World Cup Special: 18 Tournaments, 18 Moments – Italy 1990

World in motion

The 1990 World Cup in Ital is roundly criticised by pundits as being one of the most dour tournaments ever.

However, for the fans of my generation- as our first true taste of the greatest international competition – the tournament has an air of the exotic and retains its romance even to this day.

Amid the draws and defensive football of Italia ’90 there are still so many instances of magic.

There is the performance of Cameroon, who finally put Africa on the football map, unlucky losers in the quarter-final against England but propelled by the dancing Roger Milla they stunned a number of top teams – including Argentina in the group phase.

Despite not winning a single game in normal time throughout the tournament. The Republic of Ireland bundled their way into quarter-finals only to lose to hosts Italy.

Maradona produced another moment of brilliance, his mazy run and clinical threaded pass allowing Claudio Cannigia to score the only goal in the round of 16 game against Brazil.

And then there was England.

Under Bobby Robson, hammered by the press in the run-up to the tournament, England, once they gathered momentum, actually began to look like a football team.

Failing to impress in the groups, England built up steam with David Platt’s fantastic volley against Belgium and Gary Linker’s two penalties (including dives) against Cameroon before eventually losing to the Germans on penalties.

The run produced many unforgettable moments, Paul Gascoigne’s tears in the semi final, Chris Waddle’s penalty miss, which brought the journey to the end, and Bobby Robson’s dance down the touchline.

And for that summer, to the soundtrack of New Order’s World in Motion, a technically gifted England side finally made a nation believe.


World Cup Special: 18 Tournaments, 18 Moments – Argentina 1978

The tournament they couldn’t lose

Although it has never been proven beyond doubt, rumblings persist that Argentina’s glorious hosting and victory in the 1978 World Cup is not all that it seems.

At the time of the tournament, Argentina was in a state of political flux. The military had overthrown the government in 1976 and there were widespread reports that political unrest had resulted in thousands of political murders.

Many countries threatened to pull out of the tournament but none actually did. Holland’s star player Johan Cruyff and Afroed German Paul Breitner were the only players to follow through on their moral instinct and boycott the event.

Explaining the philosophy of his government, Argentina’s leader General Jorge Rafael Videla said: “As many people as necessary must die in Argentina so that the country will again be secure.” As many as 30 000 are estimated to have lost their lives during the junta’s reign, some of which were butchered during the World Cup itself.

The stranglehold that the Argentine leader had over the people extended to the World Cup. Realising the immense power of sport as propaganda over the populace, it was a tournament they couldn’t – and didn’t – lose.

In the midst of many strange decisions in favour of the Argentines. The most suspicious was the final second round group game against Peru. With the hosts needing to win by four clear goals to claim a place in the final, the ‘dispirited’ Peruvians lost the game 6-0.

According to Argentine investigative journalist Maria Laura Avignolo, General Videla offered the Peruvians 35,000 tonnes of grain to be shipped from Argentina to Peru, $50m of credits to be unfrozen and substantial bribes paid directly to Peruvian officials from accounts held by the Argentine navy. The players allegedly received $20 000 each to lose.

The final itself was a suspicious affair. In an article in the Financial Times, legendary journalist Brian Glanville, suggests that many of the Argentina players may have taken performance enhancing drugs.

He said: “Argentina were dead at the end of 90 minutes. Then suddenly they came out for extra time recharged. How that happened I just don’t know. It seems physically quite unfeasible. They were by far the more vigorous team in extra time.

“Far more pace and running than Holland. But if they took any kind of stimulants, I would have thought it was very difficult for them to take it before the beginning of extra time. And if they had taken them earlier, why hadn’t they shown earlier? I can’t answer that. But I did find it extremely odd and I still do.”

With the World Cup secure the junta were more secure than ever, as was corruption’s grip on the integrity of the beautiful game.

World Cup Special: 18 Tournaments, 18 Moments – Mexico 1986

Maradona “vaccinates” England

“You have to say that’s magnificent.” Barry Davies

In the crazy world of Diego Maradona to humiliate an opponent with sheer brilliance shares the same verb of having rough sex with someone. To vaccinate.

And in his auto-biography El Diego, the vaccination of England in the 1986 World Cup is retold in detail in all its frustration and marvel.

England had come off the back of a 3-0 last 16 win against Paraguay, with eventual golden boat winner Gary Lineker lashing in a double and Peter Beardsley picking up the spare.

Meanwhile, Argentina had squeaked past fellow South Americans Uruguay to set up the semi-final clash.

The goals that Maradona bagged in the game at the Azteca are among the most famous in cup history and encapsulate everything about Maradona. On one hand a gifted football God and on the other a fallible mortal who is more than willing to cheat to prosper.

Any football fan of our generation will not have been old enough to have seen the match but would have seen the sunbathed footage under the tones of Barry Davies.

The first ‘strike’, which some still blame on a miscued back pass by Steve Hodge, was punched into the net by Maradona, who somehow managed to outleap Peter Shilton.

However it is the second that is the moment of 1986 – and according to FIFA the century -picking up the ball in his own half Maradona surges past Steve Hodge, Beardsley, Terry Butcher and Terry Fenwick before putting Shilton on his arse and rolling the ball into the empty net.

As Davies begrudging admits in his commentary; “You have to say that’s magnificent.”

While the term genius is thrown about so regularly it is a mantle which is incredibly befitting of a man who the went on to win the 1986 cup almost singlehandedly.

And all this was all before a cocaine-fuelled Maradona led an unfashionable but attractive Napoli side to back to back Serie A titles.

Incredibly, the feat was almost repeated four years later with a more agressive Argentina falling to the Germans at the final hurdle.