Ranked! The 10 best players of Italia 90
10. Jurgen Klinsmann, West Germany
Klinsmann came away from the tournament with a deserved reputation for diving, but he also proved himself an extraordinary striker.
His header against Yugoslavia showed what he could achieve when he put his leaps to a positive use, but the performance that defined him came against the Dutch in the second round.
Left to play as a lone frontman after Rudi Voller had been sent off, he led the line tirelessly, scoring the opener. Inevitably, it was a foul on him – suitably brought to the referee’s attention with an extravagant fall and shoulder spin – that led to Pedro Monzon’s red card in the final against Italy.
9. Franco Baresi, Italy
Baresi was the keystone of an Italian defence that went into the tournament having conceded only one goal in their previous nine games, and maintained their form through the early stages.
The calm distributor in a backline that also included Giuseppe Bergomi, Paolo Maldini and Riccardo Ferri, Baresi’s unflustered reading of the game helped bring clean sheets against Austria, USA, Czechoslovakia, Uruguay and the Republic of Ireland.
When they finally conceded a goal, following a misjudgement by Walter Zenga in the semi-final, it proved terminal: Italy lost to Argentina on penalties, despite Baresi coolly dispatching the first kick of the shootout.
8. Luis Gabelo Conejo, Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s unexpected progress to the second round was based on three things: canny organisation, the inspirational impact of their coach Bora Milutinovic, and the form of their goalkeeper Luis Gabelo Conejo.
He kept a clean sheet as Costa Rica beat Scotland to become the first Central American side to win a World Cup match in Europe, and was then outstanding in their second match against Brazil, making a string of fine saves and being beaten only by a deflected shot.
Injury kept him out of the second round defeat to Czechoslovakia, but he had already made sufficient impression to be named goalkeeper of the tournament by France Football.
7. Dragan Stojkovic, Yugoslavia
Stojkovic barely featured in the opening game against West Germany, eclipsed by Lothar Matthaus, but thereafter he was magnificent – the central intelligence of a deft Yugoslavia side.
It was from his crosses that Mirko Jozic headed goals against West Germany and Colombia in the group stage, but it was against Spain in the second round where Stojkovic excelled. That performance earned him a move to Marseille.
Having dominated midfield, he won the game with two goals, the first involving a masterly dummy that left an embarrassed defender on his backside. He missed a penalty in the quarter-final shootout against Argentina – but so did Diego Maradona.
6. Paul Gascoigne, England
Only assured of his place in the squad after a brilliant performance against Czechoslovakia in April, it was Gascoigne who transformed England from functional also-rans into potential winners.
Liberated by Bobby Robson’s switch to a sweeper system, he played with impudence and intelligence, taking the free-kicks that led to winners against Egypt and Belgium, and generally giving England the sort of midfield control and creativity they’d been missing since Bobby Charlton retired.
His tears in the semi-final after picking up a booking that would have kept him out of the final seemed to usher in a new, more sensitive age.
- LONG READ How the 1990s saved English football