Thirty years of hurt - five reasons why Italia 90 is so overrated

PUBLISHED: 18:35 07 June 2020 | UPDATED: 20:40 07 June 2020

England manger Bobby Robson got his side to the last four, but they didn't exactly play exciting football

England manger Bobby Robson got his side to the last four, but they didn't exactly play exciting football


Nick Richards looks back on the 1990 World Cup when England almost making it to their second World Cup final and suggests it was a dull tournament that we wrongly look back on with joyful nostalgia

England celebrate David Platt's goal near the end of extra time with Gary Lineker is facing the camera. It was the best moment of the tournament for EnglandEngland celebrate David Platt's goal near the end of extra time with Gary Lineker is facing the camera. It was the best moment of the tournament for England

Want to feel old? This Monday (June 8) is 30 years since the 1990 World Cup kicked off. A four week festival of football that came into my life in the summer that I was 15 and eagerly anticipated a whole month of non-stop action.

England’s World Cups had gone off the rails since Mexico in 1970, failing to qualify in 1974 and 1978, limping out in 1982 after two goalless draws and succumbing in 1986 to the ingenuity of Diego Maradona.

But 1990 was different, or so we’ve been led to believe in the three decades since the tears rolled down Paul Gascoigne’s cheeks, Roger Milla proved you could be 38 and still become a global football star and Scotland couldn’t even beat Costa Rica.

I wallow in nostalgia at the best of times and during lockdown it has been uncontrollable, I’ve been lapping up old football, music and TV shows that I’ve not really sniffed at since I was a teenager on a daily basis.

Without any live sport on TV over the past three months, there’s been a huge sporting nostalgia-fest on BBC and ITV with reruns of old FA Cup finals, great Premier League games and old World Cup and European Championships too. Italia 90 has been there, with both ITV and BBC recently showing England’s 3-2 win over Cameroon in its entirety.

But 30 years on, I’ve got to say that Italia 90 was an awful tournament. England made it to the semi-finals, Gazza cried, Sir Bobby bade farewell and the BBC packaged it all up beautifully with wonderful opening titles to their live programmes soundtracked by Pavarotti’s Nessun Dorma, which even made it to number two in the UK Singles Chart.

Paul Gascoigne in action in the semi-finalPaul Gascoigne in action in the semi-final

People say Italia 90 changed football, dragging the game out of the dark 1980s of Hillsborough, Heysel and hooliganism, but it didn’t. The nation got behind an England team simply because a generation had never been able to watch the national side get to the last week of a major tournament with games played in the early evening. It was played against a backdrop of hooliganism in old stadiums and the quality of football was seriously lacking. What Italia 90 did do was make FIFA realise they could no longer have a spectacle of football with so much on the field dross. It was no coincidence that the backpass rule came in two years later and football tournaments went on to give three points for a win rather than two to encourage attacking play.

Here are five reasons why it’s so overrated:

1) England

They’d never made it further than the last eight on foreign soil but Bobby Robson’s ageing team flattered to deceive as they amazingly came within a whisker of making it to the World Cup final. They weren’t great though, were they? The authorities were so scared of English fans causing trouble they played all their group games in Sardinia. Potential classics against Ireland and The Netherlands ended up in dull draws, they struggled to see off Egypt and ended up facing Belgium who they scraped past with, albeit a great, David Platt goal to set up that Cameroon quarter-final. They needed extra time and two penalties to get past them and were second best against West Germany. It’s been packaged up as a gallant run, but they were very fortunate to get to the last four.

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2) Dirty play

From the outset this was a tournament unlike any other. The first game saw Cameroon have two players sent off, the second for Benjamin Massing’s outrageous foul on Argentina’s Claudio Caniggia, is still one of the worst tackles ever seen in football. Argentina players passed a water bottle to a Brazilian that had drugs in it and Germany’s Rudi Voeller and Holland’s Frank Rijkaard were both dismissed for spitting at each other. There were 16 red cards, a record for a 24-team tournament and two players sent off in the final.

3) Tepid games

A record low number of goals at Italia 90 helps to back up my theory that were some really duff games. A second round clash between South American heavyweights Brazil and Argentina flattered to deceive and the re-run of the 1986 final between West Germany and Argentina offered nothing of the sort of drama we’d seen in Mexico four years earlier.

Chris Waddle in action for England in a dull 0-0 draw v The NetherlandsChris Waddle in action for England in a dull 0-0 draw v The Netherlands

Ireland only scored two goals and yet were just 90 minutes from making it to the semi-finals. Penalties decided both semi-finals. A penalty was the only goal of a woeful final and apart from the England v Cameroon game, the other three quarter-finals only saw TWO goals. It was far from a free-flowing festival of attacking football. Quite the opposite in fact.

4) Argentina

The world champions had a poor tournament with their negative play, fouls and lack of entertainment. They made it to the final, scored just five goals, became the first side to not score in a World Cup final and only won two games. They then had two players sent off in the final. Not bad for a month of football! They did succeed in knocking out the host nation but did little to endear themselves on the global game. At least dear old Diego didn’t fail a drugs test. They would happen four years later....

5) Euro 96 happened

Despite being World Cup semi-finalists in 1990, England failed to qualify for the next World Cup. There was some kind of redemption though two years later when they hosted Euro 96. Despite again going out on penalties, to the Germans, in the semi-finals, this was full of memorable moments and games. Gazza’s goal against Scotland, the incredible destruction of The Netherlands in one of the countries best ever performances and the epic penalty shoot out against Spain. Unlike in 1990, they should have beaten Germany too.

Nostalgia fans might not need reminding that Euro 96 also started on June 8, 24 years ago on Monday.

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