England’s round of 16 game against Belgium at Italy 1990 was pretty forgettable, apart, that is, from one of the most dramatic goals in the country’s history which would set Bobby Robson’s men up for a run to the World Cup semi-final; something that looked highly unlikely at the time.
Having squeezed through the group after draws with Ireland and Holland before a Mark Wright header ensured their progression with a 1-0 victory over Egypt, England had looked far from convincing going into the latter stages of the 1990 World Cup.
And as a result, they had been on the receiving end of some rather harsh treatment from the press while things were only made worse when skipper Bryan Robson was forced to leave the tournament early with a toe injury.
So a meeting in Bologna with a side who had reached the last four of the competition in Mexico four years before seemed a pretty daunting prospect for a team who were far from setting the world alight with their football thus far.
The game itself was pretty uninspiring and largely forgettable other than a rasping shot from Jan Ceulemans which shook the England upright and an Enzo Scifo effort which could have sent the Three Lions home – but after 90 minutes the deadlock was still to be broken with all to play for.
After a goalless half an hour of extra-time it appeared the match was heading for a penalty shoot-out when England got a free-kick in the dying seconds around halfway inside the Belgian half, but still too far out for anybody to shoot.
With Bobby Robson and the England bench signalling frantically as to what they thought they should do with what could easily have been the final kick of the game Paul Gascoigne appeared to be paying no attention at all to their instructions.
In an instant he floated his free-kick into the penalty area and David Platt swivelled and volleyed it into the net in one motion: ‘‘England have done it – in the last minute of extra-time!’’ yelled BBC commentator John Motson.
“The ball dropped over my shoulder and I just tried to get something on it., Platt later explained. “There wasn’t a great deal of power. It was all technique.”
The strike sparked wild scenes of celebration both on the pitch and in the stands while England boss Bobby Robson danced a jig of delight on the touchline knowing full well that had Platt not scored, the final whistle would certainly have been blown and England would have faced the agony of a penalty shoot-out.
And almost immediately after the restart referee Peter Mikkelsen did indeed blow for the end of the game which was the cue for England fans to do the conga on the terraces while Chris Waddle and Terry Butcher conducted the celebrations in front of the massed ranks of supporters.
“I remember going over to the fans and clapping them, their arms were going up and down, so me and Terry were so happy that we just started to do the same,” recalls England winger Chris Waddle. “That image was shown everywhere and it’s funny because it’s almost part of that Belgium game now.”
The result provided the impetus that England desperately needed in Italia ’90 as they went on to defeat Cameroon in the quarter-finals before finally going out on penalties against West Germany in Turin.
But for sheer drama, excitement and elation, not to mention the celebrations, the goal David Platt scored in the final seconds of extra-time against Belgium on June 26, 1990, remains one of the most iconic moments in England’s recent history which is still talked about fondly by all those remember it some three decades later.