Italia 90, a Semifinal Defeat to Penalties and Maradona
The semifinal came and who else but Argentina and Maradona should be waiting for Italy. I remembered watching Argentina's game against Yugoslavia hoping that Argentina would loose and how close they came to being eliminated. Yugoslavia dominated for most of the game despite having one of its players sent of early and yet 0-0 would be the way it would end, after regulation and overtime. Maradona played that day perhaps one of the least inspired games I had ever seen from him and just as it looked as if Argentina were out after he and Troglio missed their penalty kicks, salvation came from their goalkeeper. Goycochea saved 3 penalties during that shoot out that put Argentina in to the semifinal against Italy.
I remember thinking how Italy had never lost to Argentina in a world cup but to certain extent Italy had never really beaten them either, in a sense that they had eliminated them. For instance their first game against each other in a world cup was in 74 in the first round. This a game that ended in a draw which Argentina benefited more from as they and not Italy qualified along with Poland to next round. So in a sense Argentina by holding Italy to a draw had really won. The next match between Italy and Argentina came in Argentina 78 and Italy did win 1-0 but little did it matter for both teams qualified to the next round. Argentina actually winning the world championship that year while Italy came in fourth. The next match came in Spain 82 and Italy repeated as winners but then again Argentina would have been eliminated just the same. This because Argentina lost their next match to Brazil and Italy could have even gone through to the semifinals, even if they had drawn against Argentina as they went on to defeat Brazil. The next world cup came; Mexico 86 and again Italy was made to face Argentina in the first round and did so in a game that ended in a 1-1 draw which was of little consequence as both teams went through just the same. Now it was going to be Italy against Argentina in Italia 90 for what would be their fifth encounter in as many world cups in a row. This I am sure is a record, for the amount of times two teams meet each other in consecutive world cups. Regarding however the record for the two teams that have faced each other the most times in world cup history, it is held by surprisingly Brazil and Sweden. This due to the fact that they have faced each other six times; with Sweden not even able to win one.
I as always wanted Italy to win but was still afraid to tell those around me that my mother was from Argentina as perhaps they would get upset specially if it should happen that Argentina would go on to victory and to the final. I decided to wait till the end and after Italy had won to let the cat out of the bag. The game was due to be played in Naples's Stadio San Paolo in what for the last few years had been the home of Diego Armando Maradona and the truth was that Napoli's fans had come to idolize the man. He had lead them; who had never won anything to a EUFA cup victory along with two national titles. Maradona was practically a god in Napoli at the time (and still is) but on this occasion he would be playing against Italy, which made it hard for many a fan to know where his or her loyalties lay during the game. I for my part was fearful something would happen but I did not know why. Italy had yet to yield a goal in the world cup while Argentina had struggled to get to the semifinal, only scoring four goals on their way while Italy, usually not known for as much offense had scored seven times. Argentina had even lost to Cameron yet I was worried though this I mentioned not to those who had become my friends at the ICC.
The game started with tensions at an extremely high pitch but it all exploded when again who else but Schillaci found the back of the Argentine net to give Italy a 1-0 lead after only 17 minutes of the first half. Italy was winning and such would the first half end; with all of us feeling in the final. Some of us, myself including were thinking of going to Italy to see the final live in Rome's Olympic Stadium and with my brother-in-law being president of distribution at Columbia pictures in the city where the final was due to be, it was not unreasonable for me to think that I might get my hands on such tickets. We started saying how not if but when Italy plays the final the place will be full of people, as all would come even those who had only been to Italy once in their life or spoke as many as one word in Italian like Pizza or whatever. Baggio was not on the field but we were winning by one goal which with Zenga as our goalkeeper would be more then enough as he was close to breaking the record for most minutes without yielding a goal.
The second half started with Italy dominating and Argentina being pinned back and just when it appeared we might put it away with a second goal, Argentina scored one of their own at the 67 minute mark to level matters at 1 a piece. Claudio Caniggia had been the culprit for Argentina An Argentine of Italian descent and the same player who had scored Argentina's winning goal against Brazil had just complicated everything. As for Italy their goalkeeper; Zenga had been beaten for the first time in the world cup and it could not have come at a more inopportune moment for Italy, who know found themselves in a tight game with Argentina, which surely would be decided by the next goal.
Argentina had good moments in the second half, notably a run by Maradona in to a tightly packed Italian box after which he passed of to a player who could have done better with his shot. Italy however for the most part with the pressure of playing at home and in a world cup had to go forward, while Argentina apparently waited for the penalties which would undoubtedly decide all should the game end in a draw.
Italy after Argentina's equalizer finally much to the delight of its fans brought in Baggio in place of the ineffective Vialli, who had not really shown much during the game. Baggio did bring energy and ideas to Italy's offense however the game was still very hotly contested, in a game were marking on both sides was strict. Tense was the atmosphere in the ICC as we lived every moment of the game, hoping that every one of Italy's shots on goal might be a goal while doing the opposite for Argentina's. In a way it was the first time Italy had had any real drama in that world cup as before they had been winning every game at that point of the match but now the time had gone over the 85 minute and still 1-1. Schillaci who had been a very effective goal scorer for Italy up and till that moment; netting goals in 5 out of their 6 games including this one against Argentina suddenly started to falling with tremendous ease and frequency in to the Argentine off sides trap. In the course of the evening, Schillaci would be caught on off sides as many as 9 times by the Argentine defense, making it seem that his anxiety to score, which even displayed in his eyes after doing so was being used against him.
The game ended at 1-1, making overtime a must, though perhaps Italy held an advantage in conditioning given that Argentina was playing their second overtime in as many games while Italy had yet to be taken past the regular 90 minutes. At this point nothing seemed certain for Italy but losing was still something most did not count on, tensions nervous were high as the first period of overtime started. It would not be sudden death in the form of a golden goal or even a silver one, which meant the team that was winning by the end of the first half of overtime would be declared the winner but 30 minutes of football regardless of what happened. How one suffers in such moments only those who have seen their teams play know for sure or those who have been of the field naturally as any mistake could mean being out and having to wait four more years to hopefully be in the same place but for Italy playing at home; the pressure was on to please their fans.
Overtime started and all back to their seats and though Italy was clearly on offense by now with Argentina now concentrating on defending what they had, the game was still difficult as Italian attack after attack was met with solid defense from not only the Argentine defense but their solid goalkeeper, Goycochea. This a player (like Schillaci) who had not even been a starter for his team at the start of the tournament but had been brought in when Pumpido (Argentina's world cup winning goalkeeper from Mexico 86) broke his leg.
A small break came for Italy when 13 minutes in to the first half of overtime, Guisti was shown the red card for a brutal foul on Baggio, which even left him with blood on his forehead. It actually was a Polish linesman who pointed out to Quiniou (the French referee) what had taken place behind his back, much like was the case with Zidane's head but on Matterasi in the 2006 final.
Overtime however ended the way it had began at one a piece with Caniggia being shown his second yellow card of the tournament for a blatant handball, which in fact should have been a red card as it was his second time deliberate handling the ball. The first time the referee had been convinced by Maradona to pardon his offense which would have made his second handball punishable by a red card. Argentina had managed a draw with Italy on their home field but many things did they do that today's rule would not allow, like many deliberate back passes to their goalkeeper, last man fouling a player who was in the clear before he got in to the penalty box which today would be a red card apart from tackling from behind.
Before the penalties started I will never forget how some including my friend Danilo were thinking that Italy would loose, I for my part was unsure of victory though defeat was something that my mind had not yet considered. Penalties started once each team had chosen the five players who would take their kicks.
Italy went first and scored through Baresi, our solid captain and defender from AC Milan, brought us relieve as now it would be Argentina who would have to score to keep matters level. Serrizuela scored for Argentina much against our hopes that he would not to make it 1-1. Baggio's turn came and he made no mistake setting the score at 2-1 for Italy. At that moment drama was at its heights as every kick could bring victory or defeat for either team.
Burruchaga came next and for a brief second it seemed his shot would be saved by Zenga; who managed to get a hand on the ball but could not keep it out or prevent Argentina from tying the score at two a piece. De Agostini was next and he too scored making it 3-2 for Italy.
Who would blink first was the question on the mind's of all those who watched weather in the San Paolo or on TV through out the world. Olarticoechea scored again for Argentina to level the issue one more time at 3-3.
Donadoni came next, now we were in the crucial phase of the penalties, were it could end in almost a flash. Donadoni strikes the ball but Goycochea saves, no goal and our hearts dropped. I however felt victory was still possible, for had Argentina also not been trailing to Yugoslavia in penalties only to have Goycochea save two penalties, to pull it out of the bag for them and this I reminded my paesanos about. I also mentioned to keep up moral that Maradona; who was coming up next for Argentina had missed a penalty against Yugoslovia. This meaning he was great but not infallible and it after all could happen again. Maradona however put his penalty away and Argentina now lead 4-3 in penalties however it was still not over for if Serena scored and Zenga saved Argentina's last penalty; Italy would be on level terms one more time. It was a glimmer of hope but it could be. I had seen it before and as Serena stepped up to take Italy's penalty; I got a sensation of how it might be if we pulled through. For in a way we deserved it for trying so hard during the game.
Serena's weak shot however was easily saved by Goycochea and it was all over, hitting me like a bucket of cold water. Italy had lost, there would be no fourth title, not even a fifth appearance in the final. It seemed at that moment that the world had come to an end, nobody around me dared to say anything as we watched Argentine players celebrate by throwing themselves, one upon the other but for me the image of Goycochea getting up and running with his fist held in the air after denying both Serena and Italy is one which I will never get out of my mind.
Despair was what we felt and though nobody cried, it was clear that we had been eliminated from the final though not the world cup as we would be playing for third place, which was little if any compensation for not winning the world cup. It was not that I had not seen Italy loose in a world cup before as I had in Argentina 78 or Mexico 86 but this time it was on our home turf, where we were expected to win and should have. Regrets were many after the game; as are always when one looses. If Baggio had played from the start or had come in before, if Schillaci had been more aware of not getting caught on offside so many times not that we agreed that he had been every time the judge had said he was and if only we had not missed those penalties.
All these questions raged in our minds as we went home after having lost but it changed nothing for we would not be playing in the final and nothing could alter that. Danilo even joked that next world cup or the one after the next should be held in San Marino, and that way for Italy it would be like playing at home once again. I for my part, on a personal note given that Argentina had won or Italy had lost depending on the point of view decided not to tell anybody where my mother was really from as I might be unwelcome.
Italy had won the world cup playing at home in 1934, why couldn't it have been again was all I wanted to know and as I went to sleep that night tired and exhausted all I kept thinking of was how it would not be Italy to win two out of three world cups but it might be Argentina to win three out of four as Brazil had once done. The next day came and I had gotten over having lost as such is life and football, I naturally knew Italy would not take long in getting back to where they had been in this world cup even if it would be a struggle to do so.
Next day Danilo and I went to Studio M to watch England vs. Germany; to see who Argentina would meet in the final. As for myself I leaned toward England not because of any anti German or pro English sentiments for that matter but simply for the reasons that I did not want to see a repeat of the final that had been four years before. I also did not wish to see Germany win a third title which would have put them level with Italy on titles won. It was these reasons and the fact that it would have been interesting to see Argentina play England again that made me pull slightly in England's direction over Germany's. Specially after their last match in Mexico 86 which would be remembered for Argentina winning thanks to Maradona's goals, one the infamous hand of God and the other what some were already arguing was one of the greatest goals ever scored.
The game between England and Germany was a lot of fun to watch as I other then having a slight preference for England did not really care who won. Both teams attacked and chances came at both ends with England slightly having an advantage in time position of the ball. I particularly remember a shot from midfield by an English player that hit the post but would not have counted had it gone in; given an already signaled offside by the referee. Despite all the offense in the first half it would end at 0-0.
It was at the 15 minute mark of the second half that the dead lock was broken in Germany's favor when a free kick by Andreas Brehme deflected off an English player by the name of Paul Parker over Peter Shilton and in to the back of net. Germany was leading 1-0 but England were not finished as Gary Lineker would prove by scoring his fourth goal of the tournament and the one that would bring back the dead lock which would last through out the rest of the game. After the 90 minutes were up I remember thinking how England and Germany had played three previous world cup matches, all of which (this one included) ended in a draw after regulation time, out of which two had required overtime like this one would.
Overtime however ended in a 1-1 draw and after 120 minutes of play that saw Paul Gascoigne get a yellow card that sent him to tears as he like Caniggia would not be playing the final even if England were to go through. In fact both teams came ever so close in overtime; even taking turns in hitting the post but penalties it would be like it had been in the first semifinal.
England and Germany scored their first three shots with Shilton coming close on all three German penalties but it would be Pierce who missed first for England. Pierce, the man who had never missed a penalty had his shot saved by Illgner, the German goalkeeper who had never stopped a penalty before. Germany, at moment went for the kill. Thon stepped up to the penalty spot and scored and by doing so put all the pressure on England' next kicker to score for if he did not it would be all over. Waddle, England's next penalty kicker came and missed by sending his shot over the bar and Germany in to the finals. Germany vs. Argentina it would be one more time, a repeat of the previous final. This also making Germany and Argentina, the first two teams who would play each other in the final for a second time, Italy and Brazil would become the second two teams to do likewise in USA 94.
Saturday arrived, the day on which Italy would play England for third place and what I remember is that not knowing weather or not the ICC would be open for us to watch the game. Danilo and I had not agreed to meet before the game and no one had said anything regarding this rather insignificant match as what reward is there in third place over fourth place but regardless of which I wanted to watch it. I not having a color TV at home went to a hotel lobby to watch the game; where I met two German fans, who simply flaunted to me how it would be them who were going to be playing the final, not Italy. It was their turn, after all we had beaten them in the final in 82, so now it was them who stood to take it all.
The first half was interesting, despite ending with a blank score board as both teams played to win and entertain not really thinking so much of the defensive play that had marred many of the games. I however when the first half ended got the idea that perhaps I was doing a disfavor to my fellow Italians by not watching the game with them so I took a taxi to the ICC, which to my slight surprise was open with all those who had been their from the start, including Danilo.
I was welcome as I entered the place, a few minutes after the second half had started as nobody seemed to mind my coming late though I was slightly embarrassed that I had not been their since the start. The mood was relaxed; almost like a friendly and I even started thinking about a discussion Danilo and I had had weather it was better to win the match for third place or loose in the final with me arguing that the first choice was preferable over the second. Danilo however said he opted for the second one if given a choice but depending on how one lost in the final.
Baggio scored after 70 minutes of play taking advantage of a clear Shilton error and putting Italy ahead though not for good as Plat would equalize 11 minutes later with a spectacular header beating Zenga for the second time in the world cup. Actually what I most remember most about this goal was Marcello, a friend of Danilo applauding after the ball had gone in the net and many thinking at the time it had been me, who had cheered a goal by our adversary. Marcello however would tell all that the clapping had come from his hands.
It however only took Italy five minutes to regain the lead as England gave away a penalty which like the one in the final was not all that clear but in all cases Italy did not mind getting a favorable decision. Schillaci given his many goals was given the task of not only putting Italy in the lead but of scoring his 6th of the tournament which would give him one more then Czechoslovakia's Skuhravy as well make him top goal scorer of Italia 90. Schillaci much to his credit did not disappoint on his penalty kick which put the score at 2-1 for Italy and thus it would end. Italy would even go on to score another goal which I might add was wrongly disallowed for offside but this was of little or no consequence for the result was the same, third place for us, fourth for England.
The final was left but that is another story for Italy's participation in Italia 90 was over. Third place was not bad but it was not what we were hoping for as it was not complete victory, making me realize what my father had said was true. It being that when football's top four, who can be listed as Italy, Argentina, Brazil and Germany play a tournament they do so to win and nothing else but the title will do, for anything less is considered failure. For other teams third place is considered an achievement. This for instance being the case of Poland, who celebrated their third place in Germany 74 for many years to follow and still to this day consider it a great moment for their football but then again they are not Italy, nor do they have the same tradition in the sport we call calcio.
After the game, much to my delight; all of us who had supported Italy through out their campaign at ICC were asked by Catallini himself to come to his house the following day to watch the final in an invitation that included lunch. This being something I would look forward to as Catallini for all his bluntness was not a man without charm.
Italy looking back on Italia 90 was not without its achievements which came in the form of coming in third place, Schillaci being top goal scorer and nominated FIFA's best player of the tournament, Zenga setting a record for most minutes without a goal allowed that included five perfect games, Italy also with only two goals allowed; set a record for the least goals allowed in a world cup by a team which had played 7 games. This last record being one that Italy would tie in the 2006 World Cup. All of which made defeat slightly less bitter but still champions we were not. As a footnote though I did not hear about it at the time, The Three Tenors performed their first concert in Rome on the very day Italy beat England for third place.