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On this day: Roberto Baggio penalty miss hands Brazil fourth World Cup title

On this day 21 years ago, Brazil beat Italy on penalties to win the 1994 World Cup in front of a packed Rose Bowl crowd.

Many questions had been asked in the build-up to the 1994 World Cup regarding prospective crowd figures, as a nation without a top-level soccer league was selected to play host to the biggest event of them all.

Fifty-two matches and a whole load of goals later, those initial fears were finally brushed aside for good. USA '94, held in nine cities across the country, to this day still holds the record for the highest attendance figures.

Often, the World Cup is judged on the quality of its latter stages, particularly the final which is the one match to remain lodged in the mind no matter how many years have transpired since.

Not great, then, that 1994's instalment finished goalless at the end of 120 minutes' play. Yet what developed in the tense penalty shootout at the conclusion of the 15th World Cup final still lives long in the memory, as Roberto Baggio - one of the stars of the show up until that point - blasted his penalty high over the bar.

Brazilian forward Romario kisses the FIFA World Cup trophy, flanked by Ronaldao (L) and captain Dunga, after Brazil defeated Italy 3-2 in the shoot-out session (0-0 after extra time) at the end of the World Cup final, 17 July 1994© Getty Images

"It was the toughest moment of my career," the forward would later tell The Guardian. "Before I left for the finals my Buddhist spiritual master told me that I would be confronted with a lot of problems and that everything would be decided at the very last minute. At the time I didn't realise his prediction would be so accurate."

Baggio's fluffed penalty was the ninth spot kick of the evening; the one that changed history in the sense that Brazil's players, not Italy's, would lift the trophy high above their heads on this day 21 years ago in front of a near 100,000-capacity crowd inside the Rose Bowl.

The responsibility of requiring to score to keep his side's hopes alive, Baggio admits, was simply too much to handle. It was hardly a stellar start to the tournament for the now 48-year-old, either, as Italy struggled to progress out of Group E. They did eventually manage to do so, finishing third out of fourth which in those days was enough to book a place in the knockout rounds.

Incredibly, all four teams were tied on four points apiece - always a possibility when such a small number of games are played, granted - but even more bizarre was the fact that Mexico, Republic of Ireland, Norway and the Azzurri each finished with an identical goal difference of 0. In the end, goals scored proved enough for Italy to edge out Norway.

Brazilian goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel dives the wrong way as Italian midfielder Roberto Baggio's penalty kick goes over the crossbar during the shoot-out of the World Cup soccer final 17 July 1994© Getty Images

Baggio truly came to life in the round of 32, finding the net twice against Nigeria to rescue the European outfit. Emmanuel Amuneke's goal saw the Super Eagles move within two minutes of a place in the quarter-finals, until the Juventus man joined the party to salvage hope.

Blushes spared, Baggio was once more on the scoresheet in the next round against Spain, although things were again far from straightforward. Italy, who had won the competition three times at this stage, were being held in the closing stages until, yet again, their star man became the focal point of celebrations back home thanks to his late winner.

A 2-1 victory over surprise package Bulgaria followed, Baggio continuing to increase his personal tally with two more in East Rutherford. Despite the prolific attacker's undoubted quality in that year's showpiece tournament, it was what happened in the final that will often stand out.

"There is no easy explanation for what happened at Pasadena," he said eight years on from the infamous miss. "When I went up to the spot I was pretty lucid, as much as one can be in that kind of situation. I knew [Claudio] Taffarel always dived so I decided to shoot for the middle, about halfway up, so he couldn't get it with his feet. It was an intelligent decision because Taffarel did go to his left, and he would never have got to the shot I planned."

Unfortunately for Baggio, the ball ended three metres higher than intended. The final itself was a huge disappointment, but history was soon to be made in what was the first ever World Cup final to be decided by penalties. The Divine Ponytail is not alone in having missed from 11 metres out, yet in that moment, as a swathe of yellow shirts charged towards him in the humid heat, he would have felt as alone as ever.

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Roberto Baggio skies his penalty during the 1994 World Cup final.
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