Italian progress: Runners-up
Football Italia recounts Italy’s steps through the World Cup, tournament by tournament. Arrigo Sacchi's side lost their opener but came within a penalty kick of winning the 1994 tournament on American soil.
Arrigo Sacchi was at the helm for the 1994 edition, but he oversaw a disastrous start as Ray Houghton’s goal for Ireland meant the Azzurri lost their opening match for the first time since 1954. Worse came against Norway as goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca was red-carded after just 21 minutes, leading to creative star Roberto Baggio being hooked to allow on sub glovesman Luca Marchegiani. Next Franco Baresi picked up an injury. Fortunately Roberto’s namesake Dino settled nerves with a 69th minute winner and after an edgy 1-1 draw with Mexico the Azzurri were through – albeit with the worst record of the qualifiers.
The last 16 provided a test against the exciting Nigerians and with 90 seconds remaining Italy faced elimination. Emmanuel Amuneke had given the Super Eagles an early lead and Gianfranco Zola had been dismissed shortly after arriving as a sub – all in all, it looked like a miserable end to a wretched tournament. Then from nowhere a breakaway gave Roberto Baggio a chance, and his softly hit shot crept in. It marked a turning point for Italy and Baggio, the ponytailed ace added the winner in extra-time and also scored the goals that secured progress against Spain and Bulgaria.
The Azzurri faced Brazil in the Final, but despite their heroics in the knock-out stage it always looked a step too far. Defender Mauro Tassotti had been banned for a sickening elbow on Spain’s Luis Enrique, Baresi was rushed back from injury to start and Baggio also played despite picking up a knock against Bulgaria.
By the end of 120 goalless minutes, livened only by Pagliuca spilling a shot from Mauro Silva on to the post, the Italians were out on their feet. Penalties would decide the destination of the trophy for the first time but fate was not with Italy. The hobbling Baresi missed the first and although Marcio Santos missed Brazil’s opener the later miss from Daniele Massaro and conversion by Dunga meant Il Divin Codino had to score to prolong Italian hopes. It was a cruel irony that the man who dragged Italy to the Final was the man who gave Brazil their fourth title, but that was what he did as his effort sailed high into the Los Angeles sky.
|18-Jun-94||Italy||0-1||Rep of Ireland||Group E|
|Rep of Ireland||4||3||1||1||1||2||2|
|05-Jul-94||Nigeria||1-2||Italy||Round of 16|
|(3-2 on pens)|
Italy progressed to Round Two despite finishing third in Group E. The format of the tournament allowed the two best third-placed teams to join the group winner and runner-up.
Group E ended with all four teams level on four points. Goals scored placed Italy above Norway but the head-to-head result with Ireland pushed them into third spot.
In a bizarre coincidence, pop star Diana Ross missed a penalty in the choreographed opening ceremony just as Baggio did in the defining moment of the tournament.