Thursday, September 12, 2013

Rich J's Top 5 90s World Cup Moments

I love the World Cup..who doesn't? Well, Sepp Blatter's trying his best to ruin it, but then that's pretty much what he always has done...allegedly, said Rich, unaware that it's not actually still the 90s er...not! Ha!

Anyway, every World Cup brings highs and lows...more of the latter if you're from these lands, but here I shall give you my own personal top 5 moments from the 3 tournaments that took place in the 90s. Take note, these are not just the best goals or most famous incidents, this is my personal selection of memories from Italia 90, USA 94 and France 98 so yes, John Aldridge kicking off against Mexico may have been funny, but it's been played out so often now, it's just no longer that special.


1. 1990 - Costa Rica V Scotland - Geovanny Jara's Backheel

Look everyone, it's Scotland at the World Cup...Yeah I know I've done joke before, but it's still funny! OK, so maybe not to everyone... Anyway, let's revisit the glory days when they used to get to Round 2...wait, what? They never did?  Ooooooooh....
But seriously, back in 1990, it was quite common for Scotland to be at the World Cup and it was only 12 years prior when those north of the border jetted off to Argentina while those 'back home' sat and watched Archie Gemmill tear Holland a new one.

Their opening match of Italia 90 came against a side with no great expectations and so in the sunshine in Genoa, Scotland, in their garish change strip, looked for a positive start. 4 minutes after the interval, that positivity was looking shakey.

Hector Marchena made a diagonal run before playing in the protagonist, defender Geovanny Jara. In the box, close to the penalty spot, it appeared Jara would turn and shoot, but no. Instead, he immediately rolled the ball into the open space directly behind him, allowing the incoming Juan Arnaldo Cayasso to carefully place the ball past the closing Jim Leighton. Costa Rica continued to defend resolutely and held on, Scotland unable to break through for an equaliser.

Ultimately, this early defeat cost them dear as they ended up exiting at the group stage once more as Costa Rica beat the group's whipping boys Sweden while Scotland lost to a single goal against Brazil in what was a much closer contest than the result could ever suggest.

For me, this just epitomised Scotland's World Cup campaigns. A combination of losing games they should have won, conceding a quirky goal and a brave, ultimately futile performance against a better side.

2. 1994 - Yordan Letchkov's header V Germany

One team who are always at the World Cup, and almost always in the final are Germany. Coming into USA 94 as title holders, they started off in their usual fashion...never looking brilliant, but somehow managing to progress. A lacklustre 1-0 victory over Bolivia in the opening match was followed by a stalemate against Spain. In their final group match, they were 3-0 up against South Korea before almost collapsing as Korea pulled 2 goals back, as they had done against Spain.

A jittery second round tie against Belgium saw yet another late scare and another 3-2 scoreline, which meant they would face Bulgaria in the quarters. While Bulgaria will be remembered as one of the best teams at this tournament, Stoichkov going on to share the Golden Boot with Russia's Oleg Salenko, the fact they were in the quarter finals was quite jammy. Opening the tournament with a 3-0 thrashing from Nigeria, they then dished out their own hiding against Greece...but then again, everyone was doing that. They booked their place after defeating a freshly Maradona-less and already qualified Argentina in the final group match and a penalty shoutout win over Mexico in the 2nd round.

Despite the Germans' shaky start, no-one really expected anything other than yet another semi-final appearance for Deutschland and sure enough, a 47th minute Matthäus penalty put them in the lead. Germany's failure to score a second seemed incidental until a fantastic Stoichkov free kick gave the Bulgarians a sniff of history-making. 3 minutes later, a cross makes its way into the German box. Letchkov escapes his marker and dives for the ball, sending it past the helpless Ilgner. Letchkov's celebration would suggest not even he thought it was going to work, but work it did and the nation of Bulgaria (and pretty much every other nation outside Germany) leaped to their feet with him as they looked forward to the first World Cup semi final without Germany since 1950!

3. 1990 - Maradona Cracks Brazil Open 

Like a nut...a Brazil nut...see!

Despite ultimately reaching the final, Argentina were a shadow of the team that had taken the trophy 4 years earlier in Mexico. Adorned in a rather dated looking Adidas kit, they'd lost their opening match to the totally unfancied Cameroon (an obvious Top 5 moment being Massing's attempted murder of Caniggia), beaten USSR thanks to another piece of Maradona handiwork and drawn with Romania, leaving them in 3rd place and scraping into Round 2.

There they faced Brazil, who conversely had won all of their group matches and were favourites for this all South American tie. A rather turgid game saw relatively few chances, when, with only 10 minutes left, Maradona, in a rare flash of his 86 best, rode several tackles on a run to the edge of the box, before threading a beautiful pass through to Caniggia, who made no mistake in ending the Brazilian dream once more.

Argentina would go on to drain the life out of the remainder of the tournament, playing for penalties in the 1/4 and semi finals, before ironically being defeated from the spot in the Final. Maradona may have ended the tournament in tears, but moments like these just confirmed what could have been.

4. 1990 - ITV Opening Titles & The San Siro!

Ah Italia 90! My first proper World Cup. Home from school on a friday, I sat down to watch the opening match and my mind was about to be blown!

Firstly, Rod Argent's awesome theme tune, Tutti Al Mundo burst onto my screen and I was in love. Cod opera, stirring synth strings and orchestra stabs accompanied bouncing footballs on a map of Italy, all in lovely red, white and green computer graphics. Hello the 90s!

Once the theme tune was over, I was barely recovered when this hoved into view.

This was in the pre-internet days when photos of foreign stadia were like gold dust and the only hint I'd had of what this would look like was my Merlin World Cup 90 sticker album, which only showed it mid construction. The behemoth that is the San Siro remains to this day the ground that has most bowled me over and set off an unhealthy obsession with football grounds that has remained with me ever since. Just look at it! Giant girders, endless spirals, pure brutalist / modernist architecture at its finest. Even now, 23 years later, it still makes me gaze in awe.

Typically, Blogger can't find the youtube clip that exists of the opening titles so it's here instead!

5. 1998 Dennis Bergkamp! Dennis Bergkamp!

This is my favourite memory from 1998, not because of the goal itself (I wanted Argentina to win), but for the Dutch commentary that accompanies it. Obviously, this is a retrospective memory as I wasn't watching this in Holland at the time, but who cares? It's still the 2nd best piece of commentary ever, after the excellence of Bryon Butler for Maradona's 'goal of the Century'.

I'll say nothing more about this...just sit back and enjoy the perfect combination of a sublime goal and raw emotion.