mail: jan@planetworldcup.com


In this series of Flashbacks we present teams, players and happenings that people remember from the history of the World Cup.

Salvatore "Toto" Schillaci celebrating his goal in the first half. It was his fifth in the tournament and everything went according to plan.

Claudio Caniggia gave the Italian confidence a severe knock with his 67th minute equalizer.

Walter Zenga during the penalty shoot-out. The celebrated Italian goalkeeper failed to stop any of the Argentine penalties.

Sergio Goycoechea makes a tremendous save on Donadoni's penalty and put Argentina in control in the shoot-out.

Previous editions of this column





By Jan Alsos

    Naples, July 3rd 1990. The venue and date for the first of the semifinals at Italia '90. The pre-game hype for this mouthwatering encounter between Italy and Argentina reached new heights. Newspapers exceeded eachother in describing this match as arguably the biggest in the history of the game. It wasn't so much about the exhilarating attacking football - neither of the teams had shown that - it was the occasion that was so massive. Host nation against defending champions at Stadio San Paolo, the adopted home ground of the away team's captain and greatest player in the world, Diego Maradona. Argentina and Italy had shared the previous three World Cup titles between them and both were determined to make it to Rome five days later for the Final.

    Maradona had guided Napoli to another Scudetto (Serie A title) just weeks before the World Cup and many Italians feared they would be outnumbered on the terraces in Naples where Maradona was bigger than God. Argentina's number ten played mindgames on the press conference the day before the match when asked about the support his country could get in the game: "364 days a year the people of Naples are not considered to be worthy Italians by the people up north. Why should they behave as Italians tomorrow?".

    Argentina's national anthem was played under silence from the crowd - a rarity in these finals. Maradona received hostile booing in every stadium he played in - the exception was of course the San Paolo in Naples where he had defied the odds with SSC Napoli time and time again. Something extra would be needed to crack open the Italian defence which had been impregnable so far and San Paolo was the perfect venue for Argentina and Maradona to accomplish that. Italian goalkeeper Walter Zenga had yet to concede a goal in the World Cup much thanks to his phenomenal backline featuring Bergomi, Baresi, Ferri and Maldini.

    Coach Azeglio Vicini's defensive approach to the game gave no room for Roberto Baggio in the starting line-up. The Juventus-bound world record signing would instead be replaced by Gianluca Vialli, the man Italy first and foremost thought would lead the Azzurri to the title before the tournament started. He had been incredibly inefficient and a huge disappointment so far. A missed penalty against the United States in the first round was the closest he had come to scoring in the World Cup.

    Vialli's goaldrought gave room for Salvatore Schillaci to emerge as Italy's unlikely saviour with four goals so far. Reckoned fourth choice behind Carnevale, Vialli and Baggio before the World Cup, he was now a certain starter against Argentina.

    Italy took control in the opening minutes, but it was Argentina and Burruchaga who tested Zenga with a wicked shot after 8 minutes, the first serious attempt at goal in the match. Ten minutes later Schillaci started the move which also involved Giannini and Vialli before "Toto" pounced on a rare rebound from Goycoechea to give Italy the lead - his fifth goal in the World Cup.

    The remaining part of the first half became a cautious contest. Italy sat back and relied on their well-drilled defence to take care of the few Argentine players ready to cross the halfway line. Shortly before half-time Maradona received the ball just outside the box, swivelled 180 degrees and fired a good shot at Zenga, but no goal. 1-0 at half time.

    A much more attack-minded Argentina entered the field after the interval. Italy dropped further back and relied on their strong defence to weather any storm Argentina might create. Vicini's men had already secured three 1-0 wins in this World Cup and were determined to use the same recipe to make it four against the world champions. Maradona suddenly was given more space and was able to control the game with his accurate passing to more mobile teammates. Caniggia lurked up front and looked sharp as a knife whenever the ball came near him.

    Zenga was forced to make a qualified save from a dangerous shot by Olarticoechea early in the second half. The following corner almost cost Italy the lead when Zenga fumbled what looked like an easy ball to catch. The Argentine pressure increased and after the hour Baresi made a marvellous goal-saving tackle when blocking Caniggia's effort from a Burruchaga pass. Argentina were suddenly playing their best football of the entire tournament.

    Halfway through the second half Maradona had total control of midfield and played a smart ball out to Olarticoechea on the left. His accurate cross found Caniggia inside the box who just nodded the ball over Zenga - who was out of position in no man's land - and into the net. The Italian defensive wall was finally beaten after 517 minutes, a World Cup record.

    At 1-1, Italy went on the attack again. Vicini made two quick substitutions. Off went playmaker Giannini and also Vialli who had another quiet night. Roberto Baggio came on to the crowd's delight along with forward Aldo Serena, the latter to give Italy more power in the air. Despite the tactical changes made by Vicini, his team couldn't produce any dangerous situations in front of the Argentina goalmouth until De Agostini, nine minutes from time, had his fine effort from close range saved by Goycoechea after Donadoni had set him up. Time ran out and the teams prepared themselves for extra-time with Italy looking the stronger side.

    The cautious trend that many teams had adopted in Italia '90 was also followed by both teams in this semifinal in extra-time. What looked like a very good match in large parts of the second half of normal time, turned into a boring match with many free-kicks, throw-ins and play abruptions in the extra half hour. Argentina coach Carlos Bilardo decided to strengthen his central midfield with another champion from 1986, Sergio Batista, who took Basualdo's place. The only highlight in the first extra half was Baggio's splendid free-kick saved by Goycoechea after 101 minutes.

    Referee Michel Vautrot of France added on four minutes and was about to blow his whistle for half time of extra time when Baggio was elbowed in the face by Ricardo Giusti in an off-the-ball incident. Neither TV-cameras or Vautrot was able to fully confirm this so the referee consulted his linesman Peter Mikkelsen of Denmark and together they made the decision of sending off the already booked Giusti. Angry Argentinian players threatened the officials and play was delayed for minutes more and by the time everything was settled and over, the clock showed more than 8 minutes of injury-time for the first 15 minutes of extra-time football!

    The second half of extra-time was Argentina against the clock. It was all about bringing the game to penalties. Italy failed to produce anything noteworthy even with a player more on the field. Serena was even more quiet than Vialli, and Baggio was easily neutralized by the efficient Argentinian defenders. Schillaci had no more energy to burn and Italy's playmaker Giannini was already substituted. The hosts simply ran out of attacking options and with Argentina determined to sit back and control 1-1, the last 15 minutes seemed to have little to offer for the 60,000 at San Paolo and hundreds of millions watching on TV around the world.

    But the game could have taken a sensational turn minutes from full time. Maradona received the ball down by the sideline, shook off two players, dribbled past two more in the crowded Italian penalty-area, further three players ran to stop him, but Maradona then played the ball between them to a totally unmarked Olarticoechea on the 18-yard line with only Zenga to beat, but his shot went two yards wide. It could have been another golden assist for Maradona much like the one he set up for Caniggia against Brazil in the second round.

    A penalty shoot-out awaited in the Southern Italian night instead. Argentina beat Yugoslavia from the spot in the quarterfinal with goalkeeper Goycoechea as the hero when Maradona missed. Now "Goyco" was forced to play the hero's role again if Argentina were to reach another World Cup Final. Ten tired players were now asked to perform one more shot at goal with an outcome that would influence the legacy of their careers in a good or bad way. Some players names, regardless of other career accomplishments, are only affiliated and associated with a decisive penalty, goal or miss, after retirement.

    Italy started with Franco Baresi who made no mistake and blasted the ball past Goycoechea before there was any eye-contact between the two. 1-0. Josť Serrizuela scored for Argentina with Zenga touching the ball slightly. 1-1. Baggio's attempt was almost saved by Goycoechea who got both hands to the ball, but could only push it into the side netting. 2-1. The 1986 World Cup Final matchwinner Jorge Burruchaga sent Zenga the wrong way and scored with ease. 2-2. De Agostini's penalty was very well placed and Goycoechea had no chance even if he went the right way. 3-2. Julio Olarticoechea, still bitter for squandering the chance of being matchwinner in extra-time, made no mistake in the shoot-out. 3-3.

    No misses after the first three rounds of penalties. Next man was Roberto Donadoni for Italy. The pressure increased for every round and a miss at this stage could prove fatal. Donadoni's penalty was very good, but the save from Goycoechea was even better. Advantage Argentina and remarkable silence in the crowd apart from a small colony of South American fans on the upper tier of the stadium.

    Diego Maradona stepped up for Argentina and took his penalty in such an arrogant way, and with so little weight on the ball, that it barely crossed the line. Zenga outplayed. 3-4.

    Aldo Serena carried the weight of the entire Italy on his shoulders when walking the long way from the center-circle to the penalty-spot. The tall forward had not played particularly well, but was now selected to take Italy's fifth penalty knowing a miss would mean elimination from Italia '90. Serena went for full power straight at goal, but Goycoechea parried the ball and sent Argentina to another World Cup Final, their third in the last four tournaments.


    The outcome of this match haunted Italian football for years because this was the first of three successive World Cup eliminations on penalties. Serena's miss this night in Naples was followed by Baggio's against Brazil in 1994 and Di Biagio's against France in 1998. Italy's consolation in their own tournament was the 3rd/4th place play-off match win over England and Salvatore Schillaci's topscorer title.

    Argentina were severely weakened in the Final because of a number of suspensions on keyplayers. Giusti, Batista, Olarticoechea and Caniggia were all missing. Argentina thus couldn't resist the West German machine in the final and lost 1-0 after a late Brehme penalty. Carlos Bilardo's men lost temper and had two players sent off and were dethroned under enormous hissing from the crowd when picking up the silvermedals.

Date: July 3rd 1990
Venue: Stadio San Paolo (att: 59,978)
City: Naples, Italy
Referee: Michel Vautrot (France)
Italy [3 pens] 1, (1)
Goals: Schillaci 17
Line-up: Zenga, Baresi, Bergomi, Maldini, De Agostini, Ferri, Giannini (Baggio), Donadoni, De Napoli, Vialli (Serena), Schillaci.
Argentina [4 pens] 1, (0)
Goals: Caniggia 67
Line-up: Goycoechea, Simon, Serrizuela, Ruggeri, Basualdo (Batista), Calderon (Troglio), Giusti, Olarticoechea, Burruchaga, Maradona, Caniggia.

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