West Germany Wins a Third FIFA World Cup

The West German team won the 1990 World Cup soccer final against Argentina, a rematch of the 1986 title game. The 1990 final match, however, like the entire tournament that year, was poorly played and laden with fouls.

Summary of Event

The West German soccer team’s victory over Argentina in the 1990 FIFA World Cup final was the most controversial match of what, in summation, seemed to be the poorest played, lowest-scoring tournament in World Cup history. Although no single team or player was held responsible, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), FIFA the governing body of international soccer, reviewed its officials and its rules and made changes to both after the tournament, citing the numerous penalties and fouls in the tournament and the thoroughly conservative tactics employed by teams. Sports;soccer
World Cup (soccer)
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[kw]West Germany Wins a Third FIFA World Cup (June 8-July 8, 1990)
[kw]Germany Wins a Third FIFA World Cup, West (June 8-July 8, 1990)
[kw]FIFA World Cup, West Germany Wins a Third (June 8-July 8, 1990)
[kw]World Cup, West Germany Wins a Third FIFA (June 8-July 8, 1990)
World Cup (soccer)
FIFA World Cup
[g]Europe;June 8-July 8, 1990: West Germany Wins a Third FIFA World Cup[07730]
[g]Italy;June 8-July 8, 1990: West Germany Wins a Third FIFA World Cup[07730]
[c]Sports;June 8-July 8, 1990: West Germany Wins a Third FIFA World Cup[07730]
Maradona, Diego
Klinsman, Jürgen
Brehme, Andreas
Beckenbauer, Franz
Caniggia, Claudio
Monzón, Pedro
Dezotti, Gustavo

West Germany’s entry into the final was earned with aggressive offense throughout the tournament. Argentina, however, hampered by injuries, suspensions, and rumors of drug use among players, showed little flair and settled on a defensive showdown with the West Germans. West Germany’s victory came in the last five minutes of the match on a controversial penalty kick converted by Andreas Brehme. The rulings on the field, and extreme unsportsmanlike conduct during the tournament as a whole, overshadowed West Germany’s third World Cup title, which also signaled the first victory for a European squad against a South American team in a FIFA World Cup final.

Both West Germany and Argentina came into the 1990 tournament as favorites to advance to the final match. They had previously met in Mexico City in the exciting 1986 World Cup final. Argentina’s outstanding Diego Maradona commanded the field and set up both his team’s 3-2 win and Argentina’s second Cup title. Beginning with the 1978 tournament, of which Argentina was the host, Argentine teams were, at least, equal to their powerful neighbors and rivals to the north, Brazil. Observers and commentators expected 1990 to be no different from 1986, but rumors of Maradona’s cocaine use and the fiery personality he exhibited while a member of club teams in Spain and Italy slightly dampened expectations. As the winners of the previous World Cup, Argentina automatically qualified for the 1990 tournament. Placed in Group B with the Soviet Union, Romania, and Cameroon, Argentina was shocked in its first match, a 1-0 loss to the African newcomers, Cameroon. Argentina recovered to beat the Soviet Union and tie Romania, scoring only three goals in the opening round. Controversy erupted during the Soviet match when Maradona visibly used his hand to knock back a near goal. The Soviets protested in vain, and Argentina won 2-0. On June 24, 1990, Argentina faced South American archrival Brazil for a second-round elimination game and won a close 1-0 match when a Maradona pass into the penalty area was headed in by Claudio Caniggia. The Argentine team advanced to the quarterfinals against Yugoslavia. Again, the match turned into a defensive affair after the dismissal of a Yugoslav player in the thirty-first minute. Play ended 0-0. However, Argentina advanced by winning the penalty kick shoot-out 3-2. Argentina met the host country, Italy, in the semifinal match on July 3. Italy struck first, but Argentina equalized with a Caniggia goal scored off a Maradona crossing pass. Tied 1-1, the match was decided by penalty kicks, 4-3, and Argentina advanced to its fourth Cup final.

Rudi Völler of the West German soccer team holds up the FIFA World Cup after his team defeated Argentina 1-0 in the World Cup final on July 8, 1990.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Unlike the Argentine team, West Germany, guided by legendary player-turned-coach Franz Beckenbauer, made headlines only for their skills on the pitch. Second only to the Italians in European national play and tournament victories, the West Germans had consistently fielded excellent squads since their first Cup win in 1954. Placed in Group C with Yugoslavia, Colombia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the West Germans dominated, scoring ten goals in three matches. They met Holland in the second round, a game in which each team had a player dismissed for spitting, then arguing with the referee. The West Germans hung on and won a close match, 2-1, with Jürgen Klinsmann and Brehme providing goals. In the quarterfinal meeting with Czechoslovakia, the West Germans were held to a lone goal by a vigorous Czech defense. Still, they advanced to meet England for the semifinal on July 4. As expected, the match between West Germany and England showcased some of the finest soccer skills and styles. Both teams were aggressive on offense, a change from the previous defense-heavy matches. Brehme pulled the West Germans ahead on a wild, ricocheting free kick, but the English team tied the score at the eighty-minute mark. At 1-1, the match was decided on penalty kicks. The West Germans won 4-3. West Germany advanced to the final. It was West Germany’s sixth final appearance in Cup history, and it was the favorite to win against the somewhat lethargic, but lucky, Argentines.

The final, held at Rome’s Stadio Olímpico on July 8, was readily anticipated by both the approximately 73,600 spectators at the stadium and the millions of television viewers around the world. It was the sixth time in Cup history that South American and European teams had met for the final, and no European squad had yet defeated a South American team for the FIFA trophy. Four Argentine players, including Caniggia, Argentina’s main striking forward, could not play because of yellow cards received in previous matches. Without their main scorer, Argentina fell back into a tight defensive formation, hoping to upset any West German offensive run. As the match progressed toward halftime, it was a stalemate. The aggressive West Germans ran forward, only to be stifled by the Argentine defense. The Argentines put forward no recognizable attack and managed only one shot on goal in the entire match. In the sixty-fourth minute, Argentine defender Pedro Monzón roughly tackled Klinsmann, an obvious foul. However, in a controversial call, the Mexican referee gave Monzón a red card instead of a yellow card, and he was ejected from the match—the first ejection from a final in World Cup history. Argentina played on with ten men. Then in the eighty-fourth minute, because of a rough tackle on a West German player in the penalty area, West Germany was awarded a penalty kick. Argentine players surrounded the referee, unsuccessfully pleading their case. Brehme stepped up and hammered the ball into the net, making the score 1-0 with six minutes left to play. After Brehme’s goal, all order seemed lost. Argentine forward Gustavo Dezotti threw his arm around a West German player’s neck, pushing him to the ground. Another red card was issued and, in the eighty-seventh minute, Dezotti became the second Argentine player ejected from the match. Argentine players gestured furiously and screamed at the Mexican referee as the West Germans stood back, attempting to regroup for the final minutes. At the final whistle, the West German bench erupted. The final score was 1-0 and West Germany accepted its third Jules Rimet trophy. Argentine players openly wept.


The controversial fouls, penalties, and inconsistent officiating in the final match, and throughout the 1990 World Cup tournament, led FIFA to review refereeing standards and practices, especially concerning tackles and awards for free kicks. After reviewing some matches, there was little doubt that certain players were diving and faking injuries in hopes of forcing the referees to call penalties against opposing squads. In future Cup play, there would be penalties for diving and stricter enforcement of tackling fouls. The referees were also provided safeguards from verbally abusive players and given the power to card offending players according to the severity of their offense. Moreover, rules pertaining to time-delaying tactics, such as kicking the ball back to the goalie, were revised. FIFA declared that if the ball was kicked back to the goalie by his own teammate, the goalie could not pick it up but must use his feet to put the ball back into play. These additional rulings by FIFA, along with other changes, including the fact that goal scoring totals would be factored into advancement into the second round, forced future competitors to be increasingly mindful of offensive tactics. A reunited West and East German team and the Argentine squad both qualified for the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the United States, but there was no third meeting. Both veteran squads were eliminated prior to the semifinals. Sports;soccer
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Further Reading

  • Crouch, Terry. The World Cup: A Complete History. London: Aurum Press, 2002. A complete analysis and record of qualifying and final round play since 1930.
  • MacDonald, Tom. The World Encyclopedia of Soccer: A Complete Guide to the Beautiful Game. New York: Lorenz, 2002. Well-referenced and illustrated guide to the worldwide professional teams and players.
  • Rollin, Jack. The World Cup: 1930-1990, Sixty Glorious Years of Soccer’s Premiere Event. New York: Facts On File, 1990. Excellent resource for all matches, scores, photos, national team performances, and the fifty best players since 1930.

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