World Cup Part 10: England v Belgium, 1990

TOM JACKSON recalls David Platt’s unforgettable goal and the tournament that is remembered more for its cultural impact that the actual football

In 1990 I bore witness to my first FIFA World Cup. Well, technically, Mexico ’86 was my first but having only recently graduated from nappies it’s safe to say that I have little recollection of that event. Italia ’90 was the catalyst for many things; the advent of the Premier League, trademarked footballers and a resurgence of love felt for the beautiful game in England after a tainted decade, troubled by off-the-field problems.

What I recall of the World Cup itself was the colour, the spectacle and the emotions. Who can forget Roger Milla’s wiggle dance celebrations, Rene Higuita’s bubble perm and Frank Rijkaard’s despicable spitting at Rudi Voller? It was a new experience of football for me. For someone who’d only experienced the grey terraces of Manchester, it was exhilarating.

New Orders’ World in Motion, the forefather to Three Lions, provided the cool summer hit complete with the now legendary John Barnes rap. In contrast to that uplifting energetic tune, England started the tournament in an incredibly dull fashion. One win, two draws and two goals during the group phase was hardly the type of form to inspire a nation. Progressing to the round of 16, Belgium were next for England in Bologna.

To compliment my first World Cup experience my parents bought me a hard backed Shoot magazine annual which profiled the players and teams. In the Belgium spread, Jan Ceulemans was the figurehead. I was reliably informed he was Dolph Lundgren in appearance, with a touch like Glenn Hoddle. He was an all-time great for his country, although he was coming to the end of a prestigious career. I’d now get to see the man himself play against my team.

Belgium started the game well against England’s preferred sweeper system, Bruno Versaval making the most of a Paul Parker slip to break on the left forcing the first save from the retiring Peter Shilton. Ceulemans then broke past Mark Wright, who stumbled in a challenge at the edge of the box, and his left foot drive beat Shilton only to crash back against the post. England needed to jump into life. John Barnes scuffing a shot straight into Michel Preud’homme arms provided England’s first threat. He would come closer shortly after, firing into the top corner with a volley only to be denied, incorrectly, by the offside flag.

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The second-half began as the first with the Belgians on top. The maestro Ceulemans jinked his way around captain Terry Butcher before laying it off to fellow legend Enzo Scifo. He let rip with a 30-yard rocket with the outside of his right foot beating a despairing Shilton and crashing off the inside of the post before Wright cleared. Another let off. Gary Lineker delivered England’s first opening of the second half nodding a long ball to a gloriously mulleted Chris Waddle who bent a 40 yard one-two with the future face of crisps. A poor touch from Lineker overran the ball to the keeper who blocked with his feet.

England, chasing the game, introduced classy midfielder David Platt for Steve McMahon with 20 minutes to play in the hope of grabbing a winner. With the game sinking into extra-time the effervescent Paul Gascoigne picked up, what would later prove an incredibly significant, yellow card for a foul on Berthold. The games tension mirrored the foreboding bassline and mournful synth melody of Adamski’s ever present tournament soundtrack Killer.

Extra-time dwindled without event until the 118th minute. Gazza making a typically powerful lung-bursting run into the Belgium half from deep. His subsequent set-piece provided one of the moments of the tournament. A high, floated, free-kick beat the wall and the bank of defence on the edge of the box. David Platt followed the flight of the ball gambling the defenders couldn’t reach it.

Splitting through two defenders the ball fell over his right shoulder and he connected with precise technique, guiding the ball with enough power to beat the keeper into the opposite top corner. John Motson’s voice lifted several octaves screaming in an iconic moment in commentary “England have done it….In the last minute of extra time!!” A magnificent ball of England players celebrated as Bobby Robson jigged with delight on the touchline. Post-match jubilance continued with Waddle and Butcher leading the arms aloft, up-and-down celebrations with the travelling fans.

Of course, as we know, the momentum gathered pace. The surprise package of the tournament, Cameroon, were bested in the quarter-finals and West Germany lay in wait in the final four.

If ever I was off school, due to illness or holiday, a handful of VHS cassettes would get worn out to keep me occupied while I couldn’t kick a ball around outside. 101 Great Goals, Transformers – The Movie and the BBC feature length review of Italia ‘90. It was fitting that in a tournament devoid of truly great matches the BBC played on the drama of the tournament. It’s likely why I watched it so often. I was gripped by the sub-plots and beguiled by the soundtrack.

The tragedy of England’s penalty fate all the more haunting played out to the soul stirring Luciano Pavarotti version of Nessun Dorma. Vincero! Vincero! he sings as the aria reaches climax. I will win! I will win! Maybe this summer?

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