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Winning Ugly In Rome

In perhaps the unloveliest World Cup final ever, West Germany prevailed

By Clive Gammon

Issue date: July 16, 1990

Sports Illustrated Flashback

His face is more gaunt, more creased than it was during his days with the New York Cosmos, but his eyes still flicker as restlessly as they did at Giants Stadium, where photographers used to complain that they could never get a good action shot of him because his peripheral vision always kept him out of entanglements. A decade later Franz Beckenbauer hasn't lost any of his old touch.

On Sunday night, after the team he manages, West Germany, squeaked past Argentina 1-0 to win the World Cup, Beckenbauer nimbly evaded any suggestion that the victory at Olympic Stadium in Rome was perhaps a little thin, that his team, up against weak opposition, was a tad lacking in imagination. Beckenbauer has always been a pragmatist. What did it matter to him that this was perhaps the ugliest, most frustrating final in World Cup history? West Germany was now Weltmeister, champion of the world.

The only time Beckenbauer showed a hint of passion was when he spoke of the probability that in the next World Cup there would not be a West German team, but a single, united German side. “We will have a broader choice of players,” he began. Then, uncharacteristically, his voice grew higher. “We are Number One in the world as it is!” he said. “And -- I'm sorry about this -- in the future the Germans will be unbeatable.”

A month earlier a giant video screen had been installed in Berlin a few blocks from the Wall. Two or three hundred Berliners, from East and West, showed up to watch West Germany's first game, against Yugoslavia. But on Sunday night there were thousands of viewers, including many East Germans wrapped in the black, yellow and red of the Federal Republic. “There is only one German team,” said one fan, “and that is in Italy.”

After the final whistle more than 100,000 fans poured into the central city, waving flags and dancing in the streets. Joy soon turned to panic, however, when several hundred right wing skinheads tore through East Berlin's Alexanderplatz, swinging clubs and chasing Vietnamese workers. Carrying the red, white and black banners of imperial Germany and snapping the stiff-armed Nazi salute, the hooligans smashed store windows and shouted, “Foreigners to , the gas ovens.” Similar outbreaks of violence were reported in Hamburg and Bielefeld. Four people were killed in traffic accidents during the celebrations, and hundreds of others were injured.

In truth, aside from the outcome, not much happened on the field to evoke such strong passions. From the start, the West Germans mounted a heavy, though largely ineffective, attack. With their Sturmduo of strikers, Rudi Voller and Jurgen Klinsmann, leading the charge, and with Andreas Brehme tearing upfield from the fullback position, the West Germans opened up gaping holes in Argentina's defense, but they failed to capitalize on a myriad of scoring opportunities.

Before the game Argentina's Diego Maradona had said, with unjustified arrogance, “We needed a miracle to beat Brazil, but now we need no more help.” The Argentines, though, were hurting. Because of the ruthless manner in which they had played in earlier games -- committing 152 fouls, or one for every 3:57 of playing time -- they were missing four key starters, banished for accumulating two yellow cards in previous games. They were defender Sergio Batista, midfielders Ricardo Giusti and Julio Olarticoechea, and, most important, striker Claudio Caniggia, who had scored the game-tying goal in Argentina's semifinal victory over Italy. Without Caniggia to take advantage of Maradona's scheming, Diego would have to do it all himself. That didn't seem to faze him. He's been doing that, he said, “ever since I was a kid playing for Los Cebollitas (“the Little Onions”) in Buenos Aires.” How appropriate, since throughout the tournament Maradona had behaved as if he were still a child. It's a sure thing that if he had been wearing a Union Jack T-shirt last Thursday night, he would never have made the final game -- the Italian authorities would have deported him as a hooligan.

That evening Maradona's younger brother, Lalo, borrowed one of Diego's two Ferraris and took Maradona's brother-in-law, Gabriele Esposito, for a ride near Argentina's training camp, Trigoria, on the southern edge of Rome. However, just outside of the camp, the carabinieri stopped Lalo; when they discovered that he didn't have a driver's license or an ID, they suspected that he had stolen the car. Lalo persuaded the police to take him and Gabriele back to the camp, where Maradona's wife, Claudia, vouched for them, and the incident seemed closed. But at that point Diego emerged from the locker room screaming something about vigilantes infesting the camp. Soon a brawl broke / out as Diego, Lalo and Gabriele hurled themselves at the police. It took several people to restrain the three of them, and the police had to radio for reinforcements.

The next morning, newspapers all over the world carried pictures of Maradona being forcibly held back. A security guard had been taken to the hospital for a few hours with minor injuries, and a judicial inquiry was scheduled -- after the World Cup, of course. In the meantime Maradona was seeing conspiracies everywhere. On Friday night somebody tore the Argentine flag off its pole at the training camp. It had been taken by no mere souvenir hunter, proclaimed Maradona, but by somebody with malicious intent. “We made a mistake choosing Trigoria as our camp,” he told manager Carlos Bilardo.

Undeniably, though, the pressures on Maradona were huge. Four years before, in Mexico City, he had been a dominating superstar, a virtually unstoppable talent. Said Ron Greenwood, a former manager of England, before the final in '86, “Stop Maradona? First you take a small handgun. …” But in Italy, Maradona was a decidedly lesser force. To his critics, even before the final, he was little more than a cripple with battered knees and ankles. He would score no “real” goals in the tournament, only a penalty kick in a shootout. And for all his flashes of brilliance, he has a tendency to cheat. In Mexico City, he knocked in a key goal with his hand in a quarterfinal match against England and got away with it. And in the first round of this tournament, he deflected a shot with his hand in the penalty area, denying the Soviet Union a goal. This is the Maradona who falls down writhing every time he is tackled and who runs into defenders and collapses, hoping to trick referees into ejecting them. This is the Maradona who has at once elevated the game and devalued it.

On Sunday night it was the petulant and ineffective Maradona who took the field, and that was sad, because, as he said last week, “This is my last game for Argentina.” In true form he couldn't help adding, “And many years will pass before Argentina plays in another World Cup final. My captain's armband is now available.” (Maradona is 29 and has three more years left on his contract with the first-division club in Naples. After that, there's no telling what he will do. He may even move to Japan, where, reportedly, Hei Arita, the president of an educational-supplies distribution company called PJM Japan, has offered him two billion yen -- $13 million -- to play for his + company team, even though there won't be a Japanese league until 1992.)

Before game time all of Italy was hoping for Maradona's humiliation, even fans in Naples, whose team he had taken to two Italian championships and the UEFA Cup. After his penalty kick beat Italy in the semis, he said, “I hate to enjoy the sadness of my friends. I don't want to be an enemy.” Nevertheless, that night some fans stoned his house in Naples.

Except for that outburst, Italy seemed stunned into silence at the shock of being eliminated from the World Cup it was so confident of winning. For two of the players involved in the penalty shootout that decided the game it was a personal tragedy. Midfielder Roberto Donadoni, who had played so well in the series until he missed his penalty shot, was distraught. “I am sorry to have let so many people down,” he said. Striker Aldo Serena, who flubbed his penalty shot after Donadoni's miss, said, “I wear the sadness of 20 million people on my back.” It was a sickening way to go out, and all of Italy seemed to lay the blame on Maradona.

On Wednesday night in Turin, when the same penalty-shot fate befell England in its semifinal loss to West Germany, you couldn't find a lover of the game anywhere in Italy who would not condemn FIFA, the sport's international governing body, for its get-a-result-and-get-it -fast policy of using penalty kicks to decide important games. England manager Bobby Robson bitterly called it “Russian roulette.” But it was the players who best conveyed the injustice of the shootout. Peter Shilton, England's goalie, eyes puffy from crying, said, “This was a bigger joke than the one that Maradona put over on us in Mexico City, only this time we had nobody to get mad at.” After the defeat, midfielder Paul Gascoigne was so overcome by emotion that he wandered, crying, onto the West German bus by mistake.

And so it was on Saturday in Bari that England and Italy played out the anticlimactic game for third place. Italy won 2-1 as striker Salvatore Schillaci, who had captured the hearts of his countrymen with his brilliant play, became the tournament's top scorer when he converted -- what else? -- a penalty kick.

The real game, though, would come on Sunday, and as 30,000 Germans marched into Rome to watch it, many chanted insultingly, “Scheisse Maradona! Maradona Scheisse!” As play began, however, it became clear that Maradona was not going to be much of a threat. Argentina got consistently bogged down at midfield and played as if hoping for a penalty-kick shootout. In the end, the Argentines made only one shot on goal, while the West Germans took 16.

Few of the West Germans' shots looked very dangerous, except for a near miss by Brehme from 30 yards out. Overtime, even another unspeakable penalty-kick shootout, looked possible. Then began what would become a chapter of shame in Argentine soccer history. Until Sunday night, no player had ever been expelled from a World Cup final. But in the 65th minute, Pedro Monzon, who had already been suspended once earlier in the tournament, viciously chopped down Klinsmann. It was a straight-up red card, and Monzon was ejected.

In the 84th minute, Voller was brought down in the penalty area by Roberto Sensini. A penalty? Of course. After all, this was the World Cup of the penalty kick. Brehme rocketed the ball to goalie Sergio Goycochea's right, just inside the post. It was the only goal but not the last of the drama.

Yet another Argentine would be sent off when, three minutes before the end, striker Gustavo Dezotti got a second yellow for half-choking Jurgen Kohler. And Maradona, to crown an entirely lackluster evening, got a yellow card himself for arguing the call.

Or maybe that wasn't quite his crowning event. Maradona's last touch of a ball in a World Cup match was literally that. With only moments left in the game, he knocked down a pass with his arm and was whistled for a hand ball.

So 1990 would not be the Year of Maradona. Nor would it be the Year of Lothar Matthaus, West Germany's captain, as Beckenbauer had predicted. If anything, it was the Year of Beckenbauer. At the start of the tournament, the German weekly magazine Stern had put on its cover a cruel caricature of Beckenbauer as a clown with a red soccer ball for a nose and a ruff of Deutschmark bills. Der GeldMeister, the magazine called him, referring to a reputed deal he had struck with Mercedes Benz over sausage salad and brew in a Stuttgart beer cellar, in which Mercedes would sponsor the German soccer federation to the tune of 10 million DMs -- with Beckenbauer keeping a rumored 10% to 25%. The magazine went on to describe how Beckenbauer loves to tell how he made only 400 DMs a month when he started out, playing for Bayern Munich, but ended up his career paying tax on 23 million DMs a year.

Well, now, in American eyes that would not exactly discredit Beckenbauer -- nor disqualify him from helping the U.S. to stage the World Cup in 1994. Rumors have swept Italy that the U.S. organizing committee is trying to recruit Beckenbauer to serve in some kind of marketing capacity. And on Sunday he did nothing to discourage the possibility. “I've heard of these speculations from everybody except the U.S. organizers,” he said. “I've heard nothing from the Americans. But they know my phone number.”

Beckenbauer said he's not interested in coaching. “If I wanted to go on coaching, I could stay in Germany,” he said. “But you certainly need a real team. The level of soccer in the U.S. has got to be better than the team you sent over this time.”

Memo to the U.S. Soccer Federation: If you still need Franz's number, it's in the Kitzbuhel, Austria, phone book.

Issue date: July 16, 1990

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