Stephen Brennan, a Brit, teacher, and soccer fanatic, will tell the World Cup's craziest moments over the next few days. This is the fifth installment. Read the others here.
England versus West Germany, Semifinal 1990
Since winning the World Cup on home soil in 1966, there had been little for English fans to cheer about in international competition. To make matters worse, in the 1980s, the plague of hooliganism had gotten English clubs banned from all European competition. In 1990, barely 20,000 had turned up to see the team play its last home warm-up game against Czechoslovakia before the World Cup in Italy. The moronic tabloid press labeled the team "donkeys" and had been calling for the head of manager Bobby Robson since the team's first-round exit from the European Championships in 1988.
However, in the 1990 World Cup, the team's path to the semifinal saw the nation embrace its team again. There were moments where the English were playing the kind of skillful, precise, and exciting football not normally associated with the kick-and-rush brutalism of the English game.
Spearheading this was 23-year-old Paul Gascoigne. The English number 19 played with the passion of a British bulldog and the grace of an Italian Renaissance artist. He skipped around the world's best defenders, floated perfect crosses into the opponent's penalty area, and revved up the traveling supporters into a frenzy. Such players have rarely graced an England starting 11.
However, it is the semifinal against West Germany for which "Gazza" is best remembered. A pulsating game, played in the heat of a Turin evening, had the two teams level at 1-1 toward the end of the second half. Gascoigne, ever eager to start another England attack or prevent a German one, lunged for a ball, taking German defender Thomas Berthold instead. To Gascoigne's dismay, the referee produced a yellow card, meaning the English midfielder would miss the final should England get there. Almost instantly, Gascoigne's bottom lip begins to wobble, the school-boy spirit with which he'd played so magnificently with till this point now had him welling up. Inconsolable, Gazza later sobbed on manager Robson's shoulder as the game entered extra time.
England went on to lose the match to eventual champions West Germany on penalty kicks. However, Gazza's tears captured the hearts of the nation. Pride had been restored to the English game, though the national team hasn't come as close to winning the tournament since.