'Other' Baggio ready to step into hero's role WORLD CUP 1994

July 16, 1994|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

TORRANCE, Calif. -- Maybe he should change his first name to "Other."

That's how Italy's latest soccer star, Dino Baggio, 22, often has been described during World Cup '94. He's, oops, the "wrong one."

The right one is teammate Roberto Baggio, the flamboyant forward with the undersized body, unmatched game-breaking ability and the most recognized ponytail in the sports world.

Dino Baggio is a tall (6 feet 1) midfielder, has short-cropped hair and doesn't talk much. As recently as a month ago, fans said he did not deserve a spot on the national team.

"Other" Baggio is not related to Roberto Baggio, 31.

"For years, no one knows who I am, and then after few World Cup games, everyone says I am the other Baggio," Dino Baggio said. "By the end, maybe I show everyone I have a first name and last name."

The end comes tomorrow, when Brazil meets Italy for the World Cup championship at the Rose Bowl, with the winner capturing an unprecedented fourth title.

A lot of Italy's success depends on Roberto Baggio's status. He injured a hamstring in Wednesday's 2-1 semifinal win over Bulgaria and is questionable for tomorrow's game.

"This team has showed a lot of character and pride," said Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi. "If Roberto doesn't play, we must compensate with every player playing well. Every time we have been down and needed a win, someone always stepped up."

In this World Cup, it has been Dino Baggio. When Roberto Baggio was bothered by an Achilles' tendon injury earlier in tournament, Dino Baggio picked up the scoring slack.

Let's flash back:

* In a must-win match against Norway in the opening round, Sacchi benched Roberto Baggio in the 21st minute. Then, in the 69th minute, Dino Baggio beat two defenders across the goal mouth to a crossing free kick from Giuseppe Signori, heading the ball past goalie Erik Thorsveldt in a 1-0 Italy win.

* In a 2-1 quarterfinal win over Spain, Dino Baggio scored on a 25-yard bullet that swerved around the outstretched fingers of goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta for Italy's first goal.

* And don't forget Dino Baggio clinched Italy's berth in the World Cup last November with the only goal in a victory over Portugal.

These headline-grabbing actions usually are reserved for Roberto Baggio.

"People didn't believe in Dino Baggio," said Sacchi. "He has silenced a lot of them. Now, he has become a major weapon for us."

"I have always tried to keep a low profile," said Dino Baggio. "I have tried to create my own space on the field. We are now within winning a World Cup. I must reach down one more time."

Dino Baggio is not a fancy dribbler or a creative passer, but he is an aggressive tackler with a deft scoring touch and a keen sense for positioning on the field.

Despite being overshadowed by Roberto Baggio, the two are friends. They share a room on the road. Both were born in the northeast region of Italy, and Roberto does not live far from Dino's hometown in Turin.

They hunt and ski together, and both played for Italian powerhouse Juventus. But nearly three weeks ago, Dino Baggio signed a contract with Parma for $900,000.

"Our friendship will continue, but I'm happy with the choice I've made," said Dino Baggio. "Going to Parma is good for me, because I want to play more on my own. I've gained something of an independence here."

Dino Baggio's parents were in the United States for earlier games. He said his friends in Italy call him regularly from the local bar and place the phone near the billiards table so he can hear the balls click and feel close to home.

"They say I'm a success back home," said Dino Baggio.

Imagine what it would be like if Italy wins the World Cup and Dino Baggio scores the winning goal. He could replace Roberto Baggio as Italy's superstar.

"I have lost eight pounds while playing here, but knowing that the World Cup final is soon gives me strength," said Dino Baggio. "If we do not have all our starters, then I must help find a way for us to win."

WORLD CUP

THIRD-PLACE GAME

Today

* Bulgaria vs. Sweden at Pasadena, Calif., 3:35 p.m., ESPN

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Tomorrow

* Italy vs. Brazil at Pasadena, Calif., 3:35 p.m., Chs. 13, 7

ALL-STAR TEAM

FIFA, soccer's world governing body, announced its first World Cup All-Star team yesterday:

* Goaltender: Michel Preud'homme, Belgium.

* Defenders: Jorginho, Brazil; Marcio Santos, Brazil; Paolo Maldini, Italy.

* Midfielders: Tomas Brolin, Sweden; Dunga, Brazil; Gheorghe Hagi, Romania; Krasimir Balakov, Bulgaria.

* Forwards: Roberto Baggio, Italy; Romario, Brazil; Hristo Stoichkov, Bulgaria

Honorable mention -- Goalie: Thomas Ravelli, Sweden. Defenders: Alexi Lalas, United States; Miodrag Belodedici, Romania. Midfielder: Fernando Redondo, Argentina; Forwards: Juergen Klinsmann, Germany; Bebeto, Brazil; Dennis Bergkamp, Netherlands; Rashidi Yekini, Nigeria; Juan Goikoetxea, Spain.

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