|The Brazilians take it to the wire
In the country where basketball, baseball and American football have far more popular appeal, the 15th FIFA World Cup in America nonetheless drew huge crowds. The final saw Brazil win their fourth title after a penalty shoot-out.
It came as a great surprise to many people when the USA was granted the honour of hosting the 15th FIFA World Cup. 'Soccer' in America had never had as widespread appeal as other sports.
In Morocco, America's biggest rival to host the tournament, the disappointment was enormous. An African nation had still never organised a finals tournament since the FIFA World Cup was founded in 1930, but with just two stadia they lacked the facilities to stage such a major event. In choosing the USA, João Havelange, the FIFA president, was opening the door to a new frontier.
147 countries - a new record - entered for the FIFA World Cup 94 qualifiers. Among them was South Africa, back after a lengthy exclusion. Many big guns, however, were not to make it to the finals: England, Denmark, the 1992 European champions, Portugal, Poland, and once again France, knocked out by a Bulgarian goal in the last second of their last qualifying game. Also excluded was Yugoslavia, where civil war raged with Bosnia. 24 counties competed in the finals of the 15th FIFA World Cup.
Over a month of scorching heat, the FIFA World Cup was played in front of a record number of spectators (3,587,538). The first round, where a win was now worth 3 points, threw up a few surprises, with the USA and Saudi Arabia-whose striker Saed Owairan almost certainly scored the best goal of the tournament-sneaking into the last sixteen. The Russians, on the other hand, despite Oleg Salenko scoring five goals against Cameroon (a record), did not make it. And neither did Roger Milla and his indomitable Lions, though Milla confirmed his "title" as the tournament's oldest goal-scorer, at 42 years 1 month and 8 days.
In the quarter-finals Brazil found itself up against seven teams from Europe, one of which was Italy, a team that had refused to lie down. The Italians had already diced with death in the first round before creeping into the last sixteen. There, 1-0 down to Nigeria with 90 seconds left and only ten men on the field, they did their best Houdini trick yet. Their saviour was the fabulously talented Roberto Baggio, who then went on to help his side beat Spain (2-1) in the quarter-finals and Bulgaria (2-1) in the semis-after the Bulgarians had astonished everybody by putting out the holders, Germany.
The quarter-final between Brazil and Netherlands proved to be the match of the tournament, Dunga and his team-mates eventually winning the game 3-2 after leading 2-0. It was in this game that Bebeto, Mazinho and Romario pretended to rock Bebeto's newborn son Mattheus, who had been born a few days earlier. This irresistible picture winged its way all over the world.
The final pitted Brazil against Italy, two nations which had already won the FIFA World Cup three times. But what in theory was the ideal match, proved to be a dour, physical and ultimately disappointing game. And for the first time in FIFA World Cup history, it all came down to penalties. As he stepped up, Italy's saviour Roberto Baggio knew he had to score. But his penalty flew high into the blue California sky and the Brazilians were champions again, 24 years after their last success. Brazil had also become the first nation to win the FIFA World Cup four times.