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Memories of 1990 World Cup – The African Samba

Memories of 1990 World Cup - The African Samba

In the 1990 WC in Italy, the European hopes were based mainly on 3 teams; West Germany, the hosts Italy and the reigning European champions Holland. The West German team, playing their final WC as a divided nation duly won the cup; but after starting their campaign with a thumping 4-1 win over Yugoslavia (ironically as Germany would get united, Yugoslavia would be divided into number of smaller nations), the Germans never showed their brilliant attacking game again. Even their 1-0 victory in the final over Argentina was marred by controversial referring decisions. They were, without a doubt, the best team in the tournament; but while they were competent, methodical and well disciplined, they failed to show the kind of flair expected of the world champions. As for the hosts Italy, the enormous pressure of the high expectations of the home fans led to them taking the cautious approach; there was just too much emphasis on the defense.

They didn’t concede before the SFs, but still finished the only 3rd. The poor form of star striker Vialli combined with the coach Vicini’s reluctance in using Roberto Baggio regularly led to Italy failing to put enough pressure on the opposition defense. Holland boasted a group of highly talented but often erratic players; and at Italy, the second characteristic dominated. There were talks of disunity within the camp even before the start of the event; at one stage the team captain Gullit threatened to leave the team. While that didn’t happen; the Dutch just showed up in their return to the biggest stage after a gap of 12 years, and a 2-1 defeat against Germany in the round of 16 saw them go home .

Memories of 1990 World Cup – The African Samba

Memories of 1990 World Cup - The African Samba
Memories of 1990 World Cup – The African Samba

Normally, in WC football, most of the excitement, on and off the field, is provided by the Latin teams and their fans. The 1990 event was an exception. For the 3rd WC running, Brazil finished their first round matches with a 100% record. But, the Dunga and co. produced a string of most un-Brazil like performances; a 2-1 victory over Sweden was followed by 1-0 victories over lowly Costa Rica and Scotland. Then, in the round of 16 matches against arch-rivals Argentina, they missed half a dozen clear-cut chances before losing 1-0. Argentina eventually reached the final, but they were boring and predictable.

Maradona was closely marked, the firepower of Valdano was sorely missed during this event, and Buruchagga, the whole goal made the big difference in the final 4 years earlier, looked a pale shadow of his old self. In this scenario, Maradona, and his men, almost literally limped into the final. Overall in 7 matches they only managed 5 goals; interestingly the only other occasion Argentina finished runners-up in WC football, in Uruguay 1930, Stabile, and their forward, alone scored 8 times in 4 matches. Colombia went into this WC on the run of some brilliant displays in the qualifiers, but their lackluster showing in Italy showed that they were not yet ready for the big stage. With star playmaker Valdoramma in rather subdued form, the only excitement was produced by their flamboyant goalkeeper Rene Higuita.

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With the European teams putting too much emphasis on the technical aspects of the game, and the Latin giants failing to produce their usual flair, Italia 1990 became one of the most boring WC ever; in fact, the goal average of 2.21 goals per match during this event still remains the WC record for the lowest. The only bright spot in this event was the performance of the football team from the West African nation of Cameroon, and especially the brilliance of their 38 year ‘young’ striker Roger Milla. Milla, a veteran of Cameroon’s maiden WC appearance in 1982 (then they drew all their 3 group matches, and failed to make it to the 2nd round on goal counts); retired from football in the mid-80’s; but the higher authorities in Cameroon recalled him for the Italy WC.

It was in their 2nd match, against Romania, at Bari, that we first saw the real influence of the man. Like Cameroon, Romania also won their first game; a 2-0 victory over USSR. So, at Bari a draw would have been enough for both the teams; and indeed during the first 60 minutes, we saw both teams taking the cautious approach.

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