England’s dramatic late victory over Belgium at Italia 90 was meant to be. There can be no other explanation for it.
Following 119 minutes of goalless action, David Platt produced the goal of his career to take the Three Lions to the World Cup quarter-finals. “I worked hard on practising overhead kicks and volleys in training at Aston Villa, but, even so, if I had re-enacted that chance against Belgium 10 times in training the next day there’s a very good chance I wouldn’t have scored once from it,” Platt later admitted in an interview with The Guardian. “It was just one of life’s rare perfect moments.”
For whatever reason, the football gods had decided that this was to be England’s night and they even spared the nation the ordeal of a penalty shootout, at least for another couple of rounds. Even though Belgium had come within inches from taking the lead, having struck the woodwork twice during the match via Jan Ceulemans and Enzo Scifo, who was putting on a show for the 35,000 in the stands, England were the ones experiencing the late euphoria at Bologna’s Stadio Renato Dall’Ara as the clock approached midnight on June 26th, 1990.
With a minute remaining, Paul Gascoigne embarked on one of his typical playground jaunts forward, drawing a foul in the centre of the Belgian half. The midfielder stood up, dusted himself down and lofted a free-kick into the area, at which point Platt conjured up his moment of glory. “England have done it in the last minute of extra time,” screamed John Motson, excitement squeaking out of his vocal chords.
It should be remembered that John Barnes had already put the ball in the back of net for England, only to have his strike ruled out for an incorrect offside. Why? Well, because it was England’s destiny to win this match in the most dramatic fashion possible. Having failed to convince as they progressed through the group stages with just two goals scored, they needed a Hollywood victory if they were to start believing.
The manner of this victory against Belgium was so sweet that parties were held back home, while the players in Italy started to believe as well. Next up for England was a quarter-final against Cameroon, the surprise of the tournament, but a team they knew they were favourites to eliminate. Riding a wave of momentum, Platt scored the opener against the African side in Naples, before a couple of Gary Lineker goals then earned England another extra time victory, this time of the 3-2 variety.
It set up a date with West Germany and, as the history books will remind us, Bobby Robson’s men came so close to overcoming the eventual winners, cruelly losing on penalties in Turin. Despite this, they returned home as heroes, having put together their best World Cup run since they’d won the whole thing on home soil in 1966. Had it not been for Platt and his ballet swivel and finish then it could all have been so different. England’s shootout record at major tournaments is one triumph and five heartbreaks, so there is a good chance they could have fallen to the Belgians from 12 yards out and they’d have returned home as failures, with just two goals scored from four games.
Instead, it was their destiny to win that match and it was Platt’s to score the goal, setting himself up for a four-year stint in Italy, where he’d instantly become a household name.
Somethings are meant to be and England were meant to beat Belgium with a last-minute wonder goal.
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