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1994 USA World Cup

Written by Sebastien on 19 December 2012. Posted in World Cup History

Passionate Response

The 15th edition of the World Cup, held in the United States is regarded as the most successful staging of the tournament. The average attendance per match of 69000 is a record that still stands even after the expansion of the World Cup format to include 32 teams. This was the last edition of the World Cup which featured 24 teams. The success of the 1994 World Cup was even more surprising considering that USA is not a football passionate country and the decision to hold the World Cup was also with the condition that the country starts its own professional league (MLS was thus born ). The tournament featured several firsts: first World Cup match to be played indoors, first to award 3 points for a win in group stage and the first where yellow cards accumulated in group stage were wiped for the knockouts. The host nation did its bit with the United States qualifying from the group stage only to be knocked out in the round of 16 by the eventual champions.

The 1994 World Cup saw Brazil become the first team to win the tournament 4 times as they conquered Italy on penalties. It was the first World Cup final to be decided on penalties. Sweden and Bulgaria were the surprise packages of the tournament, both reaching the semi finals. The Scandinavians proceeded to defeat Bulgaria to finish in 3rd place. Bulgaria had never won a World Cup match prior to this tournament and they had provided the upset of the tournament by beating Germany enroute to the semifinals. Bulgaria’s Hristo Stoichkov won the World Cup Golden Shoe which he shared with Russia’s Oleg Salenko. Romario of Brazil was awarded the World Cup Golden Ball for best player. History was made by Greece, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia who qualified for the World Cup for first time.
 

Tragedy

The tournament is also sadly remembered for the tragedy suffered by Andres Escobar of Columbia who was shot dead on his return after his own goal had condemned Columbia to defeat against USA. There was also controversy surrounding Diego Maradona who was banned mid tournament after taking illegal, performance enhancing drugs. South American giants Argentina, unable to cope without Maradona, missed out after losing 3-2 to Romania featuring Gheorghe Hagi.

In a World Cup which saw a disappointing performance from the South Americans, the only non-European team to qualify for the quarter finals was Brazil. Boasting the likes of Romario, Bebeto and Dunga, they breezed through the group stages and the knockouts playing their brand of free flowing football. They were indeed selected as the World Cup’s most entertaining team as they decimated opposition with typical Samba flair. After defeating the United States in the round of 16, they eliminated Netherlands 3-2 and followed it with a single goal victory against Sweden to make the finals. On the other hand, the Italians stuttered through their knockout rounds unconvincingly. Arrigo Sacchi's constant tactical changes unsettled the team and the eventual finalists were also fortunate to beat Nigeria to reach the quarter-finals.  However, with the help of their talismanic striker Roberto Baggio, they went past Spain and Bulgaria to book a spot in the final.
 

Despair and Elation

The scene for the World Cup 1994 final match was the Rose Bowl stadium, Pasadena, California. This was a dream final in every respect with both finalists having won three World Cup titles. The match was eagerly anticipated for the clash between two top strikers of the era, Romario and Roberto Baggio. A huge crowd of 94000 attended the event, but were to be disappointed by a poor match that was an exception to the wonderful football on display throughout the tournament. Normal time and extra time were not enough to separate the sides. It required a penalty shootout for the first time in World Cup history to decide the winner. After, Franco Baresi and Daniele Massaro had missed for Italy, it was up to Roberto Baggio to take the final kick to keep Italy in the contest. However, he missed and shot the ball over the bar.  “The divine ponytail” had dragged Italy to the final with a series of exceptional performances but it all ended in tears for the Italian while the Selecao celebrated a record fourth World Cup title.

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