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Brazil-Italy is the Superclasico of the World Cup, the most traditional game in the major football competition. The Azzurri and the Selecao have crossed their paths many times in the history of the world tournament, always in the latest stages of the competition and with much at stake.
The first matchup, a Semifinal played at Marseille’s Vélodrome in 1938, fades into legend. The future World Champions Azzurri defeated the allegedly overconfident Brazilians 2-1 through goals of Giuseppe Meazza and Gino Colaussi. The story, as told on the Italian side, goes that the Selecao were so confident they would win, that they had already bought their train tickets to reach Paris for the Final – which they would end up reselling to the Italians.
Brazil faced Italy without their most representative striker Leonidas Da Silva, who was rumored to be resting on the bench so he could have more energy in the Final. More realistically, the deadly Diamante Negro was simply injured, having been brutally fouled and hammered by his opponents in the previous matches.
In 1970, Italy and Brazil crossed swords again, this time for the last act of the tournament. In what was probably the best World Cup edition ever, the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City staged the ultimate battle for the football supremacy: Conquering the Rimet Cup, which both sides had already won twice – but which only a three-time winner would retain forever.
Italy had already carved their piece of history in the Mexican tournament, triumphing in El Partido del Siglo, the Semifinal won 4-3 over West Germany – Italia-Germania-quattro-a-tre, as the most aged calcio fans still dub it, all in one breath and with shiny eyes. But Brazil, well, was Pele’s Brazil. The Azzurri held their own for one half, with Roberto Boninsegna equalizing O Rei’s opener, but then collapsed under the strikes of Gérson, Jairzinho, and Carlos Alberto. The Rimet was Brazilian!
The 1978 third place match in Buenos Aires was a melancholy game between two scorned sides that had missed the Final. The South Americans won 2-1, with goals by Nelinho and Dirceu.
Four years later, Brazil and Italy met again in a second stage group match in Barcelona. July 5, 1982, was the day when Paolo Rossi suddenly remembered to himself that he was a world-class player, and delivered an astonishing hat-trick to give the Azzurri a thrilling 3-2 win, and perpetually haunt the Brazilian nightmares.
It was also the day when, with a few minutes to go and the score set to 3-2 already, 42-year-old goalkeeper Dino Zoff sprang like a cat to block on the goal line a header by Paulo Isidoro, which could have given Brazil access to the next stage. That was, as of today, the last time Italy beat the Brazilians in any competition, whether friendly or official.
And then, there was that. The Final of World Cup 1994 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, near Los Angeles. An abnormal last act, if only for the fact that it was played at 12.30 PM under a scorching Californian sun, with 36 degrees Celsius and 70% of humidity. Inevitable boredom that resulted in the first goalless World Cup Final, the first that required penalties to decide the outcome.
Nevertheless, the penalty lottery added some late spice to a game that consigned Brazil the long-yearned-for Tetra – the fourth world title the Selecao had been chasing since their 1970 trashing of the Azzurri.
World Cup 1994 opened a new era for the beautiful game, as the U.S.A. tournament was the first truly global one. Never had the top football competition been staged outside of Europe or Latin America. By tasking the United States to organize the 15th edition of the World Cup, FIFA brought football – pardon, soccer – in the houses of the Americans, who maybe still cared little about it, but surely knew how to put up a good show.
And since a good show required a good ending, it only made sense that it was up to Italy and Brazil to stage the final showdown. Historically, the matchup was a battle of two diametrically opposed football philosophies: Brazil’s creativity and futebol bailado versus Italy’s catenaccio. Six combined world cup titles in play. Roberto Baggio versus Romario, a clash of football geniuses. What a perfect script. If only the final didn’t end up being such a drag.
The Brazilian selection of 1994 was a football heresy, in the eyes of their own countrymen. An averagely-talented collection of players lined up by coach Carlos Alberto Parreira with a pretty – o, the horror! – defensive module. It was an unprecedented turning point for the local federation CBF which, after a decade of bubbling and sparkling football that didn’t earn the Auriverde anything, decided to put the Fate of the Nation in the hands of a manager who had been making himself a name cashing petrodollars and teaching futebol in the Gulf countries.
Many of Parreira’s pillars played in the Italian Serie A. Goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel scraped out a football living in low-level Reggiana, whereas Aldair in Roma and Branco in Genoa had better fortunes.
Fiorentina’s future defender Marcio Santos was the team’s fairytale: An average center back who found his place among the 22-man list for the U.S.A. only due to the simultaneous injuries of Ricardo Rocha, Ricardo Gomes, and Mozer.
But Brazil was still Brazil after all, and even if two-thirds of the team were probably the less talented generation the Selecao ever produced, their front line could still boast a formidable pair of forwards, who would end up tallying 8 out of the 11 goals scored by Brazil in the tournament.
On one hand, Romario, a flamboyant Barcelona striker known for his exploits both on and off the football pitch. On the other hand, the lesser famous and unjustly underestimated Bebeto, capable of scoring 86 goals during his four-year stint with Deportivo La Coruna in Spain.
Parreira‘s squad also included 17-year-old Ronaldo Luis Nazario da Lima, but time was not ready yet for the future Fenomeno, who didn’t set foot on the American pitches.
Brazil’s campaign towards U.S.A. 1994 didn’t quite start well, with the Selecao choking on altitude in La Paz and slipping 0-2 to Bolivia to concede their first defeat ever in the World Cup Qualifiers. However, the 51-year-old trainer managed to put his side promptly back on track, and Brazil mostly kept going on autopilot since then on – reaching the Final in Pasadena without arousing much enthusiasm, but not running any major risk either.
The Azzurri, on the other hand, had been literally grabbed at the airport gate and recalled back into the World Cup by Roberto Baggio, who equalized for Italy in the 88th minute, with his side down 0-1 to tournament sensation Nigeria, in a Round of 16 game. From then on, 1994 became the World Cup of Roberto Baggio, at least according to the Italian narrative.
The Divin Codino took Italy by their hands, and led them to the Final, passing through enthusiastic wins over Spain and Bulgaria. But he arrived at the last match exhausted, and couldn’t have much of an impact, as we will see later.
The Italian squad at World Cup 1994 was a concocted football experiment conceived by trainer Arrigo Sacchi. The once legendary Milan coach had never won the Nazionale supporters’ hearts, who struggled to cope with his hubris and apparently confused ideas. In the space of two years, the Prophet of Fusignano had called 70 different players to wear the Azzurri jersey, going as far as managing to lose 1-2 a practice match with Serie C2 (Italy’s fourth tier) club Pontedera…
Sacchi surely didn’t have any limited resources problem: For his attacking line, on top of the Divin Codino, he could choose among Daniele Massaro, Gianfranco Zola, Pierluigi Casiraghi, and moreover Giuseppe Signori.
Lazio’s Signori, a two-time Serie A top scorer, was a real rebus for the coach. Signori used to (understandably) perform better as a striker, but Sacchi preferred to deploy him on the left midfield flank, with mixed results. People wished him to play together with Baggio on the front line, but the two made for a too light attacking duo. Sacchi did try them in the first World Cup game, but a 0-1 loss to Ireland suggested him to get back to his idea of hijacking Lazio’s forward to midfield.
Italy’s defense was mostly built on Fabio Capello’s Milan block, an authentic minefield that had allowed the Rossoneri to win Serie A without scoring more than two goals in any game, and conceding only 15 in 34 matches. There was a big hole in the middle of it, however, with libero and captain Franco Baresi ruled out since the second game with Norway due to an injury.
The Final in Pasadena was held on July 17, at 12.30 PM, with unsustainable weather conditions. The Rose Bowl was an immense cauldron filled with heat, humidity, and 94000 spectators.
Franco Baresi miraculously recovered after a surgical intervention to his meniscus sustained only 20 days earlier (!). Arrigo Sacchi ultimately scraped Beppe Signori and left the keys of his offensive solutions to the exhausted Roberto Baggio and Provvidenza (“Godsend”) Daniele Massaro.
Carlos Alberto Parreira resorted to his usual lineup, but the injury of right back Jorginho after 21 minutes forced him to send in a 25-year-old semi-unknown player from Sao Paulo. His name was Marcos Evangelista de Morais, better known as Cafu. On that day, he made the first step towards his record of becoming the only one to have played in three World Cup Finals in a row.
Partly because they were tired, partly because of the weather conditions, and also due to both teams having a pretty defensive approach – but the fact is that both sides seemed on a quest to make the game an even more disappointing show that what seen in the previous World Cup last act, with West Germany and Argentina staging the worst Final ever seen.
Only Azzurri’s goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca took care of eliciting some emotions by giving Italian fans worldwide an unnecessary heart attack. With 15 minutes to go, Mauro Silva went for the shot from out of the box. It was not an irresistible conclusion, but the then Sampdoria goalie failed to block the ball, which slipped out of his grip, hit the post, and miraculously bounced back right into his hands. Pagliuca gently kissed his savior, creating one of the clearest images of the match, also because there weren’t many more.
He partially redeemed himself during extra time, blocking a shooting attempt by Romario originating from a right-side cross by Cafu – who was already showing a somewhat big talent for running up and down his flank (when he eventually came to play in Italy, he was nicknamed Pendolino, a reference to a local high-speed train).
Roberto Baggio’s only spark was a shot from sidereal distance that Claudio Taffarel easily deflected above the crossbar. Penalties were the inevitable conclusion.
Franco Baresi sent the first penalty into orbit, but Gianluca Pagliuca continued with his redemption and pushed back Marcio Santos’ first attempt for the Selecao.
Demetrio Albertini, Romario, Alberigo Evani and Branco all scored.
Then Daniele Massaro saw a weak shot saved by Taffarel, and Dunga – an essential, down-to-earth midfielder who perfectly represented the true essence of this hard-working Brazil – was stone cold to put Parreira’s selection ahead in the series.
Roberto Baggio was the last one to shot, and he had no choice. Once again, the hopes of a whole Country were placed on him. The path to glory was 11 meters long. But the Divin Codino, as we said, really didn’t have it anymore. He went for the ball with his right foot, but the sphere crazily reared up and got lost deep into the stands of the Rose Bowl. It was over.
Italian beloved TV commentator Bruno Pizzul, classy as usual, simply announced, suppressing his emotions: “The World Cup is over. Brazil win.”
The Selecao celebrated the tale of a humble Team that had renounced to their credo, relying on a rock-solid lineup that left little room for showmanship. Carlos Alberto Parreira had sold Brazil futebol’s soul to the devil to conquer the coveted Tetra. But none of this mattered anymore as soon as captain Dunga lifted the golden trophy to the sky, breaking a World Cup drought that had seemed endless for the kings of football.
The best dedication was made by the Brazilian players themselves, who during their post-match celebrations unrolled a huge banner reading: “Senna, aceleramos juntos. O Tetra é nosso” (“Senna, we accelerate together. The fourth title is ours!”). A tribute to acclaimed Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna, who had tragically perished in a race crash only a few months earlier.
A few years ago, Italian singer-songwriter Cesare Cremonini wrote that “ever since Senna doesn’t race anymore…ever since Baggio doesn’t play anymore…Sundays are no longer the same.” Lucky were those who, in 1994, could still see both things happening. Together with Brazil winning a World Cup in the most un-Brazilian possible way.
July 17, 1994 – FIFA World Cup 1994 Final
BRAZIL-ITALY 0-0 after extra time; 3-2 on penalties
PENALTY SEQUENCE: Baresi (I) out, Marcio Santos (B) saved, Albertini (I) goal, Romario (B) goal, Evani (I) goal, Branco (B) goal, Massaro (I) saved, Dunga (B) goal, R. Baggio (I) out
|BRAZIL (4-4-2) Taffarel; Jorginho (21′ Cafu), Aldair, Marcio Santos, Branco; Mauro Silva, Dunga, Mazinho, Zinho (106′ Viola); Romario, Bebeto (Zetti, Gilmar, Ricardo Rocha, Ronaldao, Rai, Leonardo, Paulo Sergio, Muller, Ronaldo) Coach: Parreira|
|ITALY (4-4-2): Pagliuca; Mussi (35′ Apolloni), Baresi, Maldini, Benarrivo; Berti, D. Baggio (95′ Evani), Albertini, Donadoni; R. Baggio, Massaro (Marchegiani, Bucci, Costacurta, Minotti, Tassotti, Conte, Casiraghi, Signori, Zola) Coach: Sacchi|
REFEREE: Puhl (Hungary)
NOTES: Attendance: 94000; Yellow Cards: Mazinho, Cafu (B), Albertini, Apolloni (I)