Stadio Olimpico, Roma, 08.07.1990
Argentina

1-0 (0-0)
Brehme pen 85. / –

Having reached the third World Cup Final, Germany would find themselves up against defending champions Argentina in what was a straight rematch of the classic encounter that had taken place four years earlier in Mexico City. On this occasion however Franz Beckenbauer’s side would be favourites, against an Argentinian side that had defied all of the odds to find themselves in the showpiece event.

While the unbeaten Germans had followed the form book in making their way into a third successive final – their sixth in all – the defending champions had somehow managed to scrap and stumble through with a side that was a shadow of the one that had lit up the tournament in 1986. After a traumatic start to the tournament that had seen them beaten 1-0 by tournament minnows Cameroon and lose their ‘keeper Neri Pumpido, a scrappy 2-0 win over the Soviet Union – marked by another Diego Maradona handball, this time a clearance off the line – was followed by a 1-1 draw with Romania that saw Carlos Bilardo’s side squeeze through to the second phase in third place with three points from their three games.

The second phase had been seen by many commentators as Argentina’s final hurdle as they took on arch-rivals Brazil, but in a match that was defined by Brazilian profligacy in front of goal Claudio Caniggia made the most of one of the few opportunities for the Albiceleste as he sent his side through with a dramatic and well-taken eightieth-minute winner. The quarter-final pitted the Argentinians against Yugoslavia, where they successfully parked the bus to secure a goalless draw after extra time. It was here that reserve ‘keeper Sergio Goycochea would come into his own, as his side overcame an awful miss from Maradona in the resulting penalty shoot-out to set up a semi-final against hosts Italy.

The Italians had been red-hot favourites to reach the final, but they too would succumb to the negative, aggressive and at times criminal behaviour of the Argentinians. The Azzurri had gone through the tournament without conceding a goal and had taken an early lead through Totò Schillaci, but from nowhere Caniggia levelled the scores to send the game into extra time. With the two sides unable to be separated after the additional half an hour Goycochea once again proved to be the hero, keeping out Aldo Serena’s spot-kick after the unfortunate Roberto Donadoni had already blasted his over the crossbar and into the Naples night sky. Nobody knew how they had done it – and many were left asking “why?” – but Argentina were in the final.

In what had been a tournament where his side had suffered few injury problems, Nationaltrainer Franz Beckanbauer was able to field a side that was essentially unchanged from the one that had lined up against England in the semi-final. The fit-again Pierre Littbarski returned to the midfield in place of Olaf Thon, but Der Kaiser would feel no need to change the 1-2-5-2 formation that had been successfully employed since the quarter-finals. Ahead of ‘keeper Bodo Illgner sat sweeper Klaus “Auge” Augenthaler, with Guido Buchwald and Jürgen Kohler providing the usual mix of solidity and creativity at the back.

The midfield quintet was probably one of the best-ever German line-ups, with the possible exception of the great sides of the early 1970s under Helmut Schön. It was an experienced mixture of modern style and strength, with the classy left wing-back Andreas Brehme, the spirited and feisty Thomas Berthold, and the creative engine room consisting of the sprightly Thomas Häßler, the elusive Pierre Littbarski and the Nationalmannschaft’s swashbucking talisman, skipper Lothar Matthäus.

For Franz Beckenbauer the Rome final would be the culmination of a long project that had been fine-tuned to perfection; a weakened Argentinian side ravaged by injuries and suspensions was clearly there for the taking, but nobody in the German camp would be taking anything for granted.

The two teams took to the field on what was a calm and dry evening in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, with Germany back in their famous black and white ensemble and the Argentinians sporting their second kit of blue shirts, white shorts and blue socks. Taking charge of the game would be Edgardo Codesal Méndez, the excitable Mexican who had awarded England two penalties in their dramatic quarter-final against Cameroon. German supporters would dominate the crowd of just over seventy-three and a half thousand people, making it feel like a home match with the stands decked out in black, red and gold.

[match report]

Diego Maradona, the hero of 1986, would have a miserable final. Here he is booked for dissent

Andreas Brehme coolly rolls his spot kick past Sergio Goycochea. Wahnsinn!

Weltmeister! Skipper Matthäus and Pierre Littbarski celebrate with the golden trophy

It had been scrappy. Much of the play had been dirty and unmemorable, not helped by the criminally negative tactics and foul play of the Argentinians. Even most German fans would agree that the penalty decision had been had a soft one, but nobody could disagree that the most deserving team had won.

There would be no goalless draw, no extra time, no penalty shoot-out and no heroics from Elfmetertöter Goycochea: while the Germans charged around the pitch in ecstasy, the Argentinians continued to harangue the match officials, undignified and ungracious right to the very end. Nobody had expected Bilardo’s side to cover themselves in glory, but by the same token nobody had expected such a violent reaction from a group of players that were trying their level best to drag both their country and the game through the gutter.

To see Diego Maradona lift the trophy for a second time would have been a travesty, but instead the 73,603-strong crowd would find themselves being treated to an image on the large screen of the Argentinian captain standing alone, the tears welling up. This rather pitiful sight would elicit a loud chorus of boos and jeers from the crowd, and it would have taken a heart of stone not to laugh.

When Lothar Matthäus received the famous gold FIFA World Cup trophy, the Nationalmannschaft would join both Brazil and Italy with its third tournament victory. Beckenbauer’s dream had been fulfilled: he had become the first man to both captain and manage a World Cup winning team and would retire on a high, handing the reins over to his assistant Berti Vogts. With this being the last tournament for the old “West” Germany, the triumph in Rome would also draw the perfect line under what had been another successful chapter in the long history of German football.

Germany FR: Illgner – Augenthaler – Buchwald, Kohler – Berthold (73. Reuter), Häßler, Matthäus (c), Littbarski, Brehme – Völler, Klinsmann

Argentina: Goycochea – Simón – Sensini, Serrizuela, Ruggeri (46. Monzón) – Troglio, Burruchaga (54. Calderón), Basualdo, Lorenzo – Dezotti, Maradona

Referee: Edgardo Codesal Méndez (Mexico)
Assistants: Armando Pérez Hoyos (Colombia), Michał Listkiewicz (Poland)

Yellow Cards: Völler / Dezotti, Troglio, Maradona
Red Cards: – / Monzón 65., Dezotti 87.

Attendance: 73,603

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