“It was luck,” Andreas Brehme reflected. “Nothing more.”
The Germany legend had a point. For all the sweetly struck set pieces he produced during his career, this particular free-kick – which spun over England’s Peter Shilton via a wicked deflection – was not one of his best.
None, though, were more important. This was the strike, after all, that gave Germany the advantage in their toughest game of Italy 1990: an epic semi-final against England in which the eventual champions only just scraped through.
In football, though, one man’s good luck tends to be another’s misfortune, and as Brehme celebrated, Paul Parker suffered. It had been off his right boot that the ball had looped into the air, deceiving England’s veteran keeper and leaving his team with a mountain to climb. The only question was whether the defender had been a victim or a villain, with plenty portraying him as the latter after he turned his back in the process charging down Brehme’s free-kick.
The case for the defence was stated with impressive frankness. “Brehme rammed the ball at me and instinctively I turned slightly to protect myself and, I admit in particular, my manly assets,” Parker wrote in ‘Tackles like a ferret’, his quirkily titled autobiography. “Yes, I should not have turned my back but I defy any man to have charged towards that ball, his nether regions exposed to a fiercely struck free-kick from a world-class player.”
That same world-class player would be there again at the end, having scored in Germany’s shootout win, to console his luckless opponent. “The Germans were gracious in victory,” recalled Parker. “I remember Brehme coming over and saying in English how sorry he felt for us. But there was nothing to say except shake their hands and wish them well in the final.”
Brehme would take centre stage in that decider, too, converting from the spot once again to settle an ugly, ill-disciplined encounter. "That final was horrible,” West Germany’s goalscorer told The Independent. “Argentina didn't have a corner, they didn't create a chance on goal. They had a terrible World Cup but a lot of luck. Would England have beaten them? Definitely, 100 per cent.
"That semi-final against them was the best match of the World Cup. It was a fantastic match involving two great teams – it was the final before the final.
"The players had real comradeship,” Brehme added. “Even now, if I meet one of the England players, we could go and have a drink and talk about it.”
That may well be true. Not everyone, though, would be offering a toast to Lady Luck.
Did you know?
Among the unique exhibits at the FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich is a fascinating piece of memorabilia from this semi-final. It is the original yellow card brandished by referee Ramiz Wright in Turin, with Brehme and Parker two of the three names noted on the back. The third, of course, was Paul Gascoigne, famously reduced to tears when Wright produced the caution that ended the midfielder’s tournament.
— FIFA Museum (@FIFAMuseum) June 16, 2016