The format of the tournament was the same as it had been in Mexico four years earlier, with the twenty four qualifying nations being drawn in six groups of four and sixteen teams progressing to the knock-out stages including the four best third-placed teams. This would be the last World Cup where two points were awarded for a win; it was also the last time we’d see the back pass being employed on the global stage.
As in Mexico, fifty-two matches were played during Italia ’90; between 8th June and 8th July, twelve venues in twelve host cities were used with two grounds being allocated to each of the six first phase groups. A total of 115 goals were scored at an average of 2.21 per game – the lowest on record – and as a result Italia ’90 was widely described as a poor tournament; I however would beg to differ – well of course I would. The low goals average was the result not of teams like Germany – who scored fifteen goals in their seven games en route to winning the trophy – but the likes of Argentina, who pursued a criminally negative approach in reaching the final. The Argentinians scored a measly five goals in their seven games, and also managed to rack up three red cards.
Worse still were sides like the Republic of Ireland, who made up for their distinct lack of talent by putting all ten outfield players behind the ball and relying on the back pass to waste time and penalty shoot-outs to win games. The Irish played a total of five games and scored a truly stunning two goals – the one saving grace was that they were knocked out before they had a chance to play Argentina and encourage some of us to head out and buy a copy of Watching Paint Dry – on VHS, as had been the case back then.
It is not me being biased when I say that the best team won the tournament; Germany scored the most goals, looked by far the most dynamic side and had the most inspirational player of the tournament in Lothar Matthäus – who on this occasion trumped the man he had been tasked to man-mark in the 1986 final, Diego Maradona. The happy and cocksure Maradona who had lifted the trophy in Mexico City was unrecognisable four years later in Rome, where he was exposed as a petulant whinger whose teary-eyed face was rightly and roundly mocked by the entire Olympic Stadium when it flashed up on the big screen.
Qualifying Campaign and pre-tournament build-up
With arch-rivals the Netherlands in the same qualifying group alongside Wales and Finland, Franz Beckenbauer’s side had its work cut out – and so it proved. After getting the better of the Dutch in two drawn games and building up a better overall goal difference, the Mannschaft let things slip by drawing away to the Welsh – leaving them to beat the same opposition to secure a place in the finals by being the best second-placed team. You can relive the drama here. Well, sort of.
As had always been the tradition, the Mannschaft’s friendly match run-up to the tournament was deceptively ordinary at best; having lost 2-1 in Montpellier to a French side that had finished third in their qualifying group behind Yugoslavia and Scotland, Beckanbauer’s side could only draw at home against a poor Uruguay side, conceding three goals in the process. In late May and with the tournament just around the corner things did get better, but not impressively so with single-goal wins over Czechoslovakia and Denmark.
Germany’s Tournament in brief
Franz Beckenbauer’s side clearly started the tournament as they meant to go on – administering a footballing lesson to perennial dark horses Yugoslavia before putting five past the World Cup newcomers from the UAE. Skipper Lothar Matthäus was in blistering form, and the potent strike force of Jürgen Klinsmann and Rudi Völler were looking particularly sharp in front of goal. A last-minute equaliser from Colombia in their third game blotted the copybook somewhat, but with seven points from their three games the Mannschaft safely advanced to the second phase in first place.
The second phase fixture against the Netherlands provided what was – for me at least – the game of the tournament. After the dramatic conflagration on the twenty-minute mark that saw red cards being dished out to Dutchman Frank Rijkaard and the unfortunate Rudi Völler, Jürgen Klinsmann delivered what was arguably the performance of the tournament. Even a late and completely unmerited Ronald Koeman penalty didn’t dampen the atmosphere as the Oranje were dispatched 2-1 in a pulsating encounter. An altogether different sort of encounter took place during the quarter-final against Czechoslovakia, where a Lothar Matthäus penalty took the Mannschaft through to the last four against a solid if unspectacular Czech side.
More drama ensued in the semi-final against England in Turin, another classic encounter that saw a somewhat lucky Andreas Brehme strike cancelled out by a late Gary Lineker equaliser before both teams hit the woodwork in extra time and the inevitable penalty shoot out. The Germans held their nerve from the spot, Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle didn’t, and the Schwarz und Weiß – or should one say the Grüne und Weiß – were into their third World Cup final in as many tournaments.
The final against Argentina was something of a damp squib in comparison to what had gone before, as the dour and borderline criminal Argentinians tried their best to ruin the occasion as they sought their third penalty shoot-out in a row.
Rather fittingly, it was all decided by a Andreas Brehme Elfmeter five minutes from time after Rudi Völler had been upended by Nestor Sensini; the Albiceleste were reduced to nine men, Diego Maradona’s blubbing on the big screen was beamed on television sets around the globe, and the most deserving team were awarded the coveted gold trophy.
v Yugoslavia First Phase Group D, Milano, 10.06.1990 View Report »
v United Arab Emirates First Phase Group D, Milano, 15.06.1990 View Report »
v Colombia, First Phase Group Group D, Milano, 19.06.1990 View Report »
v The Netherlands, Second Phase, Milano, 24.06.1990 View Report »
v Czechoslovakia, Quarter-Final, Milano, 01.07.1990 View Report »
v England, Semi-Final, Torino, 04.07.1990 View Report »
v Argentina, World Cup Final, Roma, 08.07.1990 View Report »