USA 1994

The outstanding player of the tournament, Brazilian Romario, lifts the trophy.
The outstanding player of the tournament, Brazilian Romario, lifts the trophy.
Host Country: United States of America
Champions: Brazil    
Runners Up: Italy

In an attempt to convert the 'New World' to a different form of football, FIFA chose the USA to host the tournament, a decision greeted with massive scepticism. But despite 'soccer' being way down the American sporting popularity list the tournament proved to be an enormous success, with viewing figures far exceeding expectations, and a record match attendance that still stands today.

The 1994 FIFA World Cup, the 15th staging of the FIFA World Cup, was held in the United States from 17 June to 17 July 1994. The United States was chosen as hosts by FIFA on 4 July 1988. Brazil became the first nation to win four World Cup titles when they beat Italy 3-2 in a penalty shootout after the game ended 0-0 after extra-time, the first World Cup final to be decided on penalties.

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. The defending champions West Germany were united with their East German counterparts, representing the unified Germany for the first time since the 1938 World Cup. Due to the strong performances by African teams in 1990, Africa were given three spots for the first time, with Nigeria joining Cameroon and Morocco. For the first, and so far the only time, no British teams competed in a World Cup since they started to participate in the tournament in 1950.

The format of the competition stayed the same as in 1990: 24 teams qualified, divided into six groups of four. Sixteen teams would qualify for the knockout competition: the six group winners, the six group runners-up, and the four third-placed teams with the best records. This was the last time this format was used, due to the expansion of the finals tournament in 1998 to 32 teams. This World Cup was the first in which three points were awarded for a win instead of two. FIFA instituted this feature to encourage attacking football after the defensive display of many teams at Italia '90.

On the field, the biggest surprise of the tournament was Bulgaria. The Bulgarians had previously never won a match in the finals but, led by Hristo Stoichkov who eventually shared the tournament lead in scoring, they made a surprising run; Bulgaria won two of their three group matches to qualify for the second round, where they advanced with a 3-1 penalty shoot-out win over Mexico. Bulgaria then faced the reigning world champions, Germany, in the quarter-finals, where goals from Stoichkov and Yordan Letchkov gave them a 2-1 victory. Bulgaria went on to finish in fourth place after losing to Italy and Sweden, in the semi-finals and third-place match, respectively. Hosts United States advanced to the second round as one of the best third-place teams. There they played Brazil and, despite a 1-0 defeat, the USA's performance was considered a great success.

Brazil's win over the USA helped take them to the final against Italy. While Brazil's path was relatively smooth as they defeated the Netherlands in the quarter-finals and Sweden in the semis (it was the second game between Sweden and Brazil in the tournament, the first ending 1-1), the Italians had made hard work of reaching the final game. During the group stage the Italian team struggled and narrowly advanced to the next round, despite losing 1-0 to the Republic of Ireland. Roberto Baggio, who was expected to be the shining star, had not scored a goal. During the Round of 16 match against Nigeria, Italy was trailing 1-0 in the dying minutes when Baggio scored the equalizer forcing the game into extra time. There, he scored again with a penalty kick to send Italy through. Baggio carried the Italians from there, scoring the game-winning goal in the quarter-final against Spain, and both goals in Italy's semi-final victory over Bulgaria.

The final match at the Rose Bowl was tense but devoid of scoring chances. Despite the strategies disposed by the FIFA to promote offensive play, both teams failed to produce a goal. After 120 goalless minutes, the World Cup was decided for the first time by a penalty shoot-out. After four rounds, Brazil led 3-2, and Baggio, playing injured, had to score to keep Italy's hopes alive. He missed by shooting it over the bar, and Brazil were crowned champions. The trophy was handed to captain Dunga from the hands of the vice-president Al Gore. The Brazilian national team dedicated the title to the deceased Brazilian F1 champion Ayrton Senna, who had died two and a half months prior.

Notable Facts
Average attendance was nearly 69,000, which broke records that had stood since 1950, due to the bigger capacities of the American stadiums compared to those of Europe and Latin America. The total attendance for the final tournament of nearly 3.6 million remains the highest in World Cup history, despite the expansion of the competition from 24 to 32 teams (and from 52 to 64 matches) in 1998. It was also the highest-attended single sport event in U.S. history.

The tournament saw the end of Diego Maradona's World Cup career, having played in 1982, 1986 where he led Argentina to the World Cup title, and 1990 as well. Maradona was expelled from the tournament after he failed a drug test which uncovered ephedrine, a weight loss drug, in his blood.

Colombian defender Andrés Escobar was a tragic figure of this tournament, as in the group stage match against the United States, he scored an own goal which eliminated his team 2-1. Escobar was shot to death outside a bar in a Medellín suburb only 10 days after the match, apparently in retaliation for the own goal.

McDonald's and Coca-Cola advertised their sponsorship of the World Cup by printing the flags of the participating nations on take-out bags and soda cans, respectively. However, in doing so they made the faux pas of including the flag of Saudi Arabia, which bears the Islamic declaration of faith. Outraged Saudi Arabian officials said that printing the creed on disposable items was completely unacceptable, and these items were discontinued.

Golden Boot
Bulgaria’s Hristo Stoichkov and Russia’s Oleg Salenko, each with 6 goals

Brazilian legend Romario runs at Italian defenders during the Final. (AFP)
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