1990 FIFA World Cup
The 1990 World Cup was one of the best, and worst, ever staged. It produced a glut of dire, defensive matches, plagued by no-risk football, cheating, and the Republic of Ireland.
There were fewer goals than ever before: so many games were settled by penalty shoot-outs that by the latter stages of the competition, most fans didn't bother turning up until two hours after the advertised time. And at the end of all this, the famous trophy was almost won by one of the most charmless and dirtiest sides ever to compete in international football.
Yet Italia '90 is remembered with great fondness by almost all fans, because it also supplied a handful of all-time World Cup highlights. Among these were the thrilling emergence of unfancied lunatics Cameroon and their 95-year-old star Roger Milla; an extraordinary, luck-filled run for England, culminating in the beautiful game's most famous bit of crying; and the remarkable two-week career of Italian goal machine Toto Schillaci, never seen before or since. In addition it was a high-water mark in TV football coverage, with ITV's Brian Moore excelling himself as an emotional commentator on England's adventures, while the BBC distinguished themselves by plundering the world of opera for the most evocative theme music ever used at a World Cup.
Small wonder that FIFA President Joao Havelange, in his speech at the closing dinner, remarked: 'this has been a great tournament, even though a lot of it was unwatchable shit'.
Features Of The Tournament
Ugly, Defence-Minded Spectacles
The competition was riddled with teams who showed professionalism and experience and employed no-nonsense football, to such an extent that some games were virtually unrecognisable as sport at all. The BBC's Barry Davies fell asleep during Ireland v Egypt, leaving viewers to watch twenty minutes with no commentary but his snores; however, all that happened in that time was Ireland advancing 50 yards along the touchline by winning a succession of eighty throw-ins. The lyrical Davies apologised upon waking with the words: 'Well! An unprofessional shambles by Davies'.
The most appalling and successful exponents of Italia 90's dismal signature football were holders Argentina. Deploying the game's first recognised 10-0-0 formation, they tortured the world by advancing all the way to the Final despite making only two forays into the opposition's half in the entire competition. Over the course of the tournament, mathematicians calculated that Carlos Bilardo's side completed more than eleven billion backpasses - outlawed by the god-given Backpass Law shortly afterwards - and spent a combined total of eighteen years on the floor pretending to be injured.
Sentimentalisation Of Irishness
- Main article: Sentimentalisation Of Irishness
The Republic of Ireland's first appearance in a World Cup led to a massive epidemic of everyone pretending to love Ireland. Commentators and anchormen misleadingly painted Jack Charlton's team - mostly experienced players drawn from the top flight of English football - as clueless underdogs, and hence greeted their laboured journey to the quarter-finals with excessive, delighted incredulity. After the Irish had beaten Romania on penalties in a near-unbearably boring second round clash, ITV's studio experts shelved their analysis of the game and rounded off the show by singing 'Molly Malone' and 'Cockles And Mussles', Jim Rosenthal leading the chorus in an unexpectedly moving tenor.
'Irish eyes' were said to be 'smiling' every time the men in green won a free-kick; commentators incessantly referred to 'Guinness flowing back home'. This stereotyping of Ireland as a happy-go-lucky underdog, loved by all neutrals and supported by a bunch of cheerful drunks, has been emulated by modern commentators such as Peter Drury and is still regularly seen today.
High Emotion: Gascoigne and Pavarotti
The young, not-yet-crazed Paul 'Gazza' Gascoigne was one of the stars of this World Cup. As well as being one of the most skilful England players to emerge in years, he possessed a manic energy and would often stay behind on his own after the game, playing three-and-in with members of the crowd. As the rest of the England team celebrated the final whistle after their 120th-minute win over Belgium, Gascoigne was heard to ask the referee for ten more minutes, and TV cameras showed him trying to grab the ball from the official as he walked off the pitch, at the same time attempting to persuade an exhausted Stuart Pearce to 'gan doon the park' for 'a wee game of shirts and skins, like'.
Gascoigne's skills lit up the tournament, but he is best remembered for getting harshly booked in the semi-final with West Germany, which would mean a ban if England got to the Final. Realising this, Gazza burst into tears for several minutes. If he had thought about it, he would have realised it was irrelevant as England never do get to the Final; but the hearts of the watching nation broke at the sight of the distressed youngster, particularly when Gary Lineker did a sort of wry face to the bench and pointed to his eye to warn them of Gazza's misery. After England's eventual penalties defeat, Gascoigne's tears continued, and several other players joined in. This was all far too much for the enormous TV audience to bear, and Police later confirmed that between 10pm and 10.15pm local time, everyone in England was crying. There were numerous car crashes and Trevor McDonald had to abandon his news broadcast after sobbing all the way through the credits at the start.
To make matters even worse, the theme tune for the BBC's coverage - Nessun Dorma, from Puccini's opera Turandot - proved to have an irresistible emotional pull to football fans. The spine-tingling aria, belted out by massive-lunged lardball Luciano Pavarotti, is about Calaf, a prince who has to guess the name of his sweetheart before daybreak so that he may marry her, but it now reminds millions of people of when that prick Thomas Berthold got Gazza booked: so much so that in most performances of Turandot since Italia '90, actors representing the two players and referee have come onto stage during the aria to recreate the sad moment.
After the World Cup, Pavarotti and his contemporaries briefly became pop stars as huge numbers of football fans bought compilations of opera classics, only to find that most opera is pretty hard work. Gascoigne, meanwhile, went down the traditional route of fucking up his cruciate ligaments with an insane tackle, moving to Italy, losing his marbles, having a doomed marriage, squandering his talent, getting arrested a lot, hanging out with a terrible man called Five Bellies, going to China, managing Kettering Town for a few minutes, and becoming a modern icon of unfulfilled potential.
Rise of Cameroon
The Indomitable Lions' World Cup debut was expected to be a brief one. Like most African teams before and since, they were grossly patronised by pundits, who called them 'the Cameroons' and speculated that the Africans 'won't have seen this sort of weather before', 'might find it odd playing on grass instead of sand', and 'probably have no idea what the score is, bless 'em'. But in the opening game, Cameroon sensationally beat Argentina 1-0. They achieved this despite two sendings-off, Argentina falling foul of the maxim that it is hard to play against nine men. It was one of the greatest football shocks ever, and scientists recently named it as the 11th most surprising thing ever to happen, just ahead of the twist in 'The Sixth Sense'. The Guardian memorably captured the event with the headline: 'FUCK ME! NEWCOMERS BEAT ARGENTINA'.
In their next game, against Romania, Cameroon continued to pile on the surprises, unveiling a secret weapon in the shape of Roger Milla. Commentators claimed that no-one knew exactly how old he was, but this was actually a slightly racist urban myth drawing on the same set of assumptions as the rumour that Cameroon had brought a witch-doctor to the tournament. In reality Milla was 38: too old even to play in League Two, let alone on the game's biggest stage. Yet the gap-toothed veteran not only netted twice, but celebrated each goal by doing a shuffling dance with the corner flag, imitated by countless goalscorers since. Cameroon were into the second round.
Here, many pundits continued to write off the Africans, but they were confounded as Cameroon saw off perennial underachievers Colombia 2-1, Milla scoring again. They were helped by a Bruce Grobbelaar-style piece of madness by Colombian keeper Rene Higuita, who gifted them a goal by venturing to the halfway line for no reason at all, but the win was deserved, and the Lions became the first African side to reach the quarter-finals, to the embarrassment of FIFA officials who had already allocated their hotel rooms to other teams and sent them a 'Thanks For Taking Part' card.
Cameroon then led England 2-1 with seven minutes to go, and would have completed another famous victory had their defence not been full of maniacs like Benjamin Massing who would occasionally attack someone with a chainsaw when they could have just ushered the ball out for a corner. They conceded two penalties, both nervelessly converted by Gary Lineker, and went down to a 3-2 defeat. England manager Bobby Robson famously stated: 'We didn't underestimate Cameroon but they played better than we thought'. He added: 'I didn't think we would lose but I did fear we wouldn't get as many goals as them.'
Cameroon had claimed their place in World Cup history, and continue to beguile fans every four years with their talented but mutinous squads, managers who can't speak a language any of the players understand, and shoulder-height tackles.
Summary Of The Tournament
Group Stages - Italy, West Germany and Brazil made their expected progress to the knockout rounds. Hosts Italy relied heavily on a man called Salvatore 'Toto' Schillaci, who had never been heard of before. He had the rolling eyes and intense expression of a serial killer and, as a Sicilian, the background of a serial killer. He became an instant star, his goals seeing the Italians through a very soft group which included the USA, who kept trying to pick up the ball and swinging at it with bats. West Germany hit ten in three games, although half of them came against a clueless United Arab Emirates; while in Brazil's group, Scotland lost to Costa Rica and went out at the first hurdle, again failing to achieve their brave dream of not being embarrassingly shit at a World Cup. England and Ireland contested a poor 1-1 draw which led The Sun to demand: 'SEND THEM HOME!'. As in most instances when The Sun has 'spoken its mind', this proved to be a mistake. The FA understandably decided not to pull out of the tournament after one game, Bert Millichip protesting that the plane tickets had 'cost a few bob'. And England somehow ended up winning a piss-poor Group F by dint of a 1-0 win over Egypt, the only match in the group not to be a draw; the winning goal was a header from Mark Wright, who would go on to be a manager, adulterer, and alleged racist.
Knockout Stages: Same Shit, Different Day - England's progress continued with a fortunate win over Belgium, sealed in the last minute of extra-time when David Platt volleyed past Michel Preud'homme, after Gascoigne had won a late free-kick by charging about like a puppy at a point where all other players could barely walk. 'IT'S THERE BY DAVID PLATT!' yelled Brian Moore, who by now had abandoned any pretence of not being a huge England fan. After what had seemed a certain stalemate, England's followers were spared the agony of penalties defeat for another few days.
Italy eased past Uruguay, keeping alive the hosts' ambition of winning the trophy without playing any decent teams at all. Argentina, to the dismay of most of the world, saw off their more attractive rivals Brazil, in a game only notable for Barry Davies' commentary on Claudio Caniggia's winning goal: as the lank-haired predator rounded goalkeeper Taffarel, Davies drew out the word 'Caniggiaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa....' for more than five minutes, before adding: 'scores'.
The highlight of the round was a bitter encounter between deadly rivals West Germany and Holland. There was bad blood between the sides because of a series of contentious incidents at Euro 88, and also because of that time West Germany invaded Holland and killed loads of people and took their bikes and so on. The Germans deservedly won 2-1, but the game is best remembered for a bizarre incident when Dutchman Frank Rijkaard spat at Rudi Voeller. Both were sent off, Rijkaard for the spitting and Voeller for the less well-known infringement of being spat at. Voeller was on his way to becoming the first player in a single World Cup to look like a pixie, get spat at, and dive for the penalty that decided the competition: he is still the only player to hold this accolade.
Aside from England's thrilling quarter-final win over Cameroon, the last eight was horseshit. Italy finally put an end to Ireland's tedious presence, Schillaci scoring the goal as he always did these days. Argentina's penalties win over Yugoslavia came after a game so devoid of attacking intent that even the shoot-out only produced five goals out of ten: the shame of this execrable spectacle was so great that the nation of Yugoslavia began to break up soon afterwards, and Czechoslovakia reacted similarly after losing 1-0 to West Germany in another dull encounter, during which even ardent football fan John Motson began to lose hope, his commentary including the words 'I wish I wasn't here, I wish this wasn't happening' over and over again.
In the first semi-final, Toto Schillaci - now so unstoppable that he was sent out to play on his own, with the rest of the Italy squad coming on as subs when he began to tire - scored yet again, but Argentina levelled and won on penalties, plunging the host nation into despair. La Gazzetta dello Sport's headline, OH NO, ITALY, YOU HAVE SQUANDERED A MARVELLOUS CHANCE TO BE CHAMPIONS AND NOW THOSE ARSEHOLES ARGENTINA WILL CONTEST THE FINAL, summed up the mood.
The second semi-final was a high-quality and nerve-shredding affair which would become one of the seminal matches of English football. West Germany went ahead when a free-kick was deflected off the wall past Peter Shilton, but Gary Lineker fired in an equaliser. After an extra-time period overshadowed by Gazza's booking, penalties loomed. The Germans converted all theirs with chilling, emotionless precision, with Shilton deploying the unconventional goalkeeping tactic of waiting for the ball to hit the back of the net before diving after it. Stuart Pearce's effort was saved and Chris Waddle's was so far over the bar that it eventually made landfall back in England. As the Germans celebrated, ITV's Brian Moore mourned: 'And England sad, sad, sadly are out'. After an emergency meeting, the Correct English Society gave the green light to Moore's unusual sentence, ruling that 'in our opinion, the events of Turin are upsetting enough to justify the invention of this new treble adverb'.
The spokesman added: 'fuck me, I thought we had them,' before dissolving into heaving sobs.
Third Place - Italy and England were 1-1 in the Third Place Match until the final moments, when everyone realised Schillaci had not yet got his customary goal. A penalty was hastily awarded; the mad-eyed marksman converted it and the hosts won the bronze medal. In common with all other Third Place matches, nobody gave a flying fuck what happened.
Final - The Final was so atrocious that FIFA were forced to provide free counselling to many of those who attended. After 85 minutes with almost no attempts on goal, referee Edgardo Mendez - after reportedly muttering 'oh, hell, let's all go home' to one of his linesman - awarded a controversial penalty to West Germany, the less awful of the two sides on the night. It was coolly scored by Andreas Brehme and the Germans became World Champions for the third time. Obnoxious playmaker Diego Maradona led the Argentinians' lengthy protests at the penalty, as well as their two sendings-off, and afterwards made some vague remarks about the Mafia which everyone ignored. The consensus was that West Germany were worthy winners, and more to the point, Argentina were more than worthy losers. Celebrations broke out in the German capital and the world-famous Berlin Wall was torn down in the excitement.
FIFA's official highlights video of the Final ran for just nine minutes, including the national anthems and a tacked-on comedy feature where triumphant captain Lothar Matthaus drank schnapps from the trophy.
Legacy of the 1990 World Cup
The tournament's most important consequence was that soon afterwards, FIFA passed a law outlawing the backpasses which had made a farce of many games, as well as introducing the new Clause 31b which stated: 'teams should at least make some sort of fucking attempt to win the match'