The Malta Independent 3 December 2021, Friday

World Cup Moments, 1994: Penalties decide low key but financially successful American tournament

Saturday, 9 June 2018, 10:00 Last update: about 4 years ago
Romario, who was voted best player of the tournament, lifts the FIFA?World Cup after Brazil won the penalty shoot-out against Italy in the final. Photo:?FIFA
Romario, who was voted best player of the tournament, lifts the FIFA?World Cup after Brazil won the penalty shoot-out against Italy in the final. Photo:?FIFA

The 1994 FIFA World Cup was held in the United States and despite the host nation's lack of a national top-level football league, the tournament was the most financially successful in the tournament's history; it broke the World Cup average attendance record with nearly 69,000 spectators per game, a mark that still stands.

Brazil won this low-key tournament after beating Italy 3–2 in a penalty shootout at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California near Los Angeles, after the game had ended 0–0 after extra time. The victory made Brazil the first nation to win four World Cup titles.

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USA-Vice-President Al Gore handed Brazilian captain Dunga the prestigious trophy; the Brazilian national team dedicated the title to the deceased Formula One motor racing champion and countryman Ayrton Senna, who had died two and a half months prior

Andrés Escobar Saldarriaga was a Colombian footballer who played as a defender. Escobar was murdered in the aftermath of the 1994 FIFA World Cup, reportedly as retaliation for having scored an own goal which contributed to the team's elimination from the tournament.

Bulgaria was one of the biggest surprises of the tournament. The Bulgarians had never won a game in five previous World Cup finals but, led by Hristo Stoichkov who eventually shared the tournament lead in scoring, they made a surprising run; Bulgaria won two of their three group games to qualify for the second round, where they advanced with a   3–1 penalty shoot-out win over Mexico. Bulgaria then faced the reigning world champions, Germany, in the quarterfinals, where goals from Stoichkov and Yordan Letchkov gave them a 2–1 victory. Bulgaria went on to finish in fourth place after losing to Italy in the semifinals.

Much more was expected from Colombia but they still hit the headlines. Days after returning home from the 1994 World Cup in the United States, Colombia defender Andres Escobar was shot dead in his hometown of Medellin.

The murder ranks as one of the most shocking moments in World Cup history and cast a shadow over the rest of the tournament.

Italy’s Roberto Baggio, top, and Franco Baresi react after missing their penalties in the final penalty shoot-out which handed Brazil their fourth World Cup.

It appeared to be directly linked to the inadvertent own-goal he scored that gave the host country the lead in their group match at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles on June 22. Colombia eventually lost the game 2-1, and with it any chance of progressing further in the tournament.

The team, faced widespread criticism at home for failing to get out of a relatively easy group that also included Romania and Switzerland.

On July 2, with the World Cup in full swing, the 27-year-old Escobar was out at a bar in Medellin, a city then teeming with drug traffickers. Escobar was harangued about the own-goal and was then shot repeatedly.

Brazil players Bebeto and Marcio Santos hold a banner in homage to Formula One legend Ayrton Senna, who died shortly before the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA kicked off, shortly after overcoming Italy on penalties in the Final. Photo: FIFA

The motive for the murder has never been clearly established but many still link it to the fury of Colombian drug lords at losing a gambling fortune because of the country’s surprisingly early World Cup exit.

Humberto Munoz Castro, who had connections to a powerful Colombian cartel, was arrested and confessed to the killing. He refused to implicate his bosses. Found guilty, Munoz was initially handed a 43-year jail term. He served only 11 years.

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