Claudio Caniggia took brunt of the punishment on an eventful night in Milan

Cameroon dished out savage treatment to Argentina winger in World Cup finals match
Claudio Caniggia was persistently fouled. Picture: Allsport UK /AllsportClaudio Caniggia was persistently fouled. Picture: Allsport UK /Allsport
Claudio Caniggia was persistently fouled. Picture: Allsport UK /Allsport

“Here’s Caniggia! He has hurdled past one, he has got past another in the last minute of this game and in goes Massing and – woooaaahhh – he won’t get past that challenge.”

Brian Moore’s commentary on ITV still holds its charge 30 years to the day since Italia ’90 began with a thud. Similarly, Cameroon defender Benjamin Massing’s challenge on Argenina’s Claudio Caniggia, pictured, retains its force.

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Referee Michel Vautrot allows Massing to retrieve his boot – which flew off in the midst of his, ahem, intervention – before flashing a red followed by a yellow card in the player’s face. It was as if Vautrot already realised a foul so ludicrously flagrant would echo through subsequent decades. A mere red card, therefore, won’t suffice. A further yellow is brandished for good measure.

The entire episode is a three-act play captured as well as anywhere in Pete Davies’ seminal book about Italia 90. Originally titled All Played Out, it has since been re-published as One Night In Turin, to focus in on England’s semi-final defeat by West Germany in said city. This early evening in Milan at the start of the tournament was every bit as 

“In the last few minutes, Caniggia set off like Carl Lewis,” writes Davies. “One man (Emmanuel Kunde) has a go at breaking his legs, but thought better of it at the last minute.

“A second man (Victor Ndip) ) then tried, and didn’t bother pulling out; but Caniggia somehow hurdled the assault, kept his footing, and kept on going.

“Then Massing, his third assailant, showed the other two how to do it. He executed a kind of full-pelt, waist-high, horizontal flying bodycheck. The general intention seemed to be not so much to break Caniggia’s legs, as to actually separate them from the rest of his body.”

Diego Maradona’s presence in the Argentina team meant underdogs Cameroon were guaranteed the support of the locals.

Then with Napoli, Maradona had almost single-handedly turned the team from the neglected south of Italy into a rival for AC and Inter Milan and other traditional football powerhouses in the north of the country. They were reigning champions having recently clinched the title for a second time in three years.

Such was the extent of the venom directed towards Maradona and his side, Davies wonders if the “neutral” fans would even mind “if Massing had pulled a gun on Caniggia and shot him. It would certainly have been more elegant…”

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Tragedy really has since served to dampen the amusement so many derive from an incident that will always feature high in those greatest World Cup moment countdowns that come around every four years. Massing died suddenly two and a half years ago aged only 55.

With the holders struggling to break Cameroon down in the opening match, manager Carlos Bilardo sent Caniggia on for defender Oscar Ruggeri at half-time. Andre Kana-Biyik had already been sent off for a foul – on Caniggia, of course – by the time Francois Oman-Biyik, his brother, gave Cameroon the lead with a towering header.

The ten – later nine – men held on for a famous win, Roger Milla making his first appearance of the finals after 81 minutes when coming on as a 

Caniggia again featured in the role of victim later in the finals though this is far less-well remembered. He was harshly booked for handball in the semi-final after scoring Argentina’s equaliser against Italy. Because he had been booked earlier in the tournament, it meant he was suspended for the final after his side won the shoot-out, in which he was nominated to take the fifth kick. He was not called on to do so, Argentina winning 4-3, and sat out the final.

It was precisely the heartache which prompted Gazza’s tears in the second semi-final against West Germany and helped create a phenomenon. All Gascoigne ended up missing was the third-place play-off against Italy.

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