For all the scepticism about going to the USA for the first time in 1994, the tournament was a huge success, played amid great colour in wonderful stadiums, and better attended than any other World Cup before or since.
Ireland were there again, Alan McLoughlin’s goal in Belfast having been just enough for them to edge out European champions Denmark on goals scored. Ray Houghton’s winning goal against Italy on the opening weekend was as good as it got however, and this time the campaign ended with a 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Dutch in the last 16.
Argentina started brightly by winning their first two matches, but after Diego Maradona had been sent home for failing a drugs test, a 2-0 defeat by Bulgaria left them scraping through in third place, and they were beaten 3-2 by Romania in the last 16.
All four quarter finals were memorable in their own way.
Roberto Baggio’s goal with two minutes to go took Italy into the last four at the expense of Spain; the Dutch came from two down to draw level with Brazil only for Branco to score late on and grab a 3-2 win; Sweden edged out Romania on penalties; and most famously of all Yordan Letchkov’s header completed Bulgaria’s recovery from a goal down to knock out the holders Germany.
Both semi finals went the way of the favourites, but only by narrow margins. Brazil beat Sweden 1-0 to reach their first World Cup final in 24 years. Their opponents would be the same country they’d faced on that occasion in 1970, after Italy beat Bulgaria 2-1.
Baggio scored both Italian goals that night, but it was a different story four days later when the same player’s miss from the spot handed the trophy to Brazil.
It was the first World Cup final ever to be decided on penalties, and the tournament also saw a moment of history for Oleg Salenko, who became the first player to score five goals in a single match at a World Cup, during Russia’s 6-1 win over Cameroon.