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Football World Cup - 1994: USA

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The World Cup: An Introduction | 1930: Uruguay | 1934: Italy | 1938: France | 1950: Brazil
1954: Switzerland | 1958: Sweden | 1962: Chile | 1966: England | 1970: Mexico
1974: West Germany | 1978: Argentina | 1982: Spain | 1986: Mexico | 1990: Italy | 1994: USA
1998: France | 2002: Japan and South Korea

The decision to take the 1994 World Cup finals to the United States of America was controversial. After all, soccer had never really been all that popular in America, and the USA national team was hardly a major force in world football. Morocco, a country with a stronger football tradition, was the USA's main rival when the voting to choose the host nation was going on, and there were many who felt that taking the finals to Africa for the first time would be a positive step.

But in the end, two factors swung the vote America's way. Firstly, the USA could offer far better stadia and financial backing than Morocco; and secondly, staging the World Cup finals in the USA offered a golden opportunity to promote the game in one of the few nations in the world that had so far proved resistant to soccer's charms. In this regard, the 1994 World Cup finals achieved its objective pretty well. Major League Soccer was established in the States two years later. The status of the USA's national men's team rose as a result of their performance in the 1994 finals. The American national women's football team has been even more successful, winning the Women's World Cup in 1999, when the finals took place in America.

Between the 1990 World Cup and this one, FIFA had made the first major change to the rules of the game in decades. In 1992, the backpass rule was introduced, meaning that a goalkeeper would be penalised if he picked up the ball after it had been kicked or thrown to him by a team-mate. This eliminated a popular time-wasting ploy, and made negative football considerably more difficult. FIFA also changed the World Cup rules so that three points rather than two would be awarded for a win in the group stage of the competition, thus discouraging teams from playing for a draw.

Those changes worked pretty well. The 1994 World Cup finals were certainly far more entertaining than the competition in Italy four years earlier. There were more goals and more surprise results, and two of the semi-finalists were teams that few neutral observers would have expected to get that far. Unfortunately, the final proved to be an anti-climax: but there had been plenty of excitement before that match came around.

What was much more unfortunate was that a murder cast a shadow over the 1994 finals. In the first round match between Colombia and the USA, Colombian defender Andres Escobar scored an own goal that helped to knock his team out of the competition. A few days after he and his team-mates returned to Colombia, Escobar was murdered.

There was also a major doping scandal, when Argentinian hero Diego Maradona tested positive for the banned stimulant ephedrine and was banished from the competition - a sordid end to the World Cup career of one of the world's greatest-ever players.

One hundred and forty-seven countries entered for the qualifying tournament, setting a new record. They included South Africa, who had been re-admitted into international sport following the collapse of the apartheid regime. Among the big names who failed to qualify were England, who lost out to Norway and the Netherlands in their qualifying group, and France, who were eliminated by a goal in stoppage time in their last qualifying game, against Bulgaria. Portugal, Poland and Denmark also failed to qualify, and Yugoslavia were excluded because of the civil war then raging in the country.

The Tournament

The first round of the 1994 World Cup finals was certainly exciting and keenly-contested. You couldn't reasonably ask for a more closely-fought contest than that in Group E, where Mexico, the Republic of Ireland, Italy and Norway all ended up with the same number of points and the same goal difference. Mexico were placed top and Norway eliminated on the basis of the number of goals each had scored. The Republic of Ireland enjoyed their greatest-ever result in world football by beating Italy 1-0, thanks to an 11th minute goal from Ray Houghton.

Two of the other groups produced shock results and ended with three of the four teams on six points. In Group F, Saudi Arabia beat Belgium with one of the best goals seen in any World Cup. In the fifth minute of the game, Saeed Owairan received the ball deep in the Saudi half and ran 80 metres through a stunned Belgian midfield and defence to score. There were no more goals in the game, and the win was enough to put the Saudis into the second round along with Belgium and the Netherlands.

In Group D, Nigeria reached the second round after beating Bulgaria 3-0 and Greece 2-0 - but Bulgaria then pulled off a major upset by beating Argentina 2-0, with goals from Hristo Stoitchkov and Nasko Sirakov.

In Group A, the host nation reached the second round after drawing 1-1 with Switzerland, and then beating Colombia 2-1 with a goal from Ernie Stewart and that fateful own goal by Andres Escobar. The USA team were beaten 1-0 in their last group game by Romania, but still progressed to the second stage along with Romania and Switzerland.

Brazil and Sweden were both unbeaten in Group B, and comfortably reached the second round. But in some ways, the most remarkable match was between the two teams in the group who failed to qualify for the last 16, Russia and Cameroon. In that game, two records were broken. Russia's Oleg Salenko became the only man ever to score five goals in a World Cup finals match, and Roger Milla scored Cameroon's consolation goal at the age of 42 years, one month and eight days, thus breaking the record he'd set himself in 1990 for the oldest player ever to score in a World Cup finals.

Group C went pretty much according to expectations, with Germany and Spain progressing and South Korea and Bolivia heading for home - although South Korea could perhaps feel a little unlucky to be out, after going down narrowly 3-2 to Germany and scoring two late goals to draw 2-2 with Spain.

The second round saw one real upset and one near miss. Argentina had been traumatised by the loss of Diego Maradona, sent home in disgrace after failing a drugs test, and the rest of the squad soon followed him after they lost 3-2 to Romania. Two goals from Ilie Dumitrescu put Romania into a 2-1 lead at half-time, and in the 58th minute Gheorghe Hagi made it 3-1. Abel Balbo pulled one back for Argentina with 15 minutes left, but it was the Romanians who reached the quarter-finals.

Nigeria came desperately close to pulling off an even bigger upset. Emmanuel Amunike gave Nigeria the lead against Italy in the 25th minute, and the Nigerians were within three minutes of the quarter-finals when Roberto Baggio grabbed a late equaliser. The game went into extra time, and Baggio scored again from the penalty spot to win the game for Italy.

There was a flying start to the game between Germany and Belgium. Rudi Voller opened the scoring for Germany in the sixth minute, only for Georges Grun to equalise two minutes later. Three minutes after that, Juergen Klinsmann scored, and it was 2-1 to Germany after only 11 minutes. Voller then got Germany's third goal, and the Germans went through despite a late strike for Belgium from Philippe Albert.

The United States gave Brazil a tough match, and it took Brazil until the 72nd minute to score the game's only goal courtesy of Bebeto. The Republic of Ireland also bowed out, as first-half goals from Dennis Bergkamp and Wim Jonk gave the Netherlands a 2-0 win. Bulgaria marched on into the last eight thanks to a penalty shoot-out, following a 1-1 draw after extra time against Mexico. Spain easily beat Switzerland 3-0, and Sweden saw off Saudi Arabia 3-1.

The quarter-final clash between Brazil and the Netherlands was probably the best match of the tournament. After a goalless first half, Romario put Brazil ahead early in the second half, and Bebeto made it two in the 63rd minute. But a minute after Bebeto's goal, Dennis Bergkamp struck to put the Dutch back in the match. Then, a quarter of an hour from the end, Aron Winter completed the comeback for the Netherlands. But Branco then scored with ten minutes remaining to put Brazil through to the semi-finals.

Germany were strongly fancied to reach the last four at the expense of Bulgaria. When Lothar Matthaeus converted a penalty to open the scoring in the second minute of the second half, it looked as though those expectations would be fulfilled. But the Bulgarians had other ideas, and fought back. Two goals in three minutes, from Hristo Stoichkov and Iordan Letchkov, turned the game around and produced a major upset, as Bulgaria beat Germany 2-1.

It looked at if Thomas Brolin's 78th-minute goal for Sweden was going to be enough to beat Romania, until Florin Raducioiu equalised with three minutes to spare. Raducioiu scored again in extra time to put Romania 2-1 up, and they were within six minutes of the semi-finals when Kennet Andersson scored for Sweden. It went to penalties, and Sweden were successful in the shoot-out.

Both the Baggois scored for Italy as they won an exciting game against Spain. Dino Baggio gave Italy a half-time lead, but Caminero equalised in the 57th minute. The winner came with three minutes left, and Roberto Baggio was Italy's hero once again.

He hadn't finished with the heroics, either. Roberto Baggio's two first-half goals put Italy through against Bulgaria in the semi-finals. Hristo Stoitchkov scored from the penalty spot just before half-time to make it 2-1, but there were no more goals, and the Bulgarians were finally beaten.

The favourites also came through in the other semi-final, between Brazil and Sweden - but not without a real struggle. It took Brazil until the 80th minute to break down a stubborn Swedish defence, and then Romario struck to set up what was expected to be a fine final between Brazil and Italy.

Sadly, the final turned out to be a let-down. It was a real shame, particularly given all the great entertainment that had gone before: but the clash at the Pasadena Rose Bowl was a dour, bad-tempered game, with both teams apparently too scared of losing to risk doing anything very exciting. Ninety minutes plus extra time passed without a goal, so the 1994 World Cup became the first one ever to be settled on a penalty shoot-out.

Considering the great contribution that Roberto Baggio made towards getting Italy to the final, it was a cruel irony that his miss should lose his team the Cup - but that was how things worked out. Baggio's shot over the bar settled the shoot-out, and Brazil's triumph made them the first team ever to win the World Cup four times.

Tournament Trivia

Russia went out in the first round of the 1994 World Cup Finals. Their striker Oleg Salenko only made it into the starting line-up for two of the three games they played, making a 20-minute appearance as a substitute in the other match. Yet Salenko ended up as joint leading scorer in the tournament, his total of six goals beaten by no-one and equalled only by Bulgaria's Hristo Stoichkov. This remarkable feat was made possible by the five goals Salenko scored in Russia's 6-1 thrashing of Cameroon - the same game in which 42-year-old Roger Milla broke his own record as the oldest player ever to score in a World Cup finals match.

During Brazil's great quarter-final match against the Netherlands, three Brazilian players performed a very unusual goal celebration. Bebeto, Mazinho and Romario stood in line, folded their arms and made rocking motions, as if cradling invisible babies. They later explained that the gesture had been a tribute to Bebeto's baby son Mattheus, who had been born a few days before the game.

For The Record

First Round

Group A
  P W D L F A Pts
United States of America3111334

Group B
  P W D L F A Pts

Group C
  P W D L F A Pts
South Korea3021452

Group D
  P W D L F A Pts

Group E
  P W D L F A Pts
Republic of Ireland3111224

Group F
  P W D L F A Pts
Saudi Arabia3201436

Second Round

Spain 3 : 0 Switzerland
Germany 3 : 2 Belgium
Sweden 3 : 1 Saudi Arabia
Romania 3 : 2 Argentina
Italy 1 : 0 United States of America
Netherlands 2 : 0 Republic of Ireland
Italy 2 : 1 Nigeria after extra time
Bulgaria 1 : 1 Mexico after extra time
(Bulgaria won 3-1 on penalties)

Italy 2 : 1 Spain
Brazil 3 : 2 Netherlands
Sweden 2 : 2 Romania after extra time
(Sweden won 5-4 on penalties)
Bulgaria 2 : 1 Germany

Italy 2 : 1 Bulgaria
Brazil 1 : 0 Sweden

Third Place Play-Off
Sweden 4 : 0 Bulgaria

Brazil 0 : 0 Italy
(Brazil won 3-2 on penalties)

Tournament Top Goalscorers
Salenko (Russia)
Stoichkov (Bulgaria) - 6 goals each

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