The story of the 1990 World Cup
Between now and the start of the World Cup, we will be looking back at previous tournaments with the help of some of the key characters and the BBC's archive footage. Today, we ask the Golden Boot winner about his Italia '90 experience.
Italy, June & July, 1990
I can see it all now as clearly as if it was yesterday. Gazza's tears, Schillachi's bulging eyes, Milla's hips and Rijkaard's phlegm are destined to hold a special place in my heart forever, all played out to the incomparable soundtrack of Nessun Dorma.
After all, the 1990 World Cup in Italy is my World Cup. Every kid gets one, and Italia '90 will always belong to me.
As a nine-year-old whose life already revolved around football, an approaching World Cup was beyond exciting. I'd completed the Panini album, stuck the six unwanted swaps of the Belgie-Belgique foil around my room and impatiently counted down the days until 8 June.
Little did I know that the man who would become the star of Italia '90 was awaiting the start of the tournament every bit as eagerly as I was. Unknown outside his country, Salvatore 'Toto' Schillaci was about to become one of the most famous sportsmen on earth.
"I'd had a great season for Juventus, scoring 23 goals, but I was one of the last to be called up," recalls Schillachi. "The press helped me a lot and I was just so happy to be in the squad because I didn't expect it.
"Twenty years have gone by now, but it seems so recent still. Whenever there's a World Cup, I always think back to 1990. It was a beautiful experience, truly unforgettable and it brought me worldwide fame."
Before I get too misty eyed reminiscing, a quick reality check. I'm aware if you happened not to be an impressionable youngster in 1990, you might not look back too fondly at a World Cup that saw a lot of defensive football, a paucity of goals and a spate of shocking incidents that led to red cards, not to mention the dullest final ever. But anyway...
Arriving home from school in time for the opening game, neither I nor anyone else could have predicted what was about to unfold. As holders Argentina took on unfancied African side Cameroon, Diego Maradona and his side were fated to fall victim to one of the greatest shocks in the tournament's history.
Despite Cameroon ending the game with nine men, they somehow earned a 1-0 victory thanks to the tamest of headers from Francois Oman-Biyik that crept under the body of the hapless Nery Pumpido in the Argentine goal.
Cameroon became the story of the tournament, something their 38-year-old super sub Roger Milla was keen to underline. Only in the squad because Cameroon president Paul Biya asked him to come out of retirement, Milla stepped off the bench in their second game against Romania, scored twice, danced jubilantly by the corner flag and ensured a legend was born.
Meanwhile, some of the bigger teams were struggling. Argentina recovered enough to squeeze into the last 16, Euro 1988 champions the Netherlands were similarly unconvincing and hosts Italy began nervously, only edging past Austria in their opening game thanks to their very own super sub.
"I didn't expect to get on, I'd been dreaming away," added Schillaci, who now runs a football school in Palermo. "I remember that cross from Gianluca Vialli and I was standing in-between two huge defenders, like bulls they were. It seemed like the ball was being controlled by something else, it arrived exactly where I was standing and I managed to head in. That's how it all started."
Scotland's World Cup started and all but ended with a shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of tiny Costa Rica, but England and the Republic of Ireland were getting their very different campaigns under way in goal-shy Group F.
The Republic's first finals was an unqualified success even though Jack Charlton's side didn't win a single game inside 90 minutes. Three draws earned them a last 16 crack at the Romanians and after a 0-0 draw, keeper Packie Bonner and defender David O'Leary were the penalty shoot-out heroes, before a Schillaci goal did for them in the quarters.
The second round provided plenty of thrills and spills as David Platt's stunning volley earned England a 119th-minute win over Belgium, Milla took advantage of Colombia keeper Rene Higuita's moment of madness to fire Cameroon into the last eight and the genius of Maradona secured Argentina victory over Brazil as he teed up Claudio Caniggia to score the winner.
Unfortunately, the last 16 also provided one of the World Cup's most unsavoury incidents as the Netherlands' tame exit at the hands of West Germany was marred by the appalling sight of Frank Rijkaard spitting (more than once) at Rudi Voeller, before and after both players were dismissed.
"That day I was wrong," admitted Rijkaard years later. "I always had respect for Rudi, but I went berserk when I saw that red card. I talked to him after the match and I apologised. I'm very happy that he accepted. I have no bad feeling about him now."
The latter stages disappointed quality-wise, but there was no shortage of drama as England and Cameroon clashed in their quarter-final tie. The first African side to reach the last eight led 2-1 with 25 minutes left, before two Gary Lineker penalties - the second in extra-time - earned Bobby Robson's men a semi-final berth.
Elsewhere, Argentina and West Germany sneaked through, but Schillaci, carrying the hopes of the host nation after his fourth goal put the Irish out, was on fire. With golden boy Roberto Baggio mostly subdued, Schillaci and his iconic eye-popping celebration was the talk of the town.
"I knew it was a great moment and I tried to do my best while not thinking about what it all might mean," said Schillaci. "I didn't have the kind of pressure that some of the other players had because they already had big reputations. Anything I did would have been better than expected, so I felt quite calm."
Calm enough to score an Italian opener in their semi-final against Argentina, but it wasn't enough as Caniggia levelled and the hosts went out on penalties. Against all odds, the holders made it back to the final.
A day later in Turin, old enemies West Germany and England battled it out for the right to meet Maradona and co. Once again I was allowed to stay up late and I'll never forget a moment of it, even the sick feeling in my stomach when Des Lynam uttered the words: "This of course is the most momentus day for English football since 30 July 1966."
Is it possible to still feel raw about something that happened 20 years ago? Andy Brehme's cruelly deflected free-kick looped over Peter Shilton and in to give the West Germans the lead, before Lineker expertly took advantage of some defensive uncertainty to level 10 minutes from time.
The tension (at the ground, in my house, everywhere I'd imagine) was unbearable, but it was broken fleetingly by a moment of startling innocence. After losing control of the ball following a mazy run, Paul Gascoigne - soon to become just Gazza - lunged in on Thomas Berthold, was shown a yellow card and immediately realised he would be banned for the final, should England make it.
As the brilliant 23-year-old midfielder's bottom lip started to quiver, Lineker went to console his team-mate, famously gesticulating at the England bench as the iconic tears began to fall. Penalties followed, and after Stuart Pearce's effort was saved and Chris Waddle blazed over, England, shatteringly, were out.
Seeing my heroes distraught, I wept inconsolably with them. I had watched on helpless as Pearce - a man I had worshipped ever since I knew what football even was - had endured a moment I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. As I trudged upstairs to my room to stare at the swarm of posters bearing his image on my wall, I would have quite happily never watched another football match again in my entire life.
Luckily, mum and dad didn't put me through the torture of the Argentina v West Germany final, a match journalist Brian Glanville dubbed "probably the worst, most tedious, bad-tempered final in the history of the World Cup", choosing instead to drag me along to my brother's school play.
I didn't miss much, only the first red card in a World Cup final, a dodgy penalty decision, the second red card in a World Cup final and the Germans winning their third world title. In the process, Franz Beckenbauer wrote his name in history as the first World Cup-winning captain to later manage a team to victory.
In a tournament of tears, the last ones - ironically, given the events of 1986 - belonged to Maradona, incensed by the travesty of injustice that had befallen his side. "I cried on the ground after the game because of the unfairness of it all, not because we lost," he said.
I cried because we had lost, but something more important had happened during June and July in 1990 - the World Cup had become an inextricable part of my life, and I knew it would always be so.
Watch Gazza and Lineker talk about their semi defeat (UK only)
Watch highlights of Cameroon's stunning win over holders Argentina (UK only)
Watch West Germany's 2-1 win over the Netherlands (UK only)
Watch England squeeze past thrilling Cameroon in the quarters (UK only)
Watch West Germany beat Argentina in a woeful final (UK only)
I'm sure you have your own special memories of 1990. On Friday, courtesy of a Swede who once tormented England, we look back at the 1994 World Cup in USA which finished with a fourth victory for the Brazilians.