Saturday, July 17, 2010

July 17, 1994: The Beautiful Game in America

PASADENA, Calif. - There were plenty of skeptics when the United States was awarded the 1994 World Cup. Soccer fans around the world wondered how the tournament could succeed in a country where the sport was barely a blip on the radar, where the national team was close to irrelevant.

The full stadiums around the country and the passionate fans found in every city where games were played put those concerns to rest. The 52 matches saw an average of 69,000 fans, and the full tournament attendance of nearly 3.6 million set a World Cup record that still stands, despite the fact that the tournament has since expanded from 24 to 32 teams, thus allowing for more games.

On the field, the United States surprised many by advancing out of the group stage, with help from an own goal by Columbia's Andres Escobar. Escobar's murder 10 days after the World Cup - apparently in retaliation for the own goal - cast a permanent pall over the tournament.

The biggest individual star of the tournament was probably Roberto Baggio of Italy, who, after being held scoreless in group play, scored five goals in the next three games to lead the Italians to the final against Brazil.

As for the final ... well, there have been more exciting games played. Played on July 17 in front of 94,000 fans at the Rose Bowl, Italy and Brazil played a careful, slow-paced game, devoid of many scoring chances. The match went into extra time scoreless and became the first World Cup Final to be decided on penalty kicks. There, with Brazil leading 3-2, Baggio had another chance to be the hero for Italy, but his attempt went over the bar, giving Brazil its fourth championship.

Baggio's miss:

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