Thursday 03 May 2007, 14:39

Matthaus: I was afraid of dropping the Trophy

  • ​Lothar Matthaus hails ‘unique’ Diego Maradona

  • He reveals he felt sorry for Chris Waddle and other defeated opponents

  • He discusses wearing random boots in the Italy 1990 Final

Lothar Matthaus played in the FIFA World Cup™ as a boy wonder and a serial-record-setting 37-year-old, but was at the peak of his plenteous powers at Italy 1990. Assigned to man-mark Diego Maradona in the Mexico 1986 Final – he did a sterling job in vain – he was thrown license to attack more from midfield four years later. And that he did, unbelievably becoming the first man in World Cup history to score with either foot from outside the box in the same match against Yugoslavia and thrusting West Germany to glory with some palatial performances.

Here, Matthaus speaks to about feeling sorry for defeated opponents, his admiration for Maradona, why he didn’t take the penalty in the Italy 1990 Final and his nerves before lifting the Trophy. What general memories do you have of the World Cup? Lothar Matthaus: I think playing at the World Cup is the greatest possible achievement for a footballer. I was fortunate enough to play in five. I reckon my personal record with Germany in those tournaments was a pretty successful one. In Germany, people tend to regard it as a failure if we don't get through to the Final. But that isn't always right. Just look at the greatest footballing nations – so many of them have been eliminated in the first round. In those 16 years, Germany always made it at least as far as the quarter-finals and we were in the Final three times. Those were the moments of success that make up a great football career.

You played against Diego Maradona in the 1986 Final… There's more to it than that, as I played against Maradona a lot. 1986 wasn't just Argentina's World Cup, it was Diego Armando Maradona's. I think he was the best player of all during my two decades as a professional footballer, not only at international level but also for his club. I think Argentina deserved to win the World Cup based on their performances throughout the tournament and especially thanks to Diego Maradona's unique skills. We were happy enough with the runners-up spot. If someone had told us before the tournament we were going to come second, we wouldn't have believed them. We knew we didn't really have that great a team. We also had a lot of injuries.

Looking back over the years, is there one single World Cup match you'd single out as your best match? I had a few good games, but the one that really stands out was our opener at the 1990 World Cup, when we laid the foundations for our winning campaign by beating Yugoslavia. We won 4-1 against a really strong Yugoslavia team who went on to the quarter-finals and only lost to Argentina on penalties. They were a tough team, and we beat them 4-1, with me getting two of the goals. It was my 75th cap and I think it was the best of the 150 matches I played for Germany over the years.

What are your memories of the Final in Rome? The Final was like another home match, and not just because of Rudi Voller and Thomas Hassler, who were playing in Rome at the time. The Italians were supporting Germany, since Argentina had knocked Italy out in the semi-finals, and Diego Maradona wasn't exactly popular in Rome either. He played for Napoli, and if the Final had been in Naples, it would probably have been like a home match for Argentina. The Final was in Rome though, and we were obviously happy we didn't have to play the host nation there. We knew Argentina were no longer the great team they had been four years earlier. They'd been a bit lucky along the way, with penalty shoot-outs and some poor results. Yes, our winning goal was the result of a somewhat dubious penalty. But the Good Lord opted for justice and let the best team win.

Why didn't you take the penalty? After all, you were the captain. In the first half, I was having some problems with my boots. The sole cracked and I had to play the second half with completely new boots, which I'd never worn before. They were a completely new model. I always preferred well worn-in boots, but I didn't have a second pair with me. You don't think about things like that. Then the man from adidas came up to me and said, "This is the only pair we've got," so I said ‘ok’ because all I wanted to do was get back out there and play. So he gave me the boots, but I just didn't feel right in them. There's no law saying one individual has to take the penalties, and we had some outstanding penalty-takers in our team. Littbarski could have taken it, but I fancied Andi Brehme to do it. I'd shared a room with him during the World Cup and we'd talked a lot about certain things, just the two of us. Andi just knew he should be the one to take the penalty.

There's just one little anecdote. Carlos Bilardo, the Argentine coach at the time, told us he didn't lay hands on the Cup in 1986, when Argentina won. After the 1990 Final, he wanted to go over to you and ask whether they could take a picture of him and you with the Cup. But he decided not to, he didn't want to disturb your celebrations. What would you have done if he had come over to you? I would have included him in our celebrations – without hesitation. First, I respect everyone and second, there had been a similar scene in the semi-final against England. We won the match when Waddle blasted the decisive penalty over the bar, but I didn't join in the celebrations with the rest of the German team. I went over to console him instead. I could really appreciate what he must have been feeling at the time. I couldn't help him, but I felt really sorry for him. If Carlos Bilardo had come over to me, we would certainly have taken a picture with him . We were overcome by joy and would have been prepared to help anyone who wanted something from us.

How did you feel in Rome, standing on the platform and being the first to take the Trophy in your hands? Rather overawed. I was moved. I didn't know how I was likely to react. It's a great honour to win the World Cup, not only for the team but also for the captain who's the first to be given the Trophy everyone wants to win. It was a unique sensation. I was afraid of doing something wrong, dropping the Trophy.