Lothar Matthaus on 1990 glory
“TO WIN THAT FINAL WAS THE MOST AMAZING FEELING I EVER HAD, AND WITHOUT A DOUBT CHANGED MY LIFE. I AM FOREVER A WORLD CUP WINNER”
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.