1994 USA

When the Italians and Brazil nil-nil drew
Baggio's spot miss turned Italy blue
But to call up Baresi
Was utterly crazy
As his shot o'er the crossbar it flew.

FIFA President Joao Havelange was bidding to conquer football's final frontier, the USA, and it proved the right decision with the event attracting a record total attendance of 3.6 million spectators, an average of 69,000 per match. And there were plenty of goals; 141 was the highest total since 1982, a welcome blip in the downward trend.

What was going on in the world in 1994?

  • The Rwandan genocide commences
  • Kurt Cobain, frontman for Nirvana, dies of a single self-inflicted gunshot wound
  • Roland Ratzenberger dies in qualifying and Ayrton Senna dies in the race at the San Marino Grand Prix
  • Nelson Mandela is inaugurated as South Africa's first black President
  • George Foreman becomes the oldest heavyweight boxing world champion in history

Back to the World Cup – the format

This was the first World Cup at which a win in the group stage was awarded 3 points, up from 2 points previously, in an attempt to couter the negative tactics which pervaded Italia '90.


Greece, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia qualified for the World Cup finals for the first time. Russia, competing independently for the first time after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, also qualified. Greece and Nigeria were drawn in the same group, with Nigeria finishing top on goal difference ahead of Bulgaria and Argentina, and Greece finishing last with no points and goal difference of -10. Russia failed to qualify despite Oleg Salenko's heroics, but Saudi Arabia surprised the doubters and qualified with wins against Morocco and Belgium. Along the way, Saeed Owairan scored one of the great World Cup goals a slaloming run and shot to beat Belgium.

Tournament Facts and Records

the match between the United States and Switzerland would be the first ever to take place indoors, having been played under the roof at the Pontiac Silverdome.

  • Russia's Oleg Salenko established a new record after netting five times in a 6-1 victory over Cameroon.
  • Roger Milla's goal in the same fixture meant he broke his own record as the World Cup's oldest scorer, at 42 years, one month and eight days.
  • Hristo Stoichkov and Oleg Salenko were the tournament's top scorers with 6 goals
  • Diego Maradona's World Cup career came to a sorry end with a ban for drug abuse, testing positive for Ephedrine
  • Colombia's tame exit at the group stage precipitated the murder of Andres Escobar, who had contributed an own goal, as he was shot outside a bar in Medellin
  • Possibly the silliest nickname in World Cup history, 'the Divine Ponytail' was adopted to refer to Italy's Roberto Baggio

Who should have won but didn't?

In an unfortunate irony, the World Cup's best ever supported tournament ended with the damp squib of 0-0 final, culminating in a tense and rather lame penalty shootout, in which Brazil beat Italy. Indeed Italy managed to score only 2 of their 5 penalty attempts, through Albertini and Evani, with Baresi, Massaro, and Baggio all missing.

When the Italians and Brazil nil nil drew,
Baggio's spot miss turned Italy blue
But to call up Baresi
Was utterly crazy
As shot o'er the crossbar it flew

Brazil dedicated their win to the recently deceased Formula One champion Ayrton Senna.

The question is was there any other team more deserving? It would have wonderful to see an outsider, such as Bulgaria, go all the way. Significantly they exploded the myth of German invincibility.

Hero: Hristo Stoichkov

The biggest surprise of the 1994 World Cup was Bulgaria, who had never won a match in 5 previous World Cups. But led by Hristo Stoichkov, a sublime playmaker, plying his trade at Barcelona, they managed the unthinkable by beating Germany in the quarter-final. It had become accepted that the Germans would reach the final as they had done in 4 of the previous 5 World Cups, and nobody expected that a traditionally weak team, such as Bulgaria, could possibly defeat them at this stage of the competition. Bulgaria came from behind to win 2-1, with a free kick from Stoichkov and a cracking header from Iordan Lechkov, who deliciously, was playing his club football for Hamburg. Certainly Stoichkov was at the centre of everything Bulgaria achieved in this tournament.

Watch the two Bulgarian goals against Germany here.

Villain: Mauro Tassotti

In another quarter-final, Italy v Spain, Mauro Tassotti broke Luis Enrique’s nose when score was 1-1 in the second half, by throwing an elbow in the penalty area. It should have been a penalty and a likely win for Spain, but nothing was given and in the 88th minute, Italy broke down field and the Divine Ponytail scored the winner in another classic case of World Cup injustice.

Tassotti subsequently received an 8 match ban, ending his international career. The elbowing was so severe that Enrique reportedly lost a pint of blood from his face as a result. See the act of thuggery here.

I particularly like the shot of Tassotti having words with Spain's Goikoetxea, the "Butcher of Bilbao" who was presumably explaining to Tassotti how to maim someone properly.

Quick facts:

  • Teams: 24
  • When: 17 June 1994 to 17 July 1994
  • Final: 17 July 1994
  • Matches: 52
  • Goals Scored: 141 (average 2.7 per match)
  • Attendance: 3,587,538 (average 68,991)

Verdict: Good, bad or Ugly?

A good World Cup with an ugly final. FIFA would have been delighted with the audience numbers, especially in the biggest relatively untapped market of the USA. Three points for a win seems to have encouraged more attacking play and more goals were scored. It is just such a shame that the final was scoreless, whereas a ding-dong 4-3 nail biter would have been the icing on the cake for USA '94.

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