Thursday, March 25, 2010

Greatest World Cup matches: Italy-Argentina (1990)

Diego Armando Maradona had been the uncontested football star of the 1980s, and is perhaps the best player that ever lived. In 1986 he had led the Argentinean team to the World Cup, and had changed club from FC Barcelona, where he had not had a happy spell because of injuries, to AS Napoli as the then most expensive player in history. The move immediately paid off, as Maradona led the club to a long-awaited Serie A title, as well as a UEFA Cup title. He immediately became a legend in the southern Italian city, jealous of the success that had for so many years only gone to the rich northern Italian teams. But at the same time, Maradona was creating controversy; with his sometimes provocative personality and scandals surrounding him, he became a vilified person outside of Naples and Argentina. This came to a head in the 1990 World Cup, where the defensive Argentinean side won few friends. In the first round Argentina had sensationally lost the opening match in Milan to Cameroun, and the entire stadium in Milan had been against the Argentineans. In the two following matches Argentina just made it into the last-16 by defeating Russia and tying Romania. In the last-16 Argentina faced their arch-rivals of Brazil, and although pressed down the entire match, it only took one brilliant moment from Maradona and Claudio Canniggia to give them a 1-0 victory (and one of Brazil’s worse World Cup performances ever!).
In the quarterfinals Argentina had faced what at the time was perhaps the most powerful European side, but that was soon to be torn apart by war, namely Yugoslavia. In another defensive match, Argentina took the Yugoslavs into penalty kicks, where the Argentinean goalkeeper from Millionarios, Sergio Goycoechea (who had replaced the hapless Neri Pumpido, who had cost the losing goal against Cameroun) stepped forward and with four saves, gave the Argentineans the place in the semifinals, where they were to play the Italian hosts.
Italy clearly expected to be world champion at home. Everything around the tournament had been set up with this in mind, and in spite of some questionable refereeing and not always strong play, Italy had won every match; in the first round they had three narrow victories against Austria, USA and Czechoslovakia; in the last-16 Uruguay had been defeated 2-0, while Ireland had been defeated 1-0 in the quarterfinals. The star of the Italian team had been the small Juventus striker Salvatore “Toto” Schillaci. He had come in as a substitute in the first match against Austria and had scored the winning goal. After this he had started in every match taking over the position as striker with great success (he was to become the most scoring player of the tournament).
The match was to take place in Naples, in Stadio Sao Paolo, which was Maradona’s home stadium. After Argentina had been booed by fans wherever they went, the Argentineans really hoped that Maradona’sstatus as a legend in Naples would lead to people support them against the hosts. Maradona himself said: “For 364 days of the year you are considered to be foreigners in your own country. Today you must do what they want by supporting the Italian team. Instead, I am a Naepolitan for 365 days out of the year.”
The Naepolitans responded by clapping of the Argentinean team, and a huge banner in the stadium read: “Maradona Napoli loves you, but Italy is our country.” There was no conflict, and it was the only stadium where the Argentinean team was met with respect. While the Naepolitan fans did support their home country in what became a very dramatic match.
It all seemed to be going Italy’s way from the start as only one quarter of an hour into the match Italy was attacking and the Sampdoria striker Gianluca Vialli had a spectacular shot that Goycoechea could not hold, and the ball went directly to a quick Schillaci who a bit clumsily kicked the ball into the goal and an Italian lead. It did not matter that the Argentineans protested that at the moment of Vialli’s shot, Schillaci had been in an off-side position; this was a detail for an immensely home-friendly French referee, Michel Vautrot (although to be fair, it is still discussed whether such a situation should be an off-side nevertheless; they are called as often as they are not…).
However, working hard and giving the Italian strikers little space (often with unfair means) the Argentinean team slowly started working their way back into the match, and as this happened the Italians got increasingly nervous. It was not a beautiful match, but it was very intense, and for the Italians, growing evermore so as they lacked chances and the Argentineans were being led by a Maradona who was playing his best match of the tournament.
Nobody had scored against Italy in the tournament so far, but halfway into the second half the Atalanta striker Claudio Caniggia rose up to a cross into the Italian penalty area by Julio Olarticoechea, and got in front of Walter Zenga, who looking very fragile, saw the ball go over him and into the Italian net.
The frustration was clear among the Italians, and coach Azeglio Vicini decided to put in Roberto Baggio and Aldo Serena. Although they pressed more, the Argentinean defense around Real Madrid’s Oscar Ruggeri was very strong, and whenever the situation came, Goycoechea was being splendid on goal, for instance making a spectacular save of a free kick from Roberto Baggio.
As the match went into extra time the nerves only got worse and so did the numerous fouls. And the French referee only contributed to this when he put on a totally uncalled for extra time of eight minutes in the first half of the extra time. In this time, the Argentinean player from Independiente de La Plata received a red card for punching Roberto Baggio. However, up one man, Italy was unable to break the deadlock, and the match went into the penalty kicks that the Argentineans had hoped for.
It did seem to everyone that Sergio Goycoechea was far more confident than Italy’s Walter Zenga. He came very close to stopping the shots from Roberto Baggio and Luigi De Agostini, while Walter Zenga had been outshot completely in the first three Argentinean penalty kicks.
At the score 3-3 AC Milan’s Roberto Donadoni’s shot was spectacularly saved by Goycoechea, and in the following shot, Diego Maradona made no mistake to score against Zenga (every Italian had hoped that Maradona, who had missed a penalty in the previous match against Yugoslavia, would miss at this crucial moment), and in the next penalty, Aldo Serena from Inter had to score, but again, Sergio Goycoechea made a save that put Argentina in the final.
Italians were devastated that the title that they had hoped to win at home had been taken away from them. There was a lot of bitterness against the Argentineans who had nevertheless won an expensive victory; Claudio Caniggia had received an unprofessional booking for handball and was banned for the final, and so were Giusti and the strong defender Sergio Batista.
Argentina lost the final 1-0 to West Germany while Italy got a meager consolation by defeating England in the match for third place.

Match Stats:
  • 3rd July 1990, Stadio San Paolo, Naples
  • Attendance: 60,000
  • Referee: Michel Vautrot (France)
Italy-Argentina 1-1 (After extra time)
Goals: 1-0 Schillaci (17), 1-1 Caniggia (67)

Penalty kicks:
Italy-Argentina 3-4
1-0 Baresi
1-1 Serrizuela
2-1 R. Baggio
2-2 Burruchaga
3-2 De Agostini
3-3 Olarticoechea
Donadoni missed for Italy
3-4 Maradona
Serena missed for Italy

Italy: Zenga; Baresi, Bergomi, De Agostini, Ferri, Maldini, De Napoli, Giannini (R. Baggio), Donadoni, Schillaci, Vialli (Serena)
Argentina: Goycoechea; Basualdo (Batista), Ruggeri, Calderón (Troglio), Burruchaga, Caniggia, Maradona, Giusti (RC, 112), Olarticoechea, Serrizuela, Simon

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