USA 1994 World Cup

After a twenty four year wait, Brazil would finally regain their world title and allow them to stand alone as the most successful side in the competition’s history as the finals would begin and end with missed penalties. For the first time in the history of the World Cup the tournament was scheduled to be held in a country where football wasn’t the national sport of the host nation. The United States were chosen ahead of Brazil and Morocco despite fears of a lack of interest from American sports fans. FIFA hoped that by holding the finals in the States, it would allow the game’s worldwide appeal to spread to its citizens.

For their forward thinking, FIFA were rewarded by the largest total attendance in World Cup finals history. The attendance was over 69,000 and the total amount of supporters reached 3.6 million, a remarkable number. As in 1990, twenty four teams qualified and were divided into six groups. Three teams, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Greece, qualified for the first time and the ’94 tournament would see Germany enter as a unified nation for the first time since 1938 and Russia qualify as a single nation following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The most notable absentee was England who had failed to qualify. USA ’94 saw the introduction of three points for a win for the first time as FIFA tried to encourage more attacking play after the previous, dour tournament. Two other headline events would see the careers of two players end, one in controversy and one in sadness. Diego Maradona tested positive for the banned substance Ephedrine and was subsequently banned.

The vivid image of Maradona running to the touchline with his eyes bulging and screaming at the camera after scoring against Greece was an indication of the drama that was to follow. The other headline event was the murder of Colombian defender Andres Escobar. After scoring a crucial own goal in a match against the hosts, a goal which contributed to Colombia’s early exit, Escobar was gunned down outside a bar in a Medellin suburb with the assassin reportedly screaming “Gol” as he fired each shot. The attack took place just ten days after the match had taken place.

The World Cup opened with the typical US fanfare and celebrations usually reserved for the halftime show at the Superbowl. They weren’t, however, counting on the lack of footballing ability of legend Diana Ross to convert a penalty. Faced with the task of slotting the ball home to break open the goal and allow her to run through the net and continue the party, Ross sliced her attempt horribly wide and had to continue as if nothing had happened. Whilst the rest of the world cringed and laughed, the 1994 tournament was well and truly up and running.

The Brazilian side of 1994 was a lot like its 1990 and 1986 predecessors, more substance and style but they did have flair, largely in the shape of strike duo, Romario, one of the best players on the planet and Bebeto. The Samba Stars were drawn in a group with Sweden, Russia and crowd favourites from 1990, Cameroon. Brazil began with an encouraging victory over Russia thanks to a goal in each half, one from Romario and a penalty from Rai. This opening win was backed up by a three goals to nil triumph against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, who were unable to repeat their impressive performances of four years ago and were eliminated from the tournament in the first round.

The final group game against Sweden culminated in a score draw that would see Brazil top the group. Sweden took the lead midway through the first half only for Brazil to level in the first minute of the second half through Romario’s third goal in as many games. In the group, Russia thrashed Cameroon by six goals to one with Oleg Salenko scoring a record five goals in the game which would contribute to him co winning the golden boot.

Brazil were joined in the second round by Sweden, Romania, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Nigeria, Bulgaria, Mexico, Eire, The Netherlands and Saudi Arabia as group winners and runners up. Previous winners Argentina and Italy were fortunate to scrape through as the best third placed teams after surprising results in their group along with Belgium and host nation the United States. Brazil was drawn against the hosts in a second round match.

The Latin Americans secured victory with a single goal from Bebeto halfway through the second half. The match was soured with the sending off of Brazilian fullback Leonardo whose vicious elbow resulted in a broken malar bone for the unfortunate US player. Leonardo was given a four match ban which resulted in him missing the remainder of the finals, the second longest ban imposed in World Cup history.

In other matches, Nigeria was two minutes away from eliminating three times winners and eventual finalists Italy. Roberto Baggio scored to send the game into extra time and then scored his second to eliminate the first time qualifiers. In other matches Germany eliminated neighbours Belgium by three goals to two. In what seemed a close game via the score line, but the German’s were two goals in front after eleven minutes. Romania knocked out Argentina by the same score line with Romanian legend Gheorghi Hagi scoring a wonder goal winner ten minutes into the second half to send the former winners home early.

Further victories followed for Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands and Bulgaria who overcame Mexico on penalties to set up a quarter final encounter with Germany.

The quarter finals produced some hugely entertaining games. Brazil was drawn to face Holland in a gripping match. The game, scoreless at halftime, came alive in the second period as the South Americans raced into a two goal lead with a fourth goal from Romario and a third goal from Bebeto. Holland hit back with two goals in twelve minutes from Dennis Bergkamp and Aaron Winter. With nine minutes remaining Brazil midfielder Branco put home a third to send Brazil through to yet another semifinal. Bulgaria eliminated three times winners Germany to signal an end of twenty years of highly successful German sides. Lothar Mattheus gave the German’s an early second half lead but two goals in three minutes from Stoichkov and Letchkov would give the eastern Europeans a historic victory. Italy overcame a resilient Spain side with a goal each from the two Baggio’s, Dino and Roberto. In the remaining quarter final Sweden defeated Argentina’s conquerors Romania on penalties after a two all draw after extra time.

In the semifinals, Brazil would face their group opponents Sweden, also a rematch of the 1958 final, and Italy would face newcomers Bulgaria. Brazil would overcome Sweden this time with a single goal from Romario with ten minutes remaining of normal time and a Roberto Baggio brace would allow Italy to overcome Bulgaria and set up a rematch of the 1970 World Cup final. In the third place match, Sweden overcame a disheartened Bulgaria with ease. It was Sweden’s second best ever finish after a four nil victory.

The final between two of the three most successful teams in World Cup history resulted in a dour stalemate as neither team had the energy to attack as FIFA desired due to the stifling heat of the States. For the first time in World Cup history neither side was able to score and the trophy and the right to stand alone as most successful World Cup side would be decided by a penalty shoot out. With the scores at 3 – 2 in favour of Brazil, Italian superstar Roberto Baggio lined up to take the next penalty, with Italy needing him to score to keep them in the finals.

Baggio had been Italy’s star of the tournament with five goals to date, sent his penalty over the bar to give Brazil their fourth title. The image of Baggio standing by the penalty spot, hands on hips, looking despondent is another of the World Cup’s defining images.

After twenty four long years, the Brazilian public could rightly celebrate their ascension to the top of the pile once again, even though it was accomplished in a style that wouldn’t appease the home fans.

Matches: 52
Goals: 141 (average 2.7 per match)
Attendance: 3 587 538 (average 68 991)
Golden Boot Winner: Hristo Stoichkov (Bulagria) & Oleg Salenko (Russia) 6
Golden Ball Winner: Romario (Brazil)
Fair Play Award: Brazil

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