FIFA World Cup moments: Roberto Baggio, Italy's hero who suffered heartbreak in 1994 final against Brazil
Baggio's 1994 FIFA World Cup story is similar to that of Zidane albeit their was no head butt. On 17 July 1994, Baggio missed a crucial penalty in the shootout that led to Brazil clinching the final and winning their fourth World Cup title.
Before Zinedine Zidane, there was Italy's Roberto Baggio. No, this is not about both of them being prolific for their respective national teams. This is about players taking their teams to FIFA World Cup final with sensational performances, but also playing an infamous role in their side's defeat in the title clash. Zidane did it with France at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, single-handedly taking his team to the final before getting a red card for head-butting Italy's Marco Materazzi, later with his team losing the game in the penalties.
Baggio's 1994 FIFA World Cup story is similar to that of Zidane, albeit their was no head butt. On 17 July 1994, Baggio missed a crucial penalty in the shootout that led to Brazil clinching the final and winning their fourth World Cup. It was a sorrowful end to Baggio's World Cup campaign as he played an instrumental role in Italy reaching the final, scoring as many as five goals in the tournament.
Italy were off to a slow start in the tournament. They barely made it to the next round after suffering 0-1 defeat in their first game against Republic of Ireland. They got back to winning ways after beating Norway 1-0 and then drew against Mexico. All four teams finished the group stage on four points, but Mexico, Ireland and third-placed Italy progressed to the next round due to better goal-scoring stats.
It was in the knockout rounds that Italy found their groove, thanks largely to Juventus playmaker Baggio. In the Round of 16 match against Nigeria, the 27-year-old netted a late equaliser and then scored the winner from the penalty spot in the extra time. Baggio was against his best in the quarter-final, scoring the winner in the 88th minute as Italy beat Spain 2-1 to make to semi-finals.
It was in the semis that Baggio showed why he was one of the best players around that time. Playing against Bulgaria's Hristo Stoichkov, who also played a key role in his team reaching the semis, Baggio found the back of the net twice to beat their opponents 2-1 and reach the final. The first goal had Baggio's class written all over it as he reacted to a throw-in quickly, leaving behind a Bulgarian defender with his turn and then dribbling past another for a sublime curling finish. His second was a classic forward's goal as he beat the Bulgaria's offside trap for a clinical hit.
The final took place at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, where Italy faced the phenomenal Brazil team, consisting of stalwarts like Romario, Bebeto and captain Dunga. The match ended goalless after the extra time, the only FIFA World Cup final ever to not have a goal scored, but both teams enjoyed quite a few chances.
Franco Baresi and Daniele Massaro had missed their chances when the reliable Baggio came to the spot with Italy down 3-2 in the penalties. He had to score to keep Italy in the match, but Baggio lost his cool and sent the ball over the bar to erupt wild celebrations among Brazilian players and fans. He stood at his spot, head down in utter disbelief, and left the field in tears.
Years later, when asked about the missed penalty, Baggio said that the moment will stay with him forever. "I take that penalty with me always," Baggio said on TV show Tiki Taka. He added, "There's nothing I can do about it. I still find it hard to accept what happened that day. However, it has helped me to stay humble because life is a continued challenge and you can't beat yourself up."
Baggio can do little to erase ill-famed penalty miss from football history, but that shouldn't define him. Throughout his career, Baggio has been terrific ambassador for the game and was proven goal-scorer for team he played. He is right up there among the legends of the game.
To read about other FIFA World Cup moments, click here.
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