The FIFA World Cup 1990: A Comprehensive Look

The FIFA World Cup 1990, held in Italy, marked the 14th edition of the prestigious football tournament. This event, spanning from June 8 to July 8, 1990, is often remembered for its defensive playing styles, low-scoring matches, and the emergence of several football legends. This comprehensive article delves into the details of the tournament, exploring the teams, key matches, standout players, and the overall impact of the 1990 World Cup on the sport of football.

FIFA World Cup 1990

The Host Nation: Italy

Italy, a country with a rich footballing history and culture, was chosen to host the FIFA World Cup 1990. The decision was made by FIFA in 1984, marking the second time Italy hosted the tournament, the first being in 1934. The Italian government invested heavily in infrastructure, including the renovation and construction of several stadiums. The iconic Stadio Olimpico in Rome, which served as the venue for the opening match and the final, was among the key sites.

Qualification and Participating Teams

The qualification process for the FIFA World Cup 1990 saw 116 teams competing for 24 spots. The qualification rounds were marked by intense competition and surprising upsets. Some notable teams that failed to qualify included France, Poland, and Denmark, while teams like Costa Rica and the United Arab Emirates made their debut appearances.

The 24 teams were divided into six groups of four teams each for the group stage:

  1. Group A: Italy, Austria, Czechoslovakia, United States
  2. Group B: Cameroon, Argentina, Romania, Soviet Union
  3. Group C: Brazil, Costa Rica, Scotland, Sweden
  4. Group D: West Germany, Colombia, United Arab Emirates, Yugoslavia
  5. Group E: Spain, Belgium, Uruguay, South Korea
  6. Group F: England, Netherlands, Egypt, Republic of Ireland

Group Stage Highlights

The group stage of the FIFA World Cup 1990 was characterized by cautious play, with many teams prioritizing defense. This approach led to a record low average of 2.21 goals per game, the lowest in World Cup history at the time.

Group A saw host nation Italy dominate with three victories, while Czechoslovakia also advanced. The United States, participating in their first World Cup since 1950, struggled and failed to progress.

Group B was highlighted by the surprising performance of Cameroon, who defeated reigning champions Argentina in the opening match. Led by the charismatic Roger Milla, Cameroon topped the group, with Argentina narrowly advancing as one of the best third-placed teams.

Group C witnessed Brazil’s traditional flair as they won all their matches, while Costa Rica stunned both Scotland and Sweden to advance to the knockout stage.

Group D featured a strong West German team that comfortably topped the group. Yugoslavia also progressed, displaying attacking prowess.

Group E saw Spain and Belgium advance, with the latter securing their spot with a thrilling 3-1 victory over Uruguay.

Group F was highly competitive, with England, the Netherlands, and the Republic of Ireland all finishing with identical records. England and the Netherlands progressed based on goal difference, while Ireland advanced as one of the best third-placed teams.

FIFA World Cup 1990 Final

Knockout Stage Drama

The knockout stage of the 1990 World Cup provided some of the most memorable moments in the tournament’s history.

Round of 16:

  • Argentina vs. Brazil: In a fierce South American clash, Argentina emerged victorious with a solitary goal from Claudio Caniggia, assisted by Diego Maradona.
  • Cameroon vs. Colombia: Roger Milla continued his fairy-tale run, scoring twice in extra time to secure a 2-1 victory for Cameroon.
  • Italy vs. Uruguay: The hosts progressed with a 2-0 win, thanks to goals from Schillaci and Serena.
  • West Germany vs. Netherlands: A highly anticipated match ended in a 2-1 victory for West Germany, with goals from Klinsmann and Brehme.


  • Argentina vs. Yugoslavia: A tense match went to penalties after a goalless draw, with Argentina winning 3-2 in the shootout.
  • Italy vs. Republic of Ireland: Italy continued their run with a 1-0 victory, Schillaci scoring the only goal.
  • West Germany vs. Czechoslovakia: A single goal from Matthäus secured a 1-0 win for West Germany.
  • England vs. Cameroon: In a thrilling encounter, England triumphed 3-2 after extra time, with Gary Lineker scoring twice.


  • Argentina vs. Italy: In a dramatic match, Argentina advanced to the final after winning 4-3 on penalties following a 1-1 draw.
  • West Germany vs. England: Another match decided by penalties saw West Germany win 4-3 after a 1-1 draw, setting up a repeat of the 1986 final.

The Final: West Germany vs. Argentina

The final match of the FIFA World Cup 1990 was held on July 8 at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. It was a rematch of the 1986 final, where Argentina had emerged victorious. The 1990 final, however, was a different affair, characterized by a defensive approach from both sides.

West Germany, under the management of Franz Beckenbauer, fielded a strong team featuring Lothar Matthäus, Andreas Brehme, and Jürgen Klinsmann. Argentina, led by Carlos Bilardo, relied heavily on the brilliance of Diego Maradona.

The match was tightly contested, with few clear-cut chances for either side. The breakthrough came in the 85th minute when Argentina’s Roberto Sensini fouled Rudi Völler in the penalty area. Andreas Brehme calmly converted the resulting penalty, giving West Germany a 1-0 lead. Despite a late surge from Argentina, West Germany held on to secure their third World Cup title, adding to their victories in 1954 and 1974.

Key Players and Performances

The FIFA World Cup 1990 saw several players rise to prominence, leaving a lasting impact on the tournament and football history.

  • Lothar Matthäus (West Germany): The West German captain was instrumental in his team’s success, showcasing his leadership and technical ability. Matthäus scored four goals and was named the tournament’s best player.
  • Salvatore Schillaci (Italy): Schillaci emerged as a national hero, finishing as the tournament’s top scorer with six goals. His performances were crucial in Italy’s run to the semi-finals.
  • Roger Milla (Cameroon): At the age of 38, Milla became a global sensation with his flair and goal-scoring ability, leading Cameroon to the quarter-finals and earning the admiration of football fans worldwide.
  • Diego Maradona (Argentina): Although not as dominant as in 1986, Maradona still played a pivotal role in guiding Argentina to the final. His leadership and skill were evident throughout the tournament.

Legacy of the 1990 World Cup

The FIFA World Cup 1990 left a mixed legacy. On one hand, it was criticized for the defensive tactics employed by many teams, leading to a lack of goals and exciting play. The tournament also witnessed a significant number of red cards and disciplinary issues, prompting FIFA to introduce changes aimed at encouraging more attacking football in subsequent tournaments.

However, the 1990 World Cup also had its share of memorable moments and lasting impacts. The emergence of Cameroon as a force in international football inspired future generations of African players and teams. The tournament also highlighted the importance of tactical discipline and solid defense, elements that continue to be integral to the modern game.

For Italy, hosting the World Cup reinforced its status as a footballing powerhouse and showcased its cultural and sporting heritage to the world. The investments in infrastructure had a lasting impact, with several stadiums continuing to serve as key venues for Italian football.

Certainly! Here’s a detailed table of the match schedules and scores for each team in the 1990 FIFA World Cup:

Group Stage

GroupDateTeam 1ScoreTeam 2Venue
AJune 9Argentina0-1CameroonSan Siro, Milan
AJune 10Romania2-0Soviet UnionSan Nicola, Bari
AJune 14Argentina2-0Soviet UnionSan Paolo, Naples
AJune 14Cameroon2-1RomaniaSan Nicola, Bari
AJune 18Argentina1-1RomaniaSan Paolo, Naples
AJune 18Soviet Union4-0CameroonSan Nicola, Bari
BJune 8Italy1-0AustriaOlimpico, Rome
BJune 10Czechoslovakia5-1USAOlimpico, Rome
BJune 14Italy1-0USAComunale, Florence
BJune 15Austria0-1CzechoslovakiaComunale, Florence
BJune 19Italy2-0CzechoslovakiaOlimpico, Rome
BJune 19Austria2-1USAOlimpico, Rome
CJune 10Brazil2-1SwedenDelle Alpi, Turin
CJune 11Costa Rica1-0ScotlandStadio Luigi Ferraris, Genoa
CJune 16Brazil1-0Costa RicaStadio delle Alpi, Turin
CJune 16Sweden1-2ScotlandStadio Luigi Ferraris, Genoa
CJune 20Brazil1-0ScotlandStadio delle Alpi, Turin
CJune 20Sweden1-2Costa RicaStadio Luigi Ferraris, Genoa
DJune 9West Germany4-1YugoslaviaSan Siro, Milan
DJune 10Colombia2-0UAEDall’Ara, Bologna
DJune 15West Germany5-1UAEDall’Ara, Bologna
DJune 15Yugoslavia1-0ColombiaDall’Ara, Bologna
DJune 19West Germany1-1ColombiaSan Siro, Milan
DJune 19Yugoslavia4-1UAESan Siro, Milan
EJune 12Spain0-0UruguayStadio Friuli, Udine
EJune 13Belgium2-0South KoreaMarcantonio Bentegodi, Verona
EJune 17Spain3-1South KoreaStadio Friuli, Udine
EJune 17Belgium3-1UruguayMarcantonio Bentegodi, Verona
EJune 21Spain2-1BelgiumStadio Friuli, Udine
EJune 21Uruguay1-0South KoreaMarcantonio Bentegodi, Verona
FJune 11England1-1Republic of IrelandStadio Sant’Elia, Cagliari
FJune 12Netherlands1-1EgyptStadio Sant’Elia, Cagliari
FJune 16England0-0NetherlandsStadio Sant’Elia, Cagliari
FJune 17Republic of Ireland0-0EgyptStadio Sant’Elia, Cagliari
FJune 21England1-0EgyptStadio Sant’Elia, Cagliari
FJune 21Netherlands1-1Republic of IrelandStadio Sant’Elia, Cagliari
FIFA World Cup 1990

Knockout Stage

Round of 16

DateTeam 1Score (AET)Team 2Venue
June 23Cameroon2-1ColombiaSan Paolo, Naples
June 23Czechoslovakia4-1Costa RicaSan Nicola, Bari
June 24Argentina1-0BrazilDelle Alpi, Turin
June 24West Germany2-1NetherlandsDall’Ara, Bologna
June 25Italy2-0UruguayOlimpico, Rome
June 25Republic of Ireland0-0 (5-4)RomaniaStadio Luigi Ferraris, Genoa
June 26Spain1-2YugoslaviaMarcantonio Bentegodi, Verona
June 26England1-0BelgiumStadio Friuli, Udine
FIFA World Cup 1990


DateTeam 1Score (AET)Team 2Venue
June 30Argentina0-0 (3-2)YugoslaviaArtemio Franchi, Florence
June 30Italy1-0Republic of IrelandOlimpico, Rome
July 1West Germany1-0CzechoslovakiaSan Siro, Milan
July 1England3-2CameroonSan Paolo, Naples
FIFA World Cup 1990


DateTeam 1Score (AET)Team 2Venue
July 3Argentina1-1 (4-3)ItalySan Paolo, Naples
July 4West Germany1-1 (4-3)EnglandDelle Alpi, Turin
FIFA World Cup 1990

Third Place Play-off

DateTeam 1ScoreTeam 2Venue
July 7Italy2-1EnglandStadio delle Alpi, Turin
FIFA World Cup 1990


DateTeam 1ScoreTeam 2Venue
July 8West Germany1-0ArgentinaOlimpico, Rome
FIFA World Cup 1990

This table captures the key matches and scores from the group stage to the final, illustrating the journey of each team throughout the 1990 FIFA World Cup.

See Also: FIFA World Cup 1986 The Maradona Show and Mexico’s Magnificence


The FIFA World Cup 1990 in Italy was a tournament of contrasts, marked by defensive play and memorable individual performances. While it may not be remembered for high-scoring matches, it showcased the tactical evolution of football and the emergence of new footballing nations. The triumph of West Germany and the standout performances of players like Matthäus, Schillaci, and Milla ensured that the tournament left an indelible mark on the history of the sport.

FAQs about the 1990 FIFA World Cup

1. When and where was the 1990 FIFA World Cup held?

The FIFA World Cup 1990 was held in Italy from June 8 to July 8, 1990.

2. How many teams participated in the 1990 FIFA World Cup?

A total of 24 teams participated in the FIFA World Cup 1990.

3. Which teams were in the finals of the 1990 FIFA World Cup?

West Germany and Argentina were the teams in the final of the FIFA World Cup 1990.

4. Who won the 1990 FIFA World Cup?

West Germany won the 1990 FIFA World Cup, defeating Argentina 1-0 in the final.

5. Who scored the winning goal in the 1990 FIFA World Cup final?

Andreas Brehme scored the winning goal for West Germany in the 85th minute of the final against Argentina.

6. Who was the top scorer of the 1990 FIFA World Cup?

Salvatore Schillaci of Italy was the top scorer with six goals.

7. Which team was the biggest surprise of the 1990 FIFA World Cup?

Cameroon was the biggest surprise of the 1990 FIFA World Cup, reaching the quarter-finals and defeating defending champions Argentina in the opening match.

8. How was the overall playing style in the 1990 FIFA World Cup?

The 1990 FIFA World Cup was characterized by defensive playing styles and low-scoring matches, leading to a record low average of 2.21 goals per game.

9. Which countries made their debut in the 1990 FIFA World Cup?

Costa Rica and the United Arab Emirates made their debut appearances in the 1990 FIFA World Cup.

10. Who was awarded the Best Player of the 1990 FIFA World Cup?

Lothar Matthäus of West Germany was awarded the Best Player (Golden Ball) of the 1990 FIFA World Cup.

11. What was significant about Roger Milla’s performance in the 1990 FIFA World Cup?

Roger Milla, at the age of 38, became a global sensation with his flair and goal-scoring ability, leading Cameroon to the quarter-finals and becoming one of the oldest goal scorers in World Cup history.

12. How did Italy perform as the host nation in the 1990 FIFA World Cup?

Italy performed well as the host nation, reaching the semi-finals before losing to Argentina on penalties. They secured third place by defeating England 2-1.

13. Which teams were involved in the highest-scoring match of the tournament?

The highest-scoring match of the tournament was between West Germany and the United Arab Emirates, which ended 5-1 in favor of West Germany.

14. How did Argentina perform in the 1990 FIFA World Cup?

Argentina, the defending champions, reached the final but were defeated 1-0 by West Germany.

15. What was the impact of the 1990 FIFA World Cup on football tactics?

The defensive tactics and low goal-scoring rate of the 1990 FIFA World Cup prompted FIFA to introduce changes aimed at encouraging more attacking football in subsequent tournaments.

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