There was no hope


After the dramatic exit from the quarterfinals in Mexico, 1970, England did not feature in a FIFA World Cup until 1982. In Spain, their blistering start to lose its momentum in the second round, while in Mexico, 1986, they were robbed and beaten by the hand and genius of Diego Maradona at Azteca. Despite being beaten by Portugal in the opening match, Gary Lineker’s brilliance pulled England out of the fire to qualify for the next. But, well, it was Maradona’s World Cup!

Two years later, England would fly to former West Germany for the Euro 1988. It was a nightmarish event for the English because in the group stages they were totally humiliated by teams. Especially Marco van Basten had nailed them.

Then came the Qualifier for the Italia, where England were found wanting, yet again!

At one point, it seemed, England, like France, Denmark and Poland might not make it to Italy.

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England won three, drew three, and only got through as the best second-placed teams in a mini-league with Denmark, the runners-up in the only other four-team group.

England qualified a month earlier after a 0-0 draw with Poland.

It was a game in which they were pummelled.

Peter Shilton was sensational, saving Polish attacks from all the possible angles, although he could do nothing when Ryszard Tarasiewicz’s 30-yard screamer hit the bar. The crossbar in Chorzow has long since stopped shivering, but English football is still reverberating from their qualification for Italia 90.

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A defeat in Poland would not have eliminated England at that time. But had subsequent games — both in England’s group and the other relevant groups — panned out as they actually did, a 1-0 defeat in Poland would ultimately have put England out, with Denmark qualifying ahead on goals scored.

The English press and fans were severe on Sir Bobby Robson and his boys.

Such things were nothing new for them.

They had digested enough in the last nine months.

Things were not better either off the field.


According to Blizzard, “Off the field, their fans were compared unfavorably to animals by the minister for sport Colin Moynihan. Hooliganism remained an enormous problem, while Hillsborough had accentuated the almost apocalyptic mood surrounding English football. The prime minister Margaret Thatcher called the hooligans a “disgrace to Britain” and discussed pulling England out of the tournament. England, the team nobody wanted to come to the party, were dumped on the island of Sardinia when the draw was made”.

“Thatcher’s don’t-send-them-there-in-the-first-place idea found an inevitable cousin once the tournament started. After a desperate 1-1 draw in the opening game against Ireland, in which statisticians said the ball was only in play for 49 minutes, the Sun officially went beyond satire with a “SEND ‘EM HOME” headline. La Gazzetta Dello Sport’s headline was: “NO FOOTBALL PLEASE, WE’RE ENGLISH.” It’s a good job the papers didn’t know that Gary Lineker had soiled himself during the game, or they would have had a field day”.

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“With the circulation war at its most desperate, England, and particularly Robson, had been the subject of unpleasant abuse from the British tabloids since losing all three games at Euro 88. “ENGLAND MUSTAFA NEW BOSS” was one Sun headline after a draw in Saudi Arabia. Then, when the tabloids got their wish when it was leaked that Robson would take over at PSV Eindhoven after the World Cup, they called him a traitor. “ROBSON SELLS OUT FOR A POT OF GOLD” and “PSV OFF BUNGLER BOBBY” were two of the headlines the following day”.

“Accusing a decent and patriotic Englishman of treachery was among the more preposterous accusations ever to appear in print, and that was even without knowledge of the situation. Robson had already been told that his England contract would not be renewed when it expired in 1991. The FA had given him permission to discuss a new job, with no plans to announce it until after the tournament. A generous description might be that it was pathetic and infantile. Robson, who almost exclusively responded with extreme dignity, finally cracked and accused the press of trying to “ruin” England’s World Cup campaign. He also sued the Today newspaper and settled out of court”.

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“The players were next in line, with some accused of having sex with a hostess”.

“It was all bollocks,” said Gascoigne, who lightened the mood by introducing a song of “Let’s all shag a hostess” for the team to sing on the bus for the rest of the tournament. The players were filmed ripping up a tabloid and most stopped talking to the press. It was all used successfully to foster a siege mentality. They needed such a mentality after the first match. In his autobiography, Robson says the Ireland game “was portrayed, by the Sun in particular, as just about the end of civilization”.

The Italian adventure

Meanwhile, England drew 0-0 with the European Champions Holland and they fared well. Sir Bobby would use Mark Wright as a sweeper, a tactic, which he used for the first time in his eight years as the manager of England. Wright performed brilliant and fitted well in a system, which would prove highly productive in Italy.

Their start against Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland was sound. Lineker had given them the lead, but a defensive error let the Irish to equalize. But England looked even more impressive against the hot favourites of the event and European Champions, Holland. Had the indirect free-kick not called by the referee, it would have been full points for England.

The match against Egypt turned out to be a do or die affair, where,  the sturdiness of the Egyptian tested England.

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Sir Robson switched to a 4-4-2 formation with a sweeper in position. Wright scored the winner and Egland would meet a brilliant Belgian unit at Bologna. He persisted with the sweeper and the match turned into a nerve-jangling affair until David Platt broke the deadlock in the 119th minute.

It was like escaping from jail.

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The contest was similar vs the African Lions. It was another tense-affair at Naples. Cameroon had a grip on the match, but the physicality of Benjamin Massing proved costly for them. A brilliant Cameroon had to leave, while England thank Lineker for his composure under pressure.

The conquest at Turin – England dominate

Now, at Turin, the German Giants were waiting for them. A match against Germany and England is not just a match, but it becomes more than that. Apart from high drama, the historical bitterness in the first and second world wars just sneak in from nowhere!

But on that warm evening at Turin, football dominated more than anything.

The world had still not recovered from the hangover at Naples, Turin gifted them another one!

We were exhausted,” said Lineker in a FourFourTwo interview. “Even on the morning of the game, my legs felt almost gone. We’d had extra time against Belgium and Cameroon. Physically we’d been running on empty. Despite all that, we did enough to win.”

“We know, that if we can win tonight — but Germany do too — you’re in the final,” said Robson. “With a great chance of beating Argentina. Great chance of beating Argentina. This is the one. Germany’s the big one.”

The match commenced.

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Sir Robson put Terry Butcher as the sweeper because Wright was marking the dangerous Jurgen Klinsmann! Völler faced with the task of beating Des Walker. Peter Beardsley came in for the injured John Barnes. Beckenbauer made three changes. The suspended Voller replaced Karl-Heinz Riedle, and Matthaus had two new partners in midfield: Olaf Thon and Thomas Hassler came in for Pierre Littbarski and Uwe Bein.

Inside 90 seconds into the game, England won 3 corners.

When the first of those corners was only partially cleared, a backpedaling Gascoigne hooked an excellent left-footed shot from 20 yards that were palmed behind by Bodo Illgner. It was going slightly wide anyway.

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They were keeping the Germans at bay and dictating the game more often.

As Blizzard describes, “England troubled West Germany considerably in the early periods. Beardsley, starting for the first time since the Ireland game, twice broke beyond the defence, once in each inside channel, only to pick the wrong option once he entered the box. After five minutes, Gascoigne shimmied superbly inside Augenthaler on the edge of the area before lashing a shot that was desperately blocked by Kohler”.

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“Gascoigne was full of it, and in the 15th minute, he Cruyff-turned away from Klinsmann near the halfway line to prompt lusty cheers from the England fans. Moments later, his even more callow sidekick Platt — making only his third start for England — collected a loose ball 30 yards from goal, magnetized six defenders, and pushed a fine pass behind them all for the marauding Pearce. His firm low cross towards Lineker was put behind superbly by the sliding Kohler. This was the story of the game: there were not many clear chances but both sides were forever finding promising positions. The defences, both outstanding, were like batsmen on a pitch where they are never truly ‘in’.

England continued to have the better attempts at goal.

After 24 minutes, A Waddle-free-kick was headed clear by Klinsmann to Gascoigne, who chested down and struck from just outside the area that was well held by Bodo Illgner.

Three minutes later, Butcher came out from defence to nip a German attack in the bud, then ran to the halfway line before backheeling the ball to Gascoigne and sauntering back to his station as if it was the most normal thing in the world!

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After the backheel came the nutmeg – Gascoigne on Matthaus.

Gascoigne was just producing his best at Turin and not only in Turin, throughout the tournament, but he had also been absolutely brilliant. Yet, it was still not clear about his inclusion in the squad let alone the final XI.

“In that World Cup squad,” said Sir Robson, “he was the focal point of everything.” He should have known it would be his World Cup even before England played a game. On an opening day he put a bet on Cameroon to beat Argentina “just to be sociable, join with the lads” and won 800 pounds.

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For 40 minutes, England dominated over the Germans.

From the touchline, Franz Beckenbauer was thinking and planning to change tactics. He was well aware of the abilities of his men, who could come back even if the opposition are dominating the proceedings.

Germany take the lead

The first half ended 0-0, with England having the upperhand, but in the second, an Andreas Brehme free-kick deflected the English wall and beat Shilton. Against the run of play, Germany took the lead. Germany were back, but before that, they hinted the signs of regaining control at the fag end of first half –  Thon hit a 25-yard shot that was held well by Shilton despite a difficult bounce. A much more difficult save from Shilton started Germany’s surge. When Parker sent Matthäus flying — prompting another handshake as Matthäus got to his feet — the free-kick was laid square to Augenthaler, whose swirling 25-yard shot knocked Shilton off his feet as he moved to his right to push it over the bar.

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Meanwhile, a 53rd-minute corner led to the best chance of the match – It was half-cleared to Pearce, who lost the ball 35 yards from goal to spark a rapid counter-attack. Walker’s tackle on Klinsmann diverted the ball to Thon; he ran to the edge of the box, shuffled away from the last man Parker and hit a left-footed shot that was blocked by Shilton.

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Wright then made a crucial interception from Riedle; Lineker was flattened by Kohler, who helped him to his feet and patted his sweat-drenched head; Thon shot well wide from 25 yards after a nice set-up from Matthäus, who then surged imperiously past Waddle, Gascoigne, and Walker down the left wing only to slip over when he entered the box.

Well, Germany led by 1-0.

England comeback

Germany kept pushing forward, and soon after the goal, Matthaus ignored a challenge from Butcher before shooting wide from 25 yards. Even if England had the inclination to feel sorry for themselves, fate would not allow them to do so.

Gascoigne’s superb free-kick from the left wing found Pearce, six yards out, and his back-header drifted just wide of the far post. Illgner had not moved. Then he swerved classily away from Augenthaler on the edge of the area before being fouled. The free-kick hit the wall.

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England continued to attack. Where the Germans were looking to score another, in turn, Beckenbauer introduced Stefan Reuters as a holding midfielder to defend the English backlash! In fact, Kaizer had to substitute an injured Hassler.

The game was nearing to an end until Paul Parker, on the halfway line, tossed a nothing angled ball towards the edge of the area, where Lineker was up against Kohler, Augenthaler, and Berthold. It was one against three.

The ball hit the thigh of Kohler and went to Lineker, who kneed it away from Augenthaler and Berthold before swinging his left foot to direct the ball across Illgner and into the far corner.

England equalized.

The game went to extra-time!

A tense 30 minutes

Klinsmann advanced forward – missed two very good opportunities. The first, a thumping six-yard header from Brehme’s excellent left-wing cross, was splendidly saved by the diving Shilton. While the second, Augenthaler drifted a lobbed pass over the defence, and Klinsmann dragged a left-foot volley wide of the far post from 12 yards.

In the 99th minute, Gascoigne was booked and ruled out of a possible final. With the German bench jumping in fury, Gascoigne put his hands in the air and apologized to Berthold. It was too late.

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Waddle and Steven were playing as inverse wingers, though both found themselves on the left in this attack. Steven’s cross was partially cleared, and he leaped above Berthold to head it back towards the area. Waddle, 16 yards out on the left side of the box, hammered a first-time shot across Illgner and onto the inside of the far post.

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Platt was involved again in England’s next, and final, chance after 111 minutes. Gascoigne, shielding the ball down the right-wing, was booted up in the air by Brehme — an appalling foul. He was booked!

But no hard feelings as both shook hands!

The resulting free-kick, taken by Waddle, was headed expertly into the net by Platt, eight yards from goal as the Germans pushed up. He was flagged offside just before the ball hit the net.

Thon shaped a 25-yard shot that was held well if showily by the plunging Shilton. Brehme, moving infield from the left, played a one-two with Riedle, and thrashed a vicious rising shot not far over the bar.

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After an England corner, Augenthaler drove a fine cross-field pass to Klinsmann on the halfway line; he headed it beyond the last man Walker and seemed set to go through on goal, only for Walker to move thrillingly through the gears.

Finally, with two minutes to go, Matthäus’s shot was blocked by Pearce and came to Buchwald 20 yards out. He used Steven as a screen and sidefooted a precise curler that bounced up onto the post with Shilton beaten.

4 German opportunities in five minutes.

A remarkable journey end in tears

The game would now be decided by spot-kicks like Naples and for the first time in the history of the World Cup, both the semifinals would be decided via penalties. Again, for the first time, four World Cup Champions featured in the semifinals.

In the battle of nerves like Naples, the game was hanging in the balance at 3-3.

Pearce fired a shot, which kept low and straight; Ilgner dived on his right and saved it with his legs.

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England missed a penalty and then Germany made it 4-3.

Like Aldo Serena, it was up to Waddle to keep England in the game.

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He fired straight over the bar and the ball went out of Italy along with England.

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England were stunned!

Gascoigne started to cry.

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Paul Gascoigne’s tears became one of the defining images of Italia 1990.


England would finish as the fourth-best-team – a feat, which was unthinkable before the start of the tournament.

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