90: A big shock, a great grudgefest and a dodgy drink

Right from the start, Italia 90 had its fair share of noteworthy games – from cup shocks to clashing giants and an intrigue-filled derby clash...

BIGGEST SHOCK Cameroon 1-0 ArgentinaAs the teams gathered in the San Siro centre circle for the national anthems ahead of the opening game of Italia ’90, all eyes fell on Diego Maradona. The genius who had almost single-handedly won the previous World Cup looked supremely confident.

While the Cameroonians awaited kick-off nervously, the Argentine captain performed a series of extraordinary tricks, spinning the ball cleverly off his toe and juggling with shoulder-flicks and deft headers. He looked about as nervous as Mike Tyson entering the ring for a bout with Hannah Montana.

The Africans weren’t even considered good enough to rank as underdogs in the eyes of the world: they were simply here to make up the numbers, shooting practice for a Big Gun in the tournament’s curtain-raiser.

The world, it transpired, was an ass. With hindsight, this result perhaps shouldn’t have been considered that stunning. Argentina may have eventually ground their way to the final via a series of penalty shoot-outs, narrow victories and alleged cheating (see Dodgiest Game, below) but the reigning champions were a long way shy of their sparkling 1986 vintage.

Cameroon, meanwhile, possessed a powerful frontline and would eventually be unlucky not to reach the semi-finals themselves. For now, however, they had the element of surprise on their side: no African side had ever progressed beyond the group stages of the tournament, and they weren’t expected to start here. Cameroon also possessed some pretty cynical tactics: from the whistle, they steamed into Argentina.

Maradona, jeered throughout by the partisan Milanese crowd for his Napoli connections, later complained that the Indomitable Lions had not turned up to play, merely to kick Argentina into submission. He had reason to be bitter: the Argentine talisman was double- and treble-marked completely out of the game.

"Get him!!"

The South Americans had the best of the early exchanges, however, and came close to scoring after just four minutes – until Abel Balbo, presented with an open goal, tripped over the ball. Minutes later, Nestor Fabbri thundered clear of his marker and unleashed a brilliant right-foot effort which was blocked by keeper Thomas Nkono. As the game wore on, though, Cameroon’s defence tightened and the counter-attacks began.

Emmanuel Makanaky capitalised on some defensive confusion to punt a weak shot goalwards, which was only just shepherded out by defender Nestor Lorenzo. Suddenly the Africans looked like possible winners. Level at half-time, the pressure and slick Cameroon passing continued after the break. But on the hour mark, an appalling foul on Claudio Cannigia by Andrea Kana Biyik resulted in a red card.

The dismissal didn’t deter the Lions: they took the lead five minutes later when an unmarked Francois Oman Biyik headed a free-kick through the legs of goalkeeper Pumpido. Now pouring forward, Cameroon stretched the Argentine defence time and again. In the dying minutes, Benjamin Massing was also dismissed following an obvious foul on the unfortunate Cannigia. But his nine team-mates clung on for a famous victory.

At the time, it felt like a genuine mugging: the biggest upset since North Korea beat Italy in 1966. Everyone thought it was a fluke – The Sun’s headline the next day read: ‘LOONY ‘ROONS BARGY ARGIES’. But Cameroon went on to prove that it wasn’t by beating Romania to win their group, knocking out Colombia in the second round, and scaring the bejesus out of England in the quarter-finals.

African football had finally gained something it sorely deserved: respect. Plucky opening-day underdogs, meanwhile, would never be treated with casual disdain again.

BEST GAME West Germany 2-1 HollandIt may be best remembered for a generous gobload of Dutch phlegm entering a dodgy German perm, and this Euro grudgefest was extremely nasty in parts, but it was also a humdinger of a game: two nations with bucketloads of previous going head-to-head at the San Siro.

The fans disrupted each other’s anthems before the match, and it didn’t take long for the nastiness to spread to the pitch. Within the first minute, Holland’s Adri van Tiggelen badly hurt Pierre Littbarski. End-to-end chances followed, but then tensions exploded between Frank Rijkaard and Rudi Voller, leading to the infamous spitting incident and both men getting dismissed. "I went berserk," admitted Rijkaard.

Flobber-job: Frank's phlegm riles Rudi

The bitter deadlock was finally broken by Jurgen Klinsmann, who tapped in a pinpoint cross on 51 minutes. Holland’s Gerald Vanenburg went close to equalising, Lothar Mattheus nearly doubled the lead and Henk Fraser hit the post. Andreas Brehme finally added a second on 85 minutes, and despite Ronald Koeman’s late penalty, the Dutch couldn’t recover in time.

DODGIEST GAME Argentina 1-0 BrazilThe last World Cup meeting between the Latin arch-enemies was highly controversial: after the match, Brazilian defender Branco claimed he’d been drugged with tranquilisers by the Argentine bench, who’d handed him a bottle of Gatorade during a stoppage in play.

The incident became known as ‘The Holy Water Scandal,’ and the debate about what occurred still rages. The Argentine Football Federation has always denied the allegations, but Maradona has since claimed that the water was drugged – although he had nothing to do with it – and during a magazine interview in 2005, manager Carlos Bilardo said: "I'm not saying it didn't happen. I don’t know." Whatever the truth of the matter, it has added fuel to an already-fiery rivalry ever since.

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