World Cup 1994

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  • Story of USA '94

        Many people were sceptical when FIFA made the ground-breaking decision of holding its monster event in a country foreign to football.. uh soccer. Pessimists predicted half empty stadiums during the tournament, but USA '94 turned out to be the most successful cup in history attendance-wise with nearly 70,000 spectators in average per game. These fans witnessed the re-birth of attacking football in the World Cup. The defensive play of Italia '90 was soon forgotten as the action unfolded in the US. The newly invented backpass rule was an instant success and basically forced defenders to look for forward movement on the ball instead of knocking it between eachother in the backline and home to the keeper who could safely pick it up with his hands and waste time. The rule-change contributed a great deal in making USA '94 a much more entertaining tournament than Italia '90. A vast number of teams played football that will linger in the memory of World Cup fanatics.

        The opening match of every World Cup is seldom a highlight and USA '94 followed a well-known pattern in that matter. Germany beat Bolivia 1-0 following President Clinton's opening speech. Klinsmann scored one of his five goals in this World Cup for a German team that looked tired and lacked new blood. Matthäus was now libero and old hero Völler was called back to action when younger forwards failed to deliver alongside Klinsmann. Berti Vogts' team lacked sparkle. They almost wasted a solid 3-0 lead to South Korea and lost to Bulgaria in the quarterfinal having been 1-0 in front. Germany would not reach a fourth consecutive final and Klinsmann - the only veteran playing up to his full standards - left the World Cup in tears.

        Brazil were back as usual, but had lost their first ever qualifying match against Bolivia and people wondered whether this edition was any stronger than the team who disappointed in Italy four years earlier. Romario led the attack in America partnered by Bebeto and these two players showed early on that Brazil had serious ambitions of ending their 24 year long titledrought since Mexico 1970. This Brazil was a much more "European" Brazil than ever. More defensive minded players in midfield, better organization and solid centerbacks mixed with more traditional Brazilian flying full-backs like Jorginho and Leonardo. This team was going to be very hard to beat. As it turned out only the Netherlands managed to fully stretch Parreira's men when they came from two goals down to equalize in the quarterfinal. A spectacular Branco free-kick goal gave Brazil a famous 3-2 win. The following two games, Sweden in the semifinal and Italy in the final, were very one-sided affairs. Brazil looked winners all the way and when Roberto Baggio missed his penalty in the shoot-out after a goalless draw, the fans could start celebrating Brazil's first World Cup triumph in nearly a quarter of a century.

        Italy had struggled throughout the tournament and their place in the final was a great reward in itself. Roberto Baggio saved the team in every game during the knock-out stage making up for his disappointing groupstage performances. Arrigo Sacchi's men lost to Ireland in the first match and had captain Franco Baresi injured against Norway in the second game after goalkeeper Pagliuca was sent off. Dino Baggio managed to score the important winner against Norway which kept Italy in the tournament. A freakish finale to this group saw all teams end on same points and goaldifference. Norway eliminated on least goals scored.

        More luck for Norway's neighbours Sweden who really shone in the US after the fiasco in Italy four years earlier. Dahlin, Brolin and Andersson led Sweden's attack which was the most efficient in the tournament. A 4-0 demolishion of Bulgaria gave Sweden well-deserved bronzemedals. Bulgaria had experienced a fair share of glory themselves before that humiliating bronzematch. Both finalists from 1990 - Argentina and Germany - had been beaten by Stoitchov, Letchkov and their teammates. Who would have thought that after their lacklustre 3-0 defeat to Nigeria in the first match? Stoitchkov in particular was impressive and was alongside Baggio and Romario the best player of the tournament. His six goals made him joint topscorer. His most memorable goal was the beautiful bending free-kick against Germany.

        Stoitchkov shared that topscorer's title with Oleg Salenko of Russia who made history scoring five of his six goals in one match against Cameroon. Sadly for him, it wasn't enough to stay in the tournament. Another goalscorer who made history in that game was Roger Milla. Cameroon's 42-year old supersub became the oldest ever player and goalscorer when he netted Cameroon's consolation goal in their 6-1 defeat. A few days earlier Rigobert Song, only 17, was sent off for a wreckless tackle on Brazil's Bebeto and became the youngest ever player to receive a red card. The Indomitable Lions looked toothless and nowhere near the side that impressed so much in Italy. Africa's torch was instead carried by Nigeria who had Italy in their grasp for 89 minutes in the second round before Roberto Baggio woke up and scored twice after sleep-walking through the groupstage.

        Nigeria surprisingly topped Argentina's group. Maradona was back again as playmaker for Argentina and looked impressive in the first two games before failing the drugtest. Argentina, with an impressive line-up including Batistuta, Caniggia and Redondo, failed to function without their old master and fell apart with two defeats in a row and bowed out against Romania in the second round.

        That match was one of the best in recent World Cup history and symbolized the optimistic atmosphere and attacking will of the 1994 World Cup. Gheorghe Hagi reached the zenith of his career this summer and was the heart and soul of Romania's team. He scored a goal in the 3-2 win over Argentina, but his goal against Colombia from long range will always be the most classic. Another classic goal scored in this World Cup was by Saeed Owairan of Saudi Arabia against Belgium when he got past five players on a counter-attack to score the winner that sent the Saudis, against all odds, to the second round. Saudi Arabia thus became the first Asian team to reach the knock-out stage of the World Cup since North Korea in 1966.

        Seven out of eight quarterfinalists were European. This was especially strong knowing that England, France and European Champions Denmark didn't even qualify. Colombia was the big disappointment of USA '94. They were hyped up big time before the cup, even by Pelé, much thanks to the 5-0 demolishion of Argentina in Buenos Aires, but Valderrama & Co couldn't deliver the goods on the field even if they were handed a favourable first round group. Despite big European representation in the latter stages, the trophy stayed in the Americas with Brazil. The hosts had their big day when playing the eventual winners on 4th of July. Prior to that Team USA had already achieved their primary goal of advancing from the groupstage thus avoiding being the first host ever to be eliminated in the first round.





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