The 1994 World Cup finals possibly did more to change the public’s perception of the world game between June 17th and July 17th while the tournament ran than any other before or since. The country’s lack of football tradition acted as a catalyst for this. Much of the tournament took place in a way which the footballing world perceived as non-traditional. The attendance of games, despite the increase in the number of teams from twenty-four to thirty-two at the following World Cup of 1998, is the highest in World Cup history.
It was a tournament of firsts in many ways. It included a unified German team, the first to appear in the World Cup since 1938, and countries appearing in the finals for the first time in Greece, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia. Russia qualified as an independent country following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It was the first World Cup to feature three points for a win and the first time the World Cup Final was decided on penalties. The first World Cup match played in an ‘indoor’ stadium, one with a roof that closed, was staged at the Pontiac Silverdome.
One of the conditions stipulated by FIFA in awarding the competition to the USA was its establishment of a professional football league and Major League Soccer was founded in 1993. There had been no professional league in the country since the North American Soccer League folded in 1984. The success of the football tournament at the 1984 Olympic Games, staged in the USA, contributed towards FIFA’s decision, which the record-high attendances at World Cup USA vindicated. FIFA declined the request by the hosts that for the purposes of USA 94 the two halves format of football matches be replaced by four quarters.
The thirty-two countries included Germany, Holland, Brazil, Italy, Spain, Norway, Romania, Argentina, Sweden, Nigeria, Switzerland, Republic of Ireland, Mexico, Colombia, Russia, USA, Cameroon, Belgium, Morocco, Bulgaria, Greece, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Bolivia, in order of their FIFA rankings.
Nine cities hosted the tournament across the USA and included Pasadena, New York, Boston, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Washington, Orlando and the Pontiac Silverdome near Detroit. The distances that many teams had to travel, the temperatures, humidity and air quality in most of the nine venues in the middle of the American summer and the midday and early afternoon kick-off times to fit in with television scheduling in Europe, Africa and the Middle East made for a challenging competition for the players.
Qualification for the knockout stage, the last sixteen teams, from the six groups of four, involved the top two and four best third-placed teams. Group A included hosts USA, Switzerland, Romania and Colombia, Romania qualifying for the Second Round as winners with their victories over the USA and Colombia. In their third group match Romania were beaten 4-1 by Switzerland, who finished in second place, with the USA qualifying as one of the best third-placed teams, thanks to their 2-1 win over Colombia. In Group B, Brazil and Sweden progressed to the next round, the highlight Russian Oleg Salenko’s five goals in one game against Cameroon in a 6-1 win, but Russia failing to qualify for the Second Round. Cameroon’s Roger Milla scored the team’s consolation goal and became the oldest player in World Cup history, forty-two, to score in the finals. Group winners, Brazil, defeated Cameroon, 3-0, Russia, 2-0, and drew 1-1 against Sweden, who qualified as runners-up, beating Russia 3-1.
Germany and Spain qualified from Group C, Germany finishing top via a 1-0 win against Bolivia, a 1-1 draw against Spain, Spain drawing 2-2 in their game against South Korea, who scored with four minutes left and who nearly repeated this in their match against Germany, eventually losing 3-2 after being 3-0 down. Argentina won their first two matches in Group D, defeating Greece 4-0 and in a much tighter fixture, 2-1 against Nigeria, who ended as group winners, after winning against Bulgaria and Greece, 3-0 and 2-0 respectively. Bulgaria’s FIFA ranking below the likes of Morocco and Cameroon pointed at an early exit, which seemed to be confirmed in their opening match against Nigeria, who beat them 3-0. Bulgaria’s 4-0 victory over Greece, followed by a 2-0 win against tournament favorites Argentina defied all odds and they qualified as Group D runners-up behind Nigeria, Argentina qualifying as one of the four best third-place finishers.
Group E couldn’t have been tighter, all four countries finishing with both the same number of points and goal difference. The Republic of Ireland defeated Italy 1–0, Ray Houghton’s chipped winner coming in the eleventh minute and Norway’s 1-0 win over Mexico secured through Kjetil Rekdal’s goal with five minutes remaining. Mexico’s match against the Republic of Ireland, played in Orlando in conditions of extreme heat and humidity, ended in their 2-1 win, with Garcia scoring both the goals. Italy defeated Norway in a tight 1-0 game, Ireland and Norway drew 0-0, the final game saw Italy and Mexico draw 1-1. Mexico went through as group winners on goals scored, three, Ireland finishing above Italy through having beaten them and Italy qualifying as one of the best third-placed finishers. In Group F, Belgium beat both Morocco and Holland 1-0, but finished third in the group through their 1-0 defeat to Saudi Arabia, whose Saaed Al-Owairian scored the goal of the tournament. Saudi Arabia qualified in third place through their 2-1 win over Morocco. Holland went through with 2-1 wins over both Saudi Arabia and Morocco, and as group winners, having scored more goals than Belgium and Saudi Arabia.
Sixteen teams contested the first knockout stage, the four third-placed teams playing against four of the group winners, the other two group winners facing two of the group runners-up and the remaining four runners-up playing against each other. The winners of the last sixteen went through to the Quarter-Finals. Extra-time and penalties determined winners in the case of draws. Two games per day were played over four days, beginning with Germany’s 3-2 win over Belgium in Chicago, Voller scoring one in each half and Klinsmann restoring Germany’s lead after the Belgians had equalised through Grun. Albert scored Belgium’s consolation goal with a minute of normal time remaining. Switzerland faced Spain at the RFK Stadium in Washington on the same day, the Spanish advancing comfortably to the Quarter Finals, 3-0, through goals from Hierro, Luis Enrique and a Begiristain penalty.
The day after, July 3rd, Sweden played Saudi Arabia in Dallas, took the lead through Dahlin early on, with Andersson doubling the lead early in the second half. Al-Ghesheyan’s late goal raised Saudi hopes for a close last five minutes, only for Andersson to score his second in a 3-1 win. The second game played saw the impressive Romania eliminate World Cup holders Argentina, 3-2, in Pasadena, two Dumitrescu goals in the first twenty minutes and Hagi’s early in the second half, Batistuta and Balbo replying for Argentina.
On Independence Day at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Holland qualified for the Quarter Finals through Bergkamp and Jonk goals in their 2-0 win over the Republic of Ireland, the second match, in Stanford, Brazil’s 1-0 win over the USA, through Bebeto’s seventy-fifth minute winner.
The following day saw the first of the last sixteen’s games go to extra-time, as two Baggio goals, the second a penalty, put Italy through, 2-1, against Nigeria, Amunike having put the Nigerians into a 1-0 lead after fifteen minutes. Extra-time followed by penalties were needed for Bulgaria to go through against Mexico, after Stoichkov had put the Bulgarians into the lead at the start of the match and Mexico had equalized shortly before half-time through a Garcia Aspe penalty, leaving the score 1-1 after normal and then extra-time.
Brazil were the only non-European country left at the Quarter-Final stage, Italy vs. Spain the first match at Foxboro Stadium and the Italians going through to the semifinals thanks to the two Baggios, Dino and Roberto’s, goals in a 2-1 win, Caminero having equalized for Spain early in the second half, Roberto Baggio scoring the winner with two minutes of normal time remaining.
The second Quarter Final saw Brazil go through in one of the tournament’s higher-scoring and most exciting games, Romario and Bebeto making the score 2-0 after sixty-three minutes, Bergkamp and Winter’s goals bringing the scores level, and Branco’s free kick winning it for Brazil with nine minutes to go.
Bulgaria continued to upset the odds in their 2-1 win over Germany at the Giants Stadium, Matthaus’s penalty giving Germany the lead a minute into the second half, Stoichkov and Letchkov’s two goals in five minutes taking Bulgaria through. All four of the goals in another dramatic quarter-final, Sweden and Romania’s 2-2 draw after extra time came late in the game, Brolin giving Sweden the lead after seventy-nine minutes, Raducioiu equalizing with a minute of normal time to go, then putting Romania ahead ten minutes into extra-time, Kennet Andersson equalizing with five minutes of extra-time left and Sweden winning on penalties.
Bulgaria returned to the Giants Stadium for their semi-final against Italy, while over 91,000 saw Brazil take on Sweden at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl. A dramatic first half saw Roberto Baggio score twice in four minutes half way through the first half, Stoichkov’s penalty a minute before half time taking the score to 2-1 and a goalless second half resulting in the Italians going through to the Final, where they faced Brazil, 1-0 winners over Sweden in the other Semi Final, through an eightieth minute goal from Romario.
Over 94,000 saw Brazil win the World Cup Final on penalties, the first time in World Cup history, at the Rose Bowl on July 17th. Despite the lack of goals in normal time the penalties provided drama which Roberto Baggio, scorer of five goals in the tournament, wouldn’t have wished for, as the penalty he took went over the bar and gave Brazil victory. Sweden had sealed third place in the tournament the day before with their comprehensive 4-0 win over Bulgaria featuring Brolin, Mild, Larsson and Kennet Andersson as the goal scorers.
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