Paul Parker, England right-back On the day of the game Gazza was playing tennis against an American couple at the team hotel. That kept him occupied. I think he’d had a swim and a sauna as well – things that you were not supposed to be doing, but that was Paul. He was a total one-off. He never slept. His whole purpose in life was to communicate with people, that’s all he wanted to do.
Peter Shilton, England goalkeeper There was quite an atmosphere in Bologna. I remember walking out before the game, looking at the stadium and thinking how beautiful and unique it was. There was that brickwork around the tower inside the ground. It felt different to anywhere I’d ever played.
Parker The side of the draw that we were in suited us. But Belgium were very experienced and had a great player in Enzo Scifo. He was a fantastic footballer – and he knew he was good too. There was an arrogance about him that you’d want to have. I was nervous because the only tournament football I’d had for England was as a youth player. I had so many No12 shirts leading up to that World Cup because I’d been on the bench so many times. I thought I’d go to the World Cup and only be doing warm-ups. Lo and behold I ended up playing six games. And that tournament was the first time I’d ever played at wing-back.
Chris Waddle, England midfielder In the first 20 minutes we were still getting used to our system, because Bobby Robson altered to a 3-5-2 at that World Cup. We had a lot of technical players and to get the best out of them a 4-4-2 probably wouldn’t have taken us past Belgium. So Bobby was brave enough to change it. I went into midfield with Gazza and Steve McMahon, so for me it was a little more like how I played at Marseille, where I had that licence to go inside and find space.
For years for England I wanted to be given a bit more freedom and I think John Barnes was in the same boat as me. It was really frustrating. I used to watch teams and think: “Why do people like Baggio and Hagi get a role that gets the best out of them but we play a rigid 4-4-2?’”In 1990 it was different. We had a good balance to that team with John playing off Gary Lineker, and David Platt, after he came into the side, timing his runs well to get into the box. The defence was quick with Des Walker and Paul Parker, and Mark Wright was ideal for bringing the ball out from the back. Football-wise we were as good as anyone else.
Shilton Belgium started well in the match. I made a save early on – for us to go 1-0 down then would have been a bit of a disaster. There was also a bit of a let-off when Jan Ceulemans turned and hit the angle of crossbar and post, so we rode our luck there.
Waddle We managed to get on the ball a bit more later in the first half and had a good spell when I thought we were going to score. John Barnes actually did, with a volley, but it was wrongly ruled out for offside. If VAR was around back then it would have counted.
Parker Early in the second half Scifo hit the post with a tremendous 30-yard shot, and how that didn’t go in I don’t know.
Shilton People laugh when I say this, but I never thought when I dived that Scifo’s shot was going to beat me. It did bend a bit more at the last minute and ended up hitting the middle of the post. But I was sure it wasn’t going in.
Waddle I played against Scifo in France, so I knew he was a real talent, and I told the lads that if he gets within 30 yards of goal he’ll shoot. I’d seen him do it at Auxerre a lot. A minute or so after that Scifo effort I got the ball and released Gary, who span in behind the Belgium defence – we always had a good understanding like that.
Parker With about 20 minutes to go Bobby took off a more defensive player in McMahon and brought on David Platt, whose game was all about ghosting into the box. Bobby was looking to win the match. David Platt wasn’t going to win you big tackles; he was a player who would make forward runs and try to nick a goal.
Steve Bull, England forward I started the game before against Egypt, when Mark Wright scored, but Bobby changed it for the Belgium match and I was sitting on the bench – it was still amazing to be there. I came on for John Barnes in the 74th minute, and Bobby just asked me to do exactly the same for England as I do for my club.
Franky Van der Elst, Belgium midfielder When we entered extra time, we didn’t feel that we should be satisfied with a draw. We were the better team and felt that we could decide the match before the penalty shootout.
Parker Their chances were highlighted because they hit the post. But we created opportunities too.
Bull With not long left I hit a 20-yarder from the left-hand side of the area with my right foot that the keeper just pushed around the post. I thought: “Oh my word, if that had gone in I’d have been massive back in England.”
Waddle As the game went on you could see both teams thinking that they didn’t want to give anything away, so you become a bit more cautious, playing no-risk football. I couldn’t see anyone scoring.
Shilton As the minutes ticked away, it started to cross my mind that this could be our first penalty shootout with England.
Parker I was thinking: “Whatever happens, Peter Shilton is going to take one before me.”
Waddle Just before the end of extra time, Gazza took off on a run from inside his own half and was brought down. To be fair, they probably had to foul him because there was a good chance we would have scored or at least created something. I remember standing over the free-kick with Gazza and saying: “What are you thinking here?” When he told me what he had in mind I thought it was quite an awkward ball that he was trying to play. Normally you’d try and clip it right to left for people to go and head. So when Gazza went to play it I was thinking: “I can’t see this happening, it’s too straight.”
Van der Elst I can still see what happened in that moment. England first wanted to play a short free-kick, but Gascoigne decided to drop the ball in the area. “In the box,” I heard them shouting from the bench.
Parker Gazza had a big run-up but slowed down as he got to the ball and sort of stunned it, almost putting backspin on it. It was like the ball hit a soft-padded wall and dropped down.
Bull Platty was stood in front of me. I was shouting: “Leave it, leave it.”
David Platt, England midfielder The ball dropped over my shoulder and I just tried to get something on it. There wasn’t a great deal of power. It was all technique.
Van der Elst When I realised that the ball had gone over my head, Platt had already scored.
Waddle Platty’s technique was second to none. If you were trying to demonstrate how to volley a ball over your shoulder, I don’t think you could get anything better than that. His timing was perfect. If Messi or Ronaldo scored a goal like that today, we’d rave about it.
Platt Everything was intuitive, the way I met and hit the ball and then dropping to my knees. Instinct just took over. I’d never ever dropped to my knees after scoring before – I don’t know why I did. Don’t get me wrong, the goal wasn’t a fluke. I had an eye for getting on the end of that sort of ball and the technical ability to finish those chances off. I worked hard on practising overhead kicks and volleys in training at Aston Villa but, even so, if I had re-enacted that chance against Belgium 10 times in training the next day, there’s a very good chance I wouldn’t have scored once from it. It was just one of life’s rare, perfect moments.
Van der Elst The worst thing was that we couldn’t do anything – we did not get the chance to put it right. I was heartbroken. You come into the hotel and the first thing you do is empty your cupboard and fill your suitcase. It was very hard. And it dragged on enormously. When you get home you get another kick. On the way home you are still together with the group and you digest the loss with the team. But at home, the first days I went to the bakery, and that was it. I stayed at home a lot, trying to avoid people. If I look back at it, I was involved [as Platt’s marker]. You still feel guilty. It was my fault. But Platt also did a great job.
Parker That Belgium game, emotionally, was something else. I think all of a sudden the players started thinking: “Hang on a minute, we could really go and do something here.” You could see what it meant when Chris Waddle and Terry Butcher were doing that silly dance. Those two had been through a lot together for England.
Waddle 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. That image was shown everywhere and it’s funny because it’s almost part of that Belgium game now. People talk about Platty’s goal and some of the incidents, but they’ll always say: “Remember at the end, Butcher and Waddle doing that dance?” I think we were on such a high because two years previous, in 1988, we lost all three games in the group stage at the European Championship finals and got hammered. And even before the World Cup, it was like: “Get yourselves home, you’re not good enough to compete.” Suddenly, though, it felt different. After what seemed like hours in the dressing room, we went back to the team hotel and Terry got a big tray of beers in for us. And then another.