Friday 17 July 2020, 12:00

Romario: We made a downtrodden nation ecstatic

  • Brazil won their fourth World Cup trophy on this day in 1994

  • Romario had barely taken a penalty in his life before the Rose Bowl

  • He showered Taffarel and Bebeto in praise

“No, I won’t recall Romario,” snapped Carlos Alberto Parreira. And he didn’t, despite Brazil facing nemesis Uruguay in a win-or-bust USA 1994 qualifier. Then Brazil’s injury crisis heightened, the racket for Romario’s recall erupted like never before, and Parreira relented not only by handing the Barcelona striker an 11th-hour call-up, but by installing him in his starting XI.

‘Shortie’ scored twice to preserve Brazil’s proud record of being FIFA World Cup™ ever-presents. He then propelled Brazil to a first global crown in 24 years and himself to the adidas Golden Ball. chatted to Romario about his telepathic understanding with Bebeto, their baby-cradling celebration at the Cotton Bowl, his delight at scoring a header while enveloped by giants, suddenly volunteering to take a penalty in the Final shootout, and thrilling a downtrodden nation.

At what point did you become convinced that Brazil would win the World Cup? I was always certain that Brazil would be champions because I was in the form of my life and I had the perfect strike partner in Bebeto. Brazil's midfield was made up of players who weren't very technical, but they did their jobs extremely well and were very intelligent. We also had a defence that didn't give away goals easily and, in my opinion, one of the best goalkeepers of all time in Taffarel. We also had an excellent set of substitutes, with players who could have performed as well as or better than the starting XI. That's why I knew we'd win that title. The proof of this is in all the pre-tournament interviews I gave during which I always said that it would be Brazil's World Cup and that, God willing, it would also be my World Cup.

How did Bebeto's unforgettable goal celebration against the Netherlands come about? That was a unique moment for Bebeto. His wife had just had the baby, and it was a quite an interesting celebration. He invented that on the spur of the moment. He scored the goal and started doing it. Mazinho, who was next to him, joined him and I, being next to arrive, just had to follow suit. The three of us made that gesture together, which left quite an impression on that World Cup.

You got the only goal of the semi-final from a header. What do you remember about that? That was an unforgettable goal when you think about it. You had me, at just 1.68 metres tall, rising to score with a header between a clutch of Swedish players who were famous for their average height of around 1.83 or 1.84 metres. That's pretty unusual in football, even more so in World Cup and especially in a semi-final. Jorginho had the good fortune to pick me out perfectly, and with God's help I was able to get my head on the ball, leaving the keeper unable to react in time.

You had a great partnership going with Bebeto. How did that come about? We'd been playing together since the Olympics in 1988 in Seoul and had already lined up together in several other competitions. So we understood each other very well. When Brazil were working on tactics in training, Bebeto and I didn't have to participate very much. We trained separately, because we already knew each other so well. Bebeto was always an extremely intelligent player. He greatly facilitated my attacking moves, which is why we always had such a great understanding.

Parreira said that when he was choosing the players to take the penalties, you volunteered. How did that come about? Up until that point I'd only taken one or maybe two penalties in my life. There were five players in that team who were always practising and who, in theory, would be the penalty-takers. But at that moment in time, I felt it was my duty, since I'd already done many things for myself and the national team. That was the moment when we players had more responsibility than any other time in the tournament. It was time to prove that I was now a mature player, who was there to face up to challenges. So I volunteered myself, was fortunate enough that Parreira agreed, and went on to score one of the goals that helped Brazil win a title that meant so much.

What goes through a player's mind as he walks from the centre-circle to the penalty spot? I think a lot depends on the moment – what competition it is, what game. On that occasion, I was more focused than I've ever been in my life. I walked about 50 paces and, while I was walking, various thoughts flashed through my mind: my childhood, my parents, my friends, and the importance of winning that title for the people of Brazil. As I took the ball and placed it on the spot, all these thoughts were swirling around my head. It was an enormous responsibility, having to kick the ball, a piece of leather, and be responsible for making a nation happy or sad.

What was your first thought when Baggio missed his penalty? It was of having done my job and, more than anything, of having kept my word, since I'd promised that Brazil would be the champions. When I say 'I', I mean to say that this only came about because the squad all helped each other. Whatever 'I' may have done at that World Cup – and in my opinion, I put in the best performance of my life in that tournament– I only achieved what I did because of the strength of the squad. They helped me 100 per cent.

How did it feel to be alongside Dunga when he raised the Trophy in the air? That moment is beyond compare. It's a magical moment in life that will stay with us forever. I don't know if it was Dunga or Branco who said, 'Stay here – when I get hold of the Trophy, you can grab it as well.' That's a moment that people can't put into words. It's fantastic, it's thrilling, the feeling's incomparable! Only those who hold that Trophy, who lift it, who experience that moment, get to feel that.

What did the squad do once they took the Trophy back to the dressing room? We all did something. I must have taken about 3,000 thousand photos with it, and kissed and hugged it almost as often. That was the achievement of a generation – our generation – which had been on the receiving end of so much hardship, scorn and criticism. That was the result of everything we went through to show the world that we were a generation of winners.

Can you tell us about the reaction on the streets of Brazil on your return? What I saw were the streets of Brazil filled with ecstatic people. To a downtrodden nation, that win was like a plate of food for someone who is starving. I saw happiness etched on people's faces, at least for those few moments, and that's something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.