USA 94, Roberto Baggio and that cursed penalty

Exactly 27 years have passed since the day of that bloody penalty: it was 17 July 1994, but in the eyes of the Italians who watched that game, there is still Roberto Baggio who is placing the ball on the disk.

Baggio (USA 94)
Baggio (USA 94)

1994, a particular year

1994 was a year full of incredible events. The new millennium was fast approaching, but for us unaware eyewitnesses, it passed just like everyone else. 1994 was the year in which USA President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yelstin stopped the pre-programmed targeting of nuclear missiles by signing the Kremlin agreements.

In Oslo, from the National Gallery, is stolen the famous painting “The Scream” by Edvard Munch. Silvio Berlusconi wins the Italian general election. F1 legend Ayrton Senna dies in an accident in Imola, during the GP of San Marino.

The first World Cup in the United States

Among the numerous events that marked the year 1994, there is one in particular that brings back and rekindle the memories of those who could live: the USA World Championship 94. The United States until then was not famous for football, did not even have a professional league. For their part, the Americans did not back down, the country was in turmoil and couldn’t wait to show the world not only as the nation famous for basketball, football or baseball, but also for the game of soccer.

The Italian “expedition”

Italy arrives in USA 94 after the scorching disappointment of Italy 90, defeated in the semifinals in Naples by Diego Armando Maradona‘s Argentina, and the failure to qualify for Euro 92, a tournament won by surprise by Denmark that took the place of Yugoslavia, excluded because of the Balkan war. On the Azzurri bench there is Arrigo Sacchi, a coach who does not like the Italian Catenaccio, but a spectacular football game and devoted to the attack.

The brightest star of our squad is Roberto Baggio, sublime footballer, crystalline technique, a pleasure for the eyes to see him dancing on the green fields, Italy is in love with Divin Codino. Arrigo Sacchi never gives up his 442, in attack next to Baggio contend the place Pierluigi Casiraghi, powerful center-forward, a “ram”, very skilled in the air game, Daniele Massaro, a sneaky striker and very complicated to defend for the opposing defenders and then there is Beppe Signori with his Lazio scored massive goals.

At home they would like the attack pair to be formed by Baggio and just by Signori, but Sacchi is about another idea and very often makes play the striker of Lazio as an outside midfield, reducing his ballistic skills. The competition does not start in the best way, Italy is defeated by Eire 1 to 0, it is absolutely necessary to win against Norway. In the end, the Italian team was defeated by Eire. We succeed against Norway, despite the numerical inferiority for the sent-off of the goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca, with an “incornata” of Dino Baggio. The third match is against Mexico, we do not go beyond 1-1, goal of Massaro. We qualify as the best thirdone, but in the Belpaese there is concern. Italy does not sound and the Divin Codino is a far cry from himself.

On July 5 1994 the Azzurri played their eighth final against Nigeria at Foxboro Stadium in Boston. The Super Eagles have a team of absolute high level: the Italians start well, but the Africans score. There is discouragement, the fans from home are incredulous, we remain in 10 for a non-existent sent-off of Zola, another champion not seen favorably by our c.t., we are now eliminated when at minute 88, Mussi from the right assists Roberto Baggio, right foot control, an eye to the goalkeeper and with a touch of “pool touch” sends the ball in the goal. Delirium in the field, but especially in households throughout Italy. One step away from the ravine, we are still in balance. Extra time. Nigeria is afraid and we pass the round thanks to a penalty always scored by Baggio. 2-1, we are in the quarterfinals.

Baggio (USA 94)
Baggio (USA 94)

On July 9 1994, also in Boston is the turn of Spain. We pass in advantage thanks to a shot by Dino Baggio from about thirty meters, the game is fought and the Iberians reach the draw. We are about to “capitulate”, Pagliuca shows a miracle, the ball seems to be heading for the door, but the Azzurro goalkeeper manages to save it with a foot. At 86 minutes the Divin Codino is face to face with the Spanish goalkeeper, the ball seems to move away, but the Azzurro number 10 manages to kick rolling to the ground. 2-1, Bruno Pizzul in telecronaca exults: “Roberto’s goal”. We are in the semifinals.

On July 13 1994, in the Giant Stadium of New York, there is Bulgaria-Italy. Roberto Baggio is now in “prodigy mode” and in 25 minutes has already signed two masterpiece goals, now Bruno Pizzul no longer calls him by surname, just exclaim “Roberto“. The Bulgarians at the end of the first half shorten the distances, but it is one of the few dangers of the game created, with the exception of a possible penalty for Costacurta’s touch of arm on which the referee flies over. The most important episode takes place at minute 66, when R. Baggio is injured, try to stay in the field, but after a few minutes, he must surrender. The whole Nazione is holding its breath, at the end of the match the number 10 is in tears embraced by Gigi Riva.

The final with Brazil On July 17 1994, the last act of the World Cup was played at the Rosebowl in Pasadena. The whole Italy wonders if Baggio will be part of the match. The Divin Codino for the whole day before plays physical tests to test the athletic strength. Despite not being at his 100%, Sacchi starts the game and incredibly is also Franco Baresi who only after 25 days from the operation to the menisco backs to the starting line up. In the Brazilian team of the highly criticized Carlos Alberto Parreira, the men who are most frightening are Romario and Bebeto. The kick-off is set for 12.30, commercial choices “have had the better” of common sense.

In Pasadena the thermometer marks 36 Celsius degrees, the humidity is 70%, it seems to be in an oven, the temperature is very high even for the nearly 25 million Italians “glued” to the screen and thousands of miles away from the Rose Bowl stadium that for the occasion contains more than 94K spectators. The match begins, the teams are strained, they feel the weight and importance of the match. The first half ends without gasping. The second seems to retrace the script of the first, when at the minute 75, a shot of Mauro Silva escapes from the hands of Pagliuca, the ball is bouncing in goal, the Azzuro goalkeeper is now beaten, can not do anything more, The Italian fans in front of the TV and those at the stadium hold their breath, there is now resignation, all in a split second, but the ball hits the post and “sits” gently in the arms of the new Inter goalkeeper who gently thanks to the “wood” by kissing him.

We’re still alive, but the scare was huge. The regular time ends with a majestic match of the returning Baresi and with Roberto Baggio limping. The perfortmance of the Azzurro number 10 was really second-rate, but it is already a miracle to see him in the field. In the extra time the Verdeoro start better and waste some greedy opportunities, Italy play with ripartenze, but the two teams are exhausted by the scorching heat and for the first time in the history of the World Cup, the final will be decided by penalties.

That damn penalty

Baggio (USA 94)
Baggio (USA 94)

The tension between the Azzurri fans all over the world is skyrocketing, mindful of the elimination by Argentina in Italy 90, which occurred just at penalty kicks. The first pitch from eleven meters is up to Captain Franco Baresi, very tired and now on his legs, he massages his muscles before kicking, but this is not enough: his shot ends high, leaving him motionless with his hands on his face. Pagliuca manages to neutralize the first penalty of Marcio Santos, we still tie. In the following penalties, for the Azzurri shot from the penalty mark Albertini and Evani, but Massaro misses. For Brazil they will score Romario, Branco and Dunga.

It’s his turn, it’s on Roberto Baggio. The Divin Codino approaches the penalty spot very slowly, those 50 meters seem neverending, who knows what he will be thinking, what feelings he will experience: The fans spread around the Globe are silent, do not want to distract the number 10. Baggio fixes the ball, takes the chase, shoots… high ball, on the right of goalkeeper Taffarel. Brazil is World Champions. Roberto remains astounded, incredulous, then it’s time to cry. The dream ends and imagine that that penalty would not even be decisive for the victory, but only to continue to hope… That damned penalty changed the history of a man and that of an entire popolo.

By Giovanni Maggio

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