World Cup memories: Roberto Baggio, 1994
In an ongoing series, CBCSports.ca asks players, managers, broadcasters, journalists and fans to recall their favourite World Cup memories.
Next up: Alf De Blasis.
De Blasis is a longtime broadcaster with Telelatino, a Canadian cable TV station that features general interest programming in several languages, primarily in Italian and Spanish.
De Blasis is also one of the most recognized personalities in Canadian soccer, having hosted Telelatino's Italian soccer broadcasts for close to two decades.
A lifelong fan of the beautiful game and supporter of the Italian national team, De Blasis's favourite World Cup memory is of Italy's Roberto Baggio from the 1994 World Cup in the United States — but not the one you think.
Baggio became infamous for missing a penalty during the Italy's shootout loss to Brazil in the final, but De Blasis chooses to remember how the former Juventus forward rescued the Azzurri during a second-round match against Nigeria in Boston.
"Roberto Baggio put the Azzurri on his shoulders and carried them to victory, scoring the tying goal on a wonderful solo effort late in the match and then the winning goal on a penalty in extra time," De Blasis said.
"Baggio, of course, would go on to lead Italy to the final, where he is remembered for an unfortunate miss from the penalty spot. Truly a bittersweet World Cup for one of the game's greatest stars, but a World Cup that I think defined his legacy in the game."
Baggio comes alive
That the Italians even reached the final was a small miracle, and they had Baggio to thank for getting that far after his heroics in Boston.
Losing 1-0 in a physical match against Nigeria, the Azzurri saw their problems compounded when Mexican referee red carded Gianfranco Zola in the 76th minute. The Italians looked certain to be going home early, but it was at this moment that Baggio, the reigning European and world player of the year, came alive for the first time in the tournament.
The Juventus forward scored in the 88th minute and then potted the game-winner in extra time from the penalty spot.
From that point on, a rejuvenated Italy took flight on the wings of Baggio, breezing through the competition before losing a heartbreaker to Brazil in the final.