Classic Azzurri Matches – Italy Vs Brazil 1994
On Sunday, July 17, 1994, Italy suffered one of the most high-profile and most heartbreaking defeats in their history, losing out to Brazil on penalties in the World Cup final in front of a crowd of 94,194 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
The World Cup in 1994 was a record-breaking tournament on many levels. This is particularly impressive considering football or soccer, was a sport that was somewhat alien to most Americans.
Attendances averaged almost 69,000 per game while the final was the first ever game of that magnitude to be decided by a penalty shootout. Quite fitting that the opening ceremony is remembered for Diana Ross scuffing a penalty wide.
Arrigo Sacchi’s men progressed from the group stage in unconvincing fashion. Defeat at the hands of the Republic of Ireland, before beating Norway, as well as a 1-1 draw with Mexico was enough to see them through. All four teams in Group E finished with four points and the Italians only made it through to the knock-out stage on account of having scored one more than Norway.
It was at this point that Roberto Baggio, the reigning FIFA World Player Of The Year, came to life.
With his side showing no improvement to their poor group stage form, the Juventus forward saved the day with an 88th-minute equaliser as they trailed 1-0 to Nigeria in the round of 16 and proceeded to win the match with a penalty in extra time.
Another last-gasp goal followed in the quarter-final. This time, clinching victory over Spain and it was evident by this stage that without the 27-year-old the Azzurri would already be on their way home.
The semi-final put this notion beyond any doubt as Baggio bagged both goals in a 2-1 win over Bulgaria to send Italy through to their fifth World Cup final.
Rather contrastingly, Brazil’s route to the final was straightforward and stylish as they easily topped their group with seven points before beating the United States, the Netherlands and Sweden to set up the showdown with Italy, which was coincidentally a repeat of the 1970 final.
If Italy’s attacking prowess was a one-man show, then Brazil’s was very much a two-man operation as Romario and Bebeto ran amok on opposition defences. Romario, who went on to win the player of the tournament award, scored five goals in total while his partner in crime pitched in with three.
And so the scene was set – Europe vs South America; Arrigo Sacchi vs Carlos Alberto Parreira; Baggio vs Romario; Brazil’s attacking flair vs a defensive partnership of Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini.
For additional narrative, both sides were aiming for their fourth World Cup triumph to become the tournament’s most successful nation of all time.
The match failed to live up to expectations and after 120 minutes the teams could not be separated. As a result, the World Cup would be decided on penalties, for the first time since its inauguration.
Italy captain Baresi sent his kick sailing over the bar to get his side off to the worst possible start, but this was cancelled out immediately when Gianluca Pagliuca saved Marcio Santos’ effort.
Things remained on an even keel for the next two penalties each as Demetrio Albertini and Alberigo Evani for the Azzurri, and Romario and Branco for Brazil made no mistake with their spot-kicks.
Claudio Taffarel saved Daniele Massaro’s kick low to his left and Brazilian captain Dunga stepped up to capitalize and gave his side a 3-2 lead.
With the Azzurri’s next kick being vital, who better to step up than golden boy, Roberto Baggio?
With the weight of a nation’s expectations on his shoulders, Baggio placed the ball on the spot, walked backwards until he was outside the penalty area, waited for the referee’s whistle and began his run-up.
With the noise of 94,194 screaming supporters in his ears, one of the world’s best goalkeepers in front of him and the consequences that this one kick of the ball could have, one can only imagine what was going through his head – perhaps he had the World Cup trophy in mind and was humming the Diana Ross classic ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.’
As it turned out, no mountain would have been high enough to stop Baggio’s kick as he blasted the ball over the bar in a similar fashion to Baresi.
With the world’s best player staring into the ground dejected, the Brazilian squad celebrated their fourth World Cup, leaving their opponents stranded on three.
As if Baggio hadn’t suffered enough, Romario compounded matters by going on to win the 1994 World Player Of The Year award just to confirm the fact that 1994 really was Brazil’s year, rather than the Azzurri’s.
Never would Baggio have imagined he would emulate the former member of The Supremes, but as he stared into the ground forlornly after missing the decisive penalty he may have welcomed hearing ‘I Will Survive.’
Of course, that song was still two years from being released but perhaps we now know the inspiration for it.