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Canales: Liga MX Best XI

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Apr 25, 2006

World Cup 1994 - Hosts USA

In an attempt to convert the 'New World' to a different form of football, FIFA chose the USA as hosts, a decision greeted with massive scepticism.

But despite 'soccer' being way down the American sporting popularity list, it was full houses all round throughout the tournament.

After a Hollywood-style opening ceremony in which Diana Ross, rather prophetically, missed a penalty, Germany beat Bolivia in rather unconvincing fashion. This too was to prove prophetic.

Brazil, after two poor World Cups, looked stronger than they had since 1982, with Barcelona striker Romario at the very peak of his predatory powers.

Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira had added a defensive ballast to midfield in the tandem of Mauro Silva and Dunga. It paid dividends in the opening wins over Russia and Cameroon.

The final group game came against a strong and free-scoring Sweden side and honours were shared as both progressed.

Russia and Cameroon both exited prematurely but not without sharing a record-breaking match. Russia's Oleg Salenko scored a record five goals in a 6-1 win over the Cameroons for whom Roger Milla became, at an official age of 42 (some say he was older), the oldest ever scorer in the World Cup.

Argentina started in a similar fashion to Brazil, thrashing the Greeks 4-0 in Boston and then beating the impressive Nigerians 2-1.

While Gabriel Batistuta and Caniggia fired the bullets, the strings were pulled by Fernando Redondo and Diego Maradona, back playing after a ban for cocaine use and a series of false starts at Napoli, Seville and Newell's Old Boys.

Looking suspiciously trim and energetic, Maradona lashed in an amazing goal against Greece and celebrated maniacally.

Argentina became most people's favourites for the tournament. Until, at least, the news came out that Maradona had tested positive for banned stimulant ephedrine.

Broken by the loss of their leader, Argentina faded against Bulgaria in their last group game and now faced the challenge of Romania in the second round.

The Romanians had won a group that included the hosts and Colombia, Pele's pick to win the tournament. But Colombia, for all their pretty passing moves, fell to the wiles of Gheorge Hagi in their opener and then catastrophically lost to the USA in their next, putting them out.

Harrowingly, defender Andres Escobar paid for an own-goal with his life, shot by gangsters on his return to Medellin. It was an unbelievable incident which still casts a shadow over Colombian football.

Jack Charlton's Ireland continued to delight the neutrals by beating Italy in New York after a tremendous goal from Ray Houghton. They met a rather damp end to their campaign in the second round when a mistake by Italia '90 hero Packie Bonner handed progress to the Dutch.

The hosts put up a brave showing against Brazil but lost to a late strike from Bebeto, Brazil's other striker. Germany struggled to get past the Belgians while Italy needed a late equaliser from Roberto Baggio against Nigeria.

Baggio, rumoured to be at odds with coach Arrigo Sacchi, was the hero on the field as he converted an extra-time penalty winner.

The best game of the round saw the Argentinians face the Romanians. Hagi, often termed the 'Maradona of the Carpathians', showed the Argentinians what they were missing, supplying two goals for Ilie Dumitrescu and then scoring himself. Well though Argentina played, Maradona's cutting edge was lacking and they were overrun by Romania's incisive attacking.

Sweden though, matched the Romanians in the quarter-final and held their nerve in a penalty shoot-out. The other quarters were all thrilling games. Brazil fought off a late Dutch surge to win 3-2 through a Branco goal.

Italy narrowly beat the Spanish with goals from Baggios Dino and Roberto. The Divine Ponytail struck his winner in the 88th minute but there was still time for an improbable miss from Julio Salinas. Spain, once again, had flattered to deceive.

The story of the round came when Bulgaria, with only one recognised star in Hristo Stoichkov, staged a late comeback to knock out the Germans. Stoichkov rattled in a free-kick after Matthaeus had put the Germans ahead from the spot. Then in dived the bald head of Yordan Letchkov to head the ball for an improbable winner.

Perhaps that Herculean effort was too much for the Bulgars as, in the semi-final, Roberto Baggio tore them apart. Stoichkov's penalty to make it 2-1 made the game look closer than it was.

Similarly the Swedes were outclassed in a dull semi-final with Brazil. A lone Romario strike was enough to take his team through.

After what had been a vastly entertaining tournament it was sad that the final was such a drab affair. It was worse than 1990. Both Romario and Baggio played despite injuries and their talents were dulled, with them both missing good opportunities.

Though Brazil played the more attacking football Italy defended well with Franco Baresi outstanding.

Despite a thrilling cameo from Brazil substitute Viola, extra-time petered out and penalties would, sadly, decide which side could win the World Cup for a record fourth time.

Baresi and Marcio Santos both missed and, after an exchange of two successful kicks, Daniele Massaro's poor effort was saved by Claudio Taffarel.

After Dunga had given Brazil the advantage, up stepped Roberto Baggio, so deadly all tournament. He blazed over, choosing power over the precision that had served him so well, and Brazil were champions.