“That’s the goal they’ve all been waiting for.” John Motson, June 19th, 1990
It was a moment of relief, excitement, adulation and ecstasy all at once. Roberto Baggio’s weaving quickstep and ice-cool finish allowed a nation to exhale and to believe in both its team and its talisman.
As the ball nestled in the back of the net in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico and the goalscorer lay flat on his back in ecstatic celebration, it felt like a great valve had been flipped open, releasing an explosion of pure joy and hope among the Italian side and their legions of fans at what might be possible in their World Cup.
The goal seemed to be pre-planned, such was the efficiency and economy of movement used to create it. The delicate one-two with Giuseppe Giannini that took out two Czechs by the halfway line, the swerve inside one defender, the trickery to cause the next to twist 360 degrees in confusion on the edge of the box, the use of the eyes to send the goalkeeper the wrong way. All of these things built perfectly to the resulting crescendo in the form of the measured, almost effortless finish and delirious celebration.
This really was the goal they’d all been waiting for.
Despite his exquisite skills, Baggio hadn’t started the hosts first two group games of Italia 90. Under immense pressure to qualify for the knockout stages in style and as group winners, manager Azeglio Vicini had decided the mercurial striker was too much of a luxury, too much of a risk in games of such importance.
But after unconvincing 1-0 wins over Austria and the USA in the first two games the clamour for Baggio’s inclusion from both press and fans became too great. Vicini gave in and selected the 23-year-old to start against Czecholsovakia, in a game that would decide who qualified as group winners.
Baggio was a player who always seemed to play in a different way to everyone else. When he set off on a run his feet didn’t seem to touch the ground; he seemed to glide like a figure-skater, gently carving a path between defenders.
And it was those qualities he would use to such memorable effect against the Czechs.
Italy would go on to lose in heartbreaking fashion on penalties to Diego Maradona’s dogged Argentina in the semi-finals. And while the team ultimately failed to win the tournament, Baggio’s goal endures, famed for the way it encapsulates one of the greatest feelings that football can provide: hope.