The penalty spot had become the nerve centre of football by the early 1990s with the shoot-out now a staple of World Cup drama. In 1994 in the movie capital of the world the World Cup would be bookended by two superstars missing the target from 12 yards, it could almost have been scripted.
FIFA kicked up a storm in 1988 when they announced the 1994 World Cup would be hosted by the United States. Rival bids from Brazil and Morocco were considered too risky due to Brazil’s stadiums being deemed deficient and Morocco needing to build nine new ones. It was the first time the World Cup had ever been held anywhere other than Western Europe or South/ Central America, many smelt a commercial agenda in giving the tournament to a country with little football history and not even a functioning professional league, others worried the tournament would be played out in empty NFL stadiums. The hosts began to make immediate changes, qualifying for Italia ’90, laying down plans for what would become MLS, meanwhile they entered and won the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991.
147 countries entered what would become the most dramatic qualification campaign in World Cup history. European Champions Denmark narrowly missed out as did former winners England and Uruguay. The biggest shock came when much fancied France lost their final qualifier to Bulgaria in injury time leading to an infamous bust up between manager Gerard Houllier and David Ginola. Brazil also flirted with danger and Argentina needed a playoff to qualify. Three first time qualifiers emerged in Greece, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. The format was mostly the same as the ’86 and ’90 tournaments, but in an attempt to encourage attacking play a group stage win was now worth 3 points.
Superstar Diana Ross headlined the opening ceremony that was meant to include her scoring a penalty and net the collapsing in two, unfortunately she skewed the ball wide to open the tournament on a blooper in front of the watching world.
Holders Germany arrived as favourites. Franz Beckenbauer had departed the dugout with another ’74 hero Berti Vogts now in charge. The squad was largely held over from 1990 with Lothar Matthaus captain and Jurgen Klinsmann their main attacking threat. In midfield Andreas Moller had been promoted to the first eleven, there were also two new stars in dominant sweeper Matthias Sammer and the brilliant but temperamental Stefan Effenberg.
They opened the tournament at Chicago’s Soldier Field against Bolivia who were making their first finals appearance since 1950, their main threat coming from gifted forward Erwin Sanchez. Germany controlled proceedings but Sanchez twice forced good saves from Bodo Illgner from range. The game was settled on the hour when Thomas Häßler sprung the offside trap and played in Klinsmann to roll the ball into an empty net. Any doubts about the result were settled in the 83rd minute when Bolivia were reduced to ten men.
The other game in Group C saw Spain face South Korea in Dallas. Spain had a new look team still struggling to match the exploits of their club sides. There was a solid defensive spine to the team in Miguel Nadal and Fernando Hierro whilst Barcelona star Luis Enrique provided the creativity. South Korea were largely a home based squad but had a star player in versatile forward Kim Joo-sung.
The game took a dramatic turn on 25 minutes when Nadal was given a straight red card. Spain’s ten men began the second half with pace and vigour and Julio Salinas opened the scoring on 51 minutes. Salinas’ persistence lead to a second goal which was eventually turned home by Andoni Goikoetxea. Spain looked to be in control but five minutes from time Hong Myong-bo’s free kick took a wicked deflection and flew in for 2-1. South Korea threw everything into the final minutes and in the 90th minute created an overload to set Seo Jung-wan free and smash in a dramatic equaliser and earn a point.
Spain then travelled to Chicago to face Germany. With the enforced reshuffle Spain boss Javier Clemente brought Barcelona’s defensive midfielder Pep Guardiola into the starting eleven. Spain made a fine start with Guardiola instigating their play from the base of midfield, Goikoetxea went sprinting down the right and curled in a cross come shot that nestled in the roof of the net. At the start of the second half Sammer was felled by Hierro and from the resulting free-kick Häßler’s cross was met by Klinsmann for 1-1 and the points were shared. Over in Foxborough South Korea and Boliva played out a goalless draw most notable for Luis Cristaldo picking up Bolivia’s second red card in as many games.
Entering group finale only Germany had qualification guaranteed. Spain who had captain and goalkeeper Andoni Zubizaretta back in the lineup made a fast start against Bolivia and won an early penalty, despatched by Guardiola. The game opened up in the 66th minute with Spain left-back Sergi setting up Jose Caminero to score from an angled drive. A minute later Boliva finally had their first goal, Sanchez’s long range effort deflecting off a defender and over the stranded Zubizaretta. Three minutes later Caminero struck for 3-1 and Spain were through.
Germany made a strong start against South Korea, a brilliant turn and volley from Klinsmann on 12 minutes giving them the lead. Eight minutes later Guido Buchwald hit the post and Karl-Heinz Riedle tapped in for 2-0. Before halftime Klinsmann had his fourth of the tournament and it looked all over. South Korea mounted a spirited fightback, first through a fine finish from Hwang Sun-hong and then a piledriver from Hong Myung-bo made it 3-2. Vogts took off the struggling Effenberg and when German fans jeered the midfielder gave them the finger. Germany held on for the win but the outraged Vogts ditched Effenberg on the spot insisting his Germany career was finished. The champions were through but had plenty to ponder.
As hosts the USA were seeded but the draw wasn’t favourable. The team had few stars but had played together more than most and had a strong team ethic. Goalkeeper Tony Meola was highly rated and big haired defender Alexi Lalas was a threat from set pieces with Premier League midfielder John Harkes their most accomplished player. They opened against surprise qualifiers Switzerland. The Swiss were under the guidance of English coach Roy Hodgson who’d built a solid defensive side with star striker Stephane Chapuisat the danger man in attack.
The game would be the first ever indoor World Cup fixture held in front of 73,000 at the Pontiac Silverdome. The Swiss went ahead on 39 minutes when Georges Bregy wrong-footed Meola with a free-kick, but on the stroke of half-time Eric Wynalda hit a beautiful free-kick to equalise and almost lifted the roof off the Silverdome. Neither side could muster a winner but the game at least showed the US could compete and the home crowd were definitely interested.
Two tournament dark horses met at the Rose Bowl in Colombia and Romania. Colombia had an exciting attack lead again by dynamic playmaker Carlos Valderrama alongside another returning talent in Freddy Rincon but now had the potent strike duo of Faustino Asprilla and Adolfo Valencia up front. Romania were a technically gifted team lead by midfield maestro Gheroghe Hagi with fullback Dan Petrescu and striker Florian Raducioiu amongst their talented stars.
Colombia made a bight start, dominating possession and creating chances. With Romania’s first notable attack Hagi picked up possession and played a slide-rule pass to Raducioiu who turned two defenders and smashed a rasping drive into the corner for 1-0. Colombia resumed their siege of the Romanian goal and Valencia forced Bogdan Stelea into a string of saves. When Romania countered it was Hagi who carried a threat and on 34 minutes he picked up the ball near the left touchline and hit an audacious lob to catch Oscar Cordoba off his line for a stunning second goal. Just before the break Colombia hit back with Valencia finally beating Stelea with a headr from Wilson Perez’s corner. In the second half Asprilla went close in a thrilling contest. In the final minute Hagi caught Colombia napping at a free-kick and Raducioiu rounded Cordoba for 3-1.
Romania faced the Swiss in the Silverdome and Switzerland had an early goal ruled out from Alain Sutter. The disappointment was short lived with Sutter smashing home from Chapuisat’s knock down for the opener. Romania responded before the break with Hagi hitting a 30 yard piledriver for 1-1. For all their technical skill Romania look shaky at the back and early in the second half they made a mess of clearing a corner and Chapuisat was sharp enough to poke home for 2-1. Hagi faded from the game and Switzerland assumed control with Adrian Knup scoring a third on the break and then heading in to complete a 4-1 rout.
Colombia now needed to beat the US, but seemed unnerved by the partisan crowd LA crowd and lacked their usual attacking fluency. On 33 minutes Colombia defender Andres Escobar tried to cut out a US cross but only succeeded in putting the ball through his own net as the Rose Bowl erupted. Early in the second half Lallas had a goal rolled out but on 52 minutes the US got their second when Tab Ramos played through Earnie Stewart to score. Colombia began to find their range but Meola held firm in the US goal. In the 90th minute Valencia made it 2-1 with a close range finish but it was too late, the US had pulled off a huge upset.
In the final round Romania needed a draw against the US to be sure of going through. Their nerves were settled in the 18th minute when Petrescu’s shot beat Meola at the near post and Romania controlled the game to top the group. Switzerland were already assured of progression and Colombia found their range a first half header from Hernan Gaviria and a fine strike in injury from Harold Lozano gave them a 2-0 win but were already aware they were going out whilst the US had enough to go through in third.
Then just six days after Colombia’s exit came the shocking news that Andres Escobar had been murdered in Medellin. A drug cartel bodyguard confessed to the killing, the motive was anger at Escobar’s own goal. It was made all the more shocking by Escobar’s efforts in his young life to promote a positive image of his country. 120,000 mourned his passing and he remains a beloved figure at Atletico Nacional but his murder cast a long shadow over the ’94 World Cup.
Romario Revs up Brazil
Brazil arrived looking to end a 24 year wait to regain the World Cup. Carlos Alberto Parreira had a more pragmatic approach with a team built around the solid backline lead by Jorginho and Marcio Santos. Dunga patrolled central midfield and their great attacking hope was Barcelona ace Romario who’d just come off a 30 goal season. They began in Stanford against a Russia team lacking the star names of the Soviet era. Romario opened Brazil’s account on 26 minutes when he stabbed home Bebeto’s corner. Early in the second half Romario was bundled over in the box and Brazil captain Rai despatched from the sport to seal a solid 2-0 win.
Sweden and Cameroon were the other teams in Group B. Sweden had flopped at Italia ’90 but recovered with a fine run at home at Euro ’92. Star striker Tomas Brolin now of Parma had formed a potent strike partnership with Martin Dahlin whilst Joachim Bjorklund lead a stout defence. Camerron were hoping to repeat their heroics in Italy and again the squad included Roger Milla now aged 42. Sweden got a dream start when Jonas Thern’s looping free-kick was heading home by Roger Ljung after eight minutes. However some sloppy defending gifted Cameroon’s David Embe an equalizer. Early in the second half Francois Oman-Biyik rekindled memories of his Italia ’90 magic when he sprung the offside trap to give Cameroon the lead. Just as Cameroon were set to take another famous scalp substitute Henrik Larsson smashed a vicious drive onto the crossbar, Dahlin reacted quickest and Sweden had a 2-2 draw.
Cameroon now faced Brazil and were holding their own until the 39th minute when Dunga won possession in midfield and played a defence splitting pass through to Romario who neatly slid the ball under the onrushing ‘keeper to score. The decisive moment came in the 63rd minute when Cameroon’s Rigobert Song was dismissed. Three minutes later Dunga combined with Jorginho to set up Marcio Santos for the second and Bebeto’s goal rounded off a 3-0 win.
Over in the Silverdome Russia won a third minute penalty to take the lead through Oleg Salenko, but before halftime Sweden were awarded their own spot-kick and Brolin rolled in for 1-1. Thern was again impressive, hitting a low cross for Dahlin to score with a diving header. Sweden made sure of the win when Kennet Andersson crossed and Dahlin dived superbly to head home his third of the tournament.
Sweden stayed at the Silverdome to face Brazil in a dead rubber, Andersson scoring early and Romario scoring his third of the tournament to see out a 1-1 draw. Russia and Cameroon played in Stanford hoping a win would take them through in third place.
What followed was one of the most remarkable and often forgotten individual performances in World Cup from Salenko. After Russia made a positive start he hit a poachers effort through the goalkeepers legs on 15 minutes. On 41 minutes a quikcly taken free-kick opened Cameroon up for Salenko to tap home for 2-0, three minutes later he completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot. Three down Cameroon brought on Milla for the second half and within a minute he showed a trademark piece of close control and rolled the ball home, in doing so breaking his own record for the oldest goalscorer in World Cup history. It was however Salenko’s day, stroking home on 72 minutes and then cooly slotting in his fifth. Dmirti Radchenko grabbed a late goal for 6-1 but it wasn’t enough for Russia to go through, however Salenko’s six tournament goals won him a share of the golden boot.
Diego Maradona’s career had slid dramatically since Italia ’90. A 15 month ban for teasing positive for cocaine had been followed by brief stints with Sevilla and Newells Old Boys but he did get himself fit in time to make Argentina’s squad. Argentina’s new look team had won the ’93 Copa America featuring hard tackling midfielder Diego Simeone and the more creative Fernando Redondo. The headline act however was striking sensation Gabriel Batistuta, the recalled Maradona would begin the tournament as Number 10 behind ‘Batigol’ at nine.
Their opening opponents at Foxborough were new boys Greece. It took just two minutes for Argentina to take the lead, Batistuta powering forward and sliding the ball past Antonis Minou in the Greek goal. Just before halftime Jose Chamot played on Batistuta to hit a trademark thunderbolt and it was 2-0. On the hour camr the moment Argentina fans had longed for with Maradona dropping a shoulder and working the angle for a strike to the top corner, 3-0. It was however ‘Batigol’s day with a 90th minute penalty completing his hat-trick and a 4-0 win. However the post match talk was of Maradona’s crazed goal celebration.
African champions Nigeria were also making their World Cup bow and arrived with high expectations. Defensive midfielder Sunday Oliseh was the lynchpin of the team with striker Daniel Amokachi a threat in attack whilst young attacking midfielder Jay Jay Okocha was already a fans favourite. Having qualified at France’s expense Bulgaria were also hopeful heading to The States. Gifted Barcelona striker Hristo Shoichkov was the star turn with wingers Emil Kostadinov and Krasimir Balakov feeding him chances. The two met in Dallas. Nigeria got off to an enterprising start and a nicely worked passing move opened Bulgaria up a tap-in for Rashidi Yekini on 21 minutes. Amokachi’s persistence saw him add the second before halftime and a diving second half header from Emmanuel Amunike made it 3-0 in a hugely impressive Nigeria win.
Nigeria now faced Argentina in a keenly anticipated tie. Batistuta was denied an early goal by Finidi George’s clearance but it was Nigeria who took the lead, Samson Siasia finishing a swift counter attack with a deft finish on eight minutes. The lead lasted just 13 minutes with Batistuta’s daisy cutter free-kick parried straight to Claudio Caniggia who made it 1-1. The recalled Caniggia then got in behind Nigeria from a quickly taken free-kick and angled a shot past Peter Rufai for 2-1. Argentina had edged a thriller but the real drama came in the aftermath. In a post match drugs test Maradona tested positive for ephedrine doping, he was ejected from the tournament and never played for Argentina again. In his autobiography Maradona would later claim the positive test was caused by an energy drink with different ingredients in the US, whatever the truth it was sad but inevitably controversial end to the most divisive career in World Cup history.
Bulgaria had fluffed their lines on opening night but were quickly back on track against Greece. The Greeks bore two gifts in the first half hour giving away a pair of needless penalties which Stoichkov despatched for a 2-0 lead. Bulgaria’s potent attack was finding a groove and midway through the second half Yordan Letchkov was played through the middle and finished with aplomb for 3-0. Stoichkov hit an injury time free-kick which Elias Atmatsidis couldn’t hold and Daniel Borimirov turned in for 4-0.
Bulgaria needed a result against Maradona-less Argentina to progress. In a tense encounter Stoichkov underlined his class, on 65 minutes he outpaced the Argentina defence and cooly slotted past Luis Islas. In injury time Nasko Sirakov headed home from a corner for 2-0 and Bulgaria would join Argentina in round two. Nigeria needed a result against Greece to join them in the second phase. Nigeria dominated and on the stroke of halftime a lightning counter attack from Amunike set up George for a lofted finish. Deep in injury time Amokachi beat two defenders and hit a blistering shot for 2-0 and Nigeria were through.
Al-Owairan Stars for Saudi
Group F was headlined by the Netherlands. The Ajax talent factory had brought through another outstanding generation of Dutch players lead by the hugely gifted Dennis Bergkamp now plying his trade with Inter, there was tricky winger Marc Overmars, midfielder Wim Jonk and at the heart of the team the De Boer brothers. They started in Orlando against debutants Saudi Arabia who had their own star in maverick number ten Said Al-Owairan.
The unheralded Saudis made a strong start and took a shock lead on 11 minutes when Fuad Anwar headed home from a free-kick. The Dutch were stunned by the early blow but on 50 minutes the Saudis gave Jonk time to pick his spot and he fired into the corner from 25 yards. The Saudis were still looking good for a point until goalkeeper Mohamed Al-Deayea missed a speculative long ball leaving Gaston Taument to head into an empty net to give the Dutch a narrow win.
Belgium and Morocco were the other teams in Group F, they began in Orlando. Belgium had a fine goalkeeper in Michel Preud’homme and star playmaker Enzo Scifo was back for a third World Cup but a fine generation of Belgian football was now in its twilight. Morocco were hoping a new generation could rekidnle their magical run of ’86. Morocco showed early promise and Preud-homme was called into action, but Belgium settled into a rhythm with Scifo instigating a move that saw Luc Nilis cross for strike partner Marc Degryse to score with a backwards header and Belgium took the spoils.
Next up came the most anticipated clash of the group with a low countries derby between Belgium and Netherlands. In a flowing game Belgium took the lead when Philippe Albert slammed home from a corner. At the other end Preud-homme pulled off a string of exceptional saves to put Belgium through and win the local bragging rights.
There was less attention paid to the other game with Saudi Arabia taking on Morocco. A seventh minute penalty gave Saudi Arabia the lead. Morocco were soon back on terms when a fine dribble from Ahmed Bahja set up a tap in for Mohammed Chaouch. As the half time whistle approached Morocco got casual in possession and Anwar won the ball and took off on a run, he hit a speculative long range drive which Khalil Azmi misjudged and the ball flew in for 2-1. Saudi Arabia had their first win and were a point from qualification.
Morocco were virtually out when they faced the Dutch who were not sure of qualification. The Dutch were again uncertain in defence but Bergkamp took advantage of confusion in the Morocco backline to put them ahead on 43 minutes. Two minutes into the second half Netherlands were undone by an accurate long ball and Hassan Nader stroked into an empty net for 1-1. The Moroccans pushed for the winner as the Dutch wobbled. As nerves jangled Bergkamp settled the Dutch with a clever run in the box to draw defenders and hand Bryan Roy an open goal for a 2-1 win to take Netherlands through.
In Washington Saudi Arabia faced already qualified Belgium. On five minutes Scifo gave the ball away with Belgium on the attack, the ball fell to Al-Owairan in his own half. The midfielder took off and accelerated away from Franky Van Der Elst and evaded the challenge of Dirk Medved to go powering into Belgium’s half, he waltzed past Michel De Wolf, pushed the ball through Rudi Smidts’ legs and over the advancing Preud-homme to score the goal of the tournament. Belgium pushed for an equaliser but Al-Deayea was catching everything Belgium could muster whilst the Saudi’s continued to threaten on the break. A brilliant Al-Deayea save to deny Josip Weber was the closest Belgium went and Saudi Arabia had pulled off a shock to qualify for the second round.
Big Jack Takes The Big Apple
The most eye-catching opening fixture saw Italy take on the Republic of Ireland in a repeat of their 1990 quarter-final. The venue was New York, the question was which New York community would show? The answer became obvious when the Irish bus was greeted at Giants Stadium by a sea of green. Jack Charlton was still in charge for Ireland but had a largely ageing squad of holdovers from 1990, however Charlton did have one major addition in midfield tyro Roy Keane.
Ireland got a good start, feeding off the atmosphere. John Sheridan’s long ball forced Franco Baresi into a weak clearance, the ball fell to Ray Houghton who hit a clever chipped shot over goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca and Ireland lead on 11 minutes. Italy tried to force an opening but Paul McGrath was inspired in the centre of the Irish defence and Italy were repeatedly frustrated. In the second half Keane’s persistence saw him drill in a cross for Sheridan who smashed the crossbar. Italy continued to press but couldn’t find a way through and Ireland had pulled off a shock win.
The other game in Group E saw a clash of styles with Mexico taking on Norway in Washington. Mexico had a skilful team with attacking midfielder Luis Garcia a potent creative talent and an elite goalkeeper in Jorge Campos. Norway playing their first World Cup since 1938 had a direct team who’d surprisingly finishing top of a qualifying group featuring Holland and England. Henning Berg lead a tough defence whilst Oyvind Leonhardsen offered guile in midfield.
Veteran striker Hugo Sanchez forced a good early save from Erik Thorstvedt whilst Norway had a goal ruled out for a foul on Campos. The second half seemed to be edging Mexico’s way with Sanchez going close with a bicycle kick and Thorsvedt making two brilliant stops for Norway. In the 84th minute Jan Age Fjortoft played in substitute Kjetil Rekdal who found the corner of the net in 1-0 smash and grab win.
Ireland faced Mexico in the searing midday heat of Orlando. The conditions didn’t suit Ireland’s high pressing style and allowed Mexico to play the game at their pace. On 42 minutes Carlos Hermosillo played a clever ball into the path of Garcia who unleashed an unstoppable shot to give Mexico the lead. Mexico continued to dominate the ball and on 65 minutes Garcia hit another rocket from the edge of the Irish box for 2-0. Charlton immediately made a double substitution but confusion on the touchline with a FIFA official lead to a blazing row, John Aldridge was delayed getting on the pitch and gave a sweary response to the besuited man from FIFA- the whole potty mouthed tirade picked up by pitch side cameras and transmitted live around the world. When he eventually got on Aldridge hit an 83rd minute header to reduce the arrears to 2-1 but Mexico hung on.
Opening day defeat was a major shock to Italy. Now under the stewardship of revered coach Arrigo Sacchi Italy’s defence was marshalled by legendary trio Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Costacurta. Dino Baggio was an all action midfielder alongside the silky passing skills of Demetrio Albertini, the star however was Ballon d’Or holder Roberto Baggio.
Italy had to beat Norway in their second game and dominated the early exchanges. Then on 22 minutes Norway broke forward, Pagliuca came tearing out of his penalty area and handballed, the referee issued a red card. Sacchi had to sacrifice an outfield player to bring on reserve ‘keeper Luca Marchegiani and incredibly took off Roberto Baggio. The gamble was huge with knives being sharpened in the Italian press the campaign hung on this call. Italy’s fabled defence held Norway in check but early in the second half things got even worse for Italy when Baresi limped off. On 69 minutes with the game deadlocked and Italy desperate for a goal, Sacchi played his last card bringing on striker Daniel Massaro as Italy prepared to take a free-kick. Controversially it was a like for like switch for Pierluigi Casiraghi rather than an extra forward. From the free-kick Giuseppe Signori whipped in a cross and Dino Baggio hit a powerful header, 1-0 Italy. Able to play a 4-4-1 Italy controlled the remainder of the game and saw out the dramatic win to keep their campaign alive.
Going into the final games Group E was was all square with each team on three points but Mexico and Ireland had the edge on two goals scored to Norway and Italy’s one. Italy faced Mexico in Washington with Roberto Baggio restored but Baresi still absent. Ireland were back at Giants Stadium to face Norway but with Charlton banned from the touchline.
Italy had the better of a tense first half but Campos wearing a migraine inducing jersey kept Mexico level at halftime. Over in New York, Norway and Ireland mustered few opportunities and also went in 0-0 at the break.
For the second half Sacchi again switched Casiraghi for Massaro, three minutes in Albertini’s pass split the Mexico defence and Massaro slotted home to give Italy a vital goal. Now Mexico were going out as Italy tried to turn the screw with Massaro going close to a second. Dino Baggio thought he should have had a penalty on 56 minutes but the appeal was waved away, 50 seconds later Mexico’s Marcelino Bernal hit a rasping drive from the edge of the box and Mexico were level. Now both teams were going through but Italy showed the greater intent as it finished 1-1.
Meanwhile in New York Norway needed a goal with winger Jostein Flo a threat. As the minutes ticked down Norway had to gamble with Berg going close but Jason McAteer’s pace gave Ireland an outlet. Norway couldn’t muster a goal and Ireland were going through with Mexico winning the group and Italy scrapping through in third place, Norway were heading home.
Dumitrescu Downs Argentina
Argentina faced Romania at The Rose Bowel with Ariel Ortega in the Maradona role. The game got off to an electric start with Abel Balbo almost giving Argentina the lead, but on 11 minutes Ilie Dumitrescu deceived Luis Islas by arrowing in a free-kick from the left for 1-0. Five minutes later Argentina hit back with Batistuta winning and converting a penalty. Romania responded with Hagi’s brilliant disguised pass putting Dumitrescu through to slot in an elegant finish for 2-1. Romania had the better chances of an end to end half but couldn’t add to their lead before the break.
Argentina charged out at the start of the second half with Batistuta going close, but Dumitrescu continued to be a thorn in their side. On 58 minutes Dumitrescu held the ball up on the counter-attack and smartly played in Hagi who blasted home for 3-1. Argentina went for broke and finally got a lucky break when Florin Prunea spilled Fernando Caceres’ free-kick and Abel Balbo knocked in the rebound for 3-2. With 15 minutes to play Argentina renewed their assault but struggled to create clear-cut chances and Romania hung on for the greatest ever win.
Bebeto Shatter American Dream
In making the knockout phase The United States were playing with the houses money and had the dream tie; Brazil. Brazil dominated possession but were caught napping at a free-kick by Thomas Dooley whose square-ball was almost turned in by Lalas. At the other end Marcio Santos couldn’t quite get on the end of a glorious chance and Bebeto hit a spectacular volley just wide as Brazil pressed for the opener. The temperature rocketed just before halftime when Leonardo wildly swing his elbow at Ramos and was shown a red card, Brazil would have to play 47 minutes with ten. With the last kick of the half Romario smashed the post as Brazil headed to the dressing room to clear their heads.
Even a man down Brazil continued to dominate the ball and Romario went through again only to be denied by Dooley’s clearance. Romario then rounded Meola but took the ball too far wide and couldn’t get his shot on target. The crowd’s hopes rose whenever the US attacked but a set piece always looked their best hope of a goal. On 72 minutes Romario again teased the US defenders and played through Bebeto whose diagonal shot finally beat Meola and gave Brazil the lead. The US had to go forward and Romario was a constant threat on the break, on 86 minutes he tempted Fernando Calvijo into a clumsy challenge and the US were also down to ten men. Brazil saw out the bad tempered clash and were through 1-0.
The remaining Concacaf team were Mexico who faced Bulgaria in New York. Stoichkov gave Bulgaria the lead on six minutes with a brilliant hit from a demon quick counter. Twelve minutes later Mexico drew level when Luis Alves was obstructed in the box and Alberto Garcia Aspe put away the resultant penalty. The game got feisty early in the second half with Emil Kremenliev seeing red for Bulgaria, followed seven minutes later by Garcia. The game remained deadlocked and went to penalties. Aspe was first up and this time blazed over the bar. Campos came to Mexico’s rescue with a fingertip save from Balakov but Bernal’s weak shot was saved by Mihaylov. Boncho Genchev finally put the ball in the net to give Bulgaria the edge and Mihaylov saved again to put them clear, Bulgaria’s fourth kick from Letchkov sealed the tie.
Cometh The Hour, Cometh The Ponytail
The most intriguing tie of the round saw the exciting Nigerians take on Baggio and Italy. The game came to life in the 25th minute when George’s corner found Amunike who was allowed two bites at the cherry and smashed in to give Nigeria the lead. Eight minute slater Italy had a good penalty claim turned away when Baggio appeared to be brought down, and it remained 0-1 at halftime.
Italy were again in deep trouble but in the second half were struggling to create chances, twice trying to buy penalties as Nigeria wobbled but held. On 75 minutes Italian frustrations boiled over when substitute Ginafranco Zola tried to claim another free-kick and referee Clemens Westerhof sent him off. Italy’s hopes dangled by a thread but with the minutes ticking down the Nigerians were becoming conservative. With two minutes to go defender Roberto Mussi found himself breaking forward and cleverly found Baggio on the edge of the box who hit a perfect strike into the bottom corner to rescue Italy.
Despite their numerical disadvantage Italy looked rejuvenated in extra time, but Nigeria kept coming and Rashidi Yekini found himself one on one with the goalkeeper but Marchegiani kept him at bay. In the 100th minute Antonio Benarrivo was bundled over in the box and Italy fianlly had a penalty, Baggio converting. Nigeria weren’t done yet and Yekini had the goal at his mercy but Dino Baggio cleared and Italy had survived.
Elsewhere the second round proved fruitful for European contenders. Dark horses Sweden took on surprise package Saudi Arabia in Dallas. In the sixth minute Andersson crossed and Dahlin yet again was on hand with a bullet header to set the Swedes on their way. Six minutes into the seocnd half Andersson made a mazy run and unleashed a clinical strike from distance for 2-0. Saudi Arabia continued to play attractive football and got a lifeline five minutes from the end with a rocket of a strike from Fayed Al-Ghesheyan. It was however Andersson’s day when Brolin and Dahlin exchanged passes and the in-form forward hit a fine strike into the the corner for 3-1.
Spain showed their class against Switzerland. After the Swiss had made the better start Hierro went bombing through their midfield, played a one-two and cooly slotted away on 15 minutes. Spain made sure of the win on 74 minutes when Sergei dribbled forward and picked out Luis Enrique who hit the second. In the closing minutes Spain won a penalty which substitute Txiki Bergiristain put away for a comprehensive 3-0 win.
Netherlands had looked uncertain in the group but found their range against familiar foes Ireland. On 11 minutes Overmars raced down the right and crossed for Bergkamp to finish and give the Dutch the lead. Just before halftime the killer blow was struck, Jonk drove through midfield and hit a long range effort that should have been a routine save for Packie Bonner but the ‘keeper spilled it and the ball bobbled in for 2-0. In the second half Houghton went close for the Irish but the Dutch maintained control and looked the more likely to add to their tally as they cruised to a 2-0 win and a date with Brazil.
Holders Germany had been unconvincing in the first round and Vogts recalled 34-year-old Rudi Voller to the starting lineup against Belgium. It took just six minutes for the decision to be vindicated with Voller slotting home. Within two minutes Belgium were level when Georges Grun won the ball from a free-kick and smashed in. On eleven minutes in was 2-1 when Voller linked with Klinsmann who found a polished finish. Voller then made it 3-1 with a poachers finish from Häßler. Belgium refused to go quietly, Weber should have been awarded a penalty but the referee waved play on. In injury time a moment of quality from Albert saw the Belgian defender slip a challenge and angle past Illgner for 3-2 but Germany were through.
Double Baggio Brilliance
Italy faced Spain in an ill-tempered quarter-final. Italy went ahead with a screamer from Dino Baggio in the 25th minute. Spain continued to play their patient passing game and on 58 minutes Luis Enrique won possession and played in Jose Caminero who smashed in the equaliser. Spain appeared to be in the ascendancy and as the game headed towards full-time Salinas missed a gilt-edged chance. Two minutes from time Nicola Berti played through Signori who squared to Roberto Baggio, he rounded Zubizarreta and calmly finished to put Italy ahead. Tempers flared in injury time when Luis Enrique went in for a cross, Italy’s Mauro Tassotti flung an elbow and broke Enrique’s nose. A brawl erupted but the referee had missed the offence and Italy were through, but Tassotti’s tournament was over when FIFA issued a retrospective eight game ban.
Baby Blues Overcomes the Dutch
The tie of the the round saw Brazil face Netherlands in Dallas. With Leonardo suspended Parreira brought back veteran left-back Branco. The first half proved cautious with Marcio Santos going close with a header from a 41st minute corner.
Brazil upped the tempo after half time and on 53 minutes Bebeto’s cross was slotted home by Romario for 1-0. Bebeto clipped the post as Brazil turned the screw. On 63 minutes Bebeto beat the offside trap as the Dutch waited for flag that never came rounded the ‘keeper for 2-0, and the new Dad celebrated his goal with the iconic baby rocking celebration.
The Dutch needed inspiration an it duly arrived from Bergkamp who chased down a forward ball and his quick feet beat Santos to make it 2-1. The Dutch now had the edge with Jonk and Aron Winter forcing smart stops from Taffarel. On 76 minutes the pressure told, an Overmars corner was powered home by Winter for 2-2 and the Brazilians were on the ropes. Branco took the fight forward and bought a free-kick, he lined it up from 25 yards and arrowed the ball into the bottom corner for 3-2, his recall justified and Brazil had survived a huge scare.
Letchkov Dumps out Germany
Few expected similar thrills when Germany faced unfancied Bulgaria. However Bulgaria’s ambitious play gave Germany early jitters with Letchkov orchestrating from midfield and Balakov hitting the post. Germany settled and Klinsmann forced a point blank save from Mihaylov. Two minutes into the second half Klinsmann’s clever turn forced Letchkov to bring him down and Matthaus put away the spot kick.
Everything seemed to be going to script with Germany keeping Bulgaria at arms length, whilst at the other end Voller thought he’d sealed the win but his strike was correctly ruled out for offside. Stoichkov had been quiet but with 15 minutes to go he won a free-kick, he fired in from the right to equalise with Illgner rooted to the spot. Bulgaria suddenly had a spring in their step, from a throw in Zlatko Yankov picked up the ball and hit a cross, Letchkov got in front of Häßler and powered in a brilliant header to complete the turnaround in three chaotic minutes. Germany threw everything into a last desperate surge forward but Mihaylov held firm and Bulgaria were in the last four.
Late Show in Stanford
Sweden’s clash with Romania had the makings of a thriller between two high scoring teams. Yet the game proved a slow burner with few clear cut chances in the first hour. Sweden gradually got on top and 12 minutes from time a clever free-kick routine put Brolin through to smash in the opener. With two minutes left Hagi drilled in a free-kick which took a deflection and found its way to Raducioiu who flicked in the equaliser and the game went to extra-time.
Sweden made most of the running but on 101 minutes confusion in the Swedish backline left Raducioiu free and he lashed in from the edge of the box for 1-2. Seconds later the Swedes suffered another huge blow when Schwarz was forced into a foul and picked up his second booking. Romania just had to see out 19 minutes against ten men to progress and Hagi’s free-kick almost sealed it. Sweden were reduced to hopeful balls forward and yet with five minutes to go a deep cross found Andersson with Prunea in no mans land and his header made it 2-2. Incredibly Sweden almost won it at the death with Larsson momentarily facing an open goal but Romania scrambled clear and it went to penalties. Hakan Mild missed the opener for Sweden as Romania knocked in their first three to hold the edge. However Petrescu’s fourth kick was saved by Thomas Ravelli to level and both teams knocked in their fifth kicks to force the first ever World Cup sudden death. Larsson scored for Sweden but Mirodrag Belodedici fired too close to Ravelli and Sweden were through.
Headliners head to Hollywood
Two longstanding heavyweights faced two unfamiliar names in the semi-finals. Having already taken down Germany and France, Bulgaria arrived in New York hoping to add Italy to their list of scalps. Baggio had other ideas, on 21 minutes he collected the ball from a throw, rode two challenges and hammered home for 1-0. Bulgaria were under siege and Italy struck the post before Baggio collected Albertini’s through-ball and blasted across Mihaylov for 2-0 on 25 minutes. Just before halftime Bulgaria got a much needed tonic when Sirakov was felled and Stoichkov put away the penalty for 2-1.
Italy held Bulgaria at arms length in the second half but on 71 minutes disaster struck when Baggio pulled up with a hamstring injury. Italy saw the game out but joy was tempered with the fear their talisman might miss the final.
Brazil faced a Sweden team who’d held them to a draw in the group. Sweden were without the influential Schwarz in midfield and Brazil dominated possession. Zinho missed an early chance and Romario had a chance cleared off the line by Patrick Andersson as Sweden held out. In the second half Ravelli continued his defiant stand saving brilliantly from Bebeto and Romario. On 63 minutes Thern was red carded and Dahlin substituted in the reshuffle taking away much of Sweden’s threat on the counter. Swedish resistance finally broke on 80 minutes when Jorginho’s cross was headed in by Romario to send Brazil to the final. Sweden’s impressive run ended with a resounding 4-0 win over Bulgaria in the third placed palyoff with Stoichkov’s six goals meaning he shared the golden boot with Salenko.
Brazil faced Italy with both hoping to become the first nation to win four World Cups. The 1970 and ’82 encounters between the two had been classics raising hopes of a thrilling final to wash away the memory of the awful 1990 final. Baggio was patched up and named in the starting lineup as the game kicked off at the Rose Bowl. It was clear from the start that Baggio was only half fit and Italy lacked penetration without him. The teams traded early blows with Romario and Massaro going close at either end whilst Brazil were forced into an early change with Jorginho injured and Cafu entering the fray.
The game turned into a chess match with chances at a premium with Brazil edging it on points but failing to score, the match inevitably went to extra time. Romario almost broke the deadlock and Baggio went close but to no avail, for the first time a World Cup Final would go to penalties.
The shoot out started with Baresi firing over but Italy won an immediate reprieve when Pagliuca saved from Santos. Albertini scored, Romario then flicked his shot onto the post but was relieved to see the deflection fly in for 1-1. Alberico Evani and Branco put the third round of penalties away, but Massaro hit too close to Taffarel to give Brazil the edge, Dunga powered his kick into the corner for 3-2, Italy would need to score with their final spot-kick to stay alive. Up stepped Baggio but the player of the tournament skyed his effort and Brazil were champions. Pele lead Brazilian celebrations in the stands and the Brazilian players unveiled a tribute to late F-1 legend Ayrton Senna as Dunga received the trophy in the Pasadena sunshine.
Despite the dour final, USA ’94 did provide more attacking football than Italia’90 and the huge crowds did begin to popularise the game in North America. The likes of Romario, Hagi, Bergkamp and Stoichkov provided the thrills, but Baggio was undoubtedly the star turn his Hollywood ending ruined by the most infamous penalty miss in tournament history. Baggio’s brilliance rivalled Maradona’s eight years earlier but inevitably his closing penalty will always be remembered alongside the opening ceremony howler. USA ’94 didn’t quite live up to the classics of the past but it did light the fire for the game stateside and re-established Brazil as the games’ perennial favourite.
Team of the tournament (unofficial): Preud-Homme (Belgium)- Jorginho (Brazil), Marcio Santos (Brazil), Koeman (Netherlands), Maldini (Italy)- Dunga (Brazil), Hagi (Romania), Brolin (Sweden)- Baggio (Italy), Stoichkov (Bulgaria), Romario (Brazil)