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Maradona, Escobar, Diana Ross and Brazil - Rewind to the 1994 World Cup

Maradona, Escobar, Diana Ross and Brazil - Rewind to the 1994 World Cup
From ESPN - July 17, 2017

A version of this article was first published on ESPN in 2006.

FIFA's decision to choose the United States as hosts of the 1994 World Cup was greeted with scepticism elsewhere across the globe. But despite "soccer" being way down the American sporting popularity list at the time, the tournament saw full houses throughout and it is still the best attended of any finals.

After a Hollywood-style opening ceremony in which soul diva Diana Ross (rather prophetically) missed a penalty, Germany beat Bolivia in rather unconvincing fashion. That too was to prove prophetic.

Brazil, following two poor World Cup finals performances, looked the strongest they had since 1982, with Barcelona striker Romario at the very apex of his predatory powers.

Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira had added a defensive ballast to midfield in the tandem of Mauro Silva and Dunga. It paid dividends in easy opening wins over Russia and Cameroon. Brazil's final group game then came against a strong and free-scoring Sweden side: honours were shared as both progressed.

Russia and Cameroon both exited prematurely but not without sharing a record-breaking match. Russia's Oleg Salenko scored a five goals in a 6-1 win over Cameroon for whom Roger Milla became, at an official age of 42, the oldest ever scorer in the World Cup.

Argentina started in a similar fashion to Brazil, thrashing Greece 4-0 in Boston and then beating the impressive Nigeria 2-1.

While Gabriel Batistuta and Claudio Caniggia fired the bullets, the strings were pulled by Fernando Redondo and Diego Maradona, back playing after a ban for cocaine use and a series of false starts at Napoli, Sevilla and Newell's Old Boys.

Looking suspiciously trim and energetic, Maradona lashed in an amazing goal against Greece and celebrated by screaming into a pitch-side camera, creating an iconic image of him at his maniacal best.

After they dispatched Nigeria, Argentina became favourites for the tournament. Until the news came out that Maradona had tested positive for banned stimulant ephedrine and had been sent home -- he was laterbanned for 15 months.

Broken by the loss of their leader, Argentina faded against Bulgaria in their last group game and faced the considerable challenge of Romania in the second round.

The Romanians had won a group that included hosts USA and Colombia -- Pele's pick to win the tournament. But Colombia, for all their pretty passing moves, fell to the wiles of Gheorghe Hagi in their opener and then catastrophically lost 2-1 to the USA in their next, putting them out.

Harrowingly, defender Andres Escobar paid for an own-goal with his life, shot by gangsters on his return to Medellin. It was an unbelievable incident which cast a shadow over Colombian football for many years to come.

Jack Charlton's Republic of Ireland continued to delight the neutrals by beating Italy in New York after a tremendous goal from Ray Houghton, but met a rather damp end to their campaign in the second round when a mistake by Italia '90 hero Packie Bonner handed progress to the Dutch.

USA put up a brave showing against Brazil but lost to a late strike from Bebeto, Brazil's other striker. Meanwhile, Germany struggled to get past the Belgians while Italy needed a late equaliser from Roberto Baggio against Nigeria.

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