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Down Memory Lane: Classy Baggio’s worst moment

Italian football over the decades from 1934 and 1938 has always been renowned for top-class strikers or centre-forwards as they were known in those distant days.

This pattern has continued post Second World War with players such as Schillachi, Rivera, Mazzola, Viera, and, of course, Roberto Baggio whose 27 goals in 56 appearances makes hime the fourth highest all-time marksmen for Italy.

Goal-scoring was his business. He wanted goals in every match and felt sick if he didn’t get them. His appetite was insatiable.

His initial World Cup appearance was Italia 1990 and, although primarily a substitute, he scored two goals, including the best of the tournament against Czechoslovakia — an indication of what was to follow.

Baggio certainly possessed class, dignity and sportsmanship. A regular designated penalty kick-taker during the competition, he stood aside when Italy were awarded one in the third-place match against England and allowed Salvatore Schillachi to score and collect the FIFA Golden Shoe.

The 1994 tournament in the United States proved the pinnacle of his career, leading them to the final after a disappointing start, scoring five goals, all of them in the knock-out phase. Then came disaster in the final against Brazil at Pasadena, California, which ended scoreless after extra-time so the dreaded lottery of penalties had to be applied. And in temperatures touching 100 degrees, Baggio, allocated the final penalty, blasted it off target and, as Franco Baresi and Danielle Massaro had earlier missed, Brazil became champions for the first time in 24 years.

“I missed because I tried a powerful shot,” explained Baggio. “I went against my own nature. I shot towards Taffarel’s right-hand corner. I was worn out. I made a bad run up to the ball, with my body too far backwards. Out of it came a wretched shot — rubbish.”

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Then in France, 1998, during the opening match against Chile, Baggio scored another penalty — the first Italian player to get goals in three World Cup finals. He had exorcised the demon of that 1994 miss.

When Baggio, FIFA World Player of the Year in 1993 and who had spells with Juventus, Fiorentina Inter Milan, AC Milan and Brescia, announced his retirement from football, he emphasised he wanted no part in coaching or management. Instead he set up a website to keep in touch with the fans who still idolise him.

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