Top 5 iconic moments: Italia ’90

With World Cup qualifying now in full swing and everyone dreaming of Brazil 2014, let’s look at some iconic moments from one of the most memorable major tournaments.

5. Roger Milla robs Rene Higuita then dances like your dad at a wedding.

What on earth is he doing? Now there’s a question that followed Rene Higuita around for most of his career. The Colombian goalkeeper, famous for the Scorpion Kick at Wembley some years later, always fancied himself as a player with the skills to rival his equally hirsute compatriot Carlos Valderrama. In fact he was blessed with just enough ability to be a decent 5-a-side player, but nowhere near enough to play out from the back like he was Franz Beckenbauer. So when he tried to dribble the ball into midfield in Colombia’s second round game against Cameroon something disastrous was always likely to happen. Step forward Roger Milla, the 38 year old forward who with his two goals against Romania had already announced himself as one of the heroes of the tournament. Milla robbed Higuita in mid dragback and calmly stroked the ball into an empty net. Cue the wild celebrations led by Milla’s shimmy at the corner flag looking like Shakin’ Stevens doing the Lambada.

4. If at first you don’t succeed….Cameroon eventually get their man.

In the opening game of the tournament at the San Siro, cup holders Argentina were expected to trounce no-hopers Cameroon. Unfortunately for Maradona and Co. no one seemed to have explained this to the Indomitable Lions. Having snatched an unlikely lead through Omam-Biyik’s towering far post header, it was then all hands to the pump to hold off the wounded Argentinian efforts to find an equaliser.  In the final minutes, the pacey Claudio Caniggia took off from the edge of his own box like a scalded cat. The first challenge met in the centre circle slowed him down, the second knocked him off balance but as he neared Cameroon’s penalty area step forward Benjamin Massing to slice Caniggia in two and send him spinning through the air like he had just been hit by a speeding car. Massing, having already been yellow carded for an earlier challenge on Diego Maradona, was rightly sent off for one of the most agricultural, yet highly amusing tackles in World Cup history.

3. Irony can be pretty ironic. Maradona on the receiving end.

 Brilliant. Outstanding. Scintillating. Magic. The Greatest.  All could quite easily be used to describe Diego Armando Maradona. But ask any football fan, particularly those of english origin and the word ‘cheat’ would often raise its ugly head. The greatest example of this came in the contentious Quarter Final of Mexico ’86 against England. The infamous ‘Hand of God’ incident will remain a stain on Maradona’s name  and one of the game’s greatest moments of injustice and will never be forgiven by fans of The Three Lions. Somehow the scrappy, niggly Argentinian Class of 1990 made it to the final to play the tournament’s outstanding side, West Germany.  How ironic that Maradona, desperate to retain the trophy in his adopted second home of Italy, was foiled by  German cheating late in the game. The resultant penalty was dispatched by Andreas Brehme and the Cup was destined to be lifted by player of the tournament Lothar Matthaus. A heartbroken Maradona wept in front of the thousands in Rome’s Olympic Stadium, and millions on TV around the world as the presentation ceremony took place. What goes around comes around.

2. Don’t mention the war. Rijkaard does his bit for Dutch-German relations.

We may all be partners in the big friendly European Union but one thing is certain. The Dutch dislike the Germans. Some will flatly deny it, some will hide it but eventually admit it to you, while others will be quite overt about it. The reasons for the hatred are pretty obvious. History is history and sometimes time is not such great healer after all. Whether any of this had any bearing on the actions of Holland’s defensive rock and AC Milan superstar, Frank Rijkaard, in the Second Round clash of  the Titans in the San Siro is unknown. Having first scythed down German forward Rudi Voeller to earn himself a yellow card, he proceeded to launch a gobful of phlegm into the strikers hair. Quite rightly and indignantly Voeller protested to the referee about the disgusting attack. His reward? A yellow card. The following free kick was collected by Hans van Breukelen in the Dutch goal in the face of a half-hearted challenge from Voeller. Overreaction and confrontation ensued with Rijkaard central to the action and once the dust had settled, Voeller was harshly given his marching orders. To add further insult to injury, Rijkaard, also dismissed for his part in the unsavoury events, rustled up another volley of verbal assault to add to his previous efforts hanging from the German’s hair. The motive? Perhaps the Dutchman was jealous of Voeller’s superior curly Mullet and ‘tache combo?

1. Gazza and Gary. Awww.

The moment that changed a man’s career, indeed his life forever. I doubt Paul Gascoigne or anyone else for that matter could have foreseen the world’s reaction to the loveable Geordie as he propelled himself towards that reckless challenge with West Germany’s Thomas Berthold. Gascoigne was already carrying a yellow card against his name going into the Semi-Final in Turin, but having been the vital spark in the England midfield during the competition there was no way manager Bobby Robson was going to leave the livewire from Gateshead out of the country’s biggest game in 24 years. So, having left Berthold writhing on the floor, Gazza pleaded with the referee for leniency which never came. Instead the official produced a yellow card which the player himself knew would rule him out of the Final should England have made it past the Germans.

Gascoigne, as we have come to realise in the years since, is an emotional soul always living precariously on the edge of joy and sadness and the realisation of what had just happened proved too much for the rising star to cope with. First came the protruding bottom lip, then the tears, which by the end of the night would become the image that would define him. Realising that Gazza was on the verge of breaking down like a child who had lost his teddy bear, and that his team would still need his teammate’s energy and brilliance to see them through to the Final, England’s talisman and all round good egg, Gary Lineker, stepped in like a concerned mother and gestured to Robson to ‘have a word’ with his distraught colleague. A touching moment in the heat of battle.

Author Details

Mark Godfrey

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2 thoughts on “Top 5 iconic moments: Italia ’90

  1. Good piece. I like the #1 moment in particular – though it was clearly written with English biased eyes.

    1990 was the first World Cup that I can remember first hand and given that it was the first time the Republic of Ireland qualified for the finals of the world’s only *truly* global game, 1990 will always be my favourite World Cup.

    An Irish football journalist (Con Houlihan) famously quipped some years after Italia ’90: “I missed the 1990 World Cup, I was in Italy!!” Houlihan’s words really summed up how Ireland embraced that tournament and it’s a little disappointing to see that there are no Irish moments featured in the top five above.

    Despite the fact that 1990 is infamous for being one of, if not THE most boring and dour World Cups (with a record low average and total of goals scored and FIFA suggesting after the tournament that they were considering making the size of goals bigger at professional level), 1990 will always be the most special World Cup for millions of (mainly Irish) people.

  2. Thanks for the comment James. It was indeed written by an englishman! No irish moments in the article therefore, although had it been a top 10, the ROI shootout win over Romania would certainly have been in. Italia 90 was my favourite world cup despite all the points you raised. Probably due to my age at the time, TV coverage, England doing well etc etc

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