With World Cup 2014 to start June 12, The National staff looks back at the most memorable tournaments in a weekly series that will take us up to the kick off in Brazil. First up, Graham Caygill and USA ‘94.
As Roberto Baggio strode from the centre circle to the penalty area and placed the ball on the spot for Italy in the World Cup final shoot-out against Brazil at the Rose Bowl, in Pasadena, California, English television commentator Barry Davies summed things up rather nicely.
“All the pressure now on Roberto Baggio, who has to score,” he said. “The man who really has brought a team to the final, now has to save them.”
Unfortunately for the 27-year-old striker, and Italy, he could not do it. He skied his effort over the bar and was left a forlorn figure as Brazilian players and coaching staff ran onto the field to celebrate with goalkeeper Taffarel.
Just as an entertaining and unpredictable tournament did not deserve a shoot-out for its finale, neither did Baggio deserve this climax.
Five goals does not do his role in Italy’s run to the final justice.
He was everywhere.
He led the line in attack when he needed to, and he dropped deep to support the midfield when they were struggling. Ultimately, he was the inspiration of the team.
He, like Italy, had a slow start to the tournament. Italy only made it through the group stages on goal difference.
From there he and his famous ponytail stepped up as Baggio began a run of scoring important goals to keep his side going.
He netted a late equaliser against Nigeria, scored the winner from the penalty spot in extra time in the second round, and struck in the 88th minute to win the quarter-final tie against Spain 2-1.
The semi-final victory against Bulgaria was appropriate as it had put Baggio up against Hristo Stoichkov, arguably the other player to inspire a side to over achieve. But it was Baggio who came out on top, scoring both of Italy’s goals in the 2-1 victory.
His first was superb. He was quick to react to a throw-in and had turned the Bulgarian defender marking him before the ball had bounced twice, then skipped past another challenge before putting a sublime, curling finish into the corner of the net.
Baggio scored goals at the 1990 and 1998 finals, too, but inspiring Italy to within a shoot-out of being world champions is the legacy he deserves to be remembered for, not the man who missed the decisive spot kick in the final.
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