Italia 1990 World Cup: A World In Motion

1990 England World Cup Squad (Dave Beasant had replaced David Seaman) before the 3rd/4th Place Play Off against Italy in Bari

The Summer of 1990 produced an unforgettable World Cup in Italy. In a low scoring tournament of just 115 goals, Italia 1990 produced some classic clashes:

West Germany v Holland, Argentina v Brazil, Italy v Argentina and West Germany v England

Italia ’90 will be remembered as the tournament when African football truly arrived on the World stage as Cameroon beat the holders Argentina in the opening game in Milan. England, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland had qualified, as had Romania having suffered a brief revolution the previous December. A multi talented Yugoslavia team were appearing in their last World Cup before a tragic civil war would erupt in the Balkans in 1991.

For people of a certain age the 1990 World Cup was the first they could remember. As a sixteen year old Scotland supporter, it was a tournament full of highs and lows. Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland would reach the Quarter Finals on their World Cup debut. They only scored two goals in five matches and did not win a single match in 90 minutes. European Champions Holland had a poor tournament and were eliminated in the last 16 by old foes West Germany. A physical Brazilian team lacking in flair were also eliminated by Argentina at the same stage.

For England it would be an dramatic World Cup that drew to a close Bobby Robson’s eight years in charge. It began with calls for the team to withdraw from the competition after the opening game, before they rallied to produce their best performance in a World Cup abroad and they finished just one game away from emulating the 1966 team as Finalists.

England were drawn in Group F in Sardinia, with the hosts fearful that English hooligans could cause chaos on the Italian mainland. European Champions Holland, Republic of Ireland and Egypt made up the rest of their group. With third place available as a qualification place for the four teams with the best record, Holland and England were expected to reach the last 16, with Ireland and Egypt fighting it out for 3rd place.

On the 11th of June 1990 England faced the Republic of Ireland in their opening fixture determined to gain revenge for their shock 1-0 defeat by Jack Charlton’s men at Euro 1988. In a scrappy game Lineker scrambled home the opening goal and England lead at the interval. In the second half as the rain poured down, substitute Steve McMahon failed to control a ball on the edge of the box and Everton winger Kevin Sheedy swept home to give the Irish a point and a 1-1 draw. It was a poor game and the press, typically over the top called for PM Margaret Thatcher to withdraw the England team from the rest of the tournament to avoid a national humiliation.

1990 World Cup Finals, Cagliari, Italy, 16th June, 1990, England 0 v Holland 0, England team-photo (Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images)

For their next game against European Champions Holland, Mark Wright was drafted in as a sweeper. Bobby Robson had never played that system before and hadn’t even experimented with the formation in any of the friendlies leading up to the World Cup. Wright was part of the defence ripped to shreds at Euro 1988, as Marco Van Basten’s hat trick gave Holland a famous 3-1 victory. With both teams knowing that a win would almost guarantee a place in the next round, England produced an excellent performance. The AC Milan trio of Rijkaard, Gullitt and Van Basten were strangely subdued as Paul Gascoigne produced a man of the match performance. Holland forced a series of corners in the second half but England had goals by Lineker and Pearce ruled out for infringements. A goal less draw was a positive result for England. Sadly captain Bryan Robson came off and was sent home after the game, following on from his injury heartache in the 1986 World Cup.

In their last game against Egypt, both teams knew that a draw would be enough to send them through to the last 16. In a scrappy game Mark Wright headed the winner from Gascoigne’s free kick on the hour. Egypt almost equalised late on, but England held on to top the group ahead of the Republic of Ireland and Holland, who had drawn 1-1 at the same time. With identical records, the drawing of lots meant that the Irish finished as runners up and faced Romania in the next round, with the Dutch facing West Germany in Milan.

CAGLIARI, ITALY – JUNE 21: England defender Mark Wright celebrates after scoring the winning goal for England in their Group F match against Egypt in the 1990 FIFA World Cup at the Stadio Sant’Elia (Photo by Allsport/Getty Images)

On the 26th of June England faced 1986 World Cup Semi Finalists Belgium in Bologna. The Belgians were a strong and technically superb team with playmaker Enzo Scifo their star. They dominated the game and both Jan Ceulemans and Scifo struck the England posts with Shilton well beaten each time. Goal less at full time, England held on until the last minute of extra time. Then Paul Gascoigne floated a free kick into the area and substitute David Platt volleyed home a famous winner to send England into the Quarter Finals.

1990 World Cup: David Platt scores the only goal against Belgium in Bologna

1990 World Cup Quarter Final: England line up to face Cameroon in Naples

England were hot favourites to beat the African Champions and took the lead with an early David Platt header. At the other end only a series of great saves by Peter Shilton kept England 1-0 ahead at half time. Roger Milla came on at the start of the second half and earnt a penalty after Gascoigne’s trip. Emmanuel Kunde equalised confidently from the spot and after a fine flowing move, Ekeke gave Cameroon the lead. England were now facing the most humiliating defeat in their history, since the 1950 World Cup defeat by the USA. In the 83rd minute Lineker was brought down for England’s first penalty since 1986. The pressure was huge, but he sent N’Kono the wrong way to equalise. In extra time Lineker was tripped after running onto Gascoigne’s through ball and fired home the penalty straight down the middle. Cameroon continued to attack but England scrapped through 3-2 to reach the Semi Finals.

Cameroon’s forward François Omam Biyik (L) tries to kick the ball past English goalkeeper Peter Shilton as he moves in to block it during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between England and Cameroon 01 July 1990 in Naples. England advanced to the semifinals with a 3-2 victory in extra time (2-2 at the end of regulation time) AFP PHOTO/GEORGES GOBET (Photo by Georges GOBET / AFP) (Photo by GEORGES GOBET/AFP via Getty Images)
NAPLES, ITALY – JULY 1: David Platt (left) and Gary Lineker of England celebrate after the 1990 FIFA World Cup Quarter Final between Cameroon and England at the Stadio San Paolo on July 1, 1990 in Naples, Italy. (Photo by Paul Popper/Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)
Sport, Football, pic: 4th July 1990, 1990 World Cup Finals, Semi Final in Turin, West Germany 1, v England 1, a,e,t, West Germany win 4-3 on penalties, England team, back row, left-right, Terry Butcher, Mark Wright, Peter Shilton, Stuart Pearce, David Platt, Gary Lineker, Front row, left-right, Des Walker, Chris Waddle, Paul Gascoigne, Peter Beardsley, Paul Parker (Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images)

On the 4th of July England faced West Germany in Turin. They had not beaten the Germans in a competitive match since 1966 and Franz Beckenbauer’s men were widely regarded as the best team in the competition. England began well and forced some good saves by Illgner and the Germans found it hard to break down England’s sweeper system. In the 60th minute Paul Parker deflected Andy Brehme’s free kick and Peter Shilton failed to move his feet as the ball drifted in over his head. With just ten minutes to go, Parker’s ball was missed by the German defence and Gary Lineker equalised. With the game deadlocked at 1-1 England went to extra time for the third game in a row. Both Chris Waddle and Guido Buchwald hit the post, but the teams could not be separated.

1990 World Cup Semi Final: Gary Lineker scores against West Germany in Turin

In the 99th minute Paul Gascoigne was booked after a rash lunge at Thomas Berthold. The yellow card meant he would miss the Final if England made it through.

1990 World Cup Semi Final, Turin, Italy, 4th July, 1990, West Germany 1 v England 1 (West Germany win 4-3 on penalties), England’s Paul Gascoigne is shown the yellow card by the referee (Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images)

Almost inevitably the game went to penalties. The winners would face holders Argentina in the Final, after Maradona had inspired victory over hosts Italy in Naples the night before. England had the advantage of taking the penalties first and all of the kicks had been converted. Then Stuart Pearce came forward to take England’s fourth penalty but blasted it against Bodo Illgner’s legs. Olaf Thon fired Germany ahead, meaning Chris Waddle had to score. Peter Shilton had not got near any of the German penalties and Waddle fired high over the bar. The Germans had reached their third World Cup Final in a row. Paul Gascoigne’s post match tears would become the iconic image of Italia 1990. England had played the better football but lost and they would finish 4th after Italy beat them 2-1 in the 3rd and 4th Place Play Off in Bari.

4th of July 1990 Football World Cup 1990, England v West Germany, A tearful Paul Gascoigne applauds the fans. (Photo by Mark Leech/Getty Images)

After the World Cup Bobby Robson took over at Dutch side PSV. He had left the job with his head held high, as the same press critics that had called for his head throughout his tenure now said he should be knighted after taking England to the Semi Finals of Italia 1990. Graham Taylor left Aston Villa to replace him. His reign was disastrous, as his direct style of football lead to a last place group stage exit at Euro 1992 and England failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the USA.

England had produced a memorable Summer of football with World In Motion by New Order providing the soundtrack. Few people expected them to do well in the World Cup after they lost all three games at Euro 1988. Paul Gascoigne emerged as a star on the world stage as did David Platt, who would later join Juventus. Veterans like Shilton, Butcher and Bryan Robson bowed out after the tournament. England had their best run in a finals since 1966. They had the better of their Semi Final against the Germans, but the bald fact was they were very fortunate to reach the last four, after being outplayed and outclassed by both Belgium and Cameroon. The 1990 World Cup was a turning point in English football after the hooliganism of the 1980s and by 1992, the onset of the Premier League meant a new era for television and football fans alike.


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