Having begun my World Cup reminiscy-package a couple of months ago, I thought it was time to round off my memories of the 1994 World Cup with a few more quality moments and players.
Where Bulgaria had Hristo Stoichkov, their near-neighbours Romania had midfield genius Gheorghe Hagi to turn their side from workmanlike into one of the top teams on the planet. His finest performance arguably came in Romania’s 3-2 win the second round against Argentina. However, the goal he scored (one of three in the tournament) which will over stick in my memory is the one he bagged in the Romanians’ 3-1 win over the unfortunate Colombians.
The slightly grainy video speaks for itself but it has to be one of the greatest World Cup goals of the last 20 years. Hagi spots the Colombian keeper off his line and from a seemingly impossible angle on the left wing, floats one beautifully into the opposite corner. A goal from another solar system, from a player who in 1994 was at the absolute height of his powers.
Romania v Argentina
While Gheorghe Hagi contributed his own little bit of magic to this match, the game itself overshadowed even the brilliant little Romanian. In what was, along with Brazil v the Netherlands, the best match of USA `94, Romania blustered their way past a side which had been to the last two World Cup finals. Argentina were of course weakened at this point after Diego Maradona’s positive drugs test, but that didn’t make the match any less compelling.
The goal which always sticks in my mind from this game is the first, scored by Romanian midfielder Ilie Dumitrescu. A free kick on the far side of the penalty area in the first 10 minutes, he almost went one better than Hagi’s goal and lashed it in to the far top corner. Never mind that he did nothing at Spurs or West Ham, he can dine out on that goal for life. A Batistuta penalty levelled things up soon after, before Dumitrescu scored again after a masterful exchange of passes with Hagi. Hagi then scored his goal on 58 minutes with a rapid counter-attack, and while Abel Balbo got the Argentineans back into the game, the side from Eastern Europe made their way to the quarter finals and what is so far, and will no doubt remain as such for some time to come, Romania’s best World Cup performance to date.
An Embarrassment of Playing Riches
I think, despite my relatively tender years, one of the reasons this World Cup has stuck in my head is some of the ridiculous playing talent on show. Of course the World Cup is supposed to be the best players in the world, all in the same place for four weeks. What I think provides that additional nostalgia factor is that `94 was when so many great players of that era shone and never did again at a World Cup.
Despite his penalty miss in the final, Roberto Baggio was incredible, particularly in the semi-final against the Bulgarians. In that Italian side there was a passing of the baton from Franco Baresi to Paolo Maldini; little did we or Maldini know but `94 would also prove to be his best tournament.
Romario hit heights he never would again for Brazil, his combinations with Bebeto being a particular highlight. As I’ve already said, both Hagi and Stoichkov were incredible for their respective Eastern Bloc nations. Thomas Brolin would be about 40 pounds heavier by the time the next World Cup came round; in `94 he and Martin Dahlin were fantastic. In all, 1994 was a fantastic tournament, the first one I really remember, and one that, for a number of reasons, remains one of my favourite World Cups despite me being a mere pup at 10 years old.
Up next is a review of tomorrow’s World Cup groups draw. In this series, it’ll soon be time to reminisce about France `98.