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 World Cup ' 98

 The World Cup in the United States was an unqualified success.

  Final Kick Means the World to Brazil

By Johnette Howard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 18, 1994; Page A1

 Italy's Roberto Baggio hangs his head after missing a penalty kick that gave Brazil its unprecedented fourth World Cup title. (John McDonnell/The Post)
PASADENA, Calif., July 17 — After 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of overtime in the searing sun, after players had been carried off writhing with their faces anguished and leg muscles knotted in cramps, after a tournament run in which superstar striker Roberto Baggio had rescued Italy twice in the dying minutes of games, all the strain and tension of today's dream World Cup championship final between Brazil and Italy had funneled down to this:

The sight of Baggio, the 1993 world player of the year, slowly making the 40-yard walk from midfield to the penalty spot 12 yards away from the goal, the drama rising with each deliberate step he took alone. The Rose Bowl crowd of 94,194 was standing. Italy needed this shot to stay alive in the penalty-kick round. It was Baggio's foot, remember, that sent Italy winging into this final at all. Now, despite a pulled hamstring muscle he suffered Wednesday, he had played today's entire game. Now, he teed the ball up for this penalty kick, eyed Brazilian goalkeeper Taffarel, then swung back his leg ...

And missed.

Baggio's shot floated over the crossbar by at least six feet. Taffarel — who nervously had been bobbing in place seconds earlier — never left his feet. After playing Italy to a 0-0 tie over 120 grueling minutes, Brazil won its unprecedented fourth World Cup title on penalty kicks, 3-2.

First Taffarrel just flung his head back and watched Baggio's ball sail away toward the stands. Then he shot up both arms and began sprinting toward the rest of his teammates at midfield — but they were already streaming toward him, forgetting the Italian players who lay strewn around the midfield circle, some with their faces stuck into the grass and their shoulders heaving as they cried.

In another sight not likely to be forgotten soon, Baggio remained frozen for a long moment on the penalty spot, his hands shoved down hard on his waist, his pony-tailed head hung in pain.

The pose figures to be the photo that's printed 'round the world Monday morning — the picture that left all of Italy stricken and sent Brazilian fans racing into the streets to samba and sing and stomp their feet.

Both Italy and Brazil were playing for an unprecedented fourth World Cup title today. Brazil's victory also marked its first since 1970, Pele's last World Cup win.

"I am happy Brazil is again number one in the world. Our mission has been accomplished," Brazil Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said.

"We believed this was our destiny," the beaming Taffarel chimed in.

With today's game, America's first-ever World Cup closed in Pasadena after a 52-game, month-long run that delivered all the promised pageantry and drama, shattered records for tickets sold and attendance, and gratefully did it all without the slightest whiff of hooliganism. A record 3,567,415 fans saw the games in nine American cities, including Washington, D.C.

While American organizers hope the tournament fanned the embers of professional soccer in the United States — the sport's last unconquered frontier — the rest of the world needs no such convincing.

Television officials said an estimated 2 billion people in more than 180 countries watched today's final. The game was preceded by a firework-filled 25-minute closing ceremony headlined by singer Whitney Houston, with support from several thousand dancers, flag bearers, and musicians. Once the game began biplanes droned above the sun-drenched Rose Bowl, dragging advertising banners for candy bars and fast-food chains, sneakers and soft drinks, and — this being California — a firm that peddles books about positive thinking.

Italy reached for an extra-special boost by starting defender Franco Baresi, the team's captain and inspirational leader. Baresi had arthroscopic knee surgery just 23 days ago, but somehow rushed back in time for today's game.

Even with Baresi back and playing remarkably on the back line, Italians were forced to play without mainstays Allesandro Costacurta and Mauro Tassotti, who were serving suspensions. And Baggio, of course, had his aching hamstring. But the Italians nonetheless tried, as promised, to play their usual attacking game. A lesser team would have withdrawn to a defensive posture from the start, but not Italy, Coach Arrigo Sacchi said before today's game. Italy is home of the best professional league in the world, and the nation considers its national side every bit as storied as soccer-mad Brazil's.

As the first half wore on, however, the Brazilians slowly began to create more and more scoring chances. And something Brazil defender Leonardo predicted on Saturday kept echoing in the back of the mind. "Italy will be trying to play [offense], just like us. And when they do, Romario and Bebeto will have the freedom to move."

Romario and Bebeto, Brazil's other star striker, did find room — if only in spurts. Bebeto's best chance came in overtime when he took a low, hard crossing pass from Cafu at the far post but bunted a left-footed shot just wide.

The much-anticipated showdown between Baggio and Romario didn't produce the goal-scoring spree some fans craved. But both attackers had their moments. Baggio's best chance came in the seventh minute of overtime, on a quick 35-yard shot that Taffarel leapt for and tipped over the eight-foot-high crossbar of the net.

Romario's closest call came late in the second half on a blast he launched quickly, on the run, while trying to take advantage of a screen. Italy goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca stopped the shot with his chest but the ball spun out of his arms, caromed off the goalpost to his right, then — as the crowd squealed — bounded right back into the relieved Pagliuca's arms.

Italy's good luck didn't last. The penalty kick round — which consists of five kicks to a side, then sudden death if the two teams remain tied — began badly for Italy when Baresi, a stalwart throughout the game, began with a miss he launched into the stands, almost as far as Baggio did.

But Italy's Pagliuca countered immediately with a save on Brazil's Marcio Santos. Then both sides made their next two kicks, setting up Taffarrel to become a hero when Daniele Massaro stepped up for his kick in Round 4. Taffarel made the stop and Brazil's Dunga, the tough-as-nails midfielder with the brush-cut hair, slammed home his attempt.

That left the great Baggio to make the longest walk of his life, first to the penalty spot, then off the field in defeat after his errant kick sailed by the net too high. Though Baggio didn't have much interest in rehashing today's fatal miss — he said only that he was "very disappointed" and "a shock of pain" went through his leg as he kicked — something he said after winning the semifinal game against Bulgaria still rang true. He was crying for joy then, and explained, "This is my life, this is my work. It is made up of sweat and tears."

Sweat and tears and a kick he'll remember as long as he draws a breath.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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