FIFA World Cup

A brief history of Fifa World Cup: Italy 1990, when West Germany triumphed in a goal-shy tournament

This World Cup witnessed the lowest goals-per-game average, a deluge of sendings-off and arguably the worst final ever seen.

It’s that time again! The greatest show on earth is upon us. Ahead of the Fifa World Cup in Russia, we look-back at the 20 tournaments before and the standout aspects from them.

Next up, a goal-shy tournament in Italy that saw West Germany lift their third World Cup title.

Italy 1990

The 1990 World Cup witnessed the lowest goals-per-game average, a deluge of sendings-off and arguably the worst final ever seen. Just 115 goals were scored in 52 games at an average of 2.21 per game. There were 16 red cards and 164 bookings at an average of 3.46 per match, another record. In addition, penalty shootouts were routine – four in total – including both semi-finals. Argentina advanced at the expense of Italy and West Germany beat England, a night remembered to this date for Paul Gascoigne’s tears.

Appropriately, it was a penalty, by Andreas Brehme for the Germans, that decided a sorry final which included two sendings off for the Argentines. It was West Germany’s third World Cup win.

Argentina’s performance was typical of the tournament. They reached the final despite winning only two games and scoring five goals in total. Maradona finished the final in tears.

Cameroon, inspired by the veteran Roger Milla, reached the quarter-finals, while the unheralded Toto Schillaci hit six goals for Italy to finish as top scorer.

For Lothar Matthaus, playing in his third World Cup, it was a memory like no other:

“Winning the World Cup was just the most emotional experience. At the time I was living and playing in Italy, and so it almost felt like a home tournament for me. Our first games were played in what felt like my living room – the San Siro in Milan! By the end, it wasn’t just the German fans supporting us, but the Italian fans too. Rudi Voller, who was at Roma, was also playing in the Final and Italy had been knocked out by Argentina, so the whole stadium was behind us. Germans talk nowadays about the summer fairy tale of 2006, but this was my summer fairy tale. And it had a happy ending too.”  

— Quotes:

Stats and trivia

  • Fouls aplenty! The total of 16 red cards and 164 bookings at an average of 3.46 per match is a tournament record. The referees must have been given a run for their money.
  • Argentina became the first finalists not to score and also the first to have a player sent off when Gustavo Dezotti was dismissed. 
  • Franz Beckenbauer became only the second man after Mario Zagallo to win the world crown as first a player and then a coach and the first ever to do the captain-coach double.
  • One of Germany’s players of the tournament was Lothar Matthaus, who enjoyed a free role this time around compared to his man-marking responsibilites in 1986 (he kept Maradona quiet for a long in the ‘86 final.) Matthaus played in a record 25 World Cup games during his career. He featured at every tournament from 1982 until ‘98, and is one of only three players – and the only outfield player – to have been part of five separate editions of the global showpiece. Gigi Buffon could have broken the record this year, had Italy qualified.
  • After Morocco became the first African team to reach the second stage of the finals in , Cameroon took it a step further in 1990, becoming the first ever team from the dark continent to play in the last eight of a World Cup. A quarter-final run inspired by Roger Milla.
  • Speaking of Roger Milla, the legendary striker became the oldest goalscorer in the tournament history, at and age 38 years and 34 days. That record would be broken four years later though... by Milla himself!
  • Andreas Brehme, the man who scored the title-clinching goal for West Germany, remains the only player to have scored penalties with both feet in the World Cup.
  • Leading goalscorer: Salvatore ‘Toto’ Schillaci (Italy) - 6 goals
  • Total number of goals in the tournament: 115 (2.2 goals per match - the lowest ratio in the tournament’s history) 

For your viewing pleasure

The final, not a very exciting one...



Official poster


With AFP and inputs

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