It was a final that no one expected. The World Cup final in 1994 between Italy and Brazil was the most unexpected in the history of this competition. Everyone had predicted an easy victory for Brazil, the team of the beautiful game with five world-class strikers up front. However, on that July afternoon in New Jersey, it was Italy who emerged victorious in what was probably the most exciting final ever staged at that point in time. For once, it wasn’t all about Brazilian flair. The Italians played a strong defensive game with neutralizing tactics and man-marking to restrict the space for Brazil’s forwards. This was not so much about dribbling or shooting but rather tackling and marking! It ended in a penalty shoot out which Brazil won 3 - 2.
The road to the final
Several teams were seen as favorites to win the title, but two were the clear front-runners. Brazil were expected to win it for the 5th time in their history, having won it 4 times in the past. Italy were the defending champions and had a squad that contained some of the greatest players of all time. They were favorites to retain the title they had won 4 years ago. The teams had contrasting styles, but both had been hugely successful, and most experts believed it was too close to call who would win. Brazil went into the tournament after a long period of disappointment for the Selecao. They had finished in 2nd place in the previous two World Cups and lost the Copa America in 1991 and the 1987 edition. The team had been heavily criticized and the motto ‘Joga Bola’ (Play Ball) was a reminder of the beautiful and creative Brazilian football. Some criticized Brazil for playing a too-attacking game and not winning the games with strong defensive play.
Brazil – The favorites to win the World Cup
Brazil had a strong team in 1994 with players like Romario, Bebeto, and Careca who were all proven goalscorers. They also had a great tactical coach Carlos Alberto Parreira. Carlos Alberto was a very experienced coach and had guided Brazil to the title in the previous World Cup. He also had experience in the other major tournament, having won the UEFA European Championships in 1984. Parreira was a strong believer in the 4-4-2 formation and had successfully implemented it in the previous World Cups. With the same formation, he was confident his team will win the title for the 5th time. Brazil’s attack was undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with. The team had several attacking stars including Bebeto, Romario, Careca, and Muller. All these players were proven goalscorers and had scored goals in their domestic leagues. After the disappointment of the previous World Cups, Brazil had a strong squad with a mix of youth and experience.
Italy – Defending Champions
As mentioned above, Italy were the defending champions. They had surprised the world by winning the title in Spain in a tournament where they had been expected to finish 3rd or 4th. The Italians had outplayed the favorites Brazil in the semi-final and even though they had been praised for their attacking football, the team was criticized for their lack of creativity. Italy’s manager at that time, Azeglio Vicini, was criticized for his defensive style of play. The Italian team had a mix of youth and experience, with the likes of Roberto Baggio and Franco Baresi. Italy had a strong defense and a midfield that could win games. The team also had a great striker in Salvatore Schillaci who had scored 5 goals in the tournament. However, despite their success in the previous tournament, Vicini decided to change the tactics and play a defensive game. The 4-4-1-1 formation was used to keep a clean sheet and score on the counter.
A tactically-astute match
The final was a tactically astute match played by two teams that wanted to win the match but also not lose it. The Italians played a defensive game with a 4-4-1-1 formation to keep a clean sheet. The fullbacks were a bit more offensive, but the central midfielders and the lone striker were asked to sit back and defend. The Brazilian team played a 4-4-2 formation with 2 upfront with the intention of scoring goals. The midfielders were expected to play their parts in both defending and attacking. The two teams had played out a goalless draw in their group match, but the finals are different. The Italians would be expected to win the game primarily because they were playing at home. The Italians were expected to win a match in the opposition’s territory and get the cup for the 4th time. The match was played at the Giants Stadium in New Jersey, where the Italians were comfortable playing in. The Game ended in Brazil winning after penalties, 3 - 2.