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Eagles grounded as Baggio wakes

After Cameroon's dramatic run to the quarter-finals of the 1990 FIFA World Cup™, there were high hopes for Africa's representatives at USA 1994. The continent had three places for the first time and the Indomitable Lions were there again, still with the evergreen Roger Milla, as well as Morocco, who had become the first African side to reach the second round in 1986, and, finally, newcomers Nigeria.

One of the biggest mysteries going into the tournament, the Super Eagles turned out to be the break-out stars of the bunch, surpassing by some way Cameroon and Morocco who claimed only a point between them. By advancing to the second round – where they would be felled by the just-stirring giant that was Italy – the green-clad Nigerians captured the imagination and kept alive African football's exciting emergence. Join FIFA.com as we look back at the match that ultimately shattered their American dream and launched the Roberto Baggio-inspired Azzurri on their way to the Final.

The stakes
In the short view, a place in the last eight was riding on the last-16 tie between Nigeria and Italy at Foxboro Stadium outside of Boston. In the long view, Nigeria stood at the precipice of history, within touching distance of Cameroon's achievement of four years before with a guaranteed spot in the pantheon if they could overcome the three-time world champions.

The Super Eagles had served notice of their intentions in the US with a resounding 3-0 defeat of eventual semi-finalists Bulgaria in their opener. That match provided Nigeria with perhaps their most memorable FIFA World Cup moment: Rasheed Yekini's ecstatic celebration – arms through the net, tearfully clutching his face – after scoring his country's first-ever finals goal. The west Africans recovered from a subsequent narrow 2-1 loss to Argentina with a 2-0 win over group whipping boys Greece to finish top of the table on goal difference and were now poised to pluck the Italians from the vine.

If the Nigerians were surprised to have the world's gaze turned on them, the Azzurri, who had finished third as hosts four years earlier, were mortified by their performance to that point. They had yet to fully recover their way after a stunning 1-0 loss to the Republic of Ireland, and their golden boy, Baggio, had yet to find the net despite being one of the most heralded stars heading into the finals. The Italians beat Norway and drew with Mexico to limp into the second round as one of the better third-placed sides. But by the end of their extra-time slugfest with Nigeria, the Europeans and their striking talisman would start to look more and more like the slow-starting, Paulo Rossi-led champions of Spain 1982.

The story
Italy pressed hard right from the start to try to unsettle their less experienced rivals. Wearing all white instead of their usual blue, they found a few early half-chances, but it was the confident Africans who struck against the run of play. Finidi George's whipped-in corner in the 25th minute was deflected by captain Paolo Maldini straight into the path of Emmanuel Amunike. The 23-year-old reacted instinctively in the six-yard box, flicking the ball past the outrushing goalkeeper with the outside of his left boot.

Arrigo Sacchi's Italy were hardly built for offensive firepower, especially with Baggio shaken, and a brutally hot day did them no favours. Full of self-belief, the Nigerians defended solidly even without usual captain Stephen Keshi, who had been left on the bench by coach Clemens Westerhof, while central midfielders Jay Jay Okocha and Sunday Oliseh – aged just 20 and 19 respectively – were strong and supremely comfortable on the ball.

George and Amunike offered Nigeria pace in abundance down the flanks, and the threat of counterattack kept the Europeans off balance for the rest of the first half and into the second. Most of Italy's threats were coming from set-pieces, the most promising a short corner that worked its way to Dino Baggio at the right post, but goalkeeper Peter Rufai made a spectacular reaction save to his left.

Things got even worse for Italy in the 75th minute when Gianfranco Zola was sent off just 10 minutes after coming on as a substitute. The diminutive forward had undoubtedly unleashed a rash attempt at a tackle on Augustine Eguavoen after losing the ball in the Nigeria area, and he crumpled to the pitch crying "no, no, no". In disbelief, Zola stood by the touchline refusing the leave as Nigerian players offered their condolences. Italy, however, continued to dictate the action as Nigeria retreated into their own half to run out the clock. They were just two minutes away from doing that when Baggio began his march into the history books.

A quick move down the right fed Roberto Mussi, who did well to carry the ball into the box. He slid it perfectly into the path of Baggio, who forgot his struggles and with his first touch calmly slotted the ball inside the left post from 14 yards out. The 'Divine Ponytail' was in full swing, celebrating for the first time in the tournament – just when needed most. And after Dino Baggio's flicked ball into the box for Antonio Benarrivo drew a clear penalty in extra time, there was no question who would take it. Undone with two minutes to go in regulation time, Nigeria could find no way back despite an ugly late miss by Yekini, and the day belonged to Baggio.

The star
The joy that swept Roberto Baggio's face after his equaliser had handed Italy a lifeline was clear and obvious. But there was also a determination there, a look that was still in place when he put the ball on the spot for his 100th-minute penalty kick. Just like his equalising shot seemed to have eyes of its own, his penalty pinged off the inside of the post with the goalkeeper left lunging the other way. Form restored, Baggio went on to strike the winner in the quarter-finals against Spain and a brace against Bulgaria in the last four.

What they said
"The game is never finished until the referee blows the last whistle. You don't rejoice. We were holding the ball, playing tap-tap-tap, and we just lost concentration. When you have players like Baggio, they punish you for mistakes like that," Nigeria midfielder Finidi George.

What happened next?
After leading the Azzurri to the Final against Brazil, a partially fit Baggio missed the last spot-kick of a post-match shoot-out to hand the South Americans the USA 94 title. Italy would have to wait until Germany 2006 to win their fourth world crown. Nigeria coach Westerhof resigned soon after the match, but their surprise performance in the United States gave way to perhaps their finest moment – a gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Football Tournament. They would make the second round just as impressively at France 98 only to crash out 4-1 to Denmark.

www.fifa.com

Published in Historical Matches
Sunday, 01 April 2012 16:52

Roberto Baggio

Full Name : Roberto Baggio
Date Of Birth: February 18, 1967
Place of Birth: Caldogno, Italy
Height: 1.74 m (5 ft 8+1⁄2 in)
Position: Deep-lying forward
Current Club: - (retired)
National Career: 1988-2004
Caps: 56 (27)
www.robertobaggio.com

Roberto Baggio (born 18 February 1967 in Caldogno, Veneto) is a retired Italian footballer, among the most technically gifted and popular players in the world throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. He played for the Italian national team in three World Cups, and is the only Italian player ever to score in three World Cups. He was the best Italian player of the 1994 FIFA World Cup, carrying his team to the final, but was one of the three players who missed a penalty in the final which contributed to Italy losing the trophy to Brazil on penalties. He won both the European Footballer of the Year (Ballon d'Or) and the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1993.
Born in Caldogno, a small town in Northern Italy near Vicenza on the 18 February 1967. Aside from Roberto, the Baggio family had five other children; Gianna, Walter, Carla, Giorgio, Eddy and Anna Maria.
As a youngster, Roberto always had a keen interest in the sport of football and played for a local youth club over a period of nine years. After scoring 6 goals in one game; Baggio was persuaded by scout Antonio Mora to join Vicenza.

Club career

Baggio began his professional career at native club Vicenza in Serie C1 during 1982. Fiorentina snapped him up in 1985, and during his years there, he rose to cult status among the team's fans who consider him to be one of their best ever players. He made his Serie A debut on 21 September 1986 against Sampdoria. He scored his first league goal on 10 May 1987 against Napoli in a match best remembered for Napoli winning the Scudetto for the first time in their history.
He was sold to Juventus amid large outcry from Fiorentina fans in 1990 for 25 billion Italian lira (US$19 million), the world record transfer for a football player at the time. Following the transfer, there were full scale riots on the streets of Florence where fifty people were injured. Baggio replied to his fans saying: "I was compelled to accept the transfer".
In 1993 he won his lone European club trophy, helping Juventus to the UEFA Cup. His performances earned him both the European Footballer of the Year and the FIFA World Player of the Year titles.
Baggio won his first Scudetto with Juventus in 1995. This was the first of many league titles to come for Juventus in the 1990s. After strong pressure from AC Milan chairman Silvio Berlusconi, he was sold to the Milanese club. He helped the club win the Serie A title, becoming the first player to win the scudetto in consecutive years with different teams[citation needed]. Baggio really joined Juventus in a bad period in their history, it was revealed years later, in 2005, that he was all set to join in fact Milan and that his agent had done the deal to go to Juventus instead without Baggio knowing about. Had Baggio joined van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard etc, he surely would have won more honours than he did.
In 1997, when he was thought to be on the downside, Baggio transferred to Bologna in order to resuscitate his career, and after scoring a personal best 22 goals that year, was included in Italy's starting eleven for the 1998 FIFA World Cup in place of the younger and favoured Del Piero. Cesare Maldini has since been severely criticised for starting Del Piero ahead of Baggio, who was clearly in the better form, for the quarter-final match against France. When Baggio did come on for Del Piero, Italy seemed to play a lot better and Baggio nearly scored with a superb volley which only just missed the target. Had Baggio scored that shot, Italy would have won via the "golden goal" rule, and France would never have been World Champions. Cesare Maldini later apologized to Baggio for not giving him the playing time he deserved.
After the 1998 World Cup, Baggio signed with Inter Milan. This proved to be an unfortunate move, as the then coach Marcello Lippi did not favour Baggio and hardly played him. This caused Baggio to lose his place in the national team, but whenever he could get onto the field, he never left fans disappointed. In his autobiography, Baggio later declared that Lippi had effectively dumped him after Baggio had refused to point out which Inter's players had expressed negative opinions about the coach. His last contribution to Inter Milan was two classic Baggio goals against Parma in the playoff for the last remaining UEFA Champions League place.
After two years with Inter, in order to be called up for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, he transferred to previously unfashionable Brescia. Despite a severe injury, he miraculously recovered before the end of the season. However, Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni did not take Baggio to Korea and Japan. Fans and pundits criticised the omission of Baggio, and Italy without the inspiration of Baggio was eliminated before reaching the quarter-finals, failing to reach expectations.
Baggio continued playing at Brescia until his retirement in 2004. He played his last game on May 16, 2004 at the San Siro against Milan. In the 88th minute, Brescia coach Gianni De Biasi subbed Baggio off so he could get his curtain call. The 80,000 present at the San Siro gave him a big standing ovation. He ended his career with 205 goals in Serie A, making him the fifth-highest scorer of all time behind Silvio Piola, Gunnar Nordahl, Giuseppe Meazza and José Altafini. His number 10 jersey was retired by Brescia. He scored his 300th career goal on 16 December 2002 in Brescia's 3-1 home victory over Piacenza. He is the first player in over 50 years to reach this milestone, behind only Piola (364) and Meazza (338).

International career

Baggio totalled 27 goals in 56 caps for his national team, the fourth-highest of all time for Italy. He is the only Italian player ever to score in three World Cups, with a total of 9 career World Cup goals which puts him even with Christian Vieri and Paolo Rossi as Italy's top World Cup scorers.

1990 FIFA World Cup
Baggio's first World Cup was the 1990 FIFA World Cup, and although he was used most often as a substitute in the tournament, he was still able to display his quality, scoring twice including the "goal of the tournament" against Czechoslovakia. Baggio is also much remembered for his class; although regularly designated the penalty shooter for his team, he stepped aside when Italy was awarded one in the third place match, allowing teammate Salvatore Schillaci to score and capture the Golden Shoe.

1994 FIFA World Cup
Baggio was the cornerstone of the Italy team during the 1994 FIFA World Cup, leading them to the final after a disappointing start. He scored five goals, all in the knockout phase, and he started every match from the beginning: two in the round of 16 to beat Nigeria (scoring with 2 minutes left of the game sending it into extra time, and then another goal in extra time), one in the quarter-finals to top Spain (the game winner with 3 minutes remaining) and two to beat Bulgaria in the semi-finals. Baggio was not fully fit for the final against Brazil, which ended 0-0 after extra time; he took Italy's last penalty in the resulting shoot-out, but his kick went over the cross-bar and the Brazilians won the title. Two other Italians, Franco Baresi and Daniele Massaro, had already missed penalties; had Baggio scored, Brazil would have still had a penalty to win the Cup nevertheless. Baggio has since been blamed for costing Italy that World Cup despite the fact that he singlehandedly carried a weak and aging Italian team to the final.
Baggio finished tied for second in the tournament in goals scored and was named one of the top three players.

1998 FIFA World Cup
In the opening match of the 1998 FIFA World Cup, Italy played Chile. The first goal was scored by Christian Vieri on an assist by Baggio. Chile took the lead 2-1, and Baggio would later make a good pass to Filippo Inzaghi but the Chilean keeper Nelson Tapia made an excellent save to keep the score 2-1. That was only the third time a team took the lead over Italy in a World Cup throughout the 1990s. Towards the end of the game a Baggio cross touched a Chilean defender's hand, resulting in a penalty scored by Baggio which made the score 2-2. With this goal, he became the first Italian player to score in three World Cups. The Italian fans had already forgiven Baggio for his 1994 penalty miss, as it was well accepted that he was the main reason the Italian side got so far in the tournament to begin with.
He scored two goals in the tournament; he also scored the winning goal against Austria as Italy topped their group.
In the quarter-final match against France, Baggio would come on as a substitute in the second half. Italy had only one shot in the entire match which was just inches away, from none other than Baggio; the score remained 0-0 and the match went to a penalty shootout.Baggio scored his penalty, but Italy lost to the eventual champions France. He was one of Italy's main contributors of that tournament, the other being Christian Vieri in a team full of talent and also known for playing defensive football.

After retirement
Baggio was given an international send-off match on 28 April 2004 against Spain.
He was invited to play for the European XI at the Football for Hope Indian Ocean tsunami relief benefit on 15 February 2005 at the Nou Camp in Barcelona, but he declined the invitation.
Applied for the vacant manager's role at Bohemian FC in 2005, but was turned down in favour of Gareth Farrelly.
Baggio wrote an autobiography titled Una porta nel cielo (A Goal in the Sky, but also A Gate...). In it, he told of many rifts with managers.
Baggio is known as Il Divin Codino (The Divine Ponytail), for the hairstyle he wore for most of his career and his Buddhist background.
On his 40th birthday (February 18, 2007), Roby started his new website to converse with his fans. As per his website he doesn't intend to return to mainstream football but rather exchange words with his fans on his blogs.

Honours

Club
Vicenza
Serie C1: 1984-85
Juventus
UEFA Cup Winner's Cup top scorer: 1990-91
Coppa Italia: 1995
UEFA Cup: 1993
Serie A: 1994-95
AC Milan
Serie A: 1995-96
Italy International Team
FIFA World Cup
Runner-up: 1994
Individual
Fourth soccer player always (to the shoulders of Pelè, Maradona and Eusebio) second a promoted world-wide survey from the FIFA via Internet
U-23 European Footballer of the Year: 1990
European Footballer of the Year (Ballon d'Or/Golden Ball): 1993
FIFA World Player of the Year: 1993
World Footballer of the Year: 1993
Platinum Football award by TV Sorrisi and Canzoni: 1992
Onze D'Or by French Magazine 'Onze Mondial': 1993
Bravo award with Fiorentina: 1990
Golden Guerin with Vicenza: 1985
Golden Guerin with AC Milan: 1996
Golden Guerin with Brescia: 2001
Azzuri Team of The Century: 2000
FIFA Dream Team of All-Time: 2002
'Most Loved Player' Award via Internet Polls: 2001
'Most Loved Player' Award at the Italian Oscars: 2002
FIFA 100: 2004
Giuseppe Prisco award: 2004
The Champions Promenade - Golden Foot 2003
considered by UEFA as one of the 50 Best European Players (held in celebration of UEFA's 50th anniversary)
considered by 'World Soccer' as one of the 100 Greatest Footballers
considered by 'France Football' as one of the Football Players of the Century
Guerin's Sportivo 150 Grandi del Secolo
Placar's 100 Craques do Seculo
Planète Foot's 50 Meilleurs Joueurs du Monde
Italy All-time XI by Football Italia
Juventus All-time XI by Football Italia

Selected statistics

318 goals in all competitions
76 goals from 91 penalties (best all time record in Italy)
32 goals in European competitions
9 goals in World Cup finals (Italia 90, USA 94, France 98)

Religion

Baggio, formerly a Catholic, has converted to Buddhism. He is a member of the Soka Gakkai International Buddhist Organization.

Records

Baggio played in 16 World Cup finals matches for Italy. Ireland is the only team against which Baggio played more than once in his 16 games of FIFA World Cup play. He is the highest Italian goalscorer of all-time in the World Cup, with 9 goals from 16 appearances (along with Rossi and Vieri). But Baggio is the only Italian to have scored in three World Cups. Baggio has scored 86 percent of his penalties in Serie A and International football, scoring 106 out of 122 penalties, more than any other player in Italian football history.
When Baggio was in the national team, Italy always left the World Cup at penalties: in 1990 against Argentina, in 1994 against Brazil, and in 1998 against France. Therefore, In 16 world cup matches he played Italy lost only one, Italy's opening game of USA 94 against Ireland. When Baggio played his 16th and last world cup game against Brazil, Brazil's player with most caps in the World Cup did not have 16 games.

Trivia

Roberto Baggio's younger brother, Eddy Baggio, is also a footballer. He currently plays with Pisa and has spent his whole career in the lower divisions of Italian football, never making an appearance in Serie A.
Baggio was the main player for Italian sportswear company Diadora. Throughout his whole career he wore Diadora football boots and gear.
Baggio lends his name to Roberto Baggio's Magical Kicks. It is a 2D internet game where you pick the Height, direction, and curve of a free kick.

Published in Players