We are now halfway through our series of the Top Ten Iconic Moments in International Football. At number five is:
Roberto Baggio’s penalty miss, Final, Brazil v Italy, 1994 FIFA World Cup Final
The 1994 World Cup was known for surprises, shocks and shoot-outs: no less than three penalty shoot-outs took place in the knockout stages of the World Cup.
This was the first World Cup to be held in the United States, and for two months, ‘soccerball’ was on the lips of a nation to whom the only major sports were basketball, hockey and a sport dominated by helmets and shoulder and knee-pads (no, not cricket) to which the Americans lent the term ‘football’.
The group stages of the World Cup will always be known for the ignominious dismissal of Argentine superstar Diego Maradona, who was banned from international football after testing positive for a banned substance.
For Italy, however, the group stages will be remembered for getting through to the knockout stages by skin of their teeth. Placed in Group E along with the Republic of Ireland, Norway and Mexico, all four teams had scored as many as they had conceded and all four of them were locked on four points.
Italy finished third, behind Ireland and Mexico, and finished fourth amongst the six third-placed teams in the competition, four of which would go through to the knockout stages to join the 12 that had already qualified.
But Italy began to hit their stride once they’d gotten past the group stages, courtesy Roberto ‘the divine ponytail’ Baggio.
Despite going into the tournament nursing an Achilles injury, Baggio was the cornerstone around which the Azzuri was built. Given the number ten, he scored five goals in the knockout stages: two apiece against Nigeria (Round of 16) and Bulgaria (semi-finals) and one against Spain in the quarters to face the world-renowned Brazil side which, like the Italians, had won three World Cups .
Ninety minutes of goalless football and a half hour of extra time saw Mazinho, Bebeto, Dunga and Robinho’s Jogo Bonito cancelled out by the Catenaccio of Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Roberto Donadoni and Baggio to take the game to penalties.
Referee Sandor Puhl had elected that the penalties would be taken the Brazilian end, and while both Marco Santos and Baresi missed their opening penalties, Dunga, Branco and Romario all converted, while Daniele Massaro missed one of the subsequent three penalties for Italy.
Up stepped Roberto Baggio, knowing he had to add to Demetrio Albertini’s and Alberigo Evani’s spot-kicks to give Italy a chance at winning their fourth World Cup.
With the entire footballing world watching, Baggio stepped forward, only to see his penalty go over the bar and into row Z.
Italy had lost the World Cup in the cruellest way possible and Brazil would go on to rewrite history.
Brazil made history by surpassing Germany as the most successful nation to win the World Cup. United States ’94 meant the canary-yellow jersey of Brazil would contain four stars above their national emblem. They decided to dedicate their triumph to racing legend Ayrton Senna, who had died in a car crash during a Formula One race in Italy and would add star number five in 2002 when they repeated the feat in Korea-Japan.
For Italy, it was the fifth time in the last seven editions of the competition that they had reached the finals, and the fourth time they had gotten to the last four but failed to taste success.
Baggio finished joint-second in the race for the Golden Boot in the States and was third in that year’s FIFA Player of the Year competition.
But football fans love a scapegoat, and no one was more appropriate a scapegoat to the Italian fans that Roberto Baggio.
Before the tournament, Baggio had converted to Buddhism and grown a ponytail. To the staunchly Roman Catholic Italians, this was as unbelievable as NASA finding life on Mars. To them, Baggio’s failure to deliver when it mattered most was because he had converted to Buddhism. His holistic approach to life was deeply contrary to a nation famous for the Mafia, pizza and pasta and, rather obviously, the Pope. They preferred to vent their frustration via an oft-repeated adage oft used in when one needs a reason to fall back on:
‘Blame that on which you do not understand’.
What other moments made it to our list? Find out here: SportsKeeda’s top ten iconic moments in international footballPublished 29 Nov 2012, 19:11 IST