For Azzuri fans, Italia ’90 was the one that got away. Stolen in Naples by the head of Claudio Caniggia and the lottery of penalties. From a footballing perspective, Italia ’90 was actually quite dull; the goals-per-game ratio was just 2.21, the lowest ever for aWorld Cup, and it was littered with diving, ill-discipline and a truly disgraceful final. Yet it occurred at a crossroads of world history – four of the competing nations no longer exist – and of the game itself as its globalisation rocketed in the following decade. A new book provides a brilliant behind-the-scenes story of Italia ’90.
Simon Hart’s World in Motion is a wonderful nostalgia trip for those who can recall Italia ‘90 and for those who can’t, it helps to explain why so many glamorise the tournament.
This was a tournament that ushered in new rules such as the professional foul, and highlighted the growing commercialism around the game. This was the tournament where Africa finally made an impression on the global stage. with Cameroon, and one that took place at the crossroads of a changing world. West Germany played – and won – its last tournament before reuniting with the former GDR; Yugoslavia played its last World Cup before descending into civil war; the USSR would soon break into its respective states, while the Czechs and Slovaks were also poised to go their separate ways. A new Europe was emerging.
This was also the last World Cup before talent began flooding west from the leagues of Eastern Europe, and the last one before television and the Internet took away all the mystery of the global game. It also came before the advent of the Premier League in England and all-seater stadiums.
Like any good tournament, it had its surprise heroes – for Italy, Toto Schillaci and Robert Baggio – and its pantomime villains, in this case, Diego Maradona’s Argentina.
Hart’s book meets the characters and tells stories behind all the teams at Italia ’90. He scores some A-list interviews with stars including Bryan Robson, David Platt, Mick McCarthy, Roger Milla, Rene Higuita, and winners Lothar Matthaus and Jurgen Klinsmann.
The Italian Story
Hart focuses on the Italian experience at a home World Cup and speaks to key members of that Italy squad, including surprise striking sensation Toto Schillaci, Aldo Serena – who missed the Azzurri’s final penalty in the Naples semi-final – and captain Giuseppe Bergomi.
The stand-out player for the home nation was of course Schillaci. The 25-year-old had played just once for Italy before the World Cup kicked off. The Sicilian won both the Golden Boot for his six goals (although he would only score one more goal in an Italy shirt thereafter) and the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player.
The author catches up with Schillaci at the soccer school he now runs in Palermo. They discuss his incredible scoring run, which started with the headed winner 14 minutes from time in Italy’s first group match against Austria. The team had missed a hat-full before Schillaci came on to make the difference. He went on to have the most shots in total (21) and most on target (12) of the whole tournament. By the third group match, against Czechoslovakia, he had disrupted the preferred forward line of Andrea Carnevale and Gianluca Vialli, supporting the team’s other emerging starlet, Roberto Baggio, who went on to score the goal of the tournament in that game.
The interview with Schillaci is personal and touching, and describes a man enjoying his life at home in Sicily after a career that peaked in 1990 both with Juventus and Italy.
Aldo Serena opens up about how he froze before booting Italy’s fifth and final penalty in the semi-final which was comfortably saved by Argentine keeper Goycoechea. The pressure was on after Roberto Donadoni had missed the previous kick before Maradona (who else?) had sent the Albiceleste 4-3 up in the shoot-out.
Captain Bergomi, an 18-year-old world champion in 1982, was part of back line that did not concede a single goal until Claudio Caniggia’s flashed header in the same semi-final. His interview gives insight into the camp, how they handled the expectations and how they felt about travelling to Naples following Maradona’s comments about how the north of Italy treats the south.
Hart’s biography of this pivotal tournament is both gripping and articulate. It takes the reader on a journey through each team’s experience of Italia ’90, as told by the people who were there.
Make sure World in Motion is on your reading list this summer.
Words by Chris Lee
Chris is the founder/editor of football culture and travel blog, Outside Write.