World Cup 2018: Four signs you remember England’s 1990 semi-final

Frank Dalleres
Follow Frank
Lothar Matthaus of Germany and Paul Parker of England
England faced West Germany – and lost – in their last World Cup semi-final (Source: Getty)

1. Nessun Dorma gives you goosebumps

If there is a more evocative, spine-tingling opening credit sequence than the BBC’s Italia 90 montage of iconic World Cup moments soundtracked by Nessun Dorma then it should come with a health warning.

Juxtaposing the stirring tones of Luciano Pavarotti belting out Puccini’s composition with slo-mo footage of football’s natural theatre elevated a game that had often been looked down upon to the status of high art.

Read more: Trevor Steven: Inside England's last World Cup semi-final

A classy touch from the Beeb, it lent England’s bittersweet tournament poignancy and gravitas. That’s just a bit of dust in my eye.

2. Des Lynam is your benchmark for presenters

No one delivered a pithy, zeitgeist-riding intro with an imaginary Martini in hand like Dishy Des.

“It’s estimated that more than half the entire population of the country will be watching tonight’s semi-final against West Germany,” Lynam said in his preamble to that fateful match. “What the other half are doing, we’ll leave up to them.”

It wasn’t even that funny, but the easy charm and knowing smirk drew you in and made you feel like a co-conspirator.

Lynam was the master and England’s 1990 World Cup melodrama was him at his peak.

3. World In Motion is the one true football song

Three Lions may be easier singalong fodder and its refrain of “it’s coming home” has achieved an almost inescapable ubiquity as England have advanced in Russia, but you couldn’t call it cool.

World In Motion drips with cool despite being that least cool of things: a football song.

Bernard Sumner’s ambiguous lyrics, the unmistakable ‘90s piano riff, a budget-yet-somehow-sylish video, Paul Gascoigne yelling “express yourself” and, of course, John Barnes rapping, it was a heady brew.

Whether it absolves Keith Allen of his later involvement in Fat Les is another matter.

4. You see Gary Lineker as footballer first, presenter second

Before he became the face of football broadcasting for the BBC and BT Sport, Lineker was the darling of the English game and Italia 90 saw him in his prime.

Having scored twice in the quarter-final win over Cameroon and won the Golden Boot at the 1986 World Cup, if anyone was going to get Bobby Robson’s team past West Germany then it was probably the penalty-box predator from Leicester.

England v Cameroon 1990 FIFA World Cup
Lineker in his prime at the 1990 World Cup (Source: Getty)

After Andreas Brehme’s flukey free-kick left England chasing the game, Lineker conjured a brilliant equaliser.

He then cemented his saint status by acting as on-field counsellor to a Gazza distraught by a booking that threatened to rule him out of the final.

Related articles