USA 1994 – When Soccer was reborn

by Ashleigh Rose

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Four years after my football inauguration at Italia 90, my education continued when the World Cup travelled to a place where it had boldly never been before. The England-less World Cup full of glitz, glamour, bookmarked by of the worst penalties misses you’ll ever see that was USA ’94. They were supposed to get it, it was meant to be a tournament that the host fans would shun but ultimately the good people of the US of A embraced the good game of soccer for the first time in decades.

They produced a mascot that looked like a Disney character, a logo that included the stars, stripes and a cleverly deployed ball and gave the tournament a team that consisted of characters such as Alexi Lalas and Cobi Jones. America have arrived at the top table of football and in return we gave them a finals that bridged old stars and fresh new ones, produced some of the World Cups most infamous moments and gave the world the first ever rockin’ baby celebration. And unlike the dull and defensive affair of four years previous, USA ’94 was a colourful entertaining affair with only the disappointing final to dent its place in World Cup history.

The big stars from 1990 were there, Klinsmann, Baggio and unbelievably Milla but 1994 was the year when the likes of Hristo Stoichkov, Gheorge Hagi, Gabriel Batistuta and Jay-Jay Okocha entertained the world stage for the first time. Defending champions Germany rode into town and were hugely fancied again but were shocked in the quarter-finals by the bullet baldness of Bulgarian Yordan Lethkov and in the end in was Brazil with Romario, Bebeto and Dunga that came out on top. The final however will be best remembered as the first showpiece that was decided on penalties as the divine ponytail himself Roberto Baggio skied the deciding penalty , with a spot-kick as bad as Diana Ross’s in the opening ceremony. I remember the moment vividly even if though I was an over-tired eleven year-old watching at gone one in the morning engrossed in a football’s greatest party.

Ok so there no was no England, so the fever back in the UK was on a much smaller scale then tournaments pre and post USA, but the Republic of Ireland led by Jack Charlton did make it. Pulling off a shock win over Italy in their opening game thanks to Ray Houghton’s stunning winner before John Aldridge’s spat with the fourth official in the blistering Orlando saw defeat against Mexico. And although Jack’s boys did progress out of their group they bowed out to some Dutch magic back in Orlando. It didn’t seem to matter that England weren’t there and liked I learnt later in life as heart-breaking it is to not be in major finals when they do roll around it’s nice to just appreciate the tournament without the emotional attachment. Even as an eleven year-old I could do that and I threw my support behind Ireland but more notably Brazil, even wearing the classic Umbro Brazil shirt to school!

If Italia 90 was where it all begun for me, 1994 is where my love for the World Cup was confirmed. The American stage that brought much scrutiny pre-tournament produced a finals that bar the final was of everything a World Cup should be. Fingers crossed 2010 will have the same impact to others experiencing sporting’s greatest event for the first time.

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