By Ridge Mahoney
There were common elements to the 1986 and 1990 World Cup finals. Both were contested by Argentina and West Germany, which fielded many of the same players, including Diego Maradona and Lothar Matthaeus, respectively, in both competitions, but they left very different impressions.
Maradona capped off a spectacular and notorious performance in the 1986 competition by setting up the winning goal in a 3-2 defeat of West Germany, which rallied from a 2-0 deficit with a pair of late goals, only to concede the winner three minutes after equalizing. Four years later, a grim and dour tournament concluded appropriately when West Germany prevailed,1-0, on a penalty kick and Argentina finished the game with nine men.
Leading up to the ’86 final, Maradona had often dazzled, erasing the stain of his performance at the 1982 tournament when he’d been sent off after kicking an opponent in the chest. He was at his best in Mexico, scoring five and assisting on five more of Argentina’s 14 goals. But just minutes apart in a 2-1 defeat of England in the quarterfinals, he conjured up moments that fit ideally the description of him in the French newspaper L’Equipe: “half-angel, half-devil.”
As he went up with English keeper Peter Shilton to contest high ball, his left fist flashed up and knocked the ball beyond Shilton’s reaching arms. He wheeled away in celebration as the ball rolled into the net and the English protested incredulously. The goal stood. A few minutes later, Maradona collected the ball in his own half and took off on a searing run that took him past five opponents, including Shilton, and ended up with him falling to the ground as he poked the ball into the net. Gary Lineker scored to cut the deficit in half and nearly hit another in the final seconds but Argentina held on.
Maradona scored both goals in a 2-0 semifinal win over Belgium to set up the final with West Germany, which in the knockout rounds had beaten Morocco in the round of 16 and needed a penalty-kick shootout to eliminate the host. For the second straight World Cup, it faced France in the semifinals. The 1982 meeting had produced a 3-3 extra-time classic that the West Germans won on penalty kicks; this time, West Germany scored early through Andreas Brehmeand Rudi Voeller netted in the final minutes to win, 2-0.
Matthaeus was assigned to shadow Maradona in the final and though he kept the superstar quiet, Maradona’s teammates couldn’t be contained. Defender Jose Luis Brown opened the scoring midway through the first half and Jorge Valdano added a second early in the second half. West Germany’s spirit eventually brought results: Karl-Heinz Rummenigge struck in the 74th minute and Voeller tied it in the 81st.
Inevitably, Maradona played the winning card. He broke free and clipped a ball that sent Jorge Burruchaga racing beyond the German back line and his crisp finish brought Argentina its second world title. Then-coach Cesar Luis Menottihad declined to take a teenage Maradona to the ’78 tournament and won it without him. In the vision of successor Carlos Bilardo, Maradona mesmerized the world.
With Bilardo, Maradona and Burruchaga back for the 1990 tournament in Italy, Argentina was granted a puncher’s chance to repeat. But a shocking 1-0 loss to Cameroon rocked the team’s confidence and after going through with a 1-1-1 record, it stunned Brazil, 1-0, in the round of 16 and scratched past Yugoslavia and Italy in penalty-kick shootouts dominated by its goalkeeper, Sergio Goycochea, who had replaced starter Nery Pumpido, the starter in 1986, when he suffered a broken leg in the second group game against the Soviet Union.
In that game, Maradona pulled off another incredible transgression. With the score 0-0, he dropped all the back into his own penalty area defending a Soviet attack and blocked a goalbound shot with his right arm. Once again, the officials missed the offense, and Argentina scored twice to win, 2-0.
In his postgame comments, Soviet coach Valeri Lobanovsky spoke of what a remarkable player was Maradona. “He scores goals with his left arm and stops them with his right,” was the translation.
Argentina deflated the hopes of the host nation when Goycochea saved two Italian penalties in the shootout after the teams had tied 1-1 through 120 minutes of play. It would face West Germany in the final without the suspended Claudio Caniggia, whose scything dribbles and fearless charges into the penalty area had taken some of the pressure off Maradona. Three other Argentine players were also suspended.
One of the two nations would join Italy (1934, 1938, 1982) and Brazil (1958, 1962, 1970) as three-time World Cup winners. Sentiment and form favored West Germany, but Argentina had Maradona.
West Germany also needed penalties to reach the final; it had scored 10 goals in the group phase but seemed to lose steam in the knockout rounds. It topped the Netherlands, 2-1, in a bitter round-of-16 match; edged Czechoslovakia, 1-0, in the quarterfinals; and scratched past England, 4-3, on penalties after a 1-1 tie.
German head coach Franz Beckenbauer did not assign Matthaeus to shadow Maradona, as was the case in 1986. Argentina’s hard, tough tackling stilted the efforts of Voeller and Jurgen Klinsmann to get at its back line. The match was a grim one and Mexican referee Edgardo Codesal never got a grip on the action.
Both teams were denied claims for a penalty kick and tempers escalated. As the match dragged into the second half, Klinsmann duped Codesal with a ridiculous, rolling dive that produced a red card for Pedro Monzon. In the 85th minute, Voeller went down under a challenge from Roberto Sensiniand Codesal whistled for a penalty kick that Brehme converted after several minutes of heated Argentine protest.
Gustavo Dezotti, carded earlier for taking down Jurgen Kohler with a necktie tackle, was sent off in the final minutes for wrestling Kohler for the ball as the West German attempted to kill time. The lowest-scoring World Cup (2.21 goals per game) ended acrimoniously. Matthaeus lifted the trophy as captain, and Beckenbauer entered the history books as the first man to captain (in 1974) and coach a World Cup champion.