Ten-man Italy were wilting at the Foxboro stadium in Boston against Nigeria.
The drama had been perfectly Italian, replete with controversy, fluffed lines, and stage fright. Nigeria had taken a lead in the 26th minute from a nothing corner. Birthday boy Gianfranco Zola had been sent off for a nothing foul in the 76th (the tiny Sardinian had made faces, had held himself, had dropped down to his knees at the red card decision; in short, he had behaved as any kid would have after a spoiled party). The Italians were doing nothing really except disintegrating. Going nowhere except for the second round exit at the 1994 World Cup. 1-0 down with time running out.
But Roberto Baggio was still there. It was all still possible. Somehow, you kept believing.
Then in the 89th minute, it happened
Torino defender Roberto Mussi found himself but, more crucially, Baggio in the box. He made a quick pass, and Baggio stroked the ball right into the bottom corner of the goal.
It was 1-1. The psychology of the game had shifted.
In extra-time, Parma's Antonio Benarrivo won a penalty that Baggio scored off the post. Italy had scraped by.
Another remarkable detail about the victory was that aside from Baggio, two defenders had made the difference. First, Mussi's enterprising movement had found Baggio in the penalty area, and secondly, Bennarivo's threat had forced a penalty.
Italy would march on thanks to those two as well.
On this day, twenty-four years ago.
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