World Cup Throwback: Italia ‘90

EVERYONE remembers their first World Cup. What got them excited about it, the memorabilia they collected and, most importantly, what teams and players caught the eye during the course of the tournament.

My first World Cup was Italia ’90! Technically, two World Cups had passed by since I was born nine years earlier. However, I was still in nappies for Spain ’82 and I was only five, and not really into football at the time, when Mexico ’86 came around. So Italia ’90 was the first World Cup to my recollection and I remember being quite excited that the tournament came so soon after Aberdeen won the Scottish Cup on penalties against Celtic.


The most popular piece of World Cup merchandise on offer that summer was the CocaCola mini football. There were two variations of the ball, one that was red and white and one that was red, white and green (as pictured above). Throughout that summer in between matches, there were many size two CocaCola balls flying in between jumpers as kids enjoyed the novelty of the smaller ball, though if you were in goal it was difficult to see as a shot flew towards the makeshift goal. A few years ago, I bought one off eBay for a fiver hoping to keep, only for the family dog to get his teeth into it as soon as it came out the wrapper!

The other big merchandise from Italia ’90 was the Esso Coin Collection, featuring the England and Scotland squads. Thirty coins in total were required to complete the collections and Esso cashed in with fanatics purchasing the coins after filling their vehicles with fuel. What is noticeable about the Scotland squad on the collection is that two players, Brian McClair and Steve Nicol, didn’t make the 22 man squad that boarded the flight to Italy, despite being regulars for Manchester United and Liverpool respectively.


Of course, the main interest in the tournament was that our National team were one of the 24 participants. It was the fifth consecutive finals that Scotland qualified for and had still to reach the knockout stages in seven attempts overall.

With the top two and four out of six third place sides to make up the last sixteen of the competition, the chances increased on Andy Roxburgh’s side ending that hoodoo and there was an optimism that this would be our year. In our opening game, we took on World Cup debutants Costa Rica in a match that expected to see the Scots get off to a flyer. It was my first taste of what following Scotland was all about as an abject performance resulted in a shock 1-0 defeat thanks to a goal by Juan Cayasso.

A much improved performance against Sweden resulted in a 2-1 win thanks to Stuart McCall’s stretch and Mo Johnston’s penalty, giving Scotland renewed hope of clawing a place in the knockout stages. All that we needed was one point from our final game and we would progress.

That game was against Brazil in Turin!

Scotland put in a good shift and were more than holding their own, recovering from the loss of Murdo MacLeod earlier in the game, who’d been knocked out by a thunderous free kick from Branco. Despite this set back, the Scots were holding their own against a Brazil side struggling to break them down and were looking good for that point.

Then, the latest chapter of “glorious failure” was written. Jim Leighton spilled a routine effort from Alemao and, following a break of the ball from a rebound, Muller tapped the ball into an empty net. Shortly afterwards, Johnston had an opportunity right in front of goal and seemed certain to score. However, Taffarel flung himself across goal to make an unbelievable save. Scotland finished third in their group – typically, they were one of the two worst of the third place sides and missed out on knockout stage football once again.

The unlikely stars

Italia ’90 was a tournament where some unknowns blossomed into becoming the best players in the competition.

Cameroon had shocked everyone by defeating defending Champions Argentina in the opening game. In the next game, 38 year old Roger Milla wrote his name into World Cup folklore by becoming the oldest man to score at the Finals when he scored twice against Romania. Both goals were celebrated with a famous wiggle at the corner flag. In the last sixteen, the oldest swinger in town netted another double, and two more wiggles, in their victory over Colombia and he played a part in Cameroon taking a 2-1 lead over England in the Quarter Finals. Two Gary Lineker penalties saw the English through in the end but Cameroon, and Milla in particular, had warmed the hearts of the footballing World with their performances at Italia ’90.

When goalkeeper Nery Pumpido was injured in Argentina’s second group game against USSR, they turned to Sergio Goycochea to deputise. It turned out to be an inspiration as Goycochea produced a series of star displays throughout the competition, starting with a man of the match performance as the Argentines sneaked a 1-0 win over Brazil. A dreadful Quarter Final with Yugoslavia went all the way to penalties, and Goycochea was the hero having saved two spot kicks to take his country through. He then became public enemy number one in Italy for saving two more penalties in the shootout to knock the hosts out of the tournament, taking Argentina to a third World Cup Final in four appearances.

The most unlikely hero of Italia ’90 did come from the host nation by the name of Salvatore “Toto” Schillaci! Brought in as cover for Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini, Schillaci came off the bench in the Azzuri’s opening match to score a late winner against Austria. He then started the final group game against Czechoslovakia, scoring the opener in a 2-0 win to ensure his side won the group.

Schillaci’s confidence soared and he netted further strikes to see the Italians last Uruguay and Ireland, then opened the scoring against Argentina, only to see his side agonisingly lose on penalties. However, a penalty winner in the Bronze medal match against England meant Toto Schillaci ended the tournament with the Golden Boot and remembered as the star of Italia ’90.

The Final

Like four years earlier, Argentina would face West Germany in the World Cup Final.

The match could not have paired together two more contrasting teams. West Germany, driven by the power of skipper Lothar Matthäus in midfield, had played the best football in the competition, scoring 14 goals en route to the Final. Argentina, on the other hand, had only won two matches in regulation time and relied heavily on their defence and goalkeeper to see them through.

It was a dreadful Final of very few chances but saw history made when Pedro Monzon became the first player to be sent off in a World Cup Final for a foul on Jürgen Klinsmann. Even in today’s game, it was a harsh decision where the referee was influenced by Klinsmann’s theatrics after the challenge. The West Germans then sealed victory six minutes from time when Andreas Brehme’s penalty sneaked past Goycochea’s right hand to take the trophy from the defending champions, who further disgraced themselves when Gustavo Dezotti was sent off, resulting in several Argentine players squaring up to the referee.

Justice was done as a team who played for penalties throughout the latter stages of the tournament lost out to the best side in the Finals, as West Germany brought the World Cup to a nation that reunified as Germany that year.

Nessun Dorma

The topic of TV theme tunes is often a nostalgic conversation on which stations opening music was best. ITV’s Tutti Al Mundo was, in fairness, a decent effort and, arguably, one of their better efforts. However, they were blown out of the water by BBC’s choice of the iconic Opera Singer Luciano Pavarotti and Nessun Dorma. It was the perfect stereotype of Italian culture and was a powerful anthem, so much so that Nessun Dorma is remembered fondly as much as Toto Schillaci and Roger Milla as the iconic memories of Italia ’90.

Italia ’90 may not have received plaudits for some of the football on offer, with many low scoring matches, negative football and the amount of games going to penalties. However, there were some memories that made the tournament iconic and I have fond memories of my first World Cup – with the exception of Scotlands performance of course.

To think, Gazza’s tears didn’t even get a mention!

Tune into the Scottish Football Forum’s Podcast: World Cup Special to find out the guys most memorable World Cup moments.

J Bleasdale

I am a football fan with a passion for writing, briefly studied journalism before other priorities got in the way. Enjoy blogging as its my way of expressing my thoughts on Scottish Football. Even though I'm an Aberdeen fan primarily, I'm happy to express my impartial views on other clubs.