Rose Bowl
© AFP

With no traditional venues for 'soccer', the United States was in some ways an unconventional choice to host the FIFA World Cup ™. As it turned out though, USA 94 was a tournament rich in goals and excitement, drawing huge crowds and culminating eventually in the final at the Rose Bowl - drawing the eyes of the world to this small corner of California on 17 July 1994.

Nestled at the edge of the San Gabriel mountains north of Los Angeles in the town of Pasadena, this vast arena accommodated 94,194 spectators and provided a fitting backdrop for the showpiece final between a pair of three-time world champions, Brazil and Italy. The South Americans eventually claimed their fourth FIFA World Cup in a penalty shootout after what can only be called an anticlimactic contest.

The Seleção thus finally got their hands on the FIFA World Cup trophy, having previously retained the old Jules Rimet trophy after winning it for a third time in 1970. The tournament's true stars, Romario and Roberto Baggio, were largely subdued - the latter sealing Italy's fate with his famous penalty miss - but the atmosphere was admirably upbeat. For the spectators it was a day of celebration as the Rose Bowl basked in its moment in the sun.

Not that the glare of the spotlight is anything new for a stadium situated just miles from the glitz of Hollywood. A major venue for American football - it has hosted five Super Bowls together with the annual collegiate Rose Bowl - it staged the gold medal match at the 1984 Olympic Football Tournament, with 101,799 people turning out to see France beat Brazil 2-0.

More recently, in 1999, the FIFA Women's World Cup reached its climax there, with the hosts beating China 5-4 on penalty-kicks after a 0-0 draw. Over 90,000 people were in attendance as America's women claimed their second world crown.

Completed in 1922, the Rose Bowl has increased in size over the years. Built in a horseshoe shape, capacity rose from 57,000 to 76,000 when its open south end was built on in 1929. By the 1950s it could accommodate over 100,000. The venue has correspondingly branched out from its gridiron roots. Innumerable shows and concerts have been held there, as well as the world's largest flea market, Moreover, Major League Soccer side LA Galaxy called the Rose Bowl home for seven seasons and not only were the US national team regulars there but Mexico and other Central American teams have also staged matches at the arena.

Though typically avoiding the Rose Bowl for contests against fellow CONCACAF opposition - whose Spanish-speaking support would likely to outnumber their own - the USA have played there 15 times, losing on just three occasions.

The first of these reverses came against Romania in the Americans' final group game of USA 94 on 26 June. Four days earlier, the Red, White and Blue had shocked fancied Colombia 2-1 on the same pitch. Over 93,000 people witnessed the host nation's first victory in a FIFA World Cup match since 1950.

Of the eight matches it hosted during USA 94, arguably the most memorable was Romania's thrilling 3-2 triumph over Argentina in the second round. Ilie Dumitrescu was the scourge of the Albiceleste that day, scoring twice inside the opening 18 minutes and then slotting the ball perfectly through three defenders and into the path of Gheorghe Hagi for him to add the Romanians' third. Goals from Gabriel Batistuta and Abel Balbo proved in vain as Argentina, with Diego Maradona watching helplessly from the stand, made an early exit.

The Rose Bowl also witnessed the highs and lows of tournament dark horses Sweden. It was in Pasadena that they fell in the semi-final to Romario's fifth goal of the finals, yet days later they returned to claim third place by beating Bulgaria 4-0.

The final itself may not have lived up to the high expectations but there were still scenes that stick in the memory: the beaten Baggio with head in hands, a chain of Brazilians celebrating a victory they dedicated to the late motor racing champion Ayrton Senna, the Italian veteran Franco Baresi in tears after playing the match of his life but missing his penalty-kick. To quote a banner hanging on the Rose Bowl walls, this was a day for 'Making soccer history'.

With the construction of the football-specific, but significantly smaller, Home Depot Center south of LA, the Rose Bowl may see less 'soccer' these days, but its days in the world spotlight will not be forgotten.