Now Brazil has the 1994 World Cup championship--and on penalty kicks, 3-2. You can make a plausible case that either team could have won.
It was not the "dream game" some people had hoped for from these mighty soccer powers. Each team played the game it knows best.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday July 19, 1994 Home Edition Sports Part C Page 7 Column 6 Sports Desk 1 inches; 19 words Type of Material: Correction
World Cup--Paul Gardner, author of the soccer book "The Simplest Game," was incorrectly identified in Monday's Times as Paul Johnson.
Italy played a brilliant defensive game. Its offense was obviously hampered by the hamstring injury of Roberto Baggio, who did not seem up to par. Its goalkeeper, Gianluca Pagliuca, made some improbable saves and kept his team from defeat in regular time.
Brazil played its visually strong attacking game. It had more chances to score. But it had trouble finishing its attacks, as it had trouble before.
The patent unfairness of the penalty-kick resolution of the game after a scoreless tie in regular time and overtime was there for all to see. It was heartbreaking to see the Italians sitting there, crushed, on the field. But then, it would have been heartbreaking to see the Brazilians in the same position.
A European friend called the other day to say that July had been a great month for America. As it turned out, he was not referring to the economy or to foreign policy but to the World Cup. He loved the filled stadiums, he said, but above all, the enthusiasm, the good nature and the joyfulness of it all.
And he was right. The World Cup celebrated fierce, but non-confrontational, nationalism. The spectators, while passionate, were friendly. The teams, while physical, were fair. And the new FIFA rules discouraged violence. Though Kissinger had the title of honorary chairman, his duties essentially ended when the World Cup was awarded to America. He can, therefore, pay tribute to the American organizing committee, which found the stadiums, adapted them to soccer and arranged the hospitality--all of it in a country that has no local teams to provide the administrative support. The organization was thoroughly efficient. Kissinger attended five previous World Cups; he has never seen the performance of this year's host country surpassed.
Above all, the soccer was much better--more offensive, livelier, more imaginative--than that of World Cup '90 in Italy, where defensiveness and rough play smothered too many games.
The two best teams got to the final. The Netherlands team was about as good but, through the accident of the draw, had to face Brazil in the round of 16. Argentina began the tournament playing a powerful combination of Latin American flair and European decisiveness. But after the forced departure of Diego Maradona, it lost to Bulgaria in a game that did not matter, and in the round of 16 to Romania in a game that was one of the highlights of the World Cup. Had Argentina made that hurdle, it could have gone to the final.
Sweden's journey to the third-place game showed the importance of grit but offered few new vistas.
Bulgaria's challenge, like that of Romania, might foretell a stronger role by Eastern European countries. The fall of the Iron Curtain opened Western Europe to Eastern players and freed them from the stereotyped game of the centrally planned societies. You can expect to see more African and Asian soccer in the World Cup in France in '98 and beyond as the sport grows in popularity. Nigeria, with a little more experience and tactical skill, might have made the semifinals. Its players were among the most skilled of the tournament but lacked tactical experience and patience.
The most ambiguous future is Germany's--since 1974 a two-time champion and four-time finalist. The problem is not, as many critics claim, that the team is too old but that no replacements seem available. The German coach, Berti Vogts, was right in saying that, though nine of his players had played on the team that won the World Cup in 1990, they happened to be the best players available. But this means that almost the entire team has to be rebuilt.
What of the game itself? Could more rules changes encourage more attacking soccer?
One suggestion has been to limit the number of defenders in the penalty area during corner kicks.
Corner kicks figure also in suggestions for eliminating the use of penalty kicks as tiebreakers. Penalty-kick tiebreakers in the round of 16 and after can be heart-stopping, as Sweden's defeat of Romania demonstrated. But who can be left who thinks they are a measure of quality?
Because corner kicks indicate the attacking team has been playing in the defenders' area, you could break a tie by awarding it to the team with the most corner kicks.
Another suggestion has been to break a tie by alternating corner kicks until a team scores.
Since 1986, FIFA rules prescribe penalty kicks as the tiebreaker for the final too. Until 1986 a tied final was always to be played again. (It never had to be.) Returning to the pre-1986 system would at least prevent the sport's most important game from being decided by accident.