- Five goals transpired in 28 second-half minutes
- Brazil reached the semi-finals for the first time since 1970
- Parreira’s boys found an unlikely match-winner
Famed the world over for their spectacular skills, Brazil landed on the shores of the United States for one reason and one reason alone - to get their hands on the FIFA World Cup™. The three-time champions had waited 24 long years for another success on the world stage and, under coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, they arrived willing to swap some of the joy and exuberance of their forebears for the sound tactics and clinical determination they believed would lead them to gold.
If the tough-tackling Dunga was the leader of this Brazil team, their hopes rested more than anything on the striking tandem of Romario and Bebeto. One-time colleagues at Vasco da Gama but now rivals with their respective Spanish clubs, Barcelona and Deportivo La Coruna, together they formed a lethal pairing - and had already contributed five of Brazil's seven goals in the tournament, including Bebeto's winner against the hosts in the second round.
This was the Brazilians' first competitive meeting with the Netherlands since 1974 and a second group stage match that Cruyff and Co won to advance to the final. The Oranje had surprisingly finished second to Saudi Arabia in their first-round group and without the injured Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit, who quit the squad after falling out with coach Dick Advocaat, they seemed a less cohesive version of their former selves.
With forwards such as Dennis Bergkamp and Marc Overmars, the Dutch undeniably boasted an attacking threat, yet going into this quarter-final contest it remained to be seen how their defence would cope - and in particular, how those old campaigners Ronald Koeman and Jan Wouters would fare against Brazil's quick-footed, and equally quick-witted, front pairing. As it was, they contained them quite comfortably during a first period which offered little indication of the fireworks to follow.
The Dallas crowd saw few scoring chances before the break. Following Aldair's foul on Peter van Vossen, Bergkamp nodded a free header over Taffarel's crossbar. Mauro Silva sizzled a shot just wide at the other end. Yet amid the stalemate, Romario roamed menacingly, always sniffing for scraps. And suddenly, with half-time approaching, he and Bebeto combined brilliantly, their inter-passing nearly opening up the Dutch defence only for the final touch to go begging.
For the Netherlands, the let-off was only temporary. The blue-shirted Brazilians came alive after the restart and within eight minutes, they were in front. After a Dutch attack broke down with Frank Rijkaard's sloppy pass, Brazil countered. Bebeto collected a long ball out the left and laid a low cross into the path of Romario who let the ball bounce in front of him before steering it coolly past Ed de Goey. The Seleção strikers were soon looking for more: Bebeto broke through and slipped a shot off the outside of the post, then De Goey smothered a Romario effort.
The second goal arrived after 64 minutes and this time Bebeto was the scorer. Thinking the backtracking Romario was offside, the Dutch defence paused fatally as the ball was headed back into their half from De Goey's long kick. Bebeto seized the initiative. After evading Wouters' desperate challenge, he rounded the keeper and slotted into the open goal before racing to the corner for a memorable baby-cradling celebration with Romario and Mazinho - in honour of his new born back in Brazil.
All looked lost for the Dutch yet within 60 seconds, they were back in the game. A long throw found Bergkamp sneaking into the box and after skipping in between three defenders, he slipped the ball across Taffarel and into the corner to make a goal - quite literally - out of nothing. Advocaat's men began to believe again and in the 75th minute, Bergkamp was appealing loudly for a penalty after the ball struck the hand of Marcio Santos. Seconds later, though, the Dutch were celebrating again: Overmars sent over the ensuing corner and Aron Winter beat Taffarel to the ball and headed home.
Yet Parreira's Brazil kept their focus and with nine minutes remaining, they found the winner through an unlikely source. A veteran of Mexico 86, full-back Branco was only playing because of the ban imposed on Leonardo, whose elbow had seriously injured the American Tab Ramos in Brazil's last match. After winning a free-kick over 25 metres out, the 30-year-old produced one of the goals of the tournament. Following a long run-up, he released a venomous, swerving strike that flew past the wall and into the far corner. Brazil were into the semi-finals for the first time since 1970.
Eight days later, and some 1,500 miles across the US in Pasadena, Branco's trusted left foot would serve Brazil well again as he converted one of the penalties with which they finally claimed that much-wanted fourth World Cup in a penalty shootout against Italy. If the goalless 120 minutes that preceded it failed to show the best of Romario and Co, nobody in the famous yellow shirts seemed to mind. For Parreira's men, it was mission accomplished.