Meanwhile both England and Ireland progressed, ramping up home interest to fever pitch. David O’Leary’s penalty shoot-out winner was enough to see Jack Charlton’s team through, while Bobby Robson’s England had David Platt to thank for a late extra time winner against Belgium. Emerging for England was Tottenham’s Paul Gascoigne, a mercurial talent whose promise was never quite fulfilled.
England went on to beat a spirited Cameroon in the quarter finals, needing two Gary Lineker penalties to progress after extra time.
It was the end of the road for Ireland’s adventure at the hands of Italy, while Argentina and West Germany battled through games against Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia respectively. Argentina squeaked through a penalty shoot-out despite missing twice. Maradona himself was off-target.
It was at the quarter final stage when, as a young fan, I realized now the games were running out and the fun would soon be over. Still, the feeling was tempered by the knowledge that at the business end of such tournaments, heavyweight encounters lie ahead.
In 1990, the semi-final line-up was Italy versus Argentina and West Germany against England. At the time it was hard to imagine two greater games. If fairytales do come true though, they didn’t seem to here. In Naples, the dreams of the home nation Italy were crushed by Argentina in a shoot-out win, Maradona converting this time around. England’s hopes of a first final since 1966 were not to be fulfilled. England lost to West Germany on penalties, Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle missing from 12 yards to go down in infamy.
In 1986 West Germany played Argentina in the World Cup Final in Mexico. Four years later, the same two teams contested the final in Rome. The match is not one remembered fondly, except of course by Germans, as an Andreas Brehme penalty was enough to take the trophy in a 1-0 win.
That bad tempered game closed a tournament generally now accepted to be one of the poorest in history. Indeed I remember the words of my dad who claimed he had “seen better matches on park pitches.” None of that takes away from the magic of Italia ’90 for me. As a 12-year soccer fan witnessing wall-to-wall TV coverage, it’s impossible to say how much I enjoyed even the most mediocre of games.
As this year’s World Cup in Brazil gets ever closer, I’m reminded of those games in Italy. And although I’m not 12 anymore, I get excited all over again.