“Don’t wake me up! Let me enjoy this dream!”

The striker scored just seven goals for Italy, including six in the 1990 World Cup, earning him the competition’s Golden Boot.

West Germany won the 1990 World Cup. But the tournament belonged to Salvatore Schillaci.

“I feel like I’m sleeping,” he told reporters after opening the scoring in Italy’s round of 16 win over Uruguay. “So don’t wake me up! Let me enjoy this dream!”

Schillaci’s state of disbelief was understandable. He is a youngster from a poor area of ​​Palermo who has spent most of his career playing in Italy’s lower league with Messina.

He had only made his first Serie A appearance the previous August, and his international debut just three months before the start of the World Cup.

Being part of the team was already an achievement in itself. He freely admits that he would have been happy to stay on the bench for the duration of the tournament.

After all, Schillaci was arguably Italy’s sixth striker, behind Gianluca Vialli, Andrea Carnevale, Aldo Serena, Roberto Mancini and Roberto Baggio in the hierarchy.

But he is a fit man, scoring 21 goals in all competitions in his debut season at Juventus, who he joined the previous summer after a prolific season at Messina under Zdenek Zeman.

Only Marco van Basten (19), Baggio (17) and Diego Maradona (16) scored more times than Schillaci (15) in Serie A in 1989-90.

However, as Schillaci himself later admitted, “even a madman could never have imagined what was about to happen to me.”

“There are times in a footballer’s life when you can do anything,” Schillaci added. “For me, this state of grace coincided with the World Cup. Someone up there decided I had to become the hero of Italy 90.”

It’s easy to see why Schillaci still thinks there may have been an element of divine intervention in his miraculous rise to stardom, but Azeglio Vicini arguably played a bigger role.

The Italian coach had already created a surprise by including Schillaci in his World Cup selection, after only one appearance, in a friendly against Switzerland, but his decision to bring him off the bench during the opener tournament by the Azzurri, against Austria, surprised more than one.

However, with the hosts struggling to break up a well-organised squad, a desperate Vicini decides to replace Carnevale with Schillaci rather than Baggio.

Schillaci had just 15 minutes to make an impact; he only needed three, putting his head on the receiving end of a wonderful cross from Vialli.

“Everything went crazy,” Schillacci later confessed to Four Four Two.

Despite that game-winning goal, he found himself on the bench for Italy’s next game, a 1-0 win over the United States, but again replaced the struggling Carnevale, this time just six minutes after half-time. .

It is clear that Schillaci is getting closer to a starting spot and this comes in the last group game, against Czechoslovakia.

He opened the scoring after just nine minutes and never looked back. He was brimming with confidence, as the powerful strike that unlocked the match against Uruguay perfectly illustrated.

His game-winning goal against the Republic of Ireland, meanwhile, showed that everything seemed to be falling on him, with Schillaci finding himself in front of an open goal after Pat Bonner fended off a Roberto Donadoni shot.

If there is a man who is in the right place at the right time, it is Schillaci during this 1990 World Cup. Indeed, he arrived at just the right time to give Italy the advantage in the semi -final.

And it looks like Schillaci’s rebound from close range is enough to eliminate a desperately pragmatic Argentine side, given the Azzurri are yet to concede a goal in the tournament.

But Claudio Caniggia equalized from a corner – Walter Zenga was cruelly criticized for having neglected the center – and the Albiceleste won on penalties.

Schillaci is devastated and spends two hours in the locker room crying and smoking cigarettes.

He ended up winning the Golden Boot, thanks to a penalty against England in the match for third place, and the title of best player of the tournament.

But the Sicilian admitted he would have gladly given up these two prestigious awards to lift the World Cup with his teammates.

Unfortunately for Schillaci, he would never reach such heights on a football pitch again.

Indeed, he would score just one more goal for Italy, while he failed to capitalize on his promising first season at Juve and was eventually sold to Inter, where he would find himself in trouble again. worse, with injuries and personal problems.

Schillaci himself admitted he struggled to deal with the stardom that followed his exploits at the 90 World Cup, and his career-ending move to Japan was an attempt to escape the constant attention medias.

“At some point in my life, I turned off the sports spotlight,” he told Gioco Pulito. “I withdrew into myself and didn’t want to do anything anymore because deep down, I have a very shy character.

“Then one day I looked in the mirror and realized that someone like me, who has done something in life, who has also written a bit of football history, wouldn’t have had to close.”

Schillaci therefore began to embrace his celebrity life, making numerous television appearances, as well as writing an autobiography in which he addresses the territorialism he endured in his toughest moments after the World Cup.

He also founded a sports center in his hometown of Palermo which he hopes will allow other Sicilians to follow in his footsteps.

Indeed, when Schillaci reflects on his football career, there are no regrets, only gratitude for having had the chance to live his dream for an entire summer.

“Even when I go abroad, he reveals, thanks to the World Cup, people know who I am.”

Toto Schillaci, the hero of Italy 90.

“Don’t wake me up! Let me enjoy this dream!” – How Salvatore Schillaci became the hero of Italy 90 | Goal.com English