When Andreas Brehme broke Maradona's heart in 1990 World Cup final

Brehme's death was confirmed by his partner Susanne Schaefer on February 20

Andreas-Brehme-ap (File) Germany players celebrate after Andreas Brehme (left on ground) scored the winning goal in the World Cup final against Argentina, in the Olympic Stadium, in Rome, on July 8, 1990 | AP

Andreas Brehme was a stalwart. Period. One who was looked up to by generations of German football fans with amazement and admiration. When under pressure, he gave them hope. They could always rely on Brehme.

When he sprinted ahead from his fullback position to join the attacking ranks, Brehme's long golden hair reminded Germans of a lion's mane. The opposition supporters, on the other hand, were left terrified because the lion was on the prowl, and he was dangerous.

More than elegance, it was efficiency that defined Brehme. He was an armour-piercing lethal weapon that decorated Germany's arsenal.

Ask Argentina fans. The wound inflicted by the weapon on them remains unhealed to this day. It was the 1990 FIFA World Cup final and Diego Maradona and Co. were inching towards the dream of consecutive World Cup glory. Came Brehme, putting a sword through the heart of that dream. A spot-kick in the 85th minute and the damage was done. The ball, a sharp strike, Maradona's tears... a generation of Argentina fans across the world still nurses the wound, even as Brehme departs.

Brehme later said: "There may be those who say that penalty decision was odd. Maradona was telling Matthäus that it was unfair. Lothar's retort was unclear. I had to do my job. I placed the ball on the spot and didn't bother to look at goalkeeper Goycochea. I could take the penalty with both feet. Only once did I try a left-footed shot in major competitions. I used my right leg that day and it shook the net....”

When Brehme goes to the other world, he will still be asked about that penalty. He may repeat the above statement again. But it represents just that kick. It can't define his personality.

And neither can statistics or his trophy cabinet. The world has seen a combination of hard work, determination, leadership and fighting spirit. He can be best described as an unflinching fighter. The more the pressure, the cooler he became. His execution was flawless - justifying the German precision. He gleamed in every role on the field except that of a goalkeeper.

Brehme was the most certain boot at Lothar Matthäus's 'disposal'. It was the most sturdy boot in the football world. Now, time has decided to hang it in the showcase of memories.

Why didn't Matthäus take the 85th-minute penalty kick against Argentina in the 1990 World Cup final? As Brehme bids his final farewell, the question takes centrestage yet again.

Because Matthäus didn't have much faith in his boots, literally. He was forced to change his boots during the half-time break as the sole was loose. One version of the story claims the second pair in the West German captain's possession belonged to Maradona himself. The Argentine had switched boots with Matthäus at the end of a charity game a few months back. If the story is true, he played the second half in Maradona's boots. He was not comfortable with its bootlace. So, when the penalty was awarded, he instructed Brehme to take it.

Was Matthäus reluctant to take the penalty against Argentina donning El Diego's boots? We will never know. Brehme later said: "Lothar's decision was logical."

The fact that the captain of a team like Germany had only one pair of reserve boots ahead of the World Cup summit clash may sound unreal now. But it reflects on world football in the 1990s.

This article was originally published in Malayala Manorama dated February 22, 2024.

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