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Italy In USA 94

 

 

World Cup USA 94 (Italy VS. Ireland)

 

An article about the game Italy played and lost to Ireland in USA 94, which was also the first world cup match I ever saw.

 

It was the summer of 1994 and the date was June 18, a day on which Italy would be playing its first world cup game against the Republic of Ireland. I for my part would be not only watching it but even present at "Giant's Stadium" in the Meadowlands as I had gone through the trouble of getting a ticket, not only to see Italy take on Ireland but Norway in the next match as well. Regarding the game against Norway that had been a relatively easy task as interest had not been so high given there are not as many Norwegian Americans in New York or New Jersey as there are Irish Americans in these states. I however had pulled it off and would be sitting at "Giant's Stadium" hopefully to watch Italy beat Ireland like they had done four years before in "Italia 90".

 

By then I; it being four years after the tragedy had fully recovered from having lost to Argentina on penalties in 1990 and even from not having qualified to the European Nations Cup in 1992, which thanks to the by then already disintegrated Soviet Union, Italy did not play in. This would basically be Italy's first competitive match in a major tournament since that night so long ago in Napoli, against Argentina. I mean after all who really counts a match for third place in any tournament as competitive.

 

Many had been the changes in Italy, now being coached by Arrigo Sacchi, the man who had made Milan invincible or practically and was expected to at least get to the final of USA 94. Roberto Baggio, had also become our star player after Italia 90, who surely would be starting every game; him even being considered by many at the time as arguably the greatest player of his generation, along with Brazil's Romario and Argentina's Batistuta. Italy, naturally also had other solid players, some of which were new to the team, such as Dino Baggio (no relation to Roberto), and Daniele Massaro, from AC Milan and Signori from Lazio.

 

Of course as with every team that aspires to win a world cup, Italy also had those players who were returning from the previous tournament such as the more experienced Maldini and Baressi. Both these players coming from AC Milan, who had won that year's edition of the European Cup; presently known as the Champions League. As for notable absence, their really were not any, as most were healthy or least enough to start though some around the world wondered why Italy's top goal scorer from the last world cup; Schillaci would not be playing but this was basically due to his poor form in the years preceding the world cup. All things considered there was great reason for Italy's many fans to think their team could do in USA 94 what they had not managed to do in Italia 90 and that being to win the world cup.

 

In all this however there were other factors, and one of them being that Italy's team was overly dependent on Roberto Baggio and the form he showed on any particular day; basically what it boiled down to was Italy was as good or as bad as Roberto Baggio was. Another thing to consider was that though Italy had qualified to the world cup without too many difficulties, they had not really been overly impressive coming in second to Switzerland in their group.

 

This a team, whom they barely managed a 2-2 draw against while playing at home and had even lost to by 1-0 on their return match. I even recall one particular qualifying match in which Italy was forced to play under a practical blizzard of snow in Scotland that ended in 0-0. Roberto Baggio, having to be literally carried of the field after a collision with a Scottish player, both of whom were going for the same ball which was coming down. Qualifying had definitely not been all that easy however Baggio and company had prevailed and even managed a win in their last qualifying match against Portugal at home, when a draw would have sufficed to get them to USA 94.

 

I, at the time (as far as my life went) no longer found myself working in John Hancock's mutual fund department; having been laid off a couple of weeks earlier but not before having made a few bets with some of the Irish American at work, who naturally put their money on Ireland's greens while I did so on Italy's azzurri. I, however in looking back regarding my job would have in all honesty missed several days at work, in what would have been a first for me (who had not even taken one day off) in over a year at John Hancock, for as important as work is; this is football and a world cup at that, so it comes first. I imagine that to a lot of Americans, who do not descend from football playing countries; an attitude such as mine might seem strange, if not irresponsible but that is the way many all over the world feel about football. Some even go to the extreme of giving up their jobs and spending all their savings on going to the games to cheer their team to victory.

 

As for Ireland; they were definitely not a bad team, solid on defense with big strong players capable of shooting the ball with both legs, and not unskilled either. Ireland, also however did not have many good players on the bench and were limited in their attacking game to mostly plays that went down the flanks in order to set up the air ball in the box, for a header or a lucky bounce. These sometimes coming from their goalkeepers long distance kicks as had been the case with their tying goal against the Netherlands in Italia 90.

 

I, in all that concerned this most special day for me; will never forget the pride I took when putting on the blue shirt of the Italian national football team, in order to show my support for "La Squadra Azzurra". I being a fan also had purchased a small Italian flag in the part of Manhattan known as "Little Italy", where I would go on to watch the final. I was even slightly worried that I might end up being surrounded by a group of Irish fans; who probably would not take loosing too kindly. All of which made me hopeful of being in an Italian section but this I would have little control over.

 

As for the rest of the world cup, up and till that moment, only two games had been played with the first game ending with a surprisingly difficult 1-0 victory for Germany over Bolivia, while the second one held no unique attraction, other than it was the first world cup game ever to be played in an indoor stadium. This second game having been played the very day of the one I was getting ready to go to and having ended in a 1-1 draw between the USA and Switzerland, who in qualifying had given Italy everything it could handle.

 

In my excitement I also started thinking, how it was going to be the first game, I had ever seen live between two national teams which not only was not a friendly but a world cup match at that. I had never even seen as much as a qualifying match of any kind, not even to the European cup, so to me it was a huge deal to be able to see the nation of my forefathers in action against Ireland. This taking on an additional importance in New York City, given that many are either of Irish or Italian descent and are not always friendly toward each other.

 

I basically got in the spirit of the game that moment I bought my ticket however as for actually having it all around me; this came when I got to the Port Authority Bus terminal and saw all the flags, half of which were Irish and the other Italian. I, naturally looked to be near those who were Italian, as this was a day to be among one's contingents. The mood was definitely right for an international football game and as I looked around I could also see fans with painted faces, the Irish applying their national colors orange, green and white while Italians red, white and green.

 

Once at Port Authority I had no problems in catching a bus to Giant's Stadium, where the game would be played. As for the bus I took I would say it was evenly divided among both Italian and Irish supporters, with it being abundantly clear who was for which team based on the colors on the flags they carried. In all this however it was odd to see that most of the fans weather for Ireland or Italy were actually Americans descendent from one or the other, with most of the Italian fans not even speaking Italian. Something I noticed when I tried speaking to a few in Italian who at least recognized what language it was even if they could not understand or much less reply.

 

In all this I must say much to the credit of the organizers of this tournament, there was no violence of any kind from either side though the occasional racial or ethnic slur could be heard from both sides with Italians refereeing to the Irish as "micks". This given that many Irish have the letters Mc in their last name, while the Irish responded in not so kind be calling Italians "w.o.p.s" These three letters standing for "with out papers", as many Italians first arrived to America illegally and like the expression says without papers. However these "verbal taunts" for the most part were limited and did not, or at least that I saw degenerate in to physical violence.

 

After, a short bus ride, we that is I and my fellow Italian supporters entered Giant's Stadium and by then the electricity was everywhere, today we would see who would have bragging rights in the city of New York. Would it be the Irish or Italians? This we would soon find out and though Italy was slightly favorite, this did not connote automatic victory by any means.

 

The national anthems were played and in all sincerity I do not remember whose was played first but this did not matter; for both were sung with equal passion by both sides after which our two captains, Baresi for Italy and Bonner (goalkeeper) for Ireland exchanged flags and the game was on. I, naturally by then found myself in my seat and was fortunate, that I was in a part were Italians outnumbered Irish, which put me at ease that I should not have too much trouble. For instance as my brother-in-law did once; at a game in Spain 82 were he suffered a broken head, this despite his being from Madrid.

 

Italy started much as they had played up and till that point; with Baresi leading the team and organizing it from the back. All the while looking for Baggio's offensive creativity to provide us with the same kind of magic he had displayed for Juventus, the previous year that earned him the title of FIFA player of the year. Ireland as always solid, in their mobile defense, and always a danger on the counter attack, in fact there game was typical of the one mostly practiced on the British Isles and with Jack Charlton (brother of Bobby Charlton) as their coach why should it come as a surprise.

 

Chances there were some for Italy though Ireland, had studied their game plan well and goals would not come easy, however one did relatively early.  It coming when Houghton lobbed our goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca at the 11 minute mark of the game to put Ireland a head 1-0. A perfect shot it was and in the net it went, after which Houghton did a roll over as all the Irish faithful celebrated and grew in confidence that they could beat the team that had not only eliminated them from the last world cup but had come in third place, along with having won three world titles.

 

The lines of battle were clearly drawn at that point, Italy would have to go forward while Ireland could simply wait in the midfield and take advantage of any loose ball to go on the counter and increase their lead. Baggio, was being well taken care of, as this was not only our greatest scoring threat but the key to our offense and Charlton knew it. The first half would end and still we were down 1-0 and the Irish grew more sure of themselves.

 

The second half came and by then Italy started to worry and go forward in attack with more desperation, though Ireland was still solid in their wall of defense, while chants from their supporters got louder as did their reason to believe this could be their day in the summer as Saint Patrick's is theirs in the spring. It was actually half way through the second period that those of us who backed Italy could see that we might actually not only loose this game but not even end up getting on the score board. Chances we created but always the same result Bonner, and his defenders would not have anything put over on them or at least not on that day and in fact Ireland in the second half came closer to a second goal when they hit the post, than Italy did to a first.

 

The final whistle came, and so did the celebrations of the Irish, and did they ever want us to know they had gotten the best off us on that day. I, however for my part felt they played a good game but for Italy all was not lost. As they could still qualify, specially since many teams had lost their first match to go on not only to the second round but the finals as was the case with Argentina in 90 or Germany in 82, of course both these teams ended up loosing in the final but that was another issue. Italy could still do it but this would mean almost having to beat Norway, for a loss would really limit our chances though not completely for with the system at the time; 16 out of 24 teams qualified. This making it possible for the best four third place teams to make it and after all Uruguay and Bulgaria had both gone through to the second round in 86, on the strength of two draws and a loss. Hopefully, however it would not come to this for Italy as they would beat Norway but that is another game for that one had ended with the Irish on top by 1-0.

 

Italy's fans were depressed but as I explained to someone on the bus back to New York that all it was; was a set back and not the end, which those around me eventually did see it as. I even remember passing by a pizzeria near my apartment, me living in Brooklyn at the time in a part of the city reserved mostly for Polish immigrants (Green Point) and seeing how dejected, all my fellow Italians (some Italian American, some born in the old country) were though perhaps more so because we had lost to a team we were expected to beat.

 

Italy at that point was down but not out, but from then on we would have to get serious and play hard! Norway who had eliminated England was not going to be easy and this we all knew so bearing this in mind we would have to be at our best to beat them. Norway, who had qualified after a very long absence from the world cup scene. This however was for another day though same stadium.

 

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USA 94 (Italy VS. Norway)

 

An article about Italy's second match in USA 94, which saw hope come back to us who loved Italian football.

 

We had lost but we were not out! We were Italy, after all and we were not going to give up after only one defeat, specially since we had already won three world cups, been in the finals four times and been semifinalists six times. Our record demanded that we go out and show what we were capable of; this I knew and having settled this in my mind I set back and enjoyed the rest of the world cup before Italy's second match.

 

The other games were very good and though there were no great surprises, I got to see some really nice play from Argentina; who soundly defeated Greece 4-0 but this one could more or have expected. They having Maradona, who was back in form after his year and a half suspension for cocaine but that was already in the past. Marardona, was still young at 33 or relatively so and his ball handling skills were still the best even if he had slowed down a step or two but then again speed had never been his greatest asset as a player. Of course; Argentina also had Batistuta, who scored a hat trick for Argentina in their 4-0 rout of Greece while the 4th goal was scored by Maradona, himself and did the camera ever capture his passion after his first world cup goal since the one he scored against Belgium in Mexico 86. It was almost as if he scored that goal just to prove to himself and his critics that he was not finished as far as football was concerned and in a way it was strange because the way he looked in to the camera will be more remembered than the goal itself.

 

As for the rest of the games; Brazil had won 2-0 but had not really impressed by beating Russia, who was playing as such for the first time after being the Soviet Union for so long. The United States in their second game beat Colombia 2-1, in a match that perhaps would have been forgotten if not for the tragedy that occurred afterwards. Andres Escobar, scored an own goal for the United States, because of which he was killed on his return to Colombia, by one of the cartels; who obviously had bet heavily on Colombia. This most likely the case though I have heard that one of the Colombian cartels even bet heavily against Colombia. All of which must have created great confusion on the Colombian team, as some players where even threatened before games not to do their best, while others to win at all cost.

 

In a way I also felt sorry for the USA, for they were playing in a world cup, which is the greatest honor which can be bestowed upon a national team and they were doing it as the host nation and yet most Americans seemed either oblivious to their efforts or simply did not care. The USA had played well against Switzerland in their 1-1 draw. This the team that qualified a head of Italy in their group and though this was more history; they had drawn 2-2 against Brazil, in the 1950 World Cup which Brazil hosted. Switzerland, would even go on two years later with basically the same team to hold England to a 1 all draw in the 96 Euro which England was playing host to. The USA, after drawing with Switzerland even beat Colombia, who some were predicting after their 5-0 trashing of Argentina to go all the way and yet, the people of the United States seemed not only not to take pride in their teams accomplishments; it was as if they just did not want to concern themselves with it. I for my part remember even reading about wild celebrations in countries like Austria, Peru, Argentina, Italy, Germany after world cup victories while those in the states almost did not react.

 

All of which made me feel bad for the Americans on that team; which would be the first American team to qualify for the second round since the one that had done so in the first ever world cup, played in Uruguay in 1930. It also being then that an American scored the first ever hat trick of the competition against Belgium; in a 3-0 US victory that would lead to the United States becoming the first and only CONCACAF team (so far) to reach the semifinal of a world cup.

 

My pity towards the American players was largely being caused by the fact that these players really seemed to be giving it their all in this, their big moment. Yet, it all seemed to be for a nation that was not even aware or did not even wish to be. I can even add that when the United States played Brazil in the round of 16 in Los Angeles, it was Brazilian fans who clearly outnumbered American fans and if one did not know the USA was playing at home; one could have sworn it was the other way around. For such was the lack of support the USA was getting on home soil.

 

Granted, their accomplishments were on the news of major networks but even they were given less time than other sports by commentators who anybody who knew anything about football (or soccer) could tell did not have a clue as to what the game they were reporting was about and would have done better to stick to baseball. Of course for my own, I feel the networks should have at least tried to get people who either followed the game of football or to better educate the commentators they had, as to not look too ignorant about what they were reporting. Actually what ended up causing a stir was the way, broadcasters from Latin America shouted after a goal was scored, which in fact is a practice carried out through out the whole football world.

 

In all this however; there was one thing I did notice as I watched the games and it being that the following changes had taken place in the rules:

 

1-     A player was only on off sides if he was in front of the defender, on the same line no longer meant he was on off sides, which would hopefully increase scoring.

2-     Almost any series foul earned the offending player a card regardless of weather or not there had been intensions to commit injure.

3-     Any intentional handball received a card.

4-     Deliberate back passes to the goalkeeper were no longer allowed and were punished by an indirect free kick, on the spot where the goal keeper had touched the ball.

5-     Any last player committing a foul to stop a player got an automatic red card.

6-     Yellow cards from the first round, were no longer counted in later stages of the tournament.

7-     Players had to wear their names on their shirts, along with their numbers. This even causing a comic situation with the players of Cameroon; who were forced to add their names on their shirts in magic marker.

8-     Three points were given for a victory; as opposed to what till then had only been two, however I for my part failed to see (and still do) how this makes such a big difference when teams are only playing three games.

 

Game day however arrived and again, it was to the same Port Authority bus terminal only now the mood amongst the Italian faithful was more somber, we needed to win and had to or else face elimination. Norway was not going to be easy but as I looked around I could see everybody was more serious about the game than they had been against Ireland. Another thing I noticed was that Italian fans clearly outnumbered Norwegians, perhaps by as much as 4 to 1 but this did not mean we would win for this we had to do. Our name alone was not going to do it, as teams were no longer afraid but felt they could beat us.

 

I remember having a much better seat on that day than the one I had against Ireland. This because tickets were not so hard to find, which made it possible for me to sit more or less at midfield, whereas before I got to sit behind one of the goals; where I managed to get a great view of Houghton winning the game for Ireland. Italy was more concentrated on this day and there was no denying it as even during the national anthems I could sense their focus on the matter at hand. As for myself, I too had come ready to support Italy as much as I could and again wearing my blue shirt of the Italian national team.

 

The game started as any other, with Italy attacking and the score at blank when they again; like in their first game in Argentina 78 made history for all the wrong reasons! In Argentina, it was for giving up the fastest goal in world cup history, now it was for being the first team to have its goalkeeper (Pagliuca) shown the red card during a world cup match. Yes, Italy was down to ten men, which meant they would have to bring in their reserve goalkeeper and take a player off the field. Roberto Baggio, much to my surprise was chosen to go off, so basically we were down to ten men, without our best player and in a game we had to win against the team that had eliminated England in qualifying. Could things get worse?

 

This I asked myself and so did many irritated fans. One of which even overheard me say and got slightly angry at me; when I commented to someone next to me that Pagliuca had handled the ball outside the box, to be told that the ball had really hit him on the chest but regardless of which he was sent off. Marchegiani was forced to take his place. This the goalkeeper who had literally given away two goals to Switzerland, which had clearly been his fault; was going to be our starting goalkeeper, for not only the remainder of this game but the next. Could things get any worse? They could; Baresi, our captain had to leave with an injury and later that week would require surgery.

 

In spite of all however the first half ended 0-0 with the fans or "Fratelli D' Italia" still hoping to win. The second half got under way and optimism, despite all was high and it did not take long for the much awaited scream of "GOAL" to burst from our lungs as Dino Baggio; at the 67 minute mark put us ahead to stay. All of which creating a scenario, which I will never forget; people hugging each other, some jumping up and down with flags, men and women, it mattered not for we were winning. One to zero, it would end and our hopes would live on to qualify, we of course would probably have to beat Mexico or at least tie and hope to go in as one of the third place teams but it was within our reach and this was cause enough to celebrate.

 

Celebrate, we did but it was more relieve than anything else that we had at least won a game and scored that made us feel good afterwards. It had been a costly victory loosing both Baresi and Pagliuca but we had won and that was important. As for the other game in our group Mexico had beaten Ireland 2-1; which meant that matters where square in the group at three points for all four teams. All of which put greater emphasis on our last match against Mexico.

 

 

USA 94 (Italy VS. Mexico)

 

An Article about not only the match Italy played against Mexico in USA 94 but what it was like to live in a country in which the world cup was being played.

 

Italy had won by beating Norway 1-0, after which I was pretty much sure they had qualified to the next round, specially since even third place teams could go through or at least 4 out of the top 6 could do so. Of course, there was always the possibility they could loose to Mexico but I doubted this was going to happen, as I figured if worse came to worse they would tie and go in as a third place team. This incidentally being the place they held in the group after their second game.

 

Time had come to sit back and enjoy the world cup and by this I do not only mean the games on TV but the world cup atmosphere that had been created by this tournament along with all those fans from literally all over the world who had come to see it. This plus the fact that summer had just started in the United States, gave a sensation of real world cup excitement, added to that already international scene New York was so famous for. In a way; every group of fans, thanks to the way they celebrated brought their country over to America.

 

I; in the days that followed Italy's victory over Norway decided to explore the city of New York, feeling almost like a tourist in my home town, seeing all those fans from all those countries that had qualified and some from countries that had not but were there just to enjoy the games. There was the Norwegian and Swedish fans with their Viking hats that included horns on the sides, reminding me of characters from Wagner's "The Ring", Brazilian fans with their yellow and green and samba music, Argentineans always with their big drums, Germans, Mexicans, and many others.

 

All of which making this world cup a big success; who many so called "experts" had said would not be given that the United States did not have a tradition of football, and many other reasons. In all this however one thing had been overlooked and that was that many Americans would be cheering on the country of their parents or in some cases grandparents, as was mine with Italy, which was precisely what happened to keep huge stadiums packed. As a matter of fact; USA 94 set the record for the largest attendance at a world cup and this despite not having either England or France qualify. This also a record which still holds out despite three world cups having been played since; all of which had 64 games as opposed to "USA 94", in which only 52 were played.

 

I basically went around to soak up not only the sun during the time that followed Italy's game against Norway but to meet some of the fans from other countries; as well as look for a bar in which I would be watching Italy's games. After all, I wanted to see Italy play in company of fellow Italians and did not have the means to follow them all over the country, which incidentally was the biggest (and will be till either China, or Canada or Russia host the event) to ever host a world cup with also the greatest distances between venues. As one could imagine would be the case, when matches were being played in cities as far apart from each other as Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, Orlando, and Chicago.

 

Italy was going to be playing its next match in Boston; which was not far but I was afraid I would not be able to get a ticket. This given the many Mexican fans, who were bound to be buying them up, so I just figured to look for a nice Italian bar with a large TV set. I considered many neighborhoods but eventually decided that the best would be "Little Italy" in downtown Manhattan. After all; what better location to watch "La nazionale di calcio" than the place where Don Vito Corleone, grew up and even made his bones in.

 

It was after looking over many places that I came to settle on "Bar Napoli"; a nice place on Mulberry street, right on the corner, though I do not remember the name of the other street. Little Italy, also the place where I happen to run in to three very nice ladies, whom I mistook for Italian. This given the colors; green, white and red which they had on them and the fact that one of them was a natural blonde. It actually turned out that these three young women, were from Mexico; which also has the same colors on their flag but despite this we did engage in a nice drink and conversation at the Bar Napoli, which included me taking photographs of them with their flag and having one taken of the four of us together. They naturally telling me that they felt Mexico would beat Italy, while I wished them and Mexico the best of luck against any team they should meet, save Italy. In a way it was strange because I had never met any Mexicans before and suddenly; just a few days before Italy's game against them, it seemed that they were everywhere, even more than the Irish. I also remember telling one, who was married to a Polish female friend of mine that Italy was going to win 2-0, while he told me that I was simply dreaming.

 

The mood was a great one, in the city and one which I knew would probably never come back or at least not in my lifetime; so I tried as hard as I could to get as much of it as possible and that is precisely what I did. Seeing games mostly in bars, even if I did not really care who won or loss. As it was the need to see people celebrate and enjoy their good times even if mine were only when Italy played.

 

The day of the match against Mexico arrived and I felt sure Italy would qualify, which led to me being relaxed as I waited in a crowded Bar Napoli for the game to begin. The atmosphere however was tense in this rather small place, and as I sat on a chair drinking ice coffee, I started up a conversation with a fellow Italian supporter or at least judging by the Italian shirt he wore. John was his name and like me he was Italian American but contrary to me he could not speak as many as three words of Italian but this mattered not; for he and his dark skinned lady friend from Costa Rica were behind Italy all the way. In fact John's girlfriend, Gabriela (as I remember) had been born in Costa Rica but had lived most of her life in the states which meant she like John also did not speak the language of her ancestors which in her case was Spanish. This I found out as I tried to speak to her in Spanish, who like John with Italian recognized what I was speaking but could not understand.

 

I for my part on that day wore my AC Milan, shirt wanting to show not only support for Italy but that I was a Milanista. As for the game; it was a hotly contested one, which I followed but secure that Italy would pull through which in fact was what happened as the score ended in a 1-1 draw. Italy's goal being scored by Massaro; an AC Milan player at the 48 minute mark; while Mexico's came via Bernal 9 minutes later. Italy drew and finished with 4 points but this strangely enough did not mean automatic qualification; from a group that ended unlike none other ever had or ever has.

 

All four teams finished with four points a piece and strangely enough even with the same goal difference, so it would be up to who had scored the most goals to decide matters. Mexico came in first place in the group and automatically qualified for the next round as they had scored 3 goals, which put them a head of Ireland and Italy who had only scored 2 goals, while Norway only 1. Mexico; for its part was going past the first round, for the first time in a tournament which they were not hosting.

 

Italy and Ireland were left tied with 4 points as well as 2 goals a piece but it was Ireland who came in second given they had beaten us in our head to head game. Italy however managed to come in third despite being equal with Norway on points and goal difference, simply because we had scored two goals and had beaten Norway in our head to head encounter. Italy was third in the group but not yet qualified to the next round, true they had a win and a draw and Uruguay in 86 had done it on the strength of two draws but this was another world cup. Italy could still be eliminated but only if Cameroon beat Russia by three goals or more. All of which would have given Cameroon four points with 5 goals for vs. 5 goals against and would have toped, Italy's 2-2 goal difference.

 

The chance was there, an ever small one but it was there; for Italy to be ousted from a world cup in the first round. Something which had not happened since Germany 74. Russia after all had lost their first two games and had very little to play for other than pride, though they had under the same circumstance four years earlier managed to rout Cameroon by 4-0. Would they do it again or at least not loose by three goals, was the question on the mind of all Italian fans but this did become academic once Russia destroyed Cameroon by 6-1. In a game that set two records. The first one by Russia's Salenko, who scored five goals and the second one by Roger Milla, who at 42; became the oldest player ever to score a goal in world cup history. As a footnote, I would like to add that both these records still stand.

 

It had been an interesting game at Bar Napoli and I had met two very nice people by the names of John and Gabriela, along with many others whom I would see again and form bounds with or at least till the end of the world cup. One of them, an Italian American wrongly believing that Roberto and Dino Baggio, were brothers, which I explained to him was not the case. It was however after the game that I was in for a real threat, as there was a camera man and a female reporter present from Italy's RAI TV, who were looking for an Italian supporter whose language skills went beyond the one or two words or expressions which could not really be broadcast on TV. I just happened to be at the right place and at the right time and managed to get interviewed on TV by RAI, hopefully to be seen by my sister and other relatives back in Italy.

 

 

World Cup USA 94, (Italy vs. Nigeria)

 

An article about Italy's match vs. Nigeria in the world cup USA 94 and how close we came to being eliminated, only to bounce back and win it in overtime.

 

Italy was in the round of 16 in USA 94, after having barely qualified by the skins of their teeth. Third in their group, in a world cup that allowed such teams to move on to the next round. Of course, this would not have been possible in the following world cup however for Italian supporters this hardly mattered. Italy was through to the knock out stage of the competition and this was all that held any meaning for their "tifossi"; apart from the fact that they would have to beat Nigeria to get through to the quarterfinal. After which if they managed to beat Nigeria, it would be Spain waiting. This a team which had already defeated Switzerland by the score of 3-0 to advance to the quarterfinals.

 

I for my part decided to watch this most important match in the "Bar Napoli" on Mulberry Street in "Little Italy", after all it was crunch time, do or die and what better place for an Italian to be than among his own. Specially since there would be no tomorrow if Italy lost and if they did manage to beat Nigeria, they at least in my opinion would be in the world cup. For to me, the real tournament starts in the quarterfinals, as those are the teams that when all was said and done; came even close to the final. Italy however would have to go through Nigeria, the team that in the first round had beaten Bulgaria by 3-0 and had qualified in first place in their group despite loosing by 2-1 to Argentina.

 

Italy, I was sure could and should win but this was not a done deal by any means, so with this in mind I sat down at Bar Napoli to watch the match with those whom I was familiar with but specially John and Gabriella; who were even expecting me to turn up. This due to the fact that though both of them were behind Italy all the way, neither of them really knew much about the players or at least not as much as I did.

 

My Italian "azurri" shirt is what I wore that afternoon; as this was a day to stand behind "La Nazionale" (who wore their white shirts instead of their traditional blue) regardless of weather one supported Milan, Juventuz or who ever one backed during the regular season. The atmosphere was tense but in reality it was not as much as it would have been had Italy been facing the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Germany, England, or even Spain. This given that Nigeria was entering new grounds and though it was possible for them to beat us; it was unlikely that they would or at least not in this part of the world cup.

 

Game time had arrived and all of us who had been following Italy were ready in our seats or at least the ones we had had since the start of tournament, almost as if we had reserved them during the first three games. This the case though I had only been there for one of Italy's first three matches in which I had become a sort of go between those Italian American fans who did not speak Italian and the Italian ones who did not speak English so well. I however despite being known to all preferred to seat next to John and Gabriela though in a way it was like we were all sitting next to each other, regardless of where we sat; for we all supported the same cause, an Italian victory.

 

As for Bar Napoli, it had also gone through transformations which included more Italian flags and the waiters, none of which were Italian in any sense of the word but wore the shirt of the Italian national team or at least were made to do so by their boss. It was as if this place had become a stadium and we were the part of it that stood behind Italy, even if there were those among us who had no blood ties what so ever with Italy but had been swept by the fever of wanting to support Italy. This had been the case with not only Gabriela but many tourists who found themselves in America and whose countries had not qualified to the World Cup and for some reason or another had taken up sympathies with our cause which in many ways had become theirs.

 

The game stared and Italy went off attacking and close they would come but the tone of the game was not really set till the 25th minute when Nigeria took a corner kick. The center came with a curve on it, swirling in to the box where Maldini tried to clear it but instead of doing so passed it back to Amunike, who taped the ball past Marchegiani; playing for the still suspended Pagliuca. It was a goal which had clearly been Maldini's fault but this was not as important as the fact that Italy again started a game down by 1-0 but this time a loss would mean elimination.

 

Nigeria seemed to grow in confidence after that goal and why shouldn't they? They were wining 1-0 and with more than realistic chances of beating us and going through to the next round. Nigeria even seemed to be more threatening, true Italy also went forward more but that only made Nigeria more dangerous on the counterattack; always taking advantage of positions left vacant by defenders moving forward. The second half however ended with Nigeria still leading by 1-0.

 

We were down but not out however we knew something was needed to get us back on level terms and that would be Roberto Baggio, who had not really done anything of any real merit in that world cup up and till that point or at least nothing that came even near justifying his accolades as the world's great player at the time. He had had a difficult world cup; it was true, being heavily marked in every game and had even been taken off the field early against Norway but now was his chance. He would have to start producing those plays which had been expected of him for Italy to be the team we all hoped and knew they could be and the time was then for there would be no more world cup for Italy if he did not.

 

This was something all of us at Bar Napoli agreed upon during our half time rally as we talked over the situation, after which we made up our minds to put all our cheers and emphasis on the game and Italy winning it. This; almost as if we who were so far from the game could influence it in any real way but we would cheer on till the end and if we lost so be it but we would be heard or at least in that bar. I even remember how Gabriela suffered during that half time saying she would go home and cry if Italy lost and it was then that I saw perhaps for the first time how football is a game that really makes fans endure, very strong emotions even when their team did manage to come out on top.

 

The second half stared and we took our places, rejuvenated and hopeful that it would be us who would be going through to the next round, almost as if we were the one's who were playing. Naturally, we all had ordered drinks during halftime which in a way strengthened our will to see Italy win, with most ordering beer for the occasion while I another iced coffee.

 

The second half started with Nigeria backed up to their own half as Italy went forward, at first not with total abandon but they were definitely playing in an attack mode. Nigeria was apparently content to let Italy attack while they sat back and looked to counter attack, which was a good strategy given their solid defense and fast forwards who were always a danger, specially should they get a ball in the clear, with Italy's defenders behind them.

 

Time was passing and still the score remained against us but the less minutes were left in the second half, the more it came to be that Italy was not only playing against Nigeria but the clock, which had gone past the 75 minute mark. It was at this point that the game started to be played, almost exclusively in Nigeria's part, not even half but quarter of the field, with the occasional exception being the ball that they could clear past their own midfield.

 

Italy was controlling the game clearly and the pressure was enormous but what of it? If we were still losing, though getting closer and closer. There were even calls for penalties by some Italian players and us the fans which the referee seemed to pay no mind to. The situation however would take on more drama as if that were possible.

 

Gianfranco Zola, was clearly fouled in the penalty box but rather than give Italy a penalty the Mexican referee simply waved for play to go on, which Zola did by going over to the player who thanks to a foul had taken the ball away from him and doing likewise to him, only without a foul. Zola took away the ball cleanly but in spite of this was shown the red card; as the player he who took the ball from fell or perhaps did so intentionally, given that he was not even touched by Zola. This can be clearly seen by those who view this action, now available on Youtube.

 

Italy was down to ten men, loosing by 1-0 to Nigeria, with the clock running out and facing early elimination from the world cup but I had not lost hope for we could do it at any second the question was would it be in time? Many around me at that moment were saying that Roberto Baggio had let everybody down and that all had been hype about him, while others just watched to see the end believing it was all over and there were those who put the blame squarely on Maldini. Insults were being hurled at the TV by many of the "tifossi" at almost everybody on the field, though most of it was aimed at the referee while I for my part felt that our goal would come and that all the pressure had to yield something.

 

It was something I will never forget, time was almost down to nothing when Italy got in the Nigerian penalty box; one more time as they had done on numerous occasions that day but this would probably be our last chance. The box was full of players specially in front of the goal and as Mussi went by a player, he passed off to Baggio and just at that moment with the game about to end, everybody around me stood up. I however was slow to get up, given that there was not even much room to do so with this place being so jammed pack; all of which creating a situation that I could see nothing when suddenly; I heard one of the loudest screams I had ever heard in my life. "Goal" was the word and I was aware it had been Italy's but who had scored I knew not though this did not mater! Italy was equal and with knowledge of this I too started shouting our goal. I would eventually see that our goal had been scored by Baggio, who had struck a ball which some how had managed to squeeze its way through a void created by a Nigerian defender and an Italian player in to the corner of the net.

 

Relief was everywhere, for we were seeing our dreams coming to end but now we could hope to reach the final once more. The game ended soon after and it was with optimism that we faced the overtime, which we knew would follow but somehow we were sure it would be us who were bound to go through to the next round.

 

Italy was tired and in spite of which we went forward; as did Nigeria who were no longer winning and just as the first half was drawing to a close and with two minutes left; Dino Baggio lobbed a ball in to the box for Benarrivo. This being dangerously close to the goal; left a Nigerian defender little option but to have to pull Benarrivo down in the box as the referee final called a penalty for us. A penalty it was and who should take it but Roberto Baggio.

 

We all held our breaths at that moment, almost as if all our lives depended and were hanging on weather he converted that penalty or not. If he did we would be winning and with great chances to go through to the quarterfinals. So, with all of us knowing this; Baggio took our hopes and passions with him as he struck that ball which came ever so close to hitting the post and bouncing out but did manage to sneak in; where the Nigerian goalkeeper had absolutely no chance of reaching. Another shout of "goal" was heard by all present that though not as loud as the first did make our voices a bite hoarse afterward but this did not matter, for we were ahead and such the match would stay till the end.

 

Italy was in the next round! It had not been easy but no one ever said it would be and as we rejoiced I heard John tell me that he would be going to church everyday after that game or at least till the next match which would be against Spain. Gabriela also celebrated as we had pulled it off and all of us in Bar Napoli could not have been happier about it. As for me, in a personal observation of all that I had seen; did find it comic how in a span of 20 minutes Roberto Baggio went from being the man who had been worthless on the field to being the one who had saved Italy from disgrace or at least in the eyes of those fans in Bar Napoli. Some of whom had even been booing Baggio but after the game turned to say how they knew he would do it.

 

As for the other matches Brazil had gone through after a match in which they won 1-0 against the USA, who had given a much better showing than many would have ever anticipated against such a strong team. In fact Brazil had even had one of their strongest attackers sent off for a most brutal foul against Tab Ramos, of the US. This player being left with a broken head which required him to be hospitalized, while Brazil's Leonardo was suspended for the rest of the tournament. Brazil however despite having more problems than anticipated was in the quarterfinals; even if this was nothing new for them as they had been there many times before though not in the previous world cup.

 

In other matches Argentina, much to my delight lost 2-3, eliminated by Romania; who at that moment become one of the tournament's favorites to go all the way, after having beaten an Argentine team that had not played badly in spite of being without Maradona and Caniggia. Germany also got by; though they really had things go their way when the referee clearly failed to call a penalty for Belgium which would have made a big difference given that Germany ended up winning by 3-2. As a footnote I will add that the referee who missed this penalty, later admitted that his had been in fact an error which had obviously cost Belgium dearly. Naturally other teams had qualified to the quarterfinals but for Italy, all that they really cared about was that so had they.

 

After the game I went to my favorite pizzeria in Green Point Brooklyn, which was owned by Mike, a young man who happened to be a fellow Italian American though he could not speak the language of his ancestors, unlike Lorenzo. This man being an Italian born immigrant whose job it was to make pizza in this place which I had grown so found of in the time I had been among its customers. Mike, was glad Italy had won but doubted we could beat Spain, which led to us laying down a small wager of five dollars, with me taking Italy and him taking Spain and by virtue of which going against his heart's desire that Italy should win.

 

 

World Cup USA 94, Quarterfinal (Italy vs. Spain)

 

An article about Italy's match vs. Spain in the world cup USA 94 and how thanks to Germany's defeat; I managed to get a ticket to the semifinal.

 

There is not much I can say regarding Italy's match against Spain; other than I saw it in "Bar Napoli" in the company of those who had been there for Italy's previous match and the already known fact that we won 2-1. Naturally as with any quarterfinal match, this one was not without its great moments which saw cheers from us; Italy's ever faithful "tifossi". The first of which coming at the 25 minute mark when a long range effort from Dino Baggio found the back of the Spanish net and put us ahead 1-0, which was also the score that ended the opening half.

 

The second half started as one can expect with Spain, the team that was loosing going forward and eventually getting an equalizer from Caminero; 58 minutes in to the match, when his shoot bounced off Costcurta and past Pagliuca (back after a two game suspension) and in to the net. Italy however was not going to be denied or at least not on that day as with two minutes remaining Signori (Lazio) managed to flick the ball over to Roberto Baggio, who found himself in a one on one situation with Spanish goalkeeper, Zubizarreta. We all held our breath's at that moment for we knew Baggio could score but just the same we needed to see him do it. Baggio took the ball with his right foot and went by Zubizarreta but perhaps opened himself too wide of the goal and just as it seemed he had no angle to shoot from; what should happen, as we the fans in Bar Napoli watched in total anxiety? Baggio while falling down manages to get a shot off that barely filtered past Spanish defender Abelardo (sliding in to prevent a goal) and in to the back of the net; sending Italian fans everywhere in to a wild celebration along with ear bursting screams of "goal".

 

We were winning by 2-1 and that is how it would end though before the end of the match; AC Milan's Tassoti would get himself an eight match suspension for breaking the nose of Spanish forward Luis Enrrique. Italy had had its problems but what mattered to us; its fans was that we had won and would be going to the semifinal. All of which meaning that if worse came to worse; Italy would end up being among the top four teams in the world for the 5th time in the last seven world cups, though we were hoping for best coming to best which would have meant becoming champs for the 2nd time in the last four world cups.

 

Italy was in the semifinal, so the question was who would join them and I must say I expected it to be Germany, which would have set up another semifinal between Italy and Germany as had been the case in Mexico 70. Naturally with such a big match as would have been Italy vs. Germany in the semifinal; my chances of getting a ticket seemed limited to say the least, specially given my lack of funds at the time.

 

Italy vs. Germany would be a great match and though the German's were the defending champions, it was clear to see that four years had passed by and those same players who had won the title in Italia 90 were only the same in name but by no means in form. Germany had gotten through to the quarterfinals more on their name and the fear it brought on other teams, not to mention a penalty which should have been called for Belgium but was not. This being the case for Germany while for Bulgaria; it was one of them having won their first match in a world cup after having played in five previous editions.

 

Bulgaria in that world cup; after a bad start in which they lost their first match 3-0 against Nigeria went on to win their first ever match in a world cup by beating Greece 4-0. It was this first victory that saw the Bulgarians and above all Stoickov; go from strength to strength. As they would go on to beat Argentina 2-0 and then Mexico; in penalties in the round of 16 to get to where they were in a position to play Germany for the right to be in the semifinal.

 

Germany on that day started well, going up 1-0 in the scoreboard when after 47 minutes, their captain; Mattaus put them a head, with a well taken penalty. Bulgaria, however had not come so far just to give up after one goal and it only took them 18 minutes to level the score at one a piece, when a brilliantly struck free kick by Stoickov found the back of the German net. Germany was in for a battle and it would get worse as three minutes later Bulgaria's always solid defender Leckov put away a header in the back of the German net to make the score 2-1 in Bulgaria's favor. Germany were now loosing and though they had made many come backs in the past, this would not be one of them; as perhaps lack of motivation or age did not allow them to be the German team of old but regardless of anything Bulgaria was through to the semifinals. They were the ones who would be playing against "La squadra Azurri" and not Germany, as many so called experts had predicated.

 

As for the other semifinal match; it would be Sweden against Brazil, with these two teams meeting both for the second time in USA 94 (first game ending 1-1) and the sixth time in the world cup. This second figure still being in fact the record for the most times two teams have faced each other in the world cup. I for my part could imagine that Brazil; after a hard fought match would beat Sweden but then again it might be the Swedes to pull of an upset and reach the final but before that could happen they would have to beat Brazil for the first time in a world cup.

 

By then I had become a regular, not only in Bar Napoli but in "Little Italy" where I was known in every bar and restaurant, as I had just about seen a match in every one of them, however I will never forget the opportunity that was presented to me two days before Italy's semifinal encounter against Bulgaria. It happened while I was sitting outside one of these very places, waiting for my beer that a lady I knew approached me asking if I wanted to buy a ticket for Italy's semifinal match. The answer was clear that I wanted the ticket she claimed to have but was almost sure that her asking price would be beyond my means so I asked more from curiosity than with intensions of buying how much she wanted for the ticket? She though this I do not recall the exact amount mentioned a price which almost shocked me, as it was well within what I could afford and even had on me at the time. I naturally said "yes" with a huge smile on my face and just as I was about to reach for my wallet; this lady informed me that she did not have the ticket on her but could go and get it in less than ten minutes.

 

I must confess to have been very enthusiastic at that point and just as she was about to go I asked her what kind of seats they were and if they were not too high up; as I might have problems with blood coming out of my nose if they were. Perhaps, it was this bit of American humor which this lady from Naples did not really understand that made her in a slightly annoyed fashion tell me that such could only be the case if the height in question were above several thousand meters. This joke obviously not translating well in to Italian.

 

As I waited on this hot day, I started pondering the reason that she was selling tickets to the semifinals so cheaply and even came up with some ideas that perhaps what she was offering was not "the real McCoy" so to speak. This was after all a world cup semifinal and though I had heard of a case back in Chile 62, where as few as 8,000 fans attended the semifinal between Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, it struck me as odd that she would be offering this ticket for so little and that one was available at such a late stage. I, however did not have long to consider the matter because just as I was waiting; a man came by from the Belgium football federation who offered me not only a better ticket but one that was even cheaper at 90 USD. I, being one not to waste such chances took out my money as fast as my hand could get to my wallet and paid the man 90 bucks; who handed me the ticket which I kept for many a year or at least till I gave it to the owner of San Lorenzo in Warsaw. This the Italian restaurant where this ticket currently finds itself decorating the wall of.

 

I was overjoyed to have this ticket which had all the signs of being the genuine article, like the ones I had bought before but still I wondered how come this man was selling a ticket that on it had a face value of 200 USD for 90, this not even being half; so I asked. The answer I got was one which I recommend all those who are fans of football to never forget; as it will be useful to them in the future to get cheap tickets to big games and it was as follows. This man told me that many Germans bought tickets when they found out that Germany would be playing the semifinal in Giant's Stadium but when it turned out that their team lost; a lot of them, thousands to be precise decided it would be preferable to sell their tickets. This I imagined because they had probably purchased their tickets with the sole intension of seeing Germany in the semifinal, for the game in and of itself they could watch on TV.

 

Second of all; I also figured that the German's who had made the trip over to America just to watch the world cup were probably staying in hotels, which they would no longer have to pay for if they simply sold their tickets at what ever price they could get, even if at a loss and just hopped the plane back home. I, however do not think the situation would have been so desperate; for instance when both Italy and Germany failed to qualify to the finals in the world cups played in their countries as those fans were probably not looking to get back home but I can see it as being similar. The moral however one can deduce from this is that when two great teams are expected to meet in a match and one of those teams is eliminated before; it usually leaves a lot of desperate fans seeking to sell tickets, which for the most part should make the price go down, as there would be no sense in anybody buying those tickets after the game, unless they wanted a souvenir. Furthermore regarding this matter, I could add that this is probably what would have happened in 2002 if Brazil had lost to Turkey in their semifinal match, which would have meant a final between Germany and Turkey.

 

As expected however the lady who had first offered me a ticket came back and was disappointed to see that I had bought another one from someone else but did understand that the opportunity had presented itself and she, of course could always sell her ticket to another fan. I, however for my part was thrilled I would be seeing "La Squadra Azurri" playing in the semifinal of the world cup and all I could think of was, first buying a large Italian flag, (bigger than the one I already had) and then showing my ticket to all those at my favorite pizzeria in Brooklyn. I even made up my mind to give them the Italian flag I already had as a present since I was planning on getting a bigger one.

 

Life, I must say was beautiful at that moment (like the name of that film with Roberto Bennini) and as I sat in Little Italy, now sipping my beer, I heard to gentlemen at a table next to me speaking Spanish. This prompting me to ask them in Spanish, where they were from and telling them that though I was Italian American, I did speak Spanish because my mother was from South America. As it turned out that these two gentlemen were from Ecuador, and it was with great enthusiasm that I told them I was going to be watching Italy vs. Bulgaria live, while they told me they had seen Germany vs. Bulgaria live. We went on to talk about other things though for the most part given that we met during a world cup limited ourselves to football, touching upon such topics as the recent killing of Escobar, which all of us without hesitation condemned as well as the cartels in Colombia. One of these men telling me that one of the cartels had bet in favor of Colombia while the other against. All creating a tense situation and as we also agreed upon, a team needs to have a 100% concentration in a world cup and be playing at its best to have any chance of winning, with me adding that even when a team was doing that; things would still be difficult.

 

In this most pleasant conversation, I also remember telling these two gents that during my 1984 visit to Ecuador I had met the famous "Vito Munoz", with whom I had a very interesting conversation, naturally about football as he was and still is a very well known local sports commentator. I, for my part got to ask one question, which I had been waiting for a long time to ask somebody from Ecuador, which was why Ecuador had never managed to qualify to a world cup? After all I had been in their country, where I had seen many Ecuadorians playing football; both on a professional level and even on the streets and they definitely were not bad at the sport but quit the contrary. I even remarked how Barcelona (a team from Guayaquil, not to be confused with the one from Spain going by the same name) had made it to the final of the "Copa Libertadores" in 1990; eliminating Brazilian and Argentine teams on their way.

 

Additionally to my question, I added the comment that if, for instance Venezuela did not qualify to the world cup; the answer was simply that they stunk at the game, and this I say not to offend anybody from this country but because it is true. I mean lets face, baseball is their sport, not football. My question and comments actually made both men laugh as it was one that not only had been raised by many foreigners but several Ecuadorians themselves however this they could not answer and it was with good wishes that we parted company as I headed to my favorite pizzeria in Brooklyn.

 

 

World Cup USA

About the Author

My name is Gianni Truvianni, I am an author who writes with the simple aim of sharing his ideas, thoughts and so much more of what I am with those who are interested in perhaps reading something new. I also am the author of the book entitled "New York's Opera Society" which is now available on Amazon.

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