Lothar Matthaus celebrates his 60th birthday today
The standout performer in Germany’s 1990 World Cup-winning side
He holds numerous domestic and international records
Every footballing great is associated with iconic moments that have burned themselves into the collective consciousness of football fans. The Hand of God and the Goal of the Century from Diego Maradona. That save by Gordon Banks.
It might even be a miss, like Pele’s against Uruguay in 1970 after his legendary dummy. For the younger fans among us, those moments might include Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s bicycle kick against England.
For Lothar Matthaus, it is the brace he scored against Yugoslavia in the Opening Match of the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™.
Many considered Yugoslavia to be among the dark horses at Italia '90, while it was unclear if West Germany were up to the task after only qualifying for the tournament by a narrow margin. Matthaus did what any good leader would do in such a situation – he led by example. In the middle of the first half, he cut inside from the right and hit a low shot from the edge of the penalty area with his weaker left foot to give Germany a 1-0 lead.
After Yugoslavia halved the deficit to 2-1 in the 55th minute, Matthaus screwed up his courage and drove the ball through the entire midfield before firing a powerful shot home from 25 metres to make it 3-1.
This goal epitomises everything that made central midfielder Lothar Matthaus special in his heyday: energy, power and irrepressible determination combined with the finest technique and total belief. As DFB honorary captain Fritz Walter cheered enthusiastically from the stands of the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium, he knew that this team, led by his successor from Herzogenaurach, could become world champions.
Indeed, this 4-1 Matthaus-powered win provided the spark that propelled Germany all the way to the Final, where they exacted revenge for the defeat inflicted on them by Argentina four years earlier. The fact that the established penalty-taker in the No10 shirt left it to Andy Brehme to score the winning spot-kick because he felt uncomfortable in new boots proved to be another crucial and correct decision from the standout player in this Germany side.
"It seems as though Matthaus dominates the midfield like practically no other player before him. Opponents bounce off him as if he were covered in armour," an Italian newspaper wrote in admiration at the time. It came as no surprise that FIFA crowned him the first World Player of the Year in 1991 after he suffered narrow defeats with Germany in the World Cup Finals in 1982 and 1986.
Matthaus had a remarkable goalscoring record for a midfielder, particularly in his first spell with Bayern Munich and then at Inter Milan, where he found the back of the net in virtually every other game. He was an indispensable member of the national team for many years.
Even after he lost the pace that had once made him such a remarkable player, Germany were so determined to retain his leadership qualities and intelligent play that they took him to France 1998 as a 37-year-old sweeper.
He now works as a respected television pundit after several stints as a club and international coach, although the prospect of seeing a thoroughbred like Matthaus make a return to the dugout cannot be ruled out.
"When he plays like that, there is no better player in the world." Franz Beckenbauer after Germany’s opening win over Yugoslavia at the 1990 World Cup
"With his power, quality, pace and energy, Lothar embodies everything Germany want at this tournament – simply the title." Franz Beckenbauer
"Matthaus really is a super player, he can do everything. He has power, he’s fast, technically perfect – everything a player can only dream of." Diego Maradona
"Football tactics are like chess. You plan plenty of moves in advance and then discover that your opponent has already adjusted to them. So you plan moves that are a reaction to that reaction. It’s the he-knows-that-I-know-that-he-knows principle." Lothar Matthaus
“My Brazilians are missing a Matthaus!” Pele after the 1990 World Cup
"I would do almost anything for you. That’s why I want to start by saying thank you. Thank you for all the great footballing moments I got to experience because of you. Most of the games that had me on the edge of my seat as a fan were influenced by you." Jurgen Klopp
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - MARCH 21: Lothar Matthaus of West Germany lines up for the anthems before the International Friendly match between Brazil and West Germany at the Maracana Stadium on March 21, 1982 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Eamonn McCabe/Popperfoto via Getty Images)
Diego Maradona of Argentina and Lothar Matthaeus of Germany in action during the FIFA World Cup final on 29 June 1986 against West Germany at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, Mexico. Argentina won the match 3-2. (Photo by Michael King/Getty Images)