Modern football was born in England, but besides the triumph in the 1966, the team has grossly underperformed. In the late 1970s and first half of the 1980s, England arguably had the best clubs in Europe, with Liverpool, Notthingham Forest and Aston Villa taking six European Champions Cup titles in a row. However, the national team was under-performing, and the horrible violence of English hooligans was destroying the game. When, in the European Cup final in 1985 at Heysel, Liverpool fans rioting caused the death of 39 fans, English teams were banned from playing in Europe, effectively putting an end to English dominance at the club level. But at the national team level, the second half of the 1980s saw a resurgence in the English national team: only a mighty Maradona managed to stop them at the 1986 world cup quarter-finals, and although England had not progressed from the first round of the 1988 European Championships, there was careful optimism about the team for the 1990 World Cup in Italy.
West Germany was throughout the 1980s perhaps the most powerful European footballing nation: winners of the 1980 European Championships, and semifinalist in 1988, while the country had made it to the World Cup final in 1982 and 1986. The Germans had nevertheless been very unpopular, playing a particularly cynical style of football. But in Italy 1990 the cynical defensive football prevailed, while the Germans began playing more offensive attacking football, but without losing their organisation and discipline. In their first two matches West Germany had trashed Yugoslavia and the United Arab Emirates 4-1 and 5-1 respectively, and 1-1 against Colombia in their last group match had been enough to give them the group victory. In the last-16 West Germany had played their Dutch arch-rivals, and had gotten revenge for their defeat in the 1988 European championship by winning 2-1 in an intense match.
Czechoslovakia had been defeated 1-0 in the quarter-final on a penalty goal by their captain Lothar Matthäus. The Inter midfielder was playing his third World Cup with Germany, and was proving the best player of the tournament as West Germany prepared to face England in the semi-final.
England had been steadily improving during the tournament, in spite of not looking that strong in the first round group, where England started against two teams that had defeated them two years before, at the 1988 Euro, Ireland and the Netherlands, as well as the strong but underestimated north Africans from Egypt. In the first two matches, against the European side, England managed a 1-1 with Ireland and a 0-0 with the Dutch, and a narrow 1-0 victory in the last match against the excellent Egyptians gave England the first spot in the group. The English had not played well and had not scored many goals, and in the last-16 it took 119 minutes before David Platt scored the winner for England against Belgium.
In the quarter-final England faced Cameroon, who were the sensation of the tournament. Led by the ageing Roger Milla Cameroon went ahead 2-1 and seemed on the verge of a World Cup semifinal when the Tottenham striker and top goalscorer from the 1986 World Cup, Gary Lineker scored on two penalties to give England a spot in the semifinal against the European arch-rivals of West Germany, in what would become one of the most memorable encounters ever between the two footballing giants, and surely one of the most exciting encounters in an otherwise boring and defensive world cup.
England’s team was one of the most talented English sides in a generation with players such as the legendary goalkeeper Peter Shilton, the Nottingham Forest captain Stuart Pearce, Chris Waddle from Olympique Marseille, Liverpool’s Peter Beardsley, the controversial Tottenham player Paul Gascoigne and the also Tottenham striker and top-scorer from the 1986 World Cup, Gary Lineker. The English were determined that this was their moment to make it to the World Cup final for the second time ever, and the match would indeed be one of the most legendary matches in the history of English football.
It all started well for England, for was the better team in the first half, with good chances to both Paul Gascoigne and Chris Waddle. However, the score was 0-0 at half-time. Fifteen minuted into the second half the Germans got a free kick just outside the English area. The strong Inter defender Andreas Brehme took the free kick that got deflected by Paul Parker in the defensive wall and in a high curve looped over Peter Shilton, who looked rather faulty at the goal.
The Germans were ahead, and England pressed on. All of England was surely praying for a goal when, with ten minutes remaining, Paul Parker kicks the ball with little direction into the German area, where three German defenders looked confused as the ball fell down; Klaus Augethaler touched it, but not controlling it, the ball went to Gary Lineker who immediately thanked the defender and scored resolutely.
With this goal, the game had to go into a thrilling extra time. Both teams were looking for the victory, and both come close by hitting the post. At the same time, Paul Gascoigne broke down in tears after receiving a yellow card that effectively would keep him out of the final if England made it. A horrible mistake by the German defence that put the English back into the game.
The match had to be decided by penalties. Both teams scored on their first three shots, but on England’s fourth shot, after Karlheinz Riedle had equalized to 3-3 for West Germany, the German goalkeeper Bodo Illgner managed to save the shot from the Nottingham Forest captain Stuart Pearce. As Olaf Thon scored on West Germany’s next kick, Chris Waddle was forced to score to keep England in the game. But his nerves didn’t hold, as he shot the ball over the bar, giving Germany the victory amid English tears.
West Germany became world champions by defeating Argentina in the final. They have not been champions since, while England has yet not come as close to a world cup final as they were then. This match went into history as one of the great matches between the two European arch-rivals.
Gary Lineker has later been quoted for saying that “football is a game of eleven against eleven, and Germany always wins.”
- 4th July 1990, Stadio delle Alpi, Turin
- Attendance: 62,630
- Referee: José Roberto Wright (Brazil)
Goals: 1-0 Brehme (60), 1-1 Lineker (80)
West Germany-England 4-3
Pearce missed for England
Waddle missed for England
West Germany: Illgner; Brehme, Kohler, Augenthaler, Buchwald, Haessler (Reuter), Völler (Riedle), Matthäus, Berthold, Klinsmann, Thon
England: Shilton; Pearce, Walker, Butcher (Steven), Waddle, Beardsley, Lineker, Parker, Wright, Platt, Gascoigne