Tuesday, 8 June 2010
My World Cup Memories - Part Four, USA 94
Four years between World Cups is long enough to wait, but to have to endure 8 long years after the monumental disappointment of Italia was incredibly hard to stomach. England’s failure to qualify for the USA 94 was beyond my worst nightmare, and yet it happened after a difficult qualifying campaign ended in failure after a 2-0 reverse by the Netherlands in October 93. I recall the classic commentary line from the legendary commentator, Brian Moore, “he’s going to flip it, he’s going to flip it” as he foresaw Koeman’s intentions with a free kick from which the Dutchman scored (he should have been sent off earlier in the game, you may remember).
I was 19 years old when the World Cup kicked off, and had just left hospital after an operation and found myself in a two week recovery period at home. I couldn’t have timed it better to have had a bloody abscess on my backside!!! Even if I was trying to kid myself I wasn’t interested, one consolation of this rather embarrassing ailment was that I could focus on watching the World Cup; and all without the anxiety of following England. It is something I hope I don’t experience again, but I’ll confess that I enjoyed the World Cup from a neutral point of view. It had all the razzmatazz you’d expect from the Americans, but that was easily forgivable for a worldwide tournament. For me, USA 94 was a great World Cup.
It was no real consolation that Eire had made the finals, although there was at least some familiar faces from English football on show. I didn’t really have an adopted nation I’d support in the tournament, but (and you’ve probably guessed this already if you’d followed any of my previous World Cup posts) I was looking forward to watching Maradona on the worlds greatest stage once again. Being a football stadium anorak I was left a little disappointed by the featureless, open-topped arenas that are still commonplace in US sport. Even the 91,000 capacity Pasadena Rose Bowl in Los Angeles failed to interest me.
As the group matches unfolded, players like Stoichkov of Bulgaria, Romario of Brazil and Hagi of Romania stood out for me. I recall fondly the goal celebration of the Nigerian striker, Rashidi Yekini, after he scored against the Bulgarians (picture above). The sizable African scored from the simplest of tap-ins, but reacted as if he’s won the World Cup itself. As his momentum carried him into the back of the net, with his huge clenched fists pushed through it, he began screaming in utter delirium (I seem to recall a story that he began reeling off the names of his family members back home). For me, it is a football celebration bettered only by Tardelli in 1990 for raw emotion (and marginally above Stuart Pearce after the penalty conversion v’s Spain in Euro 96, by the way). Maradona’s expulsion from the tournament after a positive drug test was a massive blow to me but not entirely unexpected after the bizarre goal celebration against Greece (the difference between raw emotion and lunacy). Another notable and regrettable incident that sticks in my mind in the group matches was the own goal by the Columbian, Escobar, which would eventually lead to the defenders murder in Medellin just a week or so later (supposedly by a crime syndicate that lost money betting on the result of the game). It was a shocking reminder of the pressure some of these players were playing under. One thing still puzzles me to this day is why Al-Owairan’s wonder goal for Saudi Arabia vs Belgium is not commonly noted as one of the best goals of all time. Running from deep inside his own half he passed 4 or 5 men before shooting past the keeper from just inside the box.
There was a notable shock in the last 16, with Hagi masterminding Romania’s victory over the Argentines. Elsewhere Brazil knocked out the hosts in a game that saw the world’s worst goal celebration by Bebeto, who proceeded to ‘rock his new-born baby to sleep’. Rubbish! It was fantastic watching the German’s fall in the quarter finals after the bald-headed Letchkov headed the winner mid-way through the second half. After that, everyone in England became Bulgarian overnight. Rather encouragingly, both semi-finals were concluded in normal time, with the mighty Brazil meeting Italy in the final. If football was ever to catch on in the States, then nobody would have wanted a final that played out 0-0 after 120 mins and ended in a penalty shoot-out. How boring! The masterful Roberto Baggio will be remembered for missing his kick, but he wasn’t alone, with the legendary, Franco Baresi, another notable spot-kick failure.
A few years ago I had conversation with a friend of mine who’s Dad was out in the States during the 94 World Cup. My friend had asked his Dad to bring back some souvenirs of the football and he duly obliged as my friend is the proud owner of an ‘England USA 94’ baseball cap and matching T-Shirt. Apparently, the American’s continued to produce England Merchandise despite us not participating. It could only happen in the USA…