The lasting image of the 1994 World Cup in USA is that of a forlorn Roberto Baggio having just blazed his penalty high over the bar in Pasadena to hand Brazil their fourth world crown.
That it’s the tragic failure of Baggio that is remembered above the goal scoring exploits of Brazil’s Romario and Bebeto or the efforts of their teammates Blanco and Dunga amongst others is somewhat harsh on the victors. Baggio’s style and substance as Italy progressed through the knock-out stages endeared him to not only Italian spectators but fans of the beautiful game in general. His legacy lives on to this day.
Baggio’s tournament had actually begun as it ended, with disappointment and frustration. A stunned Italy were defeated 1-0 by Ireland in their opening game in New York before only narrowly beating Norway by the same scoreline. Baggio was actually substituted in that game after goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca was sent off for handball. With Italy needing to bring on Luca Marchegiani between the sticks an outfield player had to make way. Feeling the need for eleven fit men on the field, coach Arrigo Sacchi hauled the talismanic Baggio from the field. Baggio would still rescue Italy but it would be Dino not Roberto who would keep Italy in the competition. Dino, no relation to Roberto, is possibly unfortunate to have carried the same name as Roberto, meaning that he could find himself somewhat in the shadow of the superstar despite being a more than capable player himself. If Baggio’s, Roberto’s that is, World Cup was a tragic failure then the same can be said for the man who provided the cross for that crucial goal against Norway, Giuseppi Signori.
Roberto Baggio sits seventh on the all-time Serie A goal scoring charts with 205 goals. Sitting in 9th place with 188 goals but in far fewer matches than Baggio is Signori. Signori was the top scorer in Serie A in the two seasons prior to the 1994 World Cup and would be again two years later. In America however he would find himself playing out wide. Whilst Baggio’s contribution at that tournament will never be forgotten, Signori’s is likely to be. It shouldn’t! As mentioned it was his cross that created the winning goal against Norway. It was a cross that many wingers would’ve been proud off and… incapable of.
Italy drew their final group game against Mexico to scrape through to the last 16 on goals scored in an absurdly tight group where each team finished on four points with no goal difference. Against Nigeria in the second round the finest of margins helped rescue Italy and start to define Roberto Baggio’s career. 1-0 down in Foxburgh, Baggio brought Italy level in the very last minute. His first goal of the World Cup was either an acutely placed finish or a slightly scuffed shot that really shouldn’t have gone in, depending how you look at it. His extra-time penalty took Italy to the quarter-finals but once again the margins were fine. Was he fortunate that his penalty went in off the post or was it a perfect penalty?
Italy would again leave it late to defeat Spain in the quarter-finals and once more the other Baggio as well as Signori are intertwined in the narrative. Dino Baggio scored 7 goals in 60 games for Italy but two of them came at USA’ 94. After heading the winner against Norway in the group stage he gave Italy the lead against Spain in their temporary Foxburgh home. The Spaniards levelled and the score remained as such up until the 88th minute. In a moment that rather summed up Signori’s tournament, he bravely got to the ball ahead of the defender only to be absolutely wiped out. Baggio received the excellent but under appreciated assist from Signori, rounded the ‘keeper and similar to his goal against Nigeria, was somewhat fortunate to see the ball go beneath the desperate defender and send Italy to the semi-finals.
There Italy would stick to the same scoreline with a 2-1 win over tournament surprise package Bulgaria as an in full flow Baggio added two more goals to his tally, this time with sublime skill and composure, no luck required. Signori was limited to a substitute appearance in that game and wouldn’t grace the final. As the story goes he aired his disgruntlement at being played out of position on the wing and thus talked himself out of a place in the final. The final itself was a drab affair. In excess of 94,000 people attended in the searing heat in Pasadena, enduring 120 minutes of goalless action before the drama of penalties. Roberto Baggio had fired Italy that far but with his leg heavily bandaged he infamously ballooned his effort skyward resulting in jubilant Brazilian celebrations.
Baggio totalled 27 goals for the Italian national team, Signori only 7. Without Baggio’s goals Italy would’ve struggled to progress all the way to the final in America but Signori’s efforts shouldn’t be forgotten. Without his cross against Norway, Italy may never have made it out of the group stage and Baggio might not have even scored one goal in a competition for which he is so intrinsically linked. Had Signori not put his body on the line against Spain then the quarter-finals might have been as far as Italy went, leaving Roberto stranded on two tournament goals, as many as his less heralded namesake Dino.
When Italian football was making its presence felt on English TV in the early nineties it was in huge part down to the goal scoring feats of Lazio legend Signori. He deserves to be remembered as a great but whilst Baggio can bask in tragic failure, Signori, on foreign shores at least, is easily forgotten. Getting banned from football activities for five years doesn’t really help maintain the legacy of the prodigious goal getter. That said…
Remember Roberto… but don’t forget Giuseppi!