Classic Match: The 1994 World Cup Final
I suppose this post should be subtitled “The Game that Broke My Heart.” I had watched sports my whole life (my dad was a High School coach,) and yet this, my first World Cup, made me feel like no other sport had ever made me feel before. This tournament and the infamous final were my first real experiences with the beautiful game, and because of my heartbreak, would spark the flames of a passion for a sport that is almost obscene.
The 1994 tournament was held in the United States, and Italy had qualified for the final on the shoulders of one Roberto Baggio. They had been plagued with injuries and suspensions to the extent that Coach Arrigo Sacchi had never fielded the same starting lineup twice in the tournament. Whereas Brazil had sailed quite comfortably to the final with a team that featured Romario and his trusty sidekick Bebeto.
So the final was set, Italy vs. Brazil, Baggio vs. Romario. Both nations seeking a record 4th World Cup trophy, only one would achieve this goal. Both players were vying for the unofficial title of best player in the world, this one performance would sway the opinions of the world. So no pressure.
Baggio was very uncertain whether or not he would be fit for the match due to a hamstring injury sustained in the semifinal against Bulgaria that left him limping off the field. Captain Franco Baresi, at the age of 34, had arthroscopic knee surgery 3 weeks earlier, but made a miraculous recovery to start. Both would prove to be both heroes and heartbreakers in the final.
The game was played in sunny Southern California, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, to be exact. Everyone seems to like California’s weather, unless you are a footballer in July. The heat would prove to be one of the biggest factors in the match. The crowd of over 94,000 did not seem to mind as much. The USA World Cup had been smashing all attendance records for a World Cup.
The teams lined up and began an almost excruciating match. Not only did the two teams basically cancel each other out as far as skills were concerned, but the heat made them move in what seemed like slow motion. Baggio’s injury was clearly affecting him, he was not his normal, crafty, creative self, and the Italian offense seemed to follow suit.
There were opportunities, of course. Daniele Massaro, who was on the 1982 World Cup winning squad at age 21 (although he did not play in the final), missed a 1 on 1 with Taffarel. On the other end, Gianluca Pagliuca, the keeper with the funny rhyming name, bobbled a shot by Mauro Silva that then bounced toward the goal. But as luck would have it, the ball bounced softly toward the post and bounced off, to which Pagluica kissed his glove and tapped the post in gratitude.
Baresi, whose dream it was to captain the national team to a World Cup win, was a monster. Knee surgery? Ha! The 34 year old was all over the place, denying the yellow shirted Brazilians at every opportunity. And yet despite these and other heroics, the game was scoreless at 90 minutes.
Unlike now, where there are 3 substitutions allowed, at this time, there were only 2 substitutions plus one for the keeper. Those substitutions for Brazil were Jorginho out for Cafú in the 21st minute, and Zinho out for Viola in the 106th. Italy subbed Mussi out for Apolloni in the 35th, and Dino Baggio out for Evani in the 95th. These subs did little to impact the game in the overpowering heat.
Another 30 minutes of added extra time seemed cruel and unusual punishment for the players and fans alike. The heat was unrelenting and only intensified their exhaustion. And still no score.
This would be the first time ever a World Cup final would go to a penalty shoot out. First up was Franco Baresi. For his amazing recovery from his surgery and all of his heroics in the match, he missed this one. Marcio Santos stepped up, and Pagliuca atoned for Baresi’s miss with a huge save. 0-0.
Albertini stepped up and wrong-wayed Taffarel. But then Romario did the same against Pagliuca. 1-1. For Italy, Evani made his kick. But then so did Branco. 2-2. The real drama began when Taffarel saved Massaro’s kick. Brazil’s captain Dunga, whose hairstyle is still basically the same now as it was that day, stepped up and beat Pagliuca to make the count 3-2.
Next up was the moment that everyone remembers from not just this final, but this World Cup. It was also the moment my heart was shattered and I realized that I loved this game like no other. Roberto Baggio, criticized before the World Cup, but whose Herculean efforts and 5 goals were the reason that Italy were even in the Final, stepped up to take his penalty.
His kick went up to the blue sky, leaving an empty net, save it were for Taffarel’s instant rejoicing. The Brazilians’ yellow and green joy was like a twisted backdrop for the stunning pain of the Azzurri players and fans. Baggio’s body language said more than I ever could about the exquisite pain and heartbreak of an entire nation. He was inconsolable, Baresi in tears. More than the classic tragedy and comedy masks could ever exhibit, the tragedy in blue and white was a stark contrast to the Brazilian ecstasy. For Brazil now had a record 4th World Cup trophy, whereas Italy were the first to lose a World Cup Final on the comedy of errors that is a penalty shootout.
To the victors went the spoils, and to the unlucky went the runner up medals. On a beautiful Southern California afternoon that seemed to mock the pain of the Azzurri, Italy stood by as Brazil were presented the trophy.
For me, I could only imagine the pain my new heroes were experiencing, as my own pain was still surprising to me, more physical than I could have ever imagined from just watching something on my TV. But from that pain developed a love and passion that has never since waned, not just for football, but for my Azzurri. Through triumph and tragedy, through joy and pain, this game literally changed my life…and I have never regretted it.
Because of USA ’94, Elaine is infrequently on Twitter. Follow her @ItaliaWCB
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