Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland team made the world cup finals for the second time running. Ireland proved that the 1990 was no fluke and made it through to the second round of the world cup in America and got through the toughest group of all. The teams included in the group were the Republic of Ireland, Mexico, Italy and Norway, all teams finished level on points however as Norway scored fewest goals they were knocked out of the tournament. Republic of Ireland started off the world cup in great form beating the Italians 1-0, however they never really matched there form of the opening game in their following matches against Mexico and Norway. For the 1994 world cup finals, FIFA had introduced three points for a win and one point for a draw. In previous world cups a victory would mean only gaining two points.

Cameroon were looking for the success they achieved four years earlier in Italia 90, however they were brought back down to earth as they finished bottom of their group with only a single point from a draw against Sweden, who went through the group along with the favourites Brazil. The 1994 world cup finals saw the emergence of another African country, Nigeria were very entertaining with victories over Bulgaria and Greece, however they did lose 2-1 to Italia 90 finalists Argentina. However Nigeria did enough to top their group. A rejuvenated Diego Maradona, aged 33 at the time, had orchestrated a 5-0 victory over Greece, as well as a victory over Nigeria. However after the match against Nigeria he failed a routine drugs test and that marked the end of his world cup.

USA were hosts of the tournament and they were looking to progress past the group stages. After a draw against Switzerland they beat one of the pre tournament favourites Colombia. Despite a 1-0 defeat by a decent Romanian side in their final group match the USA had entered the second phase with 4 points. Colombia ended up finishing bottom of their group and they were eliminated at the first hurdle of the world cup which was one of the major shocks of the competition. Colombia’s elimination from the world cup precipitated a tragedy which overshadowed matters on the pitch. Andres Escobar, who scored an own goal in his country’s 2-1 defeat by the USA, was shot dead shortly after returning home.

The Republic of Ireland met a Holland side that topped their group, but only after unimpressive victories over Saudi Arabia and Morocco. Two defensive mistakes by the Irish handed the Dutch victory and Jack Charlton’s team were out of the competition.

Germany met Belgium in the second round in an entertaining 3-2 victory for the German’s. Spain defeated Saudi Arabia while Sweden comfortably beat Switzerland to race into the quarter finals. The USA left the world cup in dignity losing 1-0 to Brazil.

The Italians had to struggle to beat Nigeria 2-1, they were 1-0 down with seconds to go, Roberto Baggio then equalised for Italy, and he then scored the winner for the Italians in extra time with a penalty. The form of the Eastern European sides were excellent throughout the world cup, the Bulgarians beat Mexico in the only penalty shoot out of the second round. Romania beat Argentina 3-2; Hagi was on top form for Romania in that match.

Bulgaria went on to send the holders Germany out of the world cup in the quarter finals. They over turned a 1-0 deficit with two late goals to reach the semi-finals. Romania came very close to joining the Bulgarians, but they lost on penalties to Sweden after drawing 2-2 with Sweden. Brazil had the edge over Holland in a five goal thriller, while Baggio continued his excellent form scoring a late winner for Italy in their quarter-final match against Spain.

Baggio was on top form again for Italy during their semi final match against Bulgaria, he scored two goals which were enough to see them through to their fifth world cup final.

Brazil beat Sweden 1-0 to meet the Italians in what sounded like a mouth watering world cup final.

Having reached third in their group and narrowly beating Nigeria, Spain and Bulgaria, the Italians were negative in the final. It appeared from their performance that they would settle with a draw and for the match to go to penalties and they got what they wished. Fortunately for football, Brazil won the penalty shoot out after the star of the world cup; Roberto Baggio blazed his penalty over the bar. The Brazilians were now the world champions for the first time in 24 years.

© 2006 World Cup Years Ltd.