The best from 1990
Italia ’90 was a defence-minded tournament with the lowest goals-per-game ratio (2.21) of any World Cup in history. That said, it still gave us some incredible moments and stands out to this day as one of the more memorable of recent editions. In this slideshow, we pick out the 10 best performers from the competition.
10. Jurgen Klinsmann (West Germany)
Klinsmann came away from the tournament with a reputation for diving, but he also demonstrated his fantastic skills as a striker. A stunning header against Yugoslavia in the group stage was a sign of things to come, with Klinsmann grabbing his second of the tournament against the UAE.
It was his performance against the Netherlands that defined his competition, though; left to play as a lone frontman after Rudi Voller had been sent off, he led the line tirelessly and scored the opener. Klinsmann was a key part of West Germany's success in Italy that summer.
9. Franco Baresi (Italy)
Italy went into this tournament on home soil having conceded just one goal in their previous nine matches, and a Baresi-led backline carried that form into the group stage of the competition, keeping clean sheets against Austria, the United States and Czechoslovakia.
A calm distributor who formed part of a watertight defensive unit which also included Giuseppe Bergomi, Paolo Maldini and Riccardo Ferri, Baresi’s unflustered reading of the game helped bring further shut-outs against Uruguay and the Republic of Ireland in the knockout phase, before the semi-final defeat on penalties by Argentina.
8. Luis Gabelo Conejo (Costa Rica)
Costa Rica’s run to the knockout stage of the World Cup in 1990 was the result of their inspirational coach Bora Milutinovic’s fastidious organisation of the side and the form of their goalkeeper. Conejo kept a clean sheet as Los Ticos beat Scotland, becoming the first Central American nation to win a World Cup match on European soil in the process.
He was also outstanding in the match against Brazil, making a string of fine saves and being beaten only by a deflected shot. Reserve goalkeeper Hermidio Barrantes replaced an injured Conejo for the second round match with Czechoslovakia, but the latter had already made enough of an impact for France Football to name him Goalkeeper of the Tournament.
7. Dragan Stojkovic (Yugoslavia)
Stojkovic wasn’t the only player at the 1990 World Cup to be completely nullified by the peerless Lothar Matthaus. He hardly featured in the opening match against West Germany, but was magnificent in Yugoslavia's remaining group games against Colombia and the UAE.
He assisted a couple of goals for Mirko Jozic in the initial phase of the tournament, the striker benefitting from Stojkovic's incredible crossing ability to score headers against both West Germany and Colombia, but it was in the first knockout round that he came into his own, dominating the midfield and scoring both goals in a 2-1 extra-time victory.
6. Paul Gascoigne (England)
Had Gascoigne not played so magnificently against Czechoslovakia in the April prior to the World Cup, Italia ’90 may have been a completely different tournament for England.
The Tottenham man reproduced his best form on the biggest stage, bringing control to the midfield and taking the free-kicks that led to winners against Egypt and Belgium. His semi-final tears after picking up a booking that would have kept him out of the final seemed to usher in a new, more sensitive age back home.
5. Roger Milla (Cameroon)
Milla made his international debut against Zaire in a qualifier for the 1974 World Cup, some 17 years before this edition. By the time 1990 rolled around, he was playing his club football on the Pacific island of Reunion when a plea from the president of Cameroon, Paul Biya, brought him out of semi-retirement.
Milla came off the bench to score twice against Romania as the Indomitable Lions topped their group; the striker then repeated the feat against Colombia in the first knockout round, netting twice off the bench to send Cameroon through to the quarter-finals - the first time an African nation had made it that far.
4. Andreas Brehme (West Germany)
Brehme scored the winning goal from the penalty spot in the World Cup final as Germany won their third title. He had already scored in regulation time in the semi-final against England, as well as netting the first penalty in that shootout.
Brehme was superb throughout the tournament, redefining the role of a wing-back in the German back five. Never less than solid defensively, he also had the engine to work up and down the left flank and was probably the best crosser in the side.
3. Diego Maradona (Argentina)
It was always going to be tough for Maradona to hit the same heights as 1986, but he was still good enough to drag an under-par Argentina side all the way to the final. He even somehow managed to get away with another handball, this time preventing a goal-bound header from Oleg Kutznetsov from reducing the Soviet Union's deficit.
Maradona’s moment of the tournament came against Brazil in the second round. With less than 10 minutes remaining, he picked up the ball just inside his own half, turned and played the perfect pass for Claudio Cannigia, whose finish sent Argentina through.
2. Salvatore Schillaci (Italy)
Hosts Italy entered the World Cup with a terrible goalscoring record, having found the net just twice in their final seven warm-up matches. Paolo Rossi was the unlikely hero when Italy last won the trophy in 1982, and eight years later it was Schillaci’s turn to come from nowhere to set the tournament alight.
The Sicilian started the tournament on the bench but scored his first goal just four minutes after replacing Carnevale in Italy’s opening match against Austria. He then went on to score against the United States, Uruguay, the Republic of Ireland, Argentina and England to win the Golden Boot.
1. Lothar Matthaus (West Germany)
The West Germany side of 1990 was the perfect blend of power and quality, led by the incomparable Matthaus. The midfielder nullified Dragan Stoikovic and Carlos Valderrama in the group stage, as well as scoring twice against Yugoslavia in what was the Germans’ best performance.
Matthaus added another long-rage effort against the UAE, then got the winner from the penalty spot against Czechoslovakia in the quarter-final. Needless to say, he made no mistake in the shoot-out against England in the semis and, suffering an ankle injury, had the good sense to leave what was the winning penalty in the final to Andreas Brehme.
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