World cup usa 94, (italy vs

World Cup Usa 94, (italy Vs. Nigeria)

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 then 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 then 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 then 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 then 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 then 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 lead 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.

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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