March 06, 2019 5 min read

The 1990 World Cup, "Italia 90", was the first finals to be staged in the country since 1934 and took place between June 8th and July 8th. West Germany won their third World Cup with their victory over Argentina, the same final as took place in Mexico four years previously, but in 1990 the winners and runners-up reversed.

The Italians’ staging of the tournament was widely praised, as a joyous celebration of the world game and the culture of the host country. Equally significant, in political as well as footballing terms, was the final appearance of the three-time winners before the reunification of Germany in the October following Italia 90. The Republic of Ireland, Costa Rica and the United Arab Emirates appeared in the finals for the first time, Egypt and the USA for the first time since 1934 and 1950 respectively. 

The tournament’s twenty four qualifiers included Italy, Argentina, Brazil, West Germany, Belgium, England, South Korea, UAE, Egypt, Cameroon, Costa Rica, USA, Colombia, Uruguay, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Holland, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Scotland, Soviet Union, Spain, Sweden, Yugoslavia, with the first six in order of their FIFA seeding for the tournament.

The twelve stadia used for the tournament had either been rebuilt and enlarged or were new, in the case of Bari and Turin. The organization of the tournament was widely praised and reduced the distances teams had to travel by staging games for each of the six groups of four in two proximate cities. 

Remember the 1990 World with this vintage Italian poster from the Vintage Sports collection on 

The tournament format involved the top two in each group and four third-place teams qualifying for the last sixteen knockout stage. Despite the exuberance and positive atmosphere generated at the tournament, comments were made about the negative tactics employed by many teams, including Argentina, who reached the Final via two penalty shootouts and who scored a total of five goals in the whole tournament. Fewer goals were scored than in any previous World Cup finals competition. This caginess led FIFA to make the most significant change in the rules in recent times amending that of the back-pass to the goalkeeper and increasing the value of a win from two points to three.

The two most talked-about participants in the early stages of the competition were the newcomers, Cameroon, who beat World Cup holders Argentina 1-0 in their first match and finished first in Group B above them, Romania and the Soviet Union, Argentina qualifying from the group as one of the best third-placed teams behind the Soviet Union. Roger Milla, aged thirty-eight, had been persuaded to come out of retirement shortly before Italia 90 began, and became the most-talked-about player with the four goals he scored in the tournament. Milla’s Cameroon became the first African country to reach a World Cup quarter finals.

The second was the Italian striker, Salvatore Schillaci, playing in his first World Cup and largely responsible for Italy’s three wins out of three against Austria, Czechoslovakia and USA in the matches they played in Group A. There were more surprises in Group C, in which Costa Rica qualified behind Brazil by beating Scotland and Sweden, Brazil winning their three matches. 

Group D, featuring West Germany, Yugoslavia, Colombia and UAE, went as expected, West Germany winning their three matches and Yugoslavia qualifying in second on four points. In Group E, Spain, Belgium and Uruguay, as one of the third-placed countries, qualified for the last sixteen, in a group that included South Korea, Holland, England, Republic of Ireland and Egypt made up a tight Group F, from which England qualified as winners with four points, a win and two draws, and Ireland and Holland going through, with identical records, in second and third place respectively, Holland with three draws (three points), qualifying as strongest third-place finishers ahead of Austria and Scotland.

The last-sixteen stage involved straight knockout, with extra-time and penalties now part of the tournament, Argentina beating Brazil 1-0 through Claudio Caniggia’s late second-half goal, Italy defeating Uruguay 2-0, with goals from Schillaci and Serena, Germany went past Holland, 2-1, in an ill-tempered game that included Klinsmann and Brehme second-half goals for the Germans, Koeman’s late penalty for Holland and the sendings-off of Brehme and Rijkaard. Roger Milla and Cameroon continued to delight and entertain the neutrals by going through, 2-1, against Colombia, all of the goals coming in extra-time, Milla scoring two in three minutes, Colombia’s late consolation goal from Redin with five minutes to go. A Tomas Skuhravy hat-trick took Czechoslovakia through, 4-1, against Costa Rica, Kubik scoring the fourth, after Gonzalez had equalized for Costa Rica early in the second half. The Republic of Ireland beat Romania 5-4 on penalties, after two goalless hours of normal and extra time. Another goalless game in normal time saw Yugoslavia beat Spain 2–1 after 120 minutes, Stojkovic scoring his second two minutes into extra-time after Salinas had brought Spain level after eighty-three minutes. Late in extra-time in the England and Belgium match, David Platt’s volley brought England a 1-0 win, with penalties one minute away.

The prevalence of goalless games and extra-time continued in the first Quarter Final in which Argentina and Yugoslavia drew 0-0. Argentina progressed to the Semi Finals via their 3-1 penalty shoot-out, in which five kicks were missed or saved. Italy went through against the Republic of Ireland, thanks to Toto Schillaci’s thirty-eighth minute winner. West Germany’s captain, Lothar Matthaus scored a twenty-fifth minute penalty, which took them through, 1-0, against Czechoslovakia. The game of the round, between England and Cameroon, saw Platt give England the lead half way through the first half, substitute Roger Milla brought on at half time and Cameroon taking the lead in four minutes through Kunde and Ekeke. With eight minutes to go Lineker’s penalty took yet another game into extra-time. Lineker’s second penalty, with fifteen minutes to go, took England through, 3-2.

Naples hosted the first Semi-Final, involving Italy and Argentina, and Scillaci maintaining his impressive goalscoring record by putting Italy ahead early in the game. Caniggia equalized for Argentina in the sixty-seventh minute and yet another game went to extra-time, and then penalties, won by Argentina 4-3. 

In Turin in the other match, West Germany’s Andreas Brehme shot after an hour and the ball caught England’s Paul Parker on its way into the net. Gary Lineker equalized after eighty minutes, taking the score to 1-1 at full time. The half hour of extra time was one of the more exciting seen in World Cup finals history, Klinsmann missing twice, both sides hitting the post and David Platt’s goal ruled out for offside. Another penalty shoot-out, which West Germany won 4–3.

In the third-place play off match in Bari, all three goals were scored in fifteen minutes, Roberto Baggio giving Italy the lead, David Platt equalizing on eighty one minutes and Schillaci’s penalty, with four minutes of normal time remaining, giving the hosts their 2-1 win.

The Final at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, was one of the less appealing in living memory for the neutral, Brehme’s eighty-fifth minute penalty proving the winner, after the sending-off of Argentina substitute Pedro Monzon half way through the second half and Gustavo Dezotti reducing them to nine for his second yellow card with three minutes left. West German manager Franz Beckenbaur became the first man both to captain and manage a World Cup winning team. Italy’s Salvatore Schillaci won the tournament’s Golden Boot for his six goals and was voted Player of the Tournament.

 Remember the 1990 World Cup with this Italian poster from the 1990 World Cup.

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