The West German side (the last to take the field before east and west joined together) that lifted the 1990 equivalent is often forgotten amongst the pantheon of World Cup winners but included some outrageously talented players that produced a series of powerful performances before eventually seeing off Argentina in the decider.
Italia 90’ is recognised as one of the poorest World Cup tournaments of recent times culminating in a disappointing, foul-ridden and downright nasty final between holders Argentina and the form team of that summer, West Germany.
Maradona and his teammates’ theatrics blighted a closely fought decider that was decided by a converted Andy Brehme penalty kick (Lothar Matthaus turned down the opportunity of taking the spot-kick due to wearing a new pair of boots) in the 85th minute. Aside from their involvement in that disappointing final, the 1990 West German team still deserve their place amongst the list of best tournament winners.
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West Germany’s triumph was made all the sweeter for the players and backroom staff having suffered five years of disappointments in the build-up to the tournament.
A star-studded German squad, the bulk of which had lost the 1986 World Cup final 3-2 to Argentina in Mexico, crashed out of Euro 88’s to bitter rivals the Netherlands and finished second to the Dutch in qualifying for Italia ’90 were hungry for success.
The German’s long-standing rivalry with the Netherlands came to a head two summer’s prior to the Italian hosted World Cup when the sides met in the last four of the 1988 European Championships.
As host country plus having drawn with Italy before registering back-to-back 2-0 wins over Denmark and Spain, the Germans were expected to reach the final at the expense of a Dutch side that needed a late Wim Kieft goal to oust Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland and make it through to the semi-finals.
Hamburg was the venue for the Germany versus Holland showdown on June 21st in which Marco van Basten netted a last-minute winner to secure a place in the final much to the delight of the huge Dutch travelling support. Things got even worse for the Germans with Ruud Guillt and Van Basten finding the net in a 2-0 defeat of the USSR in the final.
West Germany had little time to wallow in self-pity however having been drawn alongside Finland, Wales and the Netherlands in UEFA Group 4 ahead of the 1990 World Cup. Two bad-tempered draws with the Dutch, 0-0 in front of 73,000 fans at the Olympic Stadium in Munich and 1-1 in Rotterdam, left the two sides neck and neck at the summit of the group.
Then, a shock 0-0 draw away to Wales in May 1989 opened the door for Holland to finish top and secure automatic qualification. Luckily, Franz Beckenbauer’s side managed to qualify by having the best record of a second placed team across the seven European qualification groups, cemented by a 2-1 defeat of Wales in Cologne in November 1989.
Final standings for UEFA Group 4 World Cup 1990 qualification
The 1990 squad
In goal was Bodo Ilgner and the former FC Cologne and Real Madrid shot-stopper played consistently throughout the tournament, enjoying the distinction of becoming the first goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in a World Cup final.
Experienced centre half-pairing Jurgen Kohler and Guido Buchwald rarely put a foot wrong whilst in Italy with Buchwald doing a terrific man-marking job on Maradonna in the decider. Full backs Andy Brehme and Thomas Berthold completed a rugged back four with Inter Milan’s Brehme scoring the winner from the penalty spot in the final and curling home an outrageous effort in the second round victory over bitter rivals Holland.
Klaus Augenthaler played the ‘libero’ sweeper role to perfection and formed an intimidating defensive shield in between Kohler and Buchwald. A regular smoker throughout the tournament downtime, Augenthaler played a critical role in helping overcome England in the semi-finals and a tight last-eight encounter with the Czech.
Lothar Matthaus was captain, leader both on and off the pitch and the Germans’ standout player of Italia 90’. Matthaus was 30 years old when he finally lifted the FIFA World Cup trophy but his ability to cover every inch of grass and drive his side to glory marks him out as one of the best players to ever wear the German shirt.
Matthaus also contributed some stunning goals en route to claiming the trophy, beginning with two absolute crackers against Yugoslavia, a trademark long-range special against the UAE and the only goal (from the penalty spot) in the quarter-final defeat of Czechoslovakia.
The experienced Pierre Littbarksi and playmaking ability of Thomas Hassler provided the creativity in the German’s midfield. Winning Italia 90’ proved a poignant moment for Littbarksi who retired following his side’s 1-0 defeat of Argentina to bring the curtain down on a 73-cap international career that began with a first appearance back in October 1981.
Littbarski was part of the German team that lost the 1982 final 3-1 to Italy in Spain and watched from the bench in 1986 after losing his place in the starting XI following a fallout with manager Beckenbauer before Argentina went on to claim a historic victory. The former FC Cologne stalwart netted a crucial winner against Colombia in the opening phase and provided pace and width on either wing as West Germany safely negotiated the knockout phase.
Thomas Hassler was a diminutive playmaker who could drift in from either wing or play in the hole behind Germany’s two strikers. Hassler made up a creative, hard-working midfield trio alongside Littbarski and Matthaus and went onto win over 100 caps during a distinguished international career.
Rudi Voller’s 1990 World Cup campaign will be remembered for ‘that’ spitting incident with Holland’s Frank Rijkaard during Germany’s second round victory. Both players were dismissed following the unsavoury incident but Voller returned in time for his country’s semi-final defeat of England.
Scoring five times at the 1990 tournament, Voller formed a predatory attacking partnership with fellow striker Jurgen Klinsmann and went on to play 90 times for his country and amassing 47 goals in the process. Voller guided Germany to the 2002 World Cup final before returning to Bayer Leverkusen as Director of Football.
Jurgen Klinsmann will be remembered as one of the most lethal strikers in German history. A striker who played 80 times for his country, scoring 38 times, became head coach of hosts Germany and finished in third place at the 2006 World Cup finals. Klinsmann enjoyed a successful club career lining out for Stuttgart, Inter, Monaco, Spurs and Bayern Munich before retiring in 2003.
Currently in charge of the USA team heading to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, Klinsmann polarised fans opinions with his deadly accuracy in front of goal tempered with his propensity to dive to the floor at the slightest physical contact. Produced one of his best ever displays in the victory over the Netherlands following Voller’s sending off and scored three times en route to claiming the World Cup trophy.
Franz Beckenbauer aka ‘Der Kaiser’ remained at the helm following the Germans 3-2 loss to Maradona’s free-flowing Argentinean side following the Mexico 86’ decider. One of the greatest German footballers and coaches of all time richly deserved his Italia 90’ triumph having lifted the trophy as Captain of the 1974 winning team after featuring in the 1966 loss to England at Wembley.
Adidas’ World Cup West German kit remains one of my all-time favourties and was the jersey every school child yearned for during that long summer of 1990.
The kit just looked cool, much like one of the all-time best German football teams that wore it.
This particular side will live forever in my memory, captained by one of my favourite players in Lothar Matthaus and sprinkled with gifted attacking players like Littbarski, Hassler, Voller and Klinsmann.
The 1990 West Germans. Uber cool.