Highly criticised beforehand, USA ‘94 transpired to be one of the most colourful World Cups on record. Once again penalties proved fatal for the Azzurri as Peter Bourne recalls how Italy stuttered to the Final.
Adversity seemed to continually try to weigh down Roberto Baggio at USA ‘94. After being muscled out of the opening game against Eire he was substituted by Arrigo Sacchi following Gianluca Pagliuca’s dismissal against Norway. Then in the final group game against Mexico he struggled to get into the match as the Azzurri could only draw 1-1.
Eighty-nine minutes into the clash with Nigeria his tournament was transformed. With the Azzurri trailing 1-0, Roberto Mussi crossed from the right for Baggio to fire in an angled drive from the edge of the box. And it was his penalty which won the game. Another late goal when he spectacularly rounded Andoni Zubizaretta against Spain took Italy to the semi-finals.
Baggio carried a workmanlike side. His performance against Bulgaria in the Giants Stadium was the best individual display of USA ‘94. Two great strikes took Italy to the Final. Unfortunately, a heavily strapped Baggio struggled in the Final. Had he been fit then perhaps Italy would have been World Champions. Instead, Baggio is harshly remembered for blazing the critical spot-kick over the bar.
Sacchi was the logical choice for the Azzurri job following Azeglio Vicini’s failure to steer Italy to the 1992 European Championships. After coaching Parma, Sacchi moved to Milan where he won two European Cups and a Scudetto. His zonal system of playing took the Italian game into a new era and his appointment was largely commended. Unfortunately, Sacchi’s reign was characterised by public fall-outs with key players, confused tactics and selections and disappointing results. The team never found its rhythm at USA ‘94 and would embarrassingly crash out of Euro ‘96 at the first stage. Sacchi was replaced by Cesare Maldini.
USA ‘94 had its fair share of on-and-off field talking points. The most serious incident was the brutal murder of 27-year-old Colombia defender Andres Escobar just 10 days after his team crashed out of the tournament. Colombia had been one of the dark horses for the competition and were fancied to top a relatively easy looking Group A. Instead, they proved to be one of the major disappointments. Following an opening game defeat against Romania, they needed to beat hosts USA in the second group fixture. Thirty-three minutes into the first half, Escobar deflected a cross into his own net. America went on to win 2-1 and Colombia were out. On his return home to Medellin, Escobar was shot 12 times in the chest by the bodyguard of an angry fan.
His murder joined a list of high profile and brutal fusions between violence and football in Colombia. Current Perugia goalkeeper Oscar Cordoba, playing because first choice Rene Higuita was serving time in prison for taking part in a cartel kidnapping, admits the team were not focused before that ill-fated encounter.
The second major scandal surrounded Diego Maradona’s failed dope test. Playing in his fourth World Cup, Maradona started the tournament in some style helping Argentina to victories over Greece - when he scored an excellent goal - and then Nigeria. However, after the latter game he tested positive for a cocktail of illegal substances and his glorious World Cup career was over after 21 matches.
Referees also came in for some criticism. After an ill-disciplined Italia ’90, officials were warned to clamp down on tackles from behind and any forms of petulance. Mixed interpretation of a new offside rule also opened officials to accusations of inconsistency. Some took the new rules too far overreacting with a spate of harsh red cards including Gianfranco Zola’s crazy sending off against Nigeria and a tampered Bulgaria and Mexico second round tie.
One decision which could not be overturned was the dismissal of Brazil’s Leonardo for an unprovoked and brutal elbow on America’s Tab Ramos in the last 16. Leonardo was suspended for the rest of the tournament, Ramos ruled out of football for months. Stefan Effenberg also went home early after Germany Coach Berti Vogts banned him from the national side after he swore at his own supporters during the inaugural match with Bolivia.
On the pitch, Bulgaria and Sweden put paid to predictions that South American and African teams would fair better in the climate. Both reached the semi-finals with Bulgaria’s first round win over Greece their first victory in 18 Finals attempts. The USA-Switzerland game at the Pontiac Silverdome was the first to be played indoors and the hosts did well before crashing out to the eventual winners on Independence Day. History was also made between Russia and Cameroon. Oleg Salenko’s five goals were a tournament record as was Cameroon’s Roger Milla’s consolation strike as a 42-year-old.
The Brazil mark of 1994 was short on style and, if truth be told, on world-class talent. Pint-sized striker Romario was the exception. His five goals helped take a rather dour Selecao line-up to the Final. At his best running on to the ball, Romario’s pace, neat ball skills and ability to turn quickly identify him as one of the best strikers of his generation. Was part of the squad which travelled to Italia ‘90 but played just once. Scored in each of the group games at USA '94 before netting against Holland and then the decisive headed winner in the semi-finals over Sweden. His penalty in the Final shoot-out with Italy oozed class. Missed France ‘98 through injury but was joint top scorer for the qualifying campaign of 2002.
Saeed Owairan’s solo goal for Saudi Arabia against Belgium is often considered the best goal of the tournament but Dumitrescu’s for Romania against Argentina in the second round was even better. With the score at 1-1, Romania broke quickly from defence with several neat interchanges of passing. The sublime Gheorghe Hagi fed Dumitrescu with a crossfield ball which the future Spurs players neatly tucked under the advancing ‘keeper. Romania took a 2-1 lead and would later go on to beat the two-time winners.
Brazil 0-0 Italy
(Brazil win 3-2 on pens)
Brazil: Taffarel; Jorginho (Cafu), Marcio Santos, Aldair, Branco; Mazinho, Zinho (Viola), Mauro Silva, Dunga; Bebeto, Romario
Italy: Pagliuca; Mussi (Apolloni), Baresi, Maldini, Benarrivo; Berti, D Baggio (Evani), Albertini, Donadoni; R Baggio, Massaro
Ref: Puhl (Hungary)
A tremendous tournament deserved a more fitting end. Unfortunately the conditions and physical fitness of some of the players led to a rather drab game with both teams too scared to take any risks. The few chances that arrived came from distance with Baggio, Mauro Silva and Romario all trying their luck. Only the introduction of the young Selecao substitute Viola livened up proceedings. Penalties were inevitable. Marcio Santos missed Brazil’s first but they scored the rest. The Italian fall guys included Baresi and Baggio who had played bravely through painful injuries. As Baresi would later comment: “To lose to a great team like Brazil is never a disgrace.”