World Cup Countdown: 2 Weeks to Go – The Underappreciated Genius of Romário

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When God created man, even he wouldn’t have expected one of his creations to possess as much ability with a football as Romario. The boy from Rio de Janeiro took liberties on the field of play, truly making the 1994 World Cup his own, but Brazil’s number 11 very nearly never made it to the tournament…

With just one qualifying game to go, the Selecao needed to avoid defeat against Uruguay inside the Maracana Stadium to progress to the World Cup finals. Romario had been left out for the entire qualifying campaign by Carlos Alberto Parreira – the national team boss at the time – after expressing his discontent at being left out of a friendly fixture against Germany. 

With their chances of qualifying for the tournament in peril, fans and journalists alike were crying out for Romario’s inclusion in the game against the Uruguayans, and at last, Parreira gave in. 

Romario was recalled for the pivotal clash, returning to his now iconic number 11 strip with a vision. 

Brazil beat Uruguay by two goals to nil with the man in focus grabbing a double, and parity had been restored. A rather foolish looking Parreira simply said after the match, ‘God sent Romário to the Maracanã’.

After their initial conflict, Parreira and Romario found common ground through the fact that they were both invaluable to each other. Parreira held the forward’s World Cup fate in his hands, whilst Romario held his manager’s chances of success in the U.S. in his. 

Partnering the Selecao’s number 7, Bebeto, in attack, Romario took the tournament by the scruff of the neck, reinvigorated by his return to the national team. 

A goal in each of his first three group games set the tone for the forward’s future exploits, as Romario also struck in the quarter final win over the Netherlands as well as the game-winning header against Sweden in the semi-finals. 

An injury-stricken tournament four years earlier meant that Romario couldn’t show the world his skills to their full potential, but he was wasting no time in making up for his 1990 woes. 

Romario had a chance to win his first World Cup, and his country’s fourth; only Italy stood in the Brazilians’ way. For a showpiece event blessed with the attacking abilities of Romario and Roberto Baggio, it was of great surprise to many to see the scoreline stay goalless after 120 minutes. 

So, penalties it was. The chance to bring football’s greatest prize home to one of their respective nations rested on the shoulders of the Brazilian and Italian players from the spot. The pressure was truly on. 

For all his unearthly footballing ability, Romario had never taken a spot kick for the national team. Surely, for a player of his talent, that wouldn’t be a problem, right? After Marcio Santos missed the opening spot kick, the pressure had been ramped up a notch for Romario. Miss, and the Selecao would’ve missed their first two efforts and given the Italians a major advantage. 

Just as God had sent Romario to the Maracana for their crucial play-off encounter, the Selecao’s number 11’s appearance before the ball in this shoot out also had a holy presence to it. It was Brazil’s star man vs Italy’s in Romario vs Baggio, and it felt inevitable that the man in yellow would conquer. 

Romario scored, and Baggio missed to send the iconic trophy back to Brazil once again. 

We’re talking about one of the best players of his generation here, a true inspiration. Almost every successful national side needs a star man to lead them, and Romario was that and more. When you have a player who made flicking the ball over a defender’s head and volleying home a trademark skill, you know there’s something special going on. 

It goes without saying that Romario departed the US that summer with the World Cup Golden Ball under his belt, awarded to him for being the tournament’s most valuable player, whilst he was also named in the World Cup All Star team. 

To this day, Romario is the only player to win the Golden Ball and the World Cup in the same tournament, a truly astonishing achievement. 

679 goals in 886 games at club level. 55 in 70 at international level. Romario will always be remembered as one of the game’s greatest forwards. Just take a look at some of the names who have covered him in praise…

Johan Cruyff: “He was a genius of the goal area”.

Ronaldo: “Romário was the most decisive player who I played with, he was a great goal scorer, finisher, skilful, opportunist. I think I learnt all of that from him”.

Roberto Baggio said: “Romário is one of the greatest players of all time. He has good technique and personality. He is a master of art in the penalty area.”

Diego Maradona on who was the best player he ever saw play: “It is between Romário and Van Basten”.

Paolo Maldini: “Romário was incredible in the penalty area.”

Here’s to you, Romario. One of the greats. 

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