Italia '90 World Cup

Fifty six years after hosting their first World Cup, Italy was chosen ahead of the USSR to host the 1990 World Cup. FIFA decided to leave the format unchanged from the previous tournament meaning that the twenty four teams that qualified would again be split into six groups of four with the top two sides progressing to the round of sixteen along with the four best third placed teams. The 1990 World Cup would see first time qualification for three nations, those being The Republic of Ireland, Costa Rica and the United Arab Emirates.

Overall, the Italia ’90 World Cup was a disappointing affair characterized by negative, defensive tactics from the majority of teams as teams looked to avoid defeat rather than win games. No better was this emphasized than in group F where a total of five goals were scored in the six matches between England, Holland, Eire and Egypt, yet despite this the three European nations progressed to round two . Despite the lack of free flowing football and an avalanche of goals, it would be wrong to say the Italia ’90 was without character and that character was epitomized by Cameroon star Roger Milla and English midfielder Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne. Milla at age 38 was only present at the finals as a result of intervention by the President of Cameroon. Coming on as a second half substitute, his two second half goals followed by his trademark hip swinging celebration by the corner flag, changed the atmosphere and gave the Indomitable Lions their second successive victory after shocking defending champions Argentina one goal to nil in the opening game. The African nation’s willingness to attack with freedom and style, combined with some comical tackling and defending led to Cameroon being the side that all the neutrals wanted to see. Gazza had the same effect on the English public. Playing with a smile on his face and his ability to create something from nothing had people on their feet and heaping praise on this cheeky lad from Newcastle and it inspired the England team to the point of greatness. It was no surprise that after his yellow card in the semifinal, meaning he would miss the final should England make it, that the tears he shed on the pitch became symbolic for a whole nation and reignited England’s passion for football after some dark years in the mid to late eighties.

Brazil seemed to be infected by the negativity too. Drawn in group C along with Scotland, Costa Rica and Sweden the Brazil team that took the field bore little resemblance to the stylish teams of the eighties and seventies. Despite this lack of flair the Samba Stars still managed to top the group with a 100 percent record. Two goals from Careca were enough to give Brazil an opening win against Sweden despite Tomas Brolin scoring a late reply. In the subsequent matches that followed, a solitary goal in each game from Muller was enough to give Brazil one nil victories over newcomers Costa Rica, who would qualify along with Brazil and Scotland, who once again failed to progress beyond the group stage.

Elsewhere, Italy topped their group with maximum points, largely thanks to the cautious brand of football that the Italians were already famous for. The hosts were also joined from their group by Czechoslovakia thanks to a five goals to one thrashing of the USA. West Germany topped their group after an impressive display against Yugoslavia. The two time winners put four goals past the skillful Yugoslavians on their way to a four one victory. The Germans were joined in the round of sixteen by their European opponents and Colombia due to the presence in their group of whipping boys the UAE. Further additions to the knock out phase were Argentina and the USSR who qualified along with Cameroon, and Spain, Belgium and twice winners Uruguay.

In the Round of Sixteen, Brazil was drawn against bitter rivals and defending champions Argentina. A game that had all the makings of a classic World Cup ended up being a tight affair with neither side seeming able to gain an advantage over their opponents. In the eightieth minute, Argentine superstar, Diego Maradona picked up the ball and went on a dazzling solo run which culminated in a pass to striker Claudia Caniggia whose goal gave Argentina a treasured win against their more feted counterparts and allowed them to exact revenge for their mauling from their Spain ’82 encounter and for a fifth consecutive World Cup sent Brazil home early to a devastated public.

In other matches, hosts Italy defeated Uruguay by two goals to nil. Both goals were scored in the second half. The Azzuri’s first was scored by Toto Schillachi, his third for the tournament. His finals were that of fairy tale. Before Italia ’90 Schillachi had played just once in the blue of Italy. In their opening game he scored four minutes after coming on as a substitute. He then became a fixture in the side scoring six goals as Italy would ultimately finish third and earn himself the Golden Boot for finishing as top goal scorer.
West Germany beat Holland in a repeat score line of the 1974 final, The Republic of Ireland continued their dream World Cup debut by dispatching Romania on penalties, Czechoslovakia ended Costa Rica’s first finals with a thumping victory by four goals to one including a Skuhravy hat trick, Yugoslavia beat Spain two goals to one after extra time and a one hundred and nineteenth minute volley from England’s David Platt was enough to defeat European rivals Belgium. Everyone’s adopted nation, Cameroon, was still alive and kicking and another brace from the 38 year old Roger Milla was enough to give them victory over Colombia after extra time.

In the quarter finals, Italy brought to an end the dream of the Republic of Ireland after a single goal from Schillachi was enough to send the Azzuri through to another semi final placing. Argentina and Yugoslavia played out a 120 minute scoreless draw before the South American’s emerged victorous on penalties and a Lothar Mattheus penalty was enough to eliminate Czechoslovakia and send the Germans to a semi final against the winners of the England – Cameroon match. By far and away the most engaging match of the quarter finals, if not the tournament, the Indomitable Lions came in as massive under dogs against an England side that seemed to be finally starting to play football. The former winners made an encouraging start and were rewarded with a twenty fifth minute opener from David Platt. Into the second half, the African’s once again turned to their talisman as Milla was brought on as a substitute and the game turned on its head. In the 61st minute, Cameroon won a penalty which was dispatched by Emmanuel Kunde and then four minutes later Eugene Ekeke put Cameroon two goals to one in front and left England staring down the barrel of a gun. With a little under ten minutes remaining, England was awarded a dubious penalty which Gary Lineker dispatched to ultimately take the game into extra time. In the final minute of the first period of extra time, England was given another lucky penalty decision. Exhausted, England goal scoring legend, Lineker settled his self for the spot kick and simply hammered the ball down the middle of the goal to score the decisive goal of the tie. England was through to the semi finals and Cameroon, despite losing, had won the hearts of many an adoring fan.

The semi finals were a battle of previous tournament winners. Three times winners Italy would face twice winners and defending champions Argentina, whilst West Germany with two wins to their name would contest the second final spot with old foes and one time winner England. The two semifinals would be decided by the lottery of the penalty shoot out. In the first match, host nation Italy took a first half lead when Schillachi netted his 5th goal of the finals. With three quarters of the game gone, it was Claudio Caniggia who scored Argentina’s equalizer to send the game into extra time. In a tense extra period, neither side was able to gain the upper hand despite the Argentines being reduced to ten men and the Italian defence being teased by Maradona. Argentina would ultimately hold their nerve in the shoot out as goalkeeper Sergio Goycohea would prove the hero saving two of the Italian spot kicks to advance his side to a second successive World Cup Final. In the second semi, the match remained goalless for the first hour of the match. Then in the sixtieth minute, England defender, Paul Parker deflected a Andy Brehme freekick over the head of ‘keeper Peter Shilton to give the Germans a vital lead. It was a lead they would hold until the eightieth minute when star striker Gary Lineker found space in the German penalty area and slotted home an equalizer. Into extra time and the England team began to cut loose and test the German’s resolve and then came the moment that broke the hearts of a nation. Gazza’s tears began to flow as he understood that the yellow card he received would rule him out of a potential final. With their creative talisman’s head elsewhere, the game petered out and would also be decided by penalty kicks. In what would soon become a familiar feeling to English players and fans alike it was the German’s who were successful and set up a repeat of the Mexico final of four years previous.

Hosts Italy finished third after beating England by two goals to one. Toto Schillachi scored his last goal of the finals to elevate him to the sole Golden Boot winner. The final between West Germany and Argentina will probably go down as the worst in the history of the World Cup. The match was decided by a dubious penalty which was converted by Brehme. The match was also overshadowed by two red cards for the Argentineans and some atrocious diving and gamesmanship from the Germans. A truly forgettable final was the end to a fairly unremarkable tournament, but West Germany was able to take their seat at the high table, alongside Brazil and Italy, as three times winners of the FIFA World Cup.

Statistics:
Matches: 52
Goals: 115 (average 2.2 per match)
Attendance: 2 516 348 (average 48 391)
Golden Boot Winner: Salvatore Schillachi (Italy) 6
Golden Ball Winner: Salvatore Schillachi (Italy)
Fair Play Award: England

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