Rica); Jorginho (Brazil)-Buchwald (West Germany)-Baresi (Italy)- Walker (England)- Brehme (West Germany); Matthaus (West Germany)- Gascoigne (England)- Stojkovic (Yugoslavia); Klinsmann (West Germany)-Schillaci (Italy)

Jonathan Fearby

Jonathan Fearby is a United Kingdom native. Prior to joining The Athletes Hub as a staff writer, he founded and operated Football England.

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