Italia ’90 is one of my favourite World Cups, the great players involved, the official song that sent shivers down the spine and the sensational haircuts sported by the protagonists. The tournament sadly didn’t go to plan. Instead of an England vs Italy final pitching Roberto Baggio against Paul Gascoigne, we had the brutally efficient Germans against the barbaric Argentinians, both of whom arrived in the final on penalty shoot outs in games they should have lost. The final fittingly featured the first two sendings off in a World Cup Final and was decided by a German penalty. Anyway, bitter rant aside, here are my top 5 moments from this tournament…
Roberto Baggio’s goal against Czech Republic
From the gentle, swaying symmetry of the run, to the delicate drop of the shoulder before the exquisite finish, everything about this goal was so perfect. It was the goal Nessun Dorma was meant to accompany and it marked the arrival of Il Divino Codino at the tournament.
The Cameroon team’s efforts in stopping Claudio Cannigia in the opening game
Those who referred to Cameroon as a ‘breath of fresh air’ in Italia ’90 were almost certainly football romantics and definitely not from Argentina. Their 1-0 win over the defending champions in the opening game was down in no small part to their robust approach to defending (given Argentina’s performance against the Italy and Germany later on in the tournament, no sympathy is due), which is perfectly summed up by the two unsuccessful attempts to stop Claudio Cannigia and the final successful one.
Frank Rijkaard spitting in Rudi Voller’s ear
There’s no love lost between Holland and Germany (those darn continentals can be such a fractious bunch) and this bad tempered clash finally came to a head with Rijkaard and Voller being sent off for a spot of handbags. Rijkaard’s timing and accuracy were typically Dutch, while the look on Rudi’s face when he realises what Frank has done to his favourite mullet is priceless.
David Platt’s last minute winner against Belgium
Make no mistake, this game was pretty turgid. England were appalling (I recently saw a rerun of the entire fixture on ESPN, for those of you questioning my memory skills), with the exception of Scifo’s shooting it had few highlights. But the conga-inducing finish by Platt means England fans will always remember this game fondly. Gazza’s surging run to win the free kick should be taken in the context of two hours played in Italian summer heat, what an engine that boy had.
I’m sure you don’t need a youtube clip to picture this. Having picked up a booking for a frankly atrocious and unnecessary tackle against Belgium, Gazza went into the semi final against Germany knowing one booking would see him miss the final. There are many enduring images from that night, Lineker’s look to the bench, Bobby Robson wistfully staring at his feet and Gazza’s anguish written all over his face. It’s only when you look back at Italia ’90, you realise what a talent he was. A genuine box to box midfielder, who would put his foot in when needed, but could also ghost through the opposition like they weren’t there.
When you think of the World Cup what comes to mind? Maybe it is 1966 and all that, Pele’s near misses in ’70, the Hand of God in ’86? Maybe its Tardelli’s celebration or even Roger Milla’s. However, as well all the magical moments it is worth remembering that, traditionally, the World Cup is often a showcase for tactical innovation too.
From an English perspective, the 6-3 Wembley defeat at the hands of Hungary in 1953 is often considered the watershed moment. The first time England had been beaten at home by continental opposition.. and it was a thrashing, both technically and tactically. The rematch in Hungary only served to highlight the point as England were stuffed 7-1. However, it was the 1954 World Cup that gave the Hungarians the chance to showcase their team to the world.
The Miracle of Berne, a first defeat in 37 games, may have denied Puskas et al their World Cup win in ’54 but the tournament still served as a reminder they were streets ahead. By withdrawing the centre-forward in the then ubiquitous WM formation to a deeper playmaking role, Gusztav Sebes’ Hungarians were able to control games and cause significant confusion for their opponents. The centre-half simply did not know who to mark as the WM faced this newfangled formation. As Jonathan Wilson points out in Inverting The Pyramid - ”Two full-backs, two central defensive presences, two players running the middle and four up front: the Hungarian system was a hair’s-breadth from 4-2-4”. They had invented the formation of the future.
The Hungarian coach Bela Guttmann claimed that his leaving Honved for Sao Paolo in 1956 saw the 4-2-4 transported to South America. The lineage of the formation is far less clear than that. However, the next two World Cups were won with Brazil, aided by the stunning wingplay of Garrincha, using variants of that famous formation first unleashed on the world by the Hungarians years earlier.
By 1966, wing wizards were the last thing on the agenda. The greatest month in England’s footballing history can be remembered in terms of a Russian linesman and Kenneth Wolstenholme’s commentary but it was as much a tactical victory for Sir Alf Ramsey as anything else. Like Viktor Maslov had discovered in the Soviet Union almost simultaneously, Ramsey had realised the benefits of tucking his wide men inside to become de facto right and left-midfielders as opposed to out and out wingers. In doing so, his side was able to dominate the midfield, with the added bonus of Nobby Stiles being able to sit deeper as a holding midfielder with no real creative responsibility. The ‘Wingless Wonders’ were born. As Ramsey put it: ”To have two players stuck wide on the flanks, is a luxury which can virtually leave a side with 9 men when the game is going against them”. The new formation saw England able to defeat an Argentina side in the quarter finals that had baffled them in the Maracana two years earlier, before going on to defeat Portugal and Germany to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy.
Eight years on, it was the turn of the giants of South America to be humbled. It was an eye-opening experience for both Argentina and Brazil as they found themselves given lessons in the Total Football being served up by the great Dutch side of ’74. Argentina were beaten 4-0..
A 2-0 win over Brazil followed. In many ways, the flexibility of the Dutch system had its forerunners in the Brazilian teams of years gone by. However, the possession game had been fused with a more high tempo pressing style and the results were astounding. As Tim Vickery points out, they also left a long-term impression on the humbled World Champions of the time:
”Johan Cruyff.. has often lamented that Brazil have turned into an overly pragmatic, counter-attacking team, but Cruyff’s superb Holland side of 1974 played its part in that process. They beat Brazil.. in that World Cup and the pressure they put on the ball left a huge impression on Brazilian coaches. Brazil decided that in order to face the European challenge their players would have to be bigger, stronger, faster, more explosive”.
Dunga’s Brazil perhaps has its roots therefore, in a footballing lesson taught nearly 36 years earlier. His counterpart Maradona is, one could argue, faced with a similar history lesson in attempting to get the best out of Lionel Messi for Argentina. In 1986, Carlos Bilardo took his Argentine side to Mexico on an unimpressive run of form despite the presence of the finest footballer on the planet within his ranks. He decided, maybe in desperation, to unveil to the world a new formation in order to bring success – the 3-5-2.
Bilardo’s reasoning was that with teams no longer using wingers then there was no real need for full-backs – they could be converted to midfielders and played higher up the field. By the Quarter Finals, Maradona was operating as a support striker making it closer to a 3-5-1-1. As Bilardo put it: ”When we went out to play like that, it took the world by surprise because they didn’t know the details of the system”. The rest as they say is history as it took them all the way to World Cup victory.
By the time of the next World Cup in 1990, with the wide midfielders in the system now perhaps more accurately decribed as wing-backs, variants of Bilardo’s formation were all the rage. Even Brazil and England, previously wedded to their back 4′s, were now experimenting with 3 at the back on the grandest of stages. The World Cup as a driver of change once again? It made sense on two counts – firstly, the desire to mimic success; secondly, the desire to ‘match-up’ in order to eliminate any tactical advantage for the opponent.
In more recent times, it may be considered harder than ever to spring a tactical surprise (We still see innovation – even in calamity, Rene Higuita’s antics in 1990 could be considered a forerunner to the sweeper-keepers of the backpass rule era). Things are more homogenised though as cultural diversity diminishes. Almost all the teams at major tournaments have at least a handful of players with experience of top level European football. Furthermore, when you consider the increase in video evidence and improved scouting in the modern game, you may conclude there is no reason for major tournaments to be the focal point for tactical innovation they once were. For example, the driving force for the decline of 3 at the back probably came from the 4-5-1 in high level club football.
And yet, as recently as 2004, the European Championship victory of Otto Rehhagel’s man-marking Greek side could be seen, perhaps more than anything else, as a monumental tactical triumph. It has not proven an influential tactic, frankly appearing to be more of a one-off. As the UEFA Technical Director Andy Roxburgh memorably put it though, ”the Greeks had posed a problem the rest of the world had forgotten how to solve”….. Could we see such a thing in South Africa this Summer?
Tactically speaking, the side which is attracting most excitement among afficionados is probably Chile. The Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa has them playing his trademark 3-3-1-3 formation and they certainly qualified in style, playing a fluid attacking system.
Dunga has built a team playing an almost unique assymetrical formation with one centre forward and a winger, Robinho, playing high up the field on the left. There is no like for like player on the other flank with Ramires instead operating as a right-midfielder. Of course, this suits Dunga as it will allow him cover for when Maicon (or Dani Alves) advance forward. Thus he has width as well as retaining the element of defensive control he wants centrally. Their strength will lie on the counter-attack as evidenced by the 2nd and 3rd goals against Italy at the Confederations Cup last year:
It may be that this assymetrical approach of Brazil’s – providing a variety of threats to suit the players available – will be the tactic of this World Cup. Intriguingly however, the biggest weakness facing a side that prefers to soak up pressure and hit the opposition fast on the break, is the possibility of coming up against a side that refuses to engage and relies on ultra defensive tactics. Their first opponents will be a North Korea side that shackled Paraguay reasonably effectively last month and against whom even a 1-0 victory could bring disquiet back in Rio de Janeiro. Fascinating.
Elsewhere, we may well be looking to two of the most maligned coaches at the World Cup for the most talked about formations on view. Focus on Maradona’s handling of Messi is inevitable and will most likely remain a talking point for as long as Argentina are in the competition. The traditional Argentine 4-3-1-2 with the playmaking ‘enganche‘ as the ’1′ has been abandoned in favour of what, to English eyes, will be a very familiar 4-4-2.. even down to the defensive full-backs. Clearly the relationship between Veron and Messi will be key, but with Veron’s legs unlikely to last the pace, the real fascination could be how the formation adapts if they go deep in the competition.
Maradona’s chief rival for ‘most eccentric coach in the tournament’ is France’s Raymond Domenech and he is another capable of springing a surprise. The loss of Diarra presents a quandary for the coach and there is speculation he could utilise a 4-3-3 with Malouda and Gourcuff in midfield. This would be a significant tactical shift and an untypically attacking reaction to the problem, but in a very winnable group it could well be the making of the French side.
There are others of course. Are Paraguay set to make a 3-4-3 work? Will North Korea’s defensive strategy be the talk of the early stages in the so-called Group of Death? Closer to home, in the possible absence of Gareth Barry could England be set to reinvent the box-to-box midfielder with Lampard and Milner in midfield?
Whatever happens in South Africa you can be sure coaches everywhere will be picking the bones out of it, analysing it and ruminating upon it for some time to come. What new problems will sides pose? What solutions can be found? We’ll soon find out, and I cannot wait…
After a dream weekend for Blackpool fans it didn’t take long for the bookmakers to make them odds on for relegation. Talk about putting a dampener on things. We here at Ghostgoal are excited at prospect of seeing the tangerines in the top flight.. but we thought it might be an idea to speak to a fan well-schooled in life spent yo-yo-ing between the Championship and the Premiership. So we emailed a friend of ours, Andrew Benbow, a West Bromwich Albion fan, to discuss it.. I say discuss.. what we got was an essay, but we loved it:
It is one of the most iconic football photographs of all time, an image that sums up the power Maradona held over mere mortals during his career, photographic evidence that one man is capable of single-handedly lifting an entire nation to World Cup glory. But in this age of football pragmatism, where we bestow the title of ‘Special One’ to the most negative coach in a generation, it seems as good a time as any to ask, what in God’s name were the Belgian defenders doing?
From a tactical point of view I think we can see that number six, Franky Vercauteren, is looking to track back and support his full back. From his position he’s trying to steer Maradona down the line and prevent him from coming aside and hurting them (as he did to the Belgians 4 years later). It is also possible to justify the position of the the follicly supreme number 10 Ludo Coeck, who is cutting off a route inside for Maradona. After that it is quite clear that tactics, formation and indeed common sense have gone out the window, they’ve all been replaced with the blind fear that only the great players can inspire in an opposition team.
This photo demonstrates perfectly a secondary effect that having a player like Maradona or Zidane has on a team. At the point this photo was taken fifty percent of the Argentinian side were umarked in vast tracts of the Nou Camp, ready to take full advantage of the situation created by the simpe presence of Maradona. There are few players at the upcoming World Cup who can have a similar effect, it is perhaps fitting then that Maradona will seek to use Lionel Messi to have a similar effect on the opposition in South Africa this summer.
With their flowing football and galaxy of stars, Parma captured the imagination like no other Italian team in the 90s. From Asprilla to Zola they lit up Serie A that decade, finishing in the Top 7 each year from 1991-2000. It was in the 1990s that Italian football came to the attention of a British audience like never before, largely thanks to Channel 4′s Football Italia show hosted by the excellent James Richardson. As an impressionable youngster told by my Dad that Italian football was all about catenaccio, it was Parma that, for me, proved him wrong. It probably helped that they didn’t have a running track round their pitch like most of the other teams. I must admit, it also helped that he’d never heard of them – this was a team for my generation..
If you went back to 1985 Marty McFly style, there was little to hint at what was to come at Parma. The then virtually unknown Arrigo Sacchi took charge of the team that year and impressed Silvio Berlusconi with some memorable results against Milan in the Cup. The rest is history, as Milan appointed Sacchi their new coach in 1987… but that is Milan’s history. Parma were not to find their way to Serie A until the 1989-90 season following the appointment of Nevio Scala. A new decade saw a new team in the Italian top flight.
With the Parmalat millions firmly behind them, Parma were to hit the ground running in Serie A. Their first win was a 1-0 success against Maradona’s Napoli and the season was to end in an impressive 6th place finish and European qualification. The team was built on solid foundations with future Italy international central defenders Luigi Apolloni and Lorenzo Minotti at the back and the talented Alessandro Melli up front. All were part of the Serie B promotion but, upon reaching Serie A, Scala was also able to add further quality to the team with the signing of Tomas Brolin. Fat Boy Brolin later became a figure of fun in England but he was crucial in Parma’s early success and in 1992 came the club’s first trophy as they won the Italian Cup defeating Juventus.
1993 brought one of the club’s finest hours, at Wembley Stadium no less, as the club hoisted the now defunct European Cup Winners Cup with a 3-1 win over Antwerp. By then Parma had been bolstered by the likes of Faustino Asprilla and, that Summer of ’93 they added Gianfranco Zola, who helped them to a European Super Cup win that Autumn. Zola was to prove pivotal scoring 19 goals in each of the next 3 Serie A seasons. Nestor Sensini and Dino Baggio arrived in 1994 and the following season saw Parma seize the UEFA Cup for the first time with victory over Juventus.
1996 saw Scala leave and replaced by Carlo Ancelotti. The future Chelsea double-winning coach could find no place for the man who was to become Chelsea’s greatest player, and Zola was moved on… replaced by Hernan Crespo & Enrico Chiesa. With this came the beginnings of perhaps Parma’s finest side. Gigi Buffon had come through the youth ranks and Fabio Cannavaro arrived from Napoli. With Lilian Thuram now also in defence, Parma made a spirited attempt at securing their first Serie A crown but runners-up in 1997 was just about as close as they got.
Juan Sebastien Veron joined the party in 1998 and the decade ended with another UEFA Cup win in ’99, and an emphatic 3-0 victory over Marseille..
Just look at their team for that game:
6 Italians, 3 Argentinians and 2 Frenchman… over 700 caps and 4 World Cup winners medals between them.. Buffon, Cannavaro & Veron are even set to be involved in the 2010 World Cup over a decade on..
But every single one of that XI had left Parma by 2002. There was a final hurrah that season as they won the Italian Cup for the 3rd time but the Parmalat scandal was breaking and the money was running out. Relegation eventually came in 2008 after 18 seasons in the top flight. Parma have bounced back since, with Crespo even returning, but things are just not the same. No, Parma was a peculiarly 90s phenomenon that reminds us of Peter Brackley’s understated commentary and James Richardson flicking through Gazzetta in a Piazza. Ciao.. and thanks for the memories:
Alfredo di Stefano
You can make a pretty good case for Alfredo di Stefano being the greatest footballer there has ever been. FIFA voted him the 4th best player of the 20th century, although the winner, Pele, rated him the best. He remains Real Madrid’s 2nd highest goalscorer ever and was the architect in chief of their famous 7-3 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 European Cup Final. Sadly, the story of his World Cup absences is not pretty reading. In 1950 and 1954 Argentina did not enter. In 1958, having switched nationality to Spanish, his new country did not qualify. Di Stefano’s final chance came in 1962, but a muscular injury on the eve of the tournament meant he would retire without playing at a World Cup.
The Belfast boy is commonly regarded as one of the best players of all time but this is almost entirely due to his exploits in the red of Manchester United. His finest hour was probably winning the 1968 European Cup, the same year he won European Footballer of the Year. Sadly, he never got close to a World Cup with Northern Ireland. It didn’t stop him taking the chance to test himself against Europe’s finest though and there is a wonderful story of him nutmegging Cruyff in Rotterdam in 1976 to prove he was the ‘Best’. It is perhaps fittingly tragic that Northern Ireland should reach the 1982 World Cup without the ageing George. Coach, Billy Bingham is thought to have considered him but, at 36, Best was in poor shape and so missed his country’s finest hour.
Weah is the only FIFA World Player of the Year never to play in a World Cup. Liberia withdrew from qualifying for the ’94 tournament for which he would have been in his prime. They also got within a point of qualification for the 2002 World Cup, although by that point, even if he had have come out of retirement, he would have been significantly past his best.
The German midfielder had quite the career, winning La Liga with both Barcelona and Real Madrid. A skilful midfielder he came 2nd in the Ballon D’Or voting in 1980, 3rd in 1981 and 3rd again in 1985. However, a World Cup appearance eluded him. He had actually been part of the West German squad that won the European Championships in 1980. After this, it gets confusing – a series of disagreements with coaching staff and fellow players seem the most likely reasons, although Schuster himself dubiously claims it was his refusal to attend an after-match party that brought his International career to an end. Whatever the reasons, Schuster never went to a World Cup and missed what could have been 3 different appearances in the actual Final game itself in ’82, ’86 and ’90.
11 Premierships, 4 FA Cups and 2 Champions League winners medals… but no World Cup appearances for the Welshman. On 17th November 1993, Ryan Giggs was just 19 years old. However, with hindsight it was the night his best chance of appearing at a World Cup died. Victory over Romania in Cardiff that evening would have seen Wales reach their first Finals since X. Level with 25 minutes to go, Paul Bodin missed the important spot-kick and Romania went on to nick it 2-1 and have a memorable time at USA ’94. Giggs would never get this close again.
This week saw the retirement of Athletic Bilbao winger, Joseba Etxeberria. The former Spanish International had given 15 years service to Los Leones and even played the last year of his contract for free as a mark of gratitude to the Basque club. He signed off to a standing ovation in the weekend win over Deportivo.
With a nod to the legendary Athletic cantera policy, check out his send off game at the San Mames against what may well be the club’s entire youth system….