1990 FIFA World Cup™ – News – A magical night in Rome

    • ​Matthaus and Voller were West Germany’s first-choice penalty-takers
    • Brehme found himself under a 700-something-kilogram pile-up!
    • An emperor reigned in Rome for the first time since 476 AD

    “And, what’s he given? He’s given a penalty! He’s. Given. A. Penalty!”

    Those are the famous words German television commentator Gerd Rubenbauer used to describe the events in the 85th minute of the 1990 FIFA World Cup™ Final, sparking cries of delight in living rooms across the country. Rudi Voller had been felled in the box and Mexican referee Edgardo Codesal Mendez pointed straight to the spot, despite the furious protests of the Argentinian players.

    “I knew right away that I’d have to take it,” said Andreas Brehme of that moment in Rome on 8 July 1990, incidentally 24 years to the day before Germany’s unforgettable 7-1 thrashing of Brazil in the last four of the 2014 finals.

    “Three penalty takers were always selected before each game. We had Rudi Voller, but he had been fouled and the fouled player should never take the spot-kick. Then there was Lothar Matthaus, but he wasn’t feeling too good. It was important for us that the taker be full of confidence in order to score the penalty, so I stepped up. Voller came up to me and said: ‘So, if you score then we’re world champions.’ ‘Thanks a lot, I’ll bear that in mind,’ I replied.”

    Lasting effect

    At exactly 21.40, time stood still for a moment as the midfielder readied himself to face Argentinian penalty-saving expert Sergio Goycochea. The custodian had been crucial to a highly efficient South American side reaching the title-decider – he was outstanding in the team’s Round of 16 meeting with Brazil, as well as in the penalty shoot-outs in the quarter-finals against Yugoslavia and the semi-finals against Italy.

    Brehme took a short run-up and scored, and his goal was greeted with a four-second cry of “Yeeeeeesss!” by Rubenbauer. His effort was hit low into the bottom-left corner and although Goycochea went the right way, Brehme’s strike was too well placed.

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    “What happened next was indescribable,” the match-winner continued. “Everyone’s seen the pictures of the goal celebration. At that moment we all knew we were going to win the World Cup. I had six, seven or eight players piled on top of me but I didn’t notice at the time.”

    His goal marked the first occasion in World Cup history that a Final was decided by a penalty. Understandably, Goycochea has rather different memories of the events. “It still hurts today,” the former goalkeeper once told “Letting that penalty in was more painful than the five goals Colombia put past me in the qualifier in 1993.”

    The final whistle sounded shortly afterwards and for the first time since 476 AD, there was once again an emperor in Rome, namely Germany coach Franz ‘Der Kaiser’ Beckenbauer. He became only the second person after Brazil’s Mario Zagallo to win the World Cup as both a player – in 1974 – and as a coach.

    End of an era

    A poignant image of Beckenbauer in the aftermath of the match has lingered long in the memory. With a full moon shining down and an aeroplane taking off into the night sky, Beckenbauer walked a lap of the pitch by himself, lost in thought, medal draped around his neck, hands thrust into his pockets and with billions of spectators around the world watching on.

    Perhaps because of that snapshot at the Stadio Olimpico, Beckenbauer was later dubbed as a “shining light”. In his autobiography two years later, Beckenbauer wrote that at that moment he was signing off from football: “It was a goodbye without any chance of a return. I had no fire left inside me, no passion.”

    Germany had taken revenge for defeat in the 1986 title-decider, as for the first time in tournament history the same two teams had reached successive Finals. It was an especially momentous occasion for Germany because the Berlin Wall had only been torn town in November the previous year and victory crowned a period of huge change and domestic integration. It rekindled memories of 1954 and, after losing the Finals at Spain 1982 and Mexico 1986, they finally had their hands on the Trophy once again.

    Up until the decisive 85th minute, the spectators had witnessed a gripping match that remained on a knife-edge until the very end. The South Americans were deprived of four players through suspension, including Claudio Caniggia, who had been sensational in previous games.

    He scored the winner against Brazil in the Round of 16 and grabbed the equaliser in the semi-finals against the tournament hosts, forcing the game into extra time and penalties. “It was one of the most frustrating moments of my career,” Caniggia later said of the yellow card he received for a handball that deprived him of a place in the Final. “That and the fact that I never won the World Cup.”

    The German ‘Diego’

    His compatriots Pedro Monzon and Gustavo Dezotti were sent off in the 65th and 87th minutes respectively of a hard-fought encounter in which the South Americans only rarely threatened Germany’s goal. That was in large part due to the fact that Diego Maradona was unable to reach the same dizzying heights of his displays at Mexico 1986, but also because he was man-marked by Guido Buchwald for almost the entire match.

    “I’d promised my daughter Dalma that I would take the World Cup home with me,” said Maradona, who sat in the centre circle in tears after the Final whistle, while the stands around him became a swirling sea of black, red and gold flags. “Minute by minute I could tell from his body language that he was becoming increasingly resigned, as if to say: ‘What, you again?’” said Buchwald, later affectionately dubbed ‘Diego’ in Germany in honour of the greatest match of his career.

    The game heralded the end of an era but it was without doubt a magical night that found a deserving winner in Germany. Rubenbauer’s coverage of the match, incidentally, ended with the words: “The Kaiser has got the crown, Germany have got the Trophy and, ladies and gentlemen, we had a lot of fun.”

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