Tough battle between 1982 and 1986 champions has goalless outcome

International friendly
Video: Full game
Thu. 21 Dec 1989
Kick-off: 2.30pm
Stadio Sant’Elia, Cagliari
Att.: 29,635
Ref.: Aleksey Spirin (SOV)


Italy would continue their pre ’90 promotional tour with a clash against old adversaries Argentina, whom they had come across in the past four World Cups. Those meetings had resulted in two wins for Italy as well as two draws, and the pair looked set for an interesting battle in Cagliari in what was Italy’s seventh home international of the calendar year. Argentina would be in action for the first time since their disappointing Copa América campaign in July, where they had only scored twice from seven matches.

Italy team news

Quite often for Italy’s build-up games ahead of the World Cup, manager Vicini would have a large pool of substitutes to chose from. On this occasion, though, he had limited himself to just five. There were few surprises in his team selection, but three notable omissions were indeed central defender Ferri (out with a shoulder injury), who had started every single one of their friendlies since the 1988 European Championships, playmaker Baggio, and striker Carnevale, who had begun up front in Italy’s last five matches. The last two were struggling with minor injuries and were not being risked, and they had originally been picked for the 18 man squad. Other than that, there was pretty much business as usual for ‘gli Azzurri’.


Ferrara and Serena were the players drafted into the starting eleven, and both had already featured with great frequency during the last year. Interestingly named among the five subs were midfielder Fusi, who had come on as a sub twice during their build-up matches, and forward Mancini, who had not been on the pitch since their first post 1988 European Championship friendly, against Norway at home.

It was pretty clear that Vicini had a sound idea of at least eight or nine of the players who would be starting in their first World Cup fixture. There might have been one or two positions that he was still unsure about, but in general he seemed to have his plan sussed out. Lately, he had also switched from 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2 formation, something which was perhaps a surprise. They had probably been more enterprising inside the opposition’s half when they were in 4-4-2, but the 3-5-2 formation could have given the manager belief in more security at the back.

In their last fixture, Italy had been dominated by a powerful England team at Wembley, but they had weathered the storm and brought a scoreless draw back home.

Argentina team news

As this was the reigning World Champions’ first international in more than five months, one had to look at their Copa América squad to find out which players had been drafted into the squad for the trip across to Europe. New recruits since then were libero Simón, left-sided player Olarticoechea, indeed a familiar face to a global audience, and striker Dezotti. The remaining eight starters here in Cagliari had all taken part in the continental tournament staged in Brazil. 50 year old manager Bilardo was well into his sixth year as Argentina manager, with the ’86 triumph in Mexico obviously his main feat.

Dezotti, Batista, Simón, Ruggeri

Argentina had scored a meagre five goals from ten 1989 internationals. They had the luxury of having arguably the world’s best player in their ranks, but Maradona hardly had a flurry of attacking geniuses around him. There were still a few players who could cause trouble inside the opposition’s half, and attacking midfielder Burruchaga had shown during the 1986 World Cup the level of his understanding with the captain. He had played in Europe for quite some time already, being a prominent feature with French top flight club Nantes. Starting up front with Maradona on this occasion would be Dezotti, a 25 year old indeed based in Italy, now with Cremonese after a return of only three goals in 29 matches with Lazio the previous term, his inaugural season in Europe. This season, though, he had reached the peak of his game, and was joint second top goalscorer in the league, with a return of eight goals from 16, half of his team’s tally. Not bad at all in a side struggling to avoid relegation.

Absent since Copa América were defenders Cuciuffo and Clausen, as well as attacking midfielder Calderón. From the bench, Bilardo could in Cagliari call on experienced libero Brown, who had lost his starting place to Simón, as well as midfield hard man Troglio, and the two interesting Italy based attackers Caniggia and Balbo. An ’86 World Cup winner in forward Pasculli was also among the substitutes.

Past meetings

This was the 11th encounter between the two countries since they first locked horns back in 1954, a game which had also been a friendly on Italian soil. The hosts had won that fixture by 2-0, and two years later they met in Buenos Aires, with Argentina running out 1-0 winners. This win remains in fact Argentina’s sole regulation time victory over the Italians to date. They had met in four successive World Cups at this point, and Italy had even had the audacity to triumph in Argentina during the hosts’ successful ’78 tournament, as well as in the second group phase in Spain four years later. Interestingly, they had split three World Cups between them from 1978 to 1986.

Six wins, three draws, one defeat read the stats in favour of the Europeans. The last clash had come two and a half years earlier, when Italy had won 3-1 on neutral ground in Switzerland. Six Italian starters remained, whilst only four Argentinians took to kick-off in both matches.


Soviet official Spirin was only 37 years old, and he had come on to the international scene a year and a half earlier in a friendly between West Germany and Yugoslavia. This was only his third assignment, with his last match in charge being the qualifier between Belgium and Portugal in Brussels three and a half months prior.

Italy (3-5-2)

1 Walter Zengasub h-t29Internazionale
2 Giuseppe Bergomi (c)25Internazionale
3 Paolo Maldinisub h-t21AC Milan
4 Franco Baresi29AC Milan
5 Ciro Ferrara22Napoli
6 Nicola Berti22Internazionale
7 Roberto Donadonisub h-t26AC Milan
8 Fernando De Napoli25Napoli
9 Gianluca Viallisub 69′25Sampdoria
10 Giuseppe Giannini25Roma
11 Aldo Serena29Internazionale

12 Stefano Tacconion h-t32Juventus
13 Luigi De Agostinion h-t28Juventus
14 Luca Fusion 69′26Napoli
15 Giancarlo Marocchi24Juventus
16 Roberto Mancinion h-t25Sampdoria
Manager: Azeglio Vicini

Argentina (3-5-2)

1 Nery Pumpido32Betis
2 Oscar Ruggeri27Real Madrid
3 Juan Simón29Boca Juniors
4 Pedro Monzón27Independiente
5 Sergio Batista27River Plate
6 Julio Olarticoechea31Racing Club de Avellaneda
7 Ricardo Giusti 62′33Independiente
8 José Basualdosub 40′26Stuttgart
9 Jorge Burruchaga27Nantes
10 Diego Maradona (c)29Napoli
11 Gustavo Dezotti 20′, sub 70′25Cremonese

13 José Luis Brown33Racing Club de Avellaneda
16 Claudio Caniggiaon 70′22Atalanta
21 Pedro Troglioon 40′24Lazio
x Néstor Fabbri21Racing Club de Avellaneda
x Roberto Sensini23Udinese
x Abel Balbo23Udinese
x Pedro Pablo Pasculli29Lecce
x Julio César Falcioni33América de Cali
x Néstor Gorosito25San Lorenzo
Manager: Carlos Bilardo

Tactical line-ups

First half

Second half

Match Report

First half:
Stadio Sant’Elia in Cagliari, on the southern tip of Sardinia, was bathed in sunshine by the time of this afternoon kick-off. The stadium would be the base of England during next year’s event, and all three of the English’ Group F matches would take place there. Surely, the city was slightly apprehensive about what lay ahead, with England still marred with incidents of hooliganism. No such worries here, though, as the visitors kick the game off through Maradona and midfielder Burruchaga, the pair which had got quite a lot of joy out of their tandem operations during the previous World Cup.

The Italian defensive line

It very quickly became evident that Vicini had deployed his disciples in 3-5-2 yet again. The natural captain had seemed to be the ever dependable Bergomi, a World Cup winner at the age of 18, who already seemed to have been around for ages, but who was still only 25. More often than not, Bergomi would on this occasion find himself as the more left-sided of the three central defenders, where the fine Baresi was once again operating in the role of libero. In an Italian contemporary context, this meant Baresi was the spare man in defence with license to wander forward. Typically, these two would be accompanied by Ferri, a titled ‘hard man’, but Bergomi’s Internazionale comrade was out with a shoulder injury which he’d most likely picked up in training back in late November, so subsequently he was ineligible here in Sardinia. His place had instead gone to Ferrara of league leaders Napoli. It would quickly be understood that Ferrara’s main task was to sit tight to his Serie A team mate, the indomitable Maradona. Surely, as a player who for a long period of time already had had the opportunity to scrutinize Maradona’s range of movements on the training pitch as well as in-match, Ferrara seemed the right pick for such an assignment. This was Ferrara’s first start in central defence, his natural position at club level, for Italy during the post ’88-pre ’90 era.

Argentina’s defence

The deep Simón

Down the opposite end, the visitors also had seemed to opt for a 3-5-2, and in a highly experienced team, with seven world champions in the starting eleven, the libero job had fallen to Simón, whose interpretation of the role seemed somewhat unconventional: He would take out a lot of depth, often sitting a good 15 yards behind his fellow central defenders. Simón, an experienced Boca Juniors player aged 29, had ousted Brown, one of Argentina’s goalscorers in the ’86 final (famous header after Schumacher’s aerial misjudgement), for this position. Around him were two rather uncompromising players in Monzón and Ruggeri, where particularly the former would assume man-marking duties. Monzón would stick tight to Italy’s aerially strong forward Serena, a job he would go about with a great deal of fervour. Ruggeri, playing with Spanish giants Real Madrid, was the more right-sided of the trio, and with Vialli often coming into left sided areas for Italy, the two would at times clash, though Ruggeri, unlike Monzón, did not seem to work under downright man-marking instructions.

The opening of the game is not highly adventurous, with both sides clearly taking a cautious, measured approach. Both teams like to stroke the ball between their players, and they both appear with plentiful of players behind the ball whenever the opposition’s in possession. Maradona sees an early effort from just outside the area blocked down, while there’s half a chance for Serena to finish with a half volley on the turn following a pass into the area by the busy Donadoni. With both sides at times appearing narrow in their five man midfields, this area of the pitch often becomes congested, and the game will at times resemble a start-stop affair with a big number of free-kicks for challenges, fouls and little niggles. Serena’s already felt the presence of his marker Monzón, but the striker will arrive at a second attempt on goal before eight minutes of play, though on this occasion his header after another Donadoni pass from deep in the right hand channel is well over target.

Visitors’ front two

Only the Argentine forward duo among their eleven is based in Italy’s Serie A, arguably the strongest league in world football. Maradona and the curly-haired Dezotti were vastly different as players and in terms of international stature. The former was known and admired by an entire footballing world for his genius, whilst the latter was eventually coming of age as a goalscorer at club level. He had not made an instant impression after arriving in Italy ahead of the 1988/89 season, and had ended up with a disappointing return of three goals in ‘the eternal city’ with Lazio. Now, at newly promoted Cremonese, indeed Italy forward Vialli’s old club, Dezotti had blossomed, and had for example scored the only goal of the game as the Serie B play-off winners had toppled mighty AC Milan at home in October. Dezotti was of decent frame, and would be moving from right to left, and also seen putting in some work inside his own half, something which was unthinkable for his forward partner. Maradona’s mobility in this particular game was unspectacular; Dezotti’s was easily more impressive. Yet Dezotti was unable to get himself into scoring positions. Allowing the opponents time and space in front of their goal was, however, hardly something which the Italians were renowned for.

In the space of just over a minute, around the ten minute mark, Italy have two shooting opportunities from distance, with the ever roaming Vialli appearing at the first of these. His right boot effort clears the crossbar well from around 25 yards, and his strike partner Serena, making a lively start to the game, has a go from slightly closer range, and again connecting with a half volley, albeit his effort also leaves a bit to be desired as it never troubles Pumpido. Either ‘keeper’s yet to be tested. Down the other end, Zenga’s only had back passes and a poor Dezotti cross to deal with so far.

There’s not a whole lot of pace to the game. This is not so strange considering the number of free-kicks on display. Italy had not always seemed too comfortable in dealing with a high intensity game in their last appearance, the one at Wembley, and yet again up against opposition of excellent pedigree, they were respectful to what were in front of them. Not that this was the most accomplished Argentina select ever, though. With the obvious exception apart, there was not a whole lot which reeked of brilliance on this occasion. Around the number 10, there were a whole lot of grafters, players working their socks off for the benefit of the collective, but they were admirably difficult to break down. Italy, with no Baggio on the pitch or even among their five substitutes, were struggling with their creativity, not being able to suss openings out for their two forwards. Rightly, both Serena and Vialli had had efforts at goal already inside the opening quarter of an hour, but no more than half chances. Even Vialli had by now felt the brutality of Monzón, who had tackled him unnecessarily hard from behind in a challenge near the halfway line. The Soviet referee had not even had a word with the defender.

Defragmenting the Argentinian midfield

The midfield battles were numerous. The visitors saw their five men in quite a conventional shape, with the bearded, rugged figure of Batista sitting in the deep role, not in a capacity as regista, but in order to break up Italian play. Batista seemed the type of character easily associated with bohemianism, though he was working in perfect obedience to Bilardo’s system. He never shirked from his tasks, never gave in to the temptation of trotting forward and expose gaps behind him. He would often come in close contact with the excellent Giannini, and this was one of the most relished battles throughout the afternoon.

Another World Cup winner in the Argentinian midfield was right-sided player Giusti. He was the oldest selectee in the side at 33, but his engine was still good, and his appetite seemingly no less. Giusti was not your kind of wide player who would challenge with his pace and trickery, drawing frustration out of his opposing full-back and seeking to get to the byline before delievering a telling cross. Instead, he was offering a whole lot of commitment and work rate, as well as coming into central areas and contributing in the build-up phases. Giusti would try to move the ball on to one of the midfield halfs: these were Burruchaga and Basualdo. In fact, it was quite remarkable for a player of wide origin how often Giusti came into the centre of the pitch. It could not have been a coincidence to see him perform like this; it had clearly been Bilardo’s wish.

Olarticoechea was, like Giusti along the opposite flank, also a World Cup winner. The Argentine number 6 was modest in physical stature, but he remained true to his flank throughout the game. He was yet another of industry and work rate, but he was also important as he was their only player constantly in a wide position. Olarticoechea possessed decent pace, and would indeed be seen darting towards the byline. His left foot was of sound quality, and infrequently he would use it to swing crosses into the centre.

Of the two players ahead of Batista in the centre, Burruchaga was the more confident one in an attacking capacity. Not that Basualdo did not carry this ability, but the former’s vision and comfortability on the ball was at a different level, at least here. Anyone who had seen Argentina in the ’86 World Cup had noticed how well Burruchaga and Maradona had combined throughout the tournament, and their ability to seek each other out had indeed resulted in the winning goal in the final against the West Germans. The tandem was perhaps not quite as visible on this occasion, as Maradona was all the time shackled by Ferrara, though it did not prevent Burruchaga from looking to play his captain in. Basualdo, on the other hand, did seem stronger off the ball compared to Burruchaga, and he would take up the left-sided midfield half position; Burruchaga the right. Defensively, this midfield unit seemed as solid as anything in world football. Attack wise, they had their limitations. Especially when operating under strict instructions, such as these. Bilardo clearly had no wish whatsoever to be caught by surprise.

The more ‘hidden’ quality of Baresi

Italy loved to play through their midfield, but if a ball was to be hit into space for a forward to run on to, it would be Baresi’s task to deliever. In fact, this would happen with some regularity, and not just in this particular fixture. Baresi’s ability to find either forward with a precise, raking pass from inside his own half was of high calibre, and it was something which added yet another dimension to his play. Not only was he such a fine libero and reader of the game: His execution was also impeccable. Vialli, easily the more mobile among the two home strikers, was often the target of Baresi’s long balls.


Dezotti receives his early X-mas card from the ref

The niggly game sees its first booking being displayed on 20 minutes. The referee does not appear to have a whole lot of communication with the players, but perhaps if he had, some of the little fouls would’ve given way? It is Dezotti who is back well inside his own half and tackles Giannini brutally with the playmaker moving towards the touchline which will warrant the first caution. The striker could have no objections to the decision.

Not a whole lot happening

I will not go as far as saying that it is a tedious affair; football never is. When looking below the surface of a match, any given fixture will be an interesting analysis. This is no different. Yes, there’s an absence of delicate combinations and artistic play, but the way that the two teams strive to nullify each other’s threats makes for a highly watchable study. By the half hour point, little has yet happened in front of either goal. And it does not look like a change in match picture is imminent.

With Giusti at times preoccupied towards central areas, Argentina see Dezotti coming more and more into right-sided positions. This leaves Maradona at times isolated up front, and with Ferrara doing a solid job on his team mate from club level, Argentina do not appear to have a lot of threat to offer the hosts. Italy are probably ahead on points so far, even if they too struggle to get close to Pumpido.

Italy’s midfield

Giannini with another fine performance

The Argentine midfield has something of an M shape, while the W seems to be in work for the Italians. Vicini has so far in their build-up games experimented somewhat with the position of their most central midfielder Giannini, who has probably left a better impression whenever he’s been given a more attacking instruction. This is the case again here: Rather than having to dictate play from a deep role, he is allowed to sit in front of the two midfield halfs, who are Donadoni (right) and Berti either side of him. Giannini has a lot in his locker. He’s more than skillful enough to take a man on and gain yards, opening up shooting positions for himself, and he’s well capable of distributing a ball with measured precision. He is not bad in the air, and he certainly has the physical attributes to go with a central role even in harsh surroundings. The ‘little prince’ is almost a complete central midfielder, perhaps only lacking a bit of acceleration and pace. Just beyond 33 minutes, he provides yet another shot at goal, and one which finally hits the target. His powerful effort must be tipped over, though Pumpido was never in danger of conceding.

Another alledged creative midfielder is Donadoni, playing as one of two inside halfs, to the right of Giannini. Donadoni is also well capable of featuring in the wide right position, and has done so on many an occasion under Vicini as well. Like in their last match, the 0-0 draw in England, Donadoni is again in a midfield half role. He does not possess the same physical prowess as Giannini, but his vision is good, and he has an engine which sees him run all day. He does appear to be an important player in the build-up phase, but he is not having a major impact on proceedings so far. In fact, this performance seems to mirror what the calendar year has brought from him at international level. He may yet have struggled to impose himself in the ‘gli Azzurri’ select to the same extent that he continues to do with AC Milan. Outside of him is De Napoli, another hugely disciplined player, and one who excels without brilliance. De Napoli allows Donadoni and Giannini the freedom to go forward, and with great loyalty he patrols the rear areas of the Italian midfield from centre and towards right.

Opposite from Donadoni is Berti. Along with Ferrara the second youngest home player at 22, he is perhaps thought to be the one Italian player to make the greatest impact off the ball. He has a knack of making runs from the deep and into the heart of the opposition’s defence, though with Argentina’s ability to deny the hosts space, he fails to stamp any kind of authority on this match. Berti has had a largely anonymous half hour. Outside him is Maldini, who had been out of position as the left-sided player in their 3-5-2 at Wembley on a number of occasions, and who yet again struggles to make an impact. Maldini does have something of a luxury of not having an opponent directly threatening him defensively, and this could’ve allowed for further attacking contributions. Though yet again the visitors know how to prevent an opposing player from finding much space. Maldini will remain a peripheral attacking threat only.

Chance for #10

The best opportunity of the first half falls to Maradona. The hosts momentarily switch off with Batista in possession to the left inside his own half, and with no forward attempting to close him down, perhaps with the knowledge that the midfield anchor man is hardly famous for his vision, Batista sees Olarticoechea unmarked 20 yards inside the Italian half. Where’s De Napoli? For once, the loyal Napoli man had dozed off and left the Argentine wide man in acres of space. It could so easily have been punished with a goal against, as Olarticoechea’s cross after darting towards the byline is only headed up into the air by Berti, who was perhaps disturbed by the presence of Ferrara immediately in his vicinity. With Ferrara already partially committed, Maradona can pounce on the ball as it comes back down, and with his fearsome left foot the diminutive superstar can strike at goal. Maradona misses to the right by a yard, though he wins a corner as Ferrara recovered impressively in time to get an attempted tackle in.


Troglio on for Basualdo

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment of occurence, but at some point after Maradona’s attempt, midfielder Basualdo picks up a knock, or perhaps feels something aggravated in his groin. He is seen with a slight limp and a grimace on his face after trying to cross the ball just before he is subsituted six minutes from half time. On comes another Italy based player in Lazio’s Troglio, who at this point’s already been warming up for a couple of minutes. The substitute is a more burly player than the one he had replaced, adding a more physical dimension to the visitors’ midfield. As if that was what the game needed to open up.

Halfway stage

The audience had given a display of the ‘Mexican wave’ earlier in the half, and despite the game’s shortcomings in terms of attacking quality, the crowd impressively keep their noise levels up. They will, however, not be further rewarded before the sound of the half time whistle, and after a first 45 minutes which had had ‘goalless’ written all over it, 0-0 is precisely how it says on the electronic scoreboard at the interval. Pumpido’s save from Giannini’s shot had been the only effort on target, whilst Maradona’s attempt just wide had probably been the biggest among a limited number of chances.

Second half:
The first half had not been a great spectacle for the so-called neutral, though you’d close your eyes to a match between two such heavy weights in world football at your peril. With the score locked at nothing each, there was still all to play for, and with the teams reappearing in a sun-basked Sant’Elia, it soon became clear that the Italians had made no less than three half time changes. They would put the game back into motion through the kick-off of Giannini and Vialli.

Italy boss Vicini had replaced goalkeeper Zenga with his national team understudy Tacconi, who was the first choice with Turin giants Juventus. Tacconi was very solid indeed, and although there was a sense of Zenga being a relatively clear number one, Tacconi’s qualities can’t have been much inferior to those of the Internazionale stopper. There had always been a great Italian goalkeeping heritage, and though neither Tacconi nor Zenga might have been quite Zoff material, they, as a goalkeeping twin force at national team level, were surely as good a duo as any.

De Agostini prior to second half kick-off

In defence, Vicini had replaced Maldini with another Juventus player in left-back De Agostini. The substitute was another highly dependable player, and there can’t possibly have been much separating him and Maldini in terms of quality. Perhaps was the latter slightly more competent defensively, already at such a young age, whilst De Agostini’s forte seemed to be his ability to patrol the left hand side and not least deliever telling crosses with his delightful left foot. Maldini was ahead of De Agostini based on number of appearances made since the 1988 European Championships, but the race seemed a tight one indeed.

The third and final substitution had been withdrawing Donadoni, who had at times been well involved during the opening half, but who perhaps had gone missing somewhat after a busy start. On for the Milanese came Sampdoria forward Mancini, who at club level made a fearsome tandem with Vialli as a striker. However, with his comrade and also with Serena still on the pitch in the forward roles, Mancini, making his first appearance in an Italy shirt since the inaugural friendly post the European Championships, would have to fill in where Donadoni had played: As the inside right midfield half. It was an interesting substitution. Italy had been somewhat short in creativity during the first half, and maybe could Mancini help change that?

The Argentina ‘forward’ role

The opening exchanges of the second half only indicate that there is ‘more of the same’ in store, as both sets of players continue to battle in areas congested with players, leaving little room for fine passages of play. Argentina striker Dezotti had appeared more and more as a right sided option during the first half, and the trend continued after the break. He would even help out in defence along the flank, and so clearly did not solely feature as an out and out striker. At times he seemed a bit like a fish on dry land: He was hardly the most skillful player on the pitch, but was instead equipped with fine physical attributes and a big heart. As any kind of answer to an Argentina striker’s role in the vacancy left by the great Jorge Valdano’s international retirement, though? Or was Valdano even yet retired? Anyhow, Dezotti would finish the Serie A season with an impressive 13 league goals to his name for relegated Cremonese, who as a team would only bag 29 goals in total. Clearly, he was capable of doing something right.


Mancini assuming corner taking responsibilities

Mancini seemed to slip straight into the Donadoni position in midfield. Knowing his standing as a striker at Sampdoria, it did perhaps seem strange that Vicini would even consider utilising him in a midfield role, but surely there was something in his qualities saying of a player capable of putting in a shift even in an unusual position. Mancini showed some nice touches early on, and would present himself through a right wing cross. However, he never managed to lay the ball on for a team mate, as Pumpido came out and gathered. We would see little glimpses of the Mancini/Vialli combinations, though due to them operating in different positions, these interchanges came about in advanced midfield areas rather than in threatening positions near the Argentine goal. There was still something about Mancini which seemed capable of lifting Italy from a relatively laboured level, and there was a definite sense that the player himself was relishing greatly being back in the national team jersey. He would also often see to attacking set-pieces.

Burruchaga almost in

Eight minutes into the half, Burruchaga can take advantage of a slip in concentration by Italy captain Bergomi, as the defender let a Baresi pass inside their own half get away from him. The Argentina attacking midfielder burst forward along the left, in territory you’d have thought was reserved predominantly for Olarticoechea or Troglio, but he did not possess enough pace to sprint directly towards goal. Instead the midfielder checked with the ball and looked up to see whether he could find a team mate in the centre. From his position inside the penalty area to the left, he attempted to cross low for Maradona, though the latter always had Ferrara in close proximity, and the Napoli defender was able to get a touch, which in turn meant that Bergomi could recover and start from the back once again. You would not often see Bergomi make defensive errors, but he would’ve been happy that this one had not cost his team dear.

Rare home counter

Italy had hardly been branded a counter-attacking team, and rightly so: They did not seem to possess an awful lot of pace in their side. Their main strength was keeping possession and looking for openings through their skillful players, though once in a while an opportunity to quickly make the transition from defence to attack would also present itself. Such as ten minutes into the second half, when Italy had thwarted Olarticoechea along the Argentine left wing. The ball would work its way to Giannini in midfield, and for once he would find some space and look for alternatives. He had De Agostini galopping forward along the left, and naturally Giannini played the stand-in defender in. This was an opportunity for De Agostini to showcase one of his greatest talents: Crossing the ball for one of the strikers to finish with aplomb. Sadly, the decisive moment let the full-back down as his delievery was way too deep. Pumpido could again easily collect. With the Argentines for once having a few players committed in the attacking half, it had been a moment where a quality pass into the box could’ve made a difference. In the end, it didn’t.

Argentina’s defensive trio

The visitors’ defence makes a very solid impression. As in the first half, Monzón continues to be a nuisance to Serena, still sitting tight as the big Italy striker’s man marker, whilst Simón’s sweeping job behind him goes on. However, there will be a few times when the libero has to clear his team’s defensive lines, and whenever he is called upon, he does what he is paid to do. He is another physically strong player, and can be seen brushing Vialli aside in an impressive challenge some 13 minutes into the second half, poking the ball back home to his ‘keeper. Ruggeri, who had been seen somewhat to the right during the first 45, possibly to keep an eye on Vialli, was appearing almost as a left-sided defender after the break, again with the ambition of not leaving the Sampdoria ace too much space. Vialli, perhaps eager to build relations with Mancini, was by now frequently found along the right. They would not quite gel in difficult surroundings, though.

Giusti warning

The constant fouling of opponents did not seem to dampen the spirit among the fans, who were vociferous throughout. The continuous stops kept taking any sting out of the match, though, and an interesting article¹ discussing the need for a referee from a Latin country for a match between two Latin opponents does touch some valid points. Just after the hour mark, Argentina midfield man Giusti becomes the second visitor to have his name taken by the Soviet official, as he kicks Vialli to the floor out by the Italian right hand touchline. It had been an unnecessarily hard challenge, and one which had warranted a yellow card.

Giusti sees yellow

Still, there was scant hope that even a second booking would lead to an easier game flow.

Italy on the counter – again!

On 64 minutes, another chance for the hosts to break forward at pace presents itself when Argentina have once again committed surprisingly many players forward. Losing the ball deep inside the Italian half had almost been their undoing, as De Agostini launched a second Italian counter within a short space of time. His precise left boot would seek out Vialli, who in turn headed the ball down for an advancing Giannini. The home midfield composer had at times dropped slightly deeper since the break, but here he was again bursting forward in some impressive strides. Surely, Argentina had not meant to expose themselves defensively like this, but with most of their midfielders deep inside of Italian territory, all their defensive three could do was backcheck. They had to keep track of the runs off the ball from both home strikers, as Vialli ran to the right and Serena to the left, giving Giannini dual options. The playmaker decided to feed Serena, and the big forward arrived at his best opportunity of the game as he was able to pick a low shot with his left foot from inside the area. The ‘keeper was equal to it, though, making a parry with his foot, and eventually Monzón would recover to clear the ball away to the safety of an Italian corner kick. So what was the fuss about that Italy carried little counter-attacking threat?


Fusi replaces Vialli

The second period’s just beyond its halfway stage when Vicini decides to take Vialli off and replace him with midfielder Fusi. So it means yet another Napoli player into the mix. In taking a striker off, though, the introduction of Fusi would mean a reshuffle, with Mancini moving up front to take up the position alongside Serena. Fusi came into Mancini’s inside right role, though one could perhaps sense that the newly arrived midfielder would not be used in an equally attacking capacity. Mancini had started brightly, but, a bit like Donadoni in the first half, then grew more anonymous as the half had progressed. Perhaps could he regain his spark when moving up top?

Argentina, too, make a change when they shortly after take Dezotti off and bring the fair haired Caniggia on. There was a trio of Italy based strikers available to Bilardo among the substitutes, and he gave the youngest of them the opportunity to introduce himself to a global audience. The 22 year old wily forward was in his second season in Serie A, now with Bergamo club Atalanta after his debut season at Hellas Verona. He had made eight appearances for his country after coming onto the scene two years earlier. Caniggia seemed to be equipped with something which his predecessor Dezotti had been lacking: pace. Could Argentina perhaps take advantage of this new weapon?

Liberos clash

Approaching the half hour mark in the second half, there’s almost a threat to Baresi’s ‘ever-present’ statistic for his country post the European Championships. This came about due to a rare decision by Argentina libero Simón to venture forward. He had won the ball from Mancini out to the right in defence, and he immediately decided to trot ahead, and soon made it into Italian territory. There, still along the touchline, he was faced by his opposite libero colleague, and as Simón tried to play the ball past Baresi, he then clattered into him when attempting to retrieve the ball. This left the Italy number 4 on the ground in need of attention, and he did look in some discomfort. Thankfully, though, he was able to continue. Even Simón would come in need of some treatment, but only after making it back inside his own half. This saw Bilardo call for veteran libero Brown to warm up along the sidelines, though his presence would never be demanded after all during this fixture. Simón, like Baresi, was easily able to resume play.

Goalkeepers relatively unworked

Neither goalkeeper had been called into action much due to the shortage of opportunities created either way. Pumpido, though, had had to make that low parry from Serena’s chance earlier in the second half, and with just over ten minutes left on the clock, he opts to come for a high ball into the area by Fusi. There seems to be control among the away defenders, as Ruggeri and Simón are both in close attention of Mancini, the sole Italian striker inside the area, as Serena had been further back in the pitch to chest Baresi’s ball forward down for Fusi. Yet, it is a fine decision by Pumpido to come, and his punch is convincing enough as the two defenders make space for his approach. The Argentina goalie’s had a faultless game hitherto. Down the other end, Tacconi’s so far not been worked by the visitors since his introduction at the start of the second half.

Italy’s left hand side

Since moving into a forward position, Mancini’s often pulled out towards the left hand side. Vicini surely did prefer for his strikers to come into wide areas, and this Mancini performance seemed no different. It did seem easier to make space for oneself out wide rather than in the congested centre, and Mancini would also be an easier spot for Baresi when the home libero decided to put his long balls into effect. And the frequency with which Baresi decides to search out his forwards with direct passes from the back is almost baffling on this occasion. Granted, he’s been seen doing it previously, but not to the same extent as in this game, and especially since the half time break.

Mancini moving out towards left handed areas also appears to involve Berti somewhat more. The midfielder had not had his most impressive international to date, but at long last he seemed to come back into action with some trademark runs and also support work for the Sampdoria striker. And then there was De Agostini, whose willingness to join in going forward along the touchline was constant. The full-back would get into a total of five crossing positions this afternoon, and his two final attempts had caused a bit of stir in the visitors’ defence, though nothing too serious.

Maradona sets up Caniggia

So what about Maradona in this match? He did not cause a whole lot of trouble. Sure, his mere presence meant that the Italian defence would always have to be on guard, but Ferrara was doing a fine job in monitoring Maradona’s movements, and it must be said that the Argentinian genius did not exert himself enormously. He had had that first half chance from inside the area, but not been active to a great extent in open play. Four minutes from time, though, he was given the chance to lift a ball into the area, where Caniggia had managed to escape the attention of the home defenders. The substitute forward’s header to Maradona’s perfectly flighted pass seemed to have caught Tacconi wrong-footed, but Caniggia could not get his effort on target. If he had, there would’ve been little Tacconi could’ve done to stop it from going into the back of the net. The ball eventually cleared the left hand post by a yard or so.

Half-hearted late penalty claim

By the time that the referee signals the end to the game 41 seconds into time added on, there’s been one last piece of action inside either penalty area, as Berti had managed to get into a crossing position from the left. He had swung it deep towards the other end of the area, where Mancini had attempted to catch it first time in-flight. The striker had not got a clean strike, and it bounced off Olarticoechea and fell into the path of Serena, who laid it off to let Mancini have a second and more controlled swipe at goal. However, Ruggeri gets in the way with both body and arm, and though the ball did appear to hit the centre-back’s outstretched limb, the penalty shouts were feeble. Unlike today, players in 1989 didn’t chase down the referee for not awarding penalties when the ball had been shot into the outstretched arms of defenders.

Argentina were sound defensively, leaving few gaps for the Italians to expose, and the game was played out at a relatively mundane pace, due to the frequent stops because of fouls committed. It was not a great spectacle as such, though it did carry elements of interesting tactical dispositions. Italy made sure Ferrara stuck tightly to Maradona throughout, not leaving the little wizard much scope in which to manoeuvre. In a game of precious few opportunities in front of goal, 0-0 gave the correct idea of proceedings.

¹ Thanks to the author of the Soccernostalgia page for allowing me to display this article.


1 Zenga 6.8
does what little he has to do with confidence. One nice punch in a tight situation
(12 Tacconi 6.6
wrong-footed for Caniggia’s late header wide, but next to nothing to do)
2 Bergomi 7.1
rock solid, never lured out of position
3 Maldini 6.7
offered little going forward, though kept his left hand side problem free defensively
(13 De Agostini 7.0
a far more attacking threat than Maldini, and never exposed in his own half. Could’ve had better crossing precision)
4 Baresi 7.3
very competent display, and a frequent user of the long and direct pass. Also showed his talent in striding forward on the ball
5 Ferrara 6.9
young central defender man-marked Napoli team mate Maradona well
6 Berti 6.8
not always as involved as he’d have wanted, but battled gallantly
7 Donadoni 6.7
grew more anonymous as the half progressed, but typically combined well with De Napoli
(16 Mancini 6.9
busy early on in the half, and more involved as a midfielder than after moving up front)
8 De Napoli 7.1
tidy, hard-working display to keep Italy ticking along the right
9 Vialli 6.8
important with his mobility, but little success on the ball, subjected to quite a few tough challenges
(14 Fusi –
comes on and provides further midfield legs)
10 Giannini 7.3
suits the more advanced central role, composed as always, and starred in a couple of counters
11 Serena 6.9
gave his all in constant battle with Monzón, but little fortune fell his way. Could’ve scored as he saw Pumpido parry his second half effort

1 Pumpido 7.1
a confident display where he makes a couple of saves to keep his sheets clean
2 Ruggeri 7.0
strong in the challenge, focused almost solely on defensive duties
3 Simón 7.3
strong in the challenge, and often takes out much depth. Keeps his actions simple
4 Monzón 7.3
huge game in keeping Serena in check, though exposed when he had to rely on big save from Pumpido
5 Batista 7.4
at times immense in his anchor man role, where he won plentiful challenges and also showed composure on the ball
6 Olarticoechea 7.1
fine display, some nice touches, and often available along the left
7 Giusti 7.0
important in the art of destruction, and covered a lot of ground. Often came into the centre off the ball
8 Basualdo 6.9
a whole lot of running and an important midfield presence until he is forced to leave before the h-t whistle
(21 Troglio 6.8
not so accomplished on the ball, but made himself a difficult opponent with his physicality)
9 Burruchaga 6.8
a bright opening, but will fade into congestion as match progresses. Yet so often second in command and thus important attack wise
10 Maradona 6.9
always surrounded by expectation; heavily guarded throughout, could’ve easily have scored and assisted
11 Dezotti 6.3
had to do much work off the ball along the right hand side, which did not suit him
(16 Caniggia –
moves more naturally than the player he replaced, and could’ve won Argentina the match with late header)