Friday, April 16, 2010

Greatest World Cup matches: Brazil-Italy (1994)

The 1994 World Cup in the USA was a strange world cup: on the one hand it meant a rebirth of football in the sense of a wider commercialization as ever seen before, and the fans (who in USA showed a new friendler side) responded by showing a friendlier and more partying side. At the same time, some events put a dark shadow over the world party, notably the murder of the Colombian player Andrés Escobar after scoring an own-goal against the USA that eliminated Colombia, but also the entire scandal about the ever-controversial Diego Maradona, who scoring against Greece in his opening match, was suddenly tested positive for ephedrine, an astma medicine that was not even considered an illegal substance by the IOC, and banned from the tournament effectively eliminating a splendidly playing Argentinean side.
On the pitch new rules had been introduced that (more or less) successfully called for more attacking football: a relaxing of the off-side rule, the ban on the goalkeeper picking up the ball when passed from a team-mate, and the introduction of 3 points for a victory instead of 2.
All these things surely contributed to more goals and exciting matches than the meagre 1990 World Cup. Also, as some giants like England and France failed to qualify, some new countries stepped in, notably Bulgaria and Sweden, who both made it to the semifinal.
That said, the quality of football itself seemed to decay: there were many mediocre matches, and it seemed that ultimately even new rules could not change the fact that the two World cup giants of Italy and Brazil were to face one another in the final, after playing a defensive and robotic style of football the entire tournament.
Italy had started the tournament rather weakly: in their first match they had lost 1-0 to Ireland. In the second match the Italians had defeated Norway 1-0, and 1-1 in their last match against Mexico had been just enough to let them through to the last-16 on one of the best third places that this was the last tournament to play with.
In the last-16 Italy was up against the African debutants from Nigeria, who had sensationally won their group ahead of Bulgaria and Argentina. The Nigerians were leading 1-0 until two minutes before time when Roberto Baggio from Juventus had levelled the match for the Italians, and in extra time he scored on a penalty to give the Italians the place in the quarter-final against Spain in Boston, Massachussetts.
Roberto Baggio, the clear-eyed calm Buddhist, was one of the most extraordinary players ever to come from Italy. With his extraordinary skills and overview of the game, he was to become the star for the Italian side in 1994: in the quarter-final against Spain he scored a beautiful goal to give Italy the victory when they were most pressed by the Spaniards, and in the semifinal he scored both goals in Italy’s 2-1 victory against Bulgaria. The expectations to Roberto Baggio were huge before the final against Brazil as he had been the machine of the Italian team.
Although Brazil had entered the tournament as favourites, they had not been the kind of Brazilian team that everyone loved to watch: after the debacle in the 1990 World Cup and 24 years without victory the coach Carlos Alberto Parreira had focused more on a tactical and physical style of play where the defence was in focus. That said, Brazil had some awesome offensive power with FC Barcelona’s Romario, the most extraordinary striker of the 1990s, and Deportivo La Coruña’s Bebeto, who were surely the most awesome strikers’ duo in the tournament. Still, the brazilians didn’t score that many goals in spite of their good first round with 2-0 and 3-0 victories against Russia and Cameroon respectively and a 1-1 tie against Sweden, that gave them the first place in the group.
In the last-16 the Brazilians narrowly defeated the US hosts 1-0. In the following quarter-final Brazil played the best match of the tournament against a strong Dutch side that was defeated 3-2 on goals by Romario, Bebeto and Branco. In the semifinal the Brazilians were again up against Sweden, and the Scandinavians were defeated 1-0 on a goal by Romario.
Brazil were in their first World Cup final since 1970, and this largely silenced the many critics of the team that was being accused of not playing the style that Brazil was known for.
Italy against Brazil – one of the most classical matches in world cup football and a repeat of the 1970 final – was to be played in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena as the entire world looked on with great expectations.
The match between two countries that were contending to become four-times world champions, was a huge disappointment. Both teams struggled for control of the midfield, with none really gaining control. And although there were some chances, there was no really great opportunity for either team, except for a free run for the AC Milan striker Daniele Massaro in the first half that was excellently saved by the Brazilian goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel, and only fifteen minutes from the end of the match Brazil hit the post when Pagliuca clumsily mishandled a shot from Mauro Silva that nearly cost Italy the match (and famously thanked the post).
In extra time the goalless draw continued, although Pagliuca made yet another dreadful mistake that left Bebeto with a completely open goal, that he nevertheless missed. Also, Taffarel made an excellent save on a long-range effort by Roberto Baggio.
Still, except for Pagliuca’s mistakes, both teams were standing solidly in defence and it seemed very true what the Italian coach Arrigo Sacchi said after the match: “We could have played all day and there would have been no goals.”
It was the first goalless draw in a World Cup final ever.
And it was thus also the first world cup title to be decided on penalty kicks.
Claudio Taffarel, playing in the Italian Reggiana, was an often criticized goalkeeper, but truth is that he was one of the most stable goalkeepers Brazil had ever created. He played with enormous success later in Galatasaray (he was man-of-the-match in their UEFA cup final victory against Arsenal in 2000) and is still the most capped goalkeeper on the Brazilian national team (101).
And besides his stability, Taffarel was considered an expert at reading out penalty kick takers. In previous tournaments he had saved many penalties, and in this tournament he had saved two penalties in the semifinal against the Netherlands.
The first to kick was AC Milans veteran defender Franco Baresi. He had played an extraordinary match in defence in spite of an injury, but at the moment of kicking, he was unable to keep his nerve, and shot the ball far over the goal. But when Mauro Silva shot directly on Pagliuca for the following kick, the match was still 0-0.
At the score 2-2, Daniele Massaro’s shot was saved by Taffarel, and then the Brazilian captain Dunga scored for 3-2 for Brazil. The next kick, by Italy’s superstar, Roberto Baggio was crucial, since Baggio had to score, and then the Italians had to hope Brazil would not score on their last kick.
Roberto Baggio shot far over the goal, and last missed kick of the tournament was what made Brazil World Champion for the 4th time. It was surely the most memorable moment of the match.
Roberto Baggio’s tears are probably more remembered than the Brazilian celebrations, as this great and fair player had missed at the most important moment, although he was also the one to be credited for Italy getting this far.

Match Stats:
  • 17th July, 1994 Rose Bowl, Pasadena
  • Attendance: 94,194
  • Referee: Sandor Puhl (Hungary)
Brazil-Italy 0-0 (after extra time)

Penalty kicks:
Brazil-Italy 3-2
  • Baresi missed for Italy
  • Marcio Santos missed for Brazil
  • 0-1 Albertini
  • 1-1 Romario
  • 1-2 Evani
  • 2-2 Branco
  • Massaro missed for Italy
  • 3-2 Dunga
  • R. Baggio missed for Italy
Teams:
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

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

hi Erik,

I hope you enjoy writing these "match reports", as much as we enjoy reading them. Excellent!
/jim

El Erik said...

Thanks Jim! Indeed, I am loving nerding around in the research and writing of them. I am almost done with them, the "50 greatest", but might continue with the ones that "almost" made the list...