It’s that time again! The greatest show on earth is upon us. Ahead of the Fifa World Cup in Russia, we look-back at the 20 tournaments before and the standout aspects from them.

The first World Cup in the United States saw Brazil emerge victorious in a cagey final, which was decided by a penalty shootout.

United States 1994

Despite the USA’s lack of football pedigree, massive crowds greeted the 1994 finals and Brazil claimed their record fourth World Cup title. Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira married discipline with the abundant Brazilian flair, and in Romario had the deadliest striker in the tournament.

Diego Maradona and Andres Escobar grabbed the early headlines. Maradona scored an outstanding goal against Greece, memorably screaming into a TV camera in celebration, before failing a dope test and being slung out of the tournament. Escobar scored an own goal for Colombia against the USA and was later shot dead in his homeland.

Roberto Baggio proved Italy’s hero as they marched to the final, saving their skin against impressive Nigeria in the second round and grabbing the winner in the quarter-finals against Spain. Two more goals saw off a surprising Bulgaria in the semis, but the cruellest of twists awaited him in the final.

Brazil cruised through until a thrilling 3-2 quarter-final win over the Netherlands put them into a semi-final clash with surprise package Sweden, where Romario’s expert finish nicked victory. The disappointing final was the first decided by a shootout, and Baggio blasted over the bar to hand Brazil victory.

Stats and trivia

  • Almost two months before the World Cup started, Formula One legend Senna kicked off a friendly between Brazil and a Paris Saint-Germain side that included future World Cup winner Bixente Lizarazu, Assis (Ronaldinho’s brother), French striker David Ginola and current Liberian president George Weah.  Eleven days later – on May 1 – Senna tragically died while leading the San Marino Grand Prix. After winning the Final, Dunga and team-mates paid homage to the three-time champion with a banner: “Senna, we accelerated together, the [fourth title] is ours!”
  • Colombia defender Andres Escobar scored an own goal against the hosts that knocked his team out of the competition. After he returned to Colombia, the 27-year-old Escobar was shot dead by gangsters. It is widely speculated that his lapse had cost gamblers millions.
  • Argentine maverick Diego Maradona tested positive for a banned substance. The Argentinean federation subsequently pulled him out of the tournament. He remained in USA as a commentator.
  • Russia’s Oleg Salenko shared the Golden Boot with six goals. Five of those goals came during a 6-1 win over Cameroon, the most scored by a player in a single game at the World Cup.
  • In the same game, with Cameroon’s solitary goal, 42-year-old Roger Milla broke his own record, set in the 1990 World Cup, to become the oldest man to score in a World Cup finals.
  • The USA vs Switzerland match in the Pontiac Silverdome stadium in Michigan was the first time in World Cup history that a match was played indoors. 
  • This was the first time players had names above their numbers on the back of their shirts. 
  • This was the first time the winning team in the group stages were awarded three points as opposed to two in an attempt to encourage attacking play.
  • Leading goalscorer: Hristo STOICHKOV (Bulgaria) and Oleg SALENKO (Russia)
  • Total number of goals scored in the tournament: 141 (2.7 goals per match) 

For your viewing pleasure

The final...


Roberto Baggio’s infamous penalty kick that was sent into orbit


Saudi Arabia announced their entry to the showpiece event with this magnificent solo effort from Saeed Al Owairan during the group stages against Belgium. This is certainly one for the archives.


When one man scored five goals in a match...

Official poster

With AFP and inputs