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They also went on to reach the quarter-finals after beating Argentina in the opening game, becoming the first African country had ever reached the quarter-finals before. Mexico missed out in the 1990 World Cup preliminary competition as a result of a two-year ban for age fraud at a youth championship. United States also qualified for the first time since 1950. Republic of Ireland also made their first appearance in the tournament.

The South American preliminaries for the tournament was marred with controversy. During the match between Brazil and Chile, a firework landed close to the Chilean goalkeeper Rojas, who then feigned injury by cutting his own face with a razor blade he had hidden in his glove. The plot was discovered and resulted in a 12-year suspension for Rojas and to Chile being banned from the World Cup in 1994.

After finishing runners-up in the two previous tournaments, West Germany beat Argentina 1-0 in the final to claim their third title.