Lothar Matthaus on 1990 glory



FFT’S colum­nist knows what it’s like to play in a World Cup fi­nal – he ap­peared in two. No one could stop Maradona in 1986, but he tri­umphed in 1990 thanks to the best de­ci­sion of his ca­reer. Take note, Oliver Kahn...

As a foot­baller, it’s a long stair­case to the top. First you have to play foot­ball with pas­sion and love as a young­ster, and only in that way can you be­come a pro­fes­sional foot­baller. When you’re a pro­fes­sional, you have the dream to maybe play for your na­tional team one day. When you play for your na­tional team, you want to qual­ify for the World Cup. When you play at a World Cup, you want to give your best for your coun­try and play in a World Cup fi­nal.

That’s not so easy if you play for one of the out­siders of the tour­na­ment, but I was lucky. In Ger­many, my gen­er­a­tion of foot­ballers was good enough to help me play in the World Cup fi­nal in both 1986 and 1990. Play­ers like Rudi Voller, Pierre Lit­tbarski, Andi Brehme, Guido Buch­wald and my­self were to­gether for 10 years, right from the un­der 21s.

It’s ev­ery foot­baller’s dream to play in the World Cup fi­nal, but when you play in the fi­nal you want to win. You’ve had this long jour­ney from child­hood to the World Cup fi­nal and it’s amaz­ing, but it doesn’t help you when you go home, you’ve lost the fi­nal and you were only sec­ond. Sec­ond is the loser’s place.

That’s how I felt in 1986 when we lost 3-2 to Ar­gentina in the fi­nal. We weren’t go­ing into the fi­nal as favourites that year. Diego Maradona was hav­ing an amaz­ing World Cup for Ar­gentina – he was the best player in the world at that mo­ment and com­ing from an­other planet. It was his World Cup and that’s why Ar­gentina’s fans still love Maradona more than Lionel Messi. Yes, Messi has won the Bal­lon d’or five times, but Maradona won the World Cup. In the end, it was im­pos­si­ble for us to win in 1986. It was the right re­sult for foot­ball, be­cause Ar­gentina were the best team.

When we reached the fi­nal again four years later, Ar­gentina weren’t the Ar­gentina of 1986 any more. Maradona was not at his peak, and we were very happy we were play­ing Ar­gentina rather than Italy. Against Italy it would have been an away game. Ar­gentina felt like a home game be­cause we had a lot of play­ers who had played in Ital­ian foot­ball. Rudi Voller played in Rome, where the fi­nal was, so we got sup­port from a lot of Ital­ians that day.

Ev­ery­one who’d played in 1986 took that ex­pe­ri­ence into the fi­nal in 1990. This time, we felt like the favourites. We had the con­fi­dence of our re­sults ear­lier in the tour­na­ment, when our per­for­mances were mostly at the high­est level. We were fo­cused and con­cen­trated, and we all be­lieved in our­selves. We knew we could write his­tory for Ger­man foot­ball, and we had the feel­ing that we could do it. From the meet­ing we had with Franz Beck­en­bauer be­fore the game, we were ab­so­lutely ready to win the fi­nal.

Ar­gentina didn’t have the qual­ity to at­tack like they had done four years ear­lier, so they had to find an­other way. They mostly played de­fen­sively, so we knew we’d need to be pa­tient – that we shouldn’t get ner­vous if we hadn’t scored af­ter 45 or 60 min­utes.

That was the main rea­son why we won, as it was still 0-0 with just a few min­utes left. Ar­gentina were start­ing to get ner­vous – maybe some of their play­ers were too mo­ti­vated, be­cause Pe­dro Mon­zon got a red card. We’d known be­fore­hand that we could pro­voke them. Then we earned the penalty. I de­cided not to take it, and it was the smartest de­ci­sion I ever made in my foot­ball ca­reer. My boot had been bro­ken in the first half, so I was play­ing with new boots in the sec­ond half. I didn’t want to risk tak­ing an im­por­tant penalty in the fi­nal with new boots. I knew from the semi-fi­nal against Eng­land that we had oth­ers play­ers who could score penal­ties, so why should I risk the World Cup by tak­ing it when I didn’t feel sure?

I didn’t think ego­tis­ti­cally, I was a team player. I have an­other ex­am­ple: in 2002, Oliver Kahn got in­jured, but he wanted to stay on and play all of the fi­nal against Brazil. We had an­other keeper who was 100 per cent ready, and Kahn didn’t have the con­fi­dence he could play at the same level he’d been play­ing at ear­lier in that tour­na­ment. Then you saw, he gave the chance to Ron­aldo, and Ron­aldo scored.

In 1990, I asked Andi Brehme to take the penalty, he scored and we won the World Cup. To win that fi­nal was the most amaz­ing feel­ing I ever had, and with­out doubt it changed my life. Af­ter that fi­nal in 1990, I am for­ever a World Cup win­ner.

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