NAPLES, JULY 3 -- You could see the tension in the Italian people. They took deep breaths, they paced in front of their seats, some literally fell to their knees in supplication. Diego Maradona had brought them to their knees.

The star of the 1986 World Cup, whose performance in Mexico City is an abiding memory, added one more epic performance to a career marked by extraordinary talent, a mercurial temperament, a gaudy lifestyle and irrepressible charisma -- and, above all, the skill seemingly to stand taller than his 5-foot-5 frame when the world is watching.

In his adopted Italian city, Maradona led defending Cup champion Argentina back from a 1-0 deficit by setting up a brilliant header of a goal by Claudio Caniggia, forcing 30 minutes of extra time and then a penalty-kick shootout. Fittingly, it was Maradona who made the last successful kick to eliminate the Italians from the World Cup they thought was theirs.

Officially, the score was 5-4 -- a goal in regulation for each team followed by four successful penalty kicks by Argentina to Italy's three. Italy's fourth of five penalty kickers, Roberto Donadoni, was stopped by Sergio Goycoechea. The 27-year-old goalkeeper has filled in brilliantly for Nery Pumpido since he suffered a broken leg against the Soviet Union in Argentina's second game of the Cup.

Maradona then made Argentina's fourth consecutive kick. When Goycoechea stood tall and blocked Aldo Serena's kick, he joined his teammates, piled up in a mass of celebration.

Above all, the little big man -- Maradona -- had sent this nation into mourning and a South American one into unexpected rejoicing -- and the upset was accomplished playing the last 15 minutes of extra time down by 11 men to 10 after Ricardo Giusti was sent off for his second yellow card.

Argentina's joy must be tempered by the reality that three starters -- Caniggia, Giusti and Julio Jorge Olarticoechea -- will be ineligible to play in Sunday's title game in Rome because of accumulated yellow caution cards for rough play.

Argentina's opponent will be decided Wednesday in Turin, when heavily favored West Germany takes on England. "Of course I want England to win," Maradona said, "but of course Lothar Matthaeus and Jurgen Klinsmann won't agree with me on that."

Italy may have been looking past Argentina. Maradona's team had scored only four goals in five games in the finals, and needed penalty kicks Saturday to sneak past Yugoslavia. Italy, meanwhile, had scored five straight shutouts in the finals.

But for the first time Italy was playing outside the completely friendly Olympic Stadium in Rome. And Argentina had proven to be a dangerous team in its 1-0 victory over Brazil in the second round. "After that," said Carlos Bilardo, Argentina's coach, "I believed we could make the finals."

Still, the Argentine victory was improbable considering not only its uneven performance in this tournament, but also in light of World Cup history. This is only the second time that a South American team has made a World Cup finals in Europe. Brazil won the Cup in Sweden in 1958.

"In 1986 everything was more clear," Maradona said. "We won all the games. We never got to extra time. But this is beautiful too. We've suffered a lot. This is a tale we will tell our children."

Italy's misfortune was to give up a single goal in six games -- and be knocked out when, as the captain, Giuseppe Bergomi, painfully declared not only tonight's game but the World Cup itself to have been "within our reach."

When he scored in the 17th minute, Salvatore Schillaci appeared to be carrying Italy toward Sunday's final and perhaps a place for himself in Cup history. With his fifth goal in six games, following up after Goycochea batted away a shot by Gianluca Vialli, Schillaci seemed on his way to replacing Maradona as tough little man of the World Cup.

"We had the 1-0 lead," said Azeglio Vicini, Italy's coach, "but Argentina reacted strongly."

Maradona went to work, laboring the rest of the evening to make this game a postscript to Mexico City. "It was in the midfield that we won the game," Bilardo said. And, of course, it's in the midfield that Maradona roams and works magic with his feet.

Maradona had stirred controversy before the game, trying to lure Neapolitans into rooting for him and Argentina because he had brought two titles to the Napoli club of the Italian League. Indeed, it was a wrenching time for southern Italy, but there could be no doubt. They love Maradona, but their hearts remain firmly fixed with Italy.

"I am an Italian," explained a Neapolitan before the game. "I am for Italy. But I will say there is only one Maradona. There will always be only one Maradona. There could never be another. Where would he come from?"

So it went in the jammed streets of Naples all day today -- endless talk of the irony that brought their man Maradona against the national team, the Blues. In northern Italian cities, Maradona has been whistled and jeered because of the north-south rivalry.

Schillaci tried to cool the hot topic, suggesting that the geographical rivalry was a thing of the past. The native of a working-class district in Palermo on Sicily, Schillaci said he feels at home playing in the north. "Italy is finally reunited," Schillaci said.

But Maradona seemed to plant doubt in the minds of Italy's players. The San Paolo Stadium crowd of 59,978 was overwhelmingly for the Blues, except for a small pocket of Argentine fans and a scattered few who chose to root for Maradona instead of the home country.

"We were accustomed to Rome," Bergomi said. "All Rome was for us. Today, not all were for us."

Still, thousands of green, white and red Italian flags waved in the muggy evening air as Maradona tried often but unsuccessfully to connect with looping passes to his forwards for the get-even goal. At last, in the 67th minute, he manufactured a play that Caniggia finished with nothing short of brilliance.

Maradona passed to the left side to Olarticoechea, who sent the ball soaring to Caniggia in front of Italian goalkeeper Walter Zenga. Caniggia leaped with his back to the goal. The ball virtually skimmed off his head. He received it and flicked it backward in a contortionist's maneuver that caught Zenga too far out. The ball went to Zenga's left and into the corner of the net.

Incredibly, that broke a streak by Zenga of 517 scoreless minutes in the World Cup. He had shut out the opposition for 990 minutes in international play.

It was Zenga's and Italy's misfortune that when it came time to take the penalty kicks, Schillaci and Ricardo Ferri were hurting and could not participate. Schillaci had a groin strain and Ferri had cramps. It was enough to make Vicini blurt out, "I believe Italy deserved more than its opponent."

As the tension mounted, the five players for each team were designated to make the penalty kicks. Franco Baresi went first and scored for Italy. Jose Serrizuela countered for Argentina. Roberto Baggio connected for Italy, Jorge Burruchaga for Argentina. Luigi De Agostini made the third kick for Italy. Olarticoechea answered back. But then Donadoni missed and when Maradona connected and Serena made a weak kick that was stopped, Argentina had pulled the shocker of the '90 Cup.

Italy's fans stood silent in the stadium. Many actually found it hard to speak. Some sat holding their heads. Some cried. Their party was over.

"Victory was within our reach," Bergomi said. "It has been a pity." The streets of Italy were silent.

Argentina 0 1 0 1 Italy 1 0 0 1 FIRST HALF Scoring: 1, Italy, Schillaci 5 (Vialli), 17th minute.SECOND HALF Scoring: 2, Argentina, Caniggia 2 (Olarticoechea), 68th minute.OVERTIME Scoring: None.Penalty Kicks: Italy (3): Baresi (G), Baggio (G), De Agostini (G), Donadoni (NG), Serena (NG). Argentina (4): Serrizuela (G), Burruchaga (G), Olarticoechea (G), Maradona (G).Yellow Cards: Giannini, Italy, 22nd minute; Giusti, Arg., 30th minute; Ruggeri, Argentina, 70th minute; Olarticoechea, Argentina, 76th minute; Caniggia, Argentina, 82nd minute; Batista, Argentina, 120th minute.Red Cards: Giusti, Argentina, 105th minute.Referee: Vautrot (France). Linesmen: Mikkelsen (Denmark); Listkiewicz (Poland). A: 59,978.

If teams are tied after 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of extra time, the match is decided by penalty kicks. Each team alternates five players who shoot at the goal from 12 yards.

If the teams are tied after five shooters each, sudden-death rounds are used. Three 1990 matches have been decided by penalty kicks: Ireland-Romania, Argentina-Yugoslavia and Argentina-Italy.

Penalty kicks have been used since the first World Cup in 1930, except for the championship game. Until 1986 the rules stated the final match would be replayed at a later date if tied after 120 minutes. But a second match never was needed. If Sunday's championship game is tied, penalty kicks will be used.

If teams are tied after 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of extra time, the match is decided by penalty kicks. Each team alternates five players who shoot at the goal from 12 yards.

If the teams are tied after five shooters each, sudden-death rounds are used. Three 1990 matches have been decided by penalty kicks: Ireland-Romania, Argentina-Yugoslavia and Argentina-Italy.

Penalty kicks have been used since the first World Cup in 1930, except for the championship game. Until 1986 the rules stated the final match would be replayed at a later date if tied after 120 minutes. But a second match never was needed. If Sunday's championship game is tied, penalty kicks will be used.