End of the world;The Big Picture

5th June 1998 at 01:00
The 1994 World Cup Final between Italy and Brazil was a disappointing affair - a 0-0 draw played out in searing temperatures in Pasadena, California, which left the promise of an enthralling tournament unfulfilled. As extra time ended with the stalemate still unbroken, the penalty shoot-out, modern-day decider of drawn cup ties and nemesis of many a great player, stepped forward to claim its next victim and give the match its one enduring image.

His team-mates Baresi and Massaro had already missed when Italy's Roberto Baggio, then generally regarded as the best player in the world, placed the ball on the penalty spot, needing to score to keep his country's hopes alive.

Baggio walked back, looked up, ran forward - and struck the ball high over the crossbar. The whistle blew. Jubilant Brazilians engulfed their goalkeeper, Taffarel. Baggio stared at the ground, wishing it would swallow him up. It was all over.

In an instant Baggio was transformed from the superstar striker whose five goals had almost single-handedly helped Italy to the final and who had played through the pain of an injured hamstring for 120 minutes, to fallen hero, his name etched forever on the memory of millions of people as the Man Who Lost The Cup.

Baggio, a devout Buddhist, took defeat with equanimity although he admitted the manner of it gave him nightmares. But he may yet redeem himself. A late addition to the Italy squad for the France World Cup, which starts next week, Baggio has a chance to atone for that misplaced kick. The "divine ponytail" may have lost his trademark (cut off and sold for charity), but he still has a magical right foot.

Harvey McGavin

Turn to page 34 for Ted Wragg's Teaching Tips on the Big Picture

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