When Frank Rijkaard spat on Rudi Völler in the World Cup

Football not only offers a lot of entertainment, but it also offers a lot of narratives. That is one of the things that make it stand out when compared to other sports: due to the fact that it has such a monumental fanbase all over the world, there are a lot of different views and interpretations about how the game should be played. This is something that makes the experience all the more enjoyable.

However, all these different cultures also lead to important clashes due to the different perspectives and sociopolitical issues that creep in throughout the years. A very good example of this happened in the 1990 World Cup that took place in Italy, when the Netherlands faced off against Germany in the round of 16.

That time that Dutch midfielder Frank Rijkaard spat on German striker Rudi Völler.

Frank Rijkaard
Frank Rijkaard - here in coaching style

The context of the two teams

It was an interesting situation when analyzing the context of both teams when they reached the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

For the first time in their entire history, the Netherlands arrived to the World Cup as winners of the 1988 Euros and it seemed that they finally had a strong enough squad to challenge for the trophy. After all, the triumvirate of the AC Milan stars Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco Van Basten were in their peak years, and everything seemed poised for them to do something special.

However, it was also worth pointing out that Van Basten struggled a lot in the group stage, where the Netherlands drew all three games against Egypt, England and Ireland, Gullit was coming back from a nasty injury and while Rijkaard was at his full capacity, there was so much he could do all on his own. It was a weird period for the Netherlands in Italy 1990.

Germany, on the other hand, had endured a lot of frustration in the decade of the 1980s. They had a very talented generation led by the greatest player in their country's history, Franz Beckenbauer, now as a head coach, but they lost the two previous finals of the World Cup to Italy and Argentina, respectively.

By the time that Germany reached the round of 16 against the Netherlands, it seemed that it was make it or break it for a generation that boasted the likes of Andreas Brehme, Rudi Völler, Jurgen Klinsmann, Lothar Matthaus and many more. Much like the Netherlands, it was a world class squad.

It all seemed set for a classic match and it was... in a different way.

Fire and blood

There was a lot of tension by the time that the Netherlands and Germany faced each other in the round of 16. First of all, there were a lot of expectations and there was a lot of pressure regarding these two teams, and whoever got eliminated in this round was going to be viewed as a massive disappointment.

There were also a lot of sociopolitical reasons that had built a strong animosity between both teams. They had played two games in the qualification for the World Cup, and they were very physical and with a lot of tension, thus building a much more aggressive rivalry than what you would normally see in football.

Plus, there was also the reminder of the 1974 World Cup final in German soil. Germany had defeated Johan Cruyff's Netherlands, one of the best teams in the history of football, and there was a still a big frustration among the Dutch regarding that final.

So, when put into context, the match between Germany and the Netherlands in Italy 1990 was a time bomb that was ready to explode. And the one that did was certainly Frank Rijkaard.

The game

The actual game was interesting in terms of tension and narrative, but not so much about the game. Germany ended up winning 2-1 through a lot of classic German efficiency and discipline, but there weren't a lot of chances or a lot of fluidity to the match.

The reality is that this was a match that was filled with animosity and it showed in the way that the Dutch and the German were constantly tackling each other in a very aggressive manner. It was something that started to happen in the early stages of the game and it only grew from there.

It was then that it happened: around the 22th minute mark, Rijkaard and Völler had a confrontation, which resulted in them getting very physical until the referee decided to send both players off. Even though some players from both teams wanted to calm things down, nothing was going to calm down.

What happened was that Rijkaard made an ugly tackle on Völler that resulted in a yellow card, and as the players walked away from the situation, Rijkaard spat in Völler's hair, and from there the situation escalated. This was a moment that became infamous in the history of the World Cup and it was also one of those moments that had a lot of tension, friction and the kind of frustrated intensity that you don't see nowadays in football.


Germany would go on to win the World Cup that year against Argentina in a very German manner-the remainder of the decade would see them going through a lot of ups and downs, which resulted in a massive reboot in the mid-2000s. This triumph in Italy proved to be the last of that golden generation from the 1980s.

On the other hand, the Netherlands would go on in a very Dutch manner in football: a lot of ups and downs as well, but struggling to live up to their potential on the international stage. Many managers would come and go for the remainder of the decade, but failing to live up to the potential of the world class players they had at their disposal.

In that regard, that moment between Frank Rijkaard and Rudi Völler served as a very fitting symbolism of two generations of players that went through a lot in the wilderness.
Kelvin Tingling knows most things about football and also likes to write about it. Kelvin lives in Buenos Aires and his favorite team is Boca Juniors.