World Cup Legends: Romario and Bebeto

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Read World Cup Legends: Roberto Baggio

Written especially for the Hit Row Z podcast and the second World Cup Legends piece building up to this summer’s tournament, what better memory than one of this year’s host’s success stories?

Brazil have always been synonymous with legendary attackers: Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Pele, Garrincha, Zico, Ronaldo and Tostao. In 1994, two such attackers formed a devastating partnership that led their country to World Cup glory in the United States, two strikers who are currently in the nation’s top five all time goalscorers; Romario and Bebeto.

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Going into the tournament, both players played their respective club football in Spain and both arrived with huge reputations for clinical finishing.

Romario, FIFA World Player of the Year for 1993, was playing for Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona, with whom he had helped win the league title a month before. He had topped the La Liga goalscorer charts with 30 goals, forming a scintillating partnership with another USA ‘94 star, Bulgaria’s Hristo Stoichkov.

Bebeto had been the top goalscorer in Spain with Deportivo La Coruna the season before with 29 goals, but had refused to take a penalty in the final game of the 93/94 season against Valencia, a game they needed to win to first ever La Liga title. His teammate Dukic stepped up, missed, and the game ended in a draw, allowing Romario’s Barcelona to clinch the league.

Their club rivalry seemingly went a little deeper to a more personal level. Romario once branded Bebeto ‘Chorao’, or ‘Cry Baby’, believing he had a habit of complaining to referees. The fiery striker also declared in a pre-World Cup press conference that he would refuse to sit next to Bebeto on the plane.   

This seemed like an unlikely basis for a telepathic working relationship but despite all the apparent personal differences, they both had one crucial commonality; a desire to win and an uncanny knack of finding the back of the net. In USA ‘94, neither disappointed.    

In Brazil’s opening group game against Russia, they ran out comfortable winners; Romario netting a quarter of the game in as a precursor to the eventual victors’ intentions. Next up were the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, who were unable to perform the heroics in ‘94 that won them so many admirers in Italy four years earlier, and who had begun a new trend of African surprise packages in recent World Cups. Brazil ran out 3-0 winners with both Romario and Bebeto scoring one apiece. The partnership being forged was beginning to look formidable, even at this early stage – with qualification to the knockout stages already secured after two games. Romario netted his third in as many games in a 1-1 draw with Sweden, one of the tournament’s surprise packages.   

The hosts USA had qualified for the Second Round as one of the four best-placed third-placed teams, but faced a tough test against Brazil – even with their fervent home support backing them. Bebeto scored his second of the tournament in a 1-0 victory taking them through to a mouth-watering Quarter-Final against the Netherlands. The game came alive after the break, with five second half goals, culminating in an 81st minute winner by left back Branco. Once again, Romario had opened up the scoring with his fourth of the tournament, followed in quick succession by Bebeto’s third. The rapid striker finished coolly after rounding Dutch keeper Ed De Goey and, joined by Mazinho and Romario, celebrated with the now iconic baby rocking celebration.

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At this point, most would have predicted a sumptuous Semi-Final between Brazil and Argentina, but the latter were surprisingly knocked out by Romania, who in turn were overturned by Sweden in their Quarter-Final tie. After drawing with Brazil in the group stages, the Scandinavian outfit might have felt they could pull off a shock win, knowing all of the pressure was on their opponents. After a tight encounter, that man Romario eventually found a way past Thomas Ravelli with ten minutes to go.

Roberto Baggio had netted a brace in the other Semi-Final as Italy defeated a brave Bulgarian side, to set up what would certainly be a memorable Final.

With five-goal strikers Baggio and Romario and three-goal Bebeto in the starting line-up, it was a miracle that the showpiece final was still goalless after extra time. Penalties would decide the winners of the 1994 World Cup Final in Pasadena. After the first two penalties were missed by Baresi and Marcio Santos, Romario kept his composure to level the shootout at 1-1 following Demetrio Albertini’s successfully dispatched effort for Italy. Evani and Branco netted to keep the shootout on a knife edge, and after Danielle Massaro’s miss and Brazil captain Dunga’s conversion, Roberto Baggio needed to score to keep Italian hopes alive. His now infamous skied penalty sent the Brazilians into raptures, winning the shootout 3-2 without the need for a fifth taker.  Romario and Bebeto had led their country to glory, and given their consistency throughout the tournament, probably deserved nothing less.

Romario’s stocky and powerful build complemented the more fleet-footed and pacy Bebeto contributing eight World Cup goals between them on their way to lifting the most prestigious prize in football, ensuring that they would never be forgotten.

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Read World Cup Legends: Roberto Baggio

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