|Life After Football|
It’s now 3 weeks until the World Cup kicks off in Russia and as such, we’re counting down the days with a throwback every Thursday until then.
So far, there's been a lot of happy memories. A lot of goals, a lot of joy and even some dancing. But to only highlight the good times would be to only show one half of football, for there is always a winner and a loser. For every goal that's scored, there's a goalkeeper that let it in. For every World Cup winning team, there's a nation in despair that they lost in the final. And it's that which will sadly always fall on Roberto Baggio's shoulders...
Oh, football is a cruel game.
The Italian striker famed for his haircut and above all, his exceptional skill, was one of the best players in the world at the time of the 1994 World Cup in USA. And he did nothing but prove that in the tournament, scoring no less than five goals out in America, all of them vital.
Two of them came in a knockout game against Nigeria as Baggio equalised in the 88th minute to take the game to extra-time - the hero of a nation. In the same game, Baggio displayed his nerves of steel and ability from the penalty spot and he won the game for the Italians with an extra-time penalty. And more was to come.
An 87th-minute winner against Spain was dramatic and heroic once more and was followed by another brace against Bulgaria in the semi-final. Roberto Baggio was on top of the world and he'd almost single-handedly dragged his side into the World Cup Final. They were one step away from the ultimate triumph and had the player of the tournament in their ranks... what could go wrong?
A tight, nervy and an almost forgettable final against Brazil was played out in the heat of Pasadena, California. The United States' first major exposure to world-class football was proving to be a fairly drama-free affair as far as the final was concerned, with the retro shirts and old-school branding across the advertising boards providing as much entertainment as the goalless game.
An enormous crowd of 94, 194 watched in the Rose Bowl as the game went all the way to penalties. And, in truth, as soon as the legendary Franco Baresi missed Italy's opening spot-kick, danger was on the cards. But how cruel is football that, with Italy needing to score to stay in the final, Roberto Baggio, the golden boy of the summer, would be the one to take the penalty?
What happened is infamous as the clinical finisher skied his spot-kick over the bar - his head folded into his hands in despair whilst scenes of joy play out for those dressed in yellow. The hero of the tournament ended as the villain, taking the worst penalty that the 1994 World Cup had seen since Whitney Houston had dragged one wide at the opening ceremony.
The game will still leave a bitter taste in the mouth of Italians but serves as a reminder that the greatest show on earth causes as much pain as it does joy.