Italy could have clinched their fourth World Cup trophy well before 2006, had goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca saved two penalties in consecutive World Cup shootouts.
Instead, he saved one in each edition, thus failing to prevent Italy from losing to Brazil on penalties in the 1994 final, before suffering the same fate four years later in the quarter-finals in France.
At Pasadena’s Rose Bowl stadium, he denied Marcio Santos from the spot, while at the Stade De France he nullified Bixente Lizarazu but neither heroics bore fruit as Roberto Baggio and Luigi Di Biagio’s missed penalties spelled the end for Italy and his own hopes of lifting the World Cup.
“A lot of times I wake up and think about what would have happened had Baggio not missed the target. It still keeps me awake at night’,’ Pagliuca admitted.
“But I have learned to let go and to let bygones be bygones.
“Despite losing the final in 1994, I will forever keep a splendid memory from that day which unfortunately hasn’t ended with the icing on the cake.”
When we met earlier this year at Bologna Calcio’s training base in Casteldebole, Pagliuca was exactly what I imagined him to be: polite, down-to-earth and wearing a smile that flashes across his face as he greets me and sits down to discuss football.
Despite the fast passing of time having retired ten years ago, the now-52-year-old holds no nostalgic feelings, unlike many of his peers, who have struggled to accept that it was all over.
“Honestly I am happy to have done what I have done,” he says.
“If I had to go back, I would no longer be able to do what I did. A 20-year career is something I am proud of. I made many sacrifices during my career but I wouldn’t like to be spending the nights before a game at a hotel anymore.
“But I have to admit that it would be nice to be 20 again,” he stresses.
The club’s training base is based in secluded woodland, 10 miles north-west of the city, not far from the airport.
A towering presence at 6ft 4in, Pagliuca had just finished his session with the club’s younger goalkeepers as he punctually arrives for the meeting.
The Sampdoria and Inter Milan legend was an integral figure for Italy back in the 90’s but despite unfinished business at two World Cups, he revealed that he enjoys looking back.
“I loved both World Cups. In 1994 we were one penalty away from lifting the trophy. It’s normal to keep that World Cup more in your heart. But 1998 was a great year for me as we won the UEFA Cup with Inter a month before the World Cup.
“Then I fed off Angelo Peruzzi’s injury to make the number one goalkeeping spot mine for France 1998.
“Yet, from a personal point of view, 1998 was a great year. It was a very positive World Cup for me as I only conceded three goals – one a penalty and two against Chile when Marcelo Salas scored.
“Then we went out despite holding France to a 0-0 stalemate. I believe that had we beaten France we would have gone on and win the World Cup. I have intense memories from that day. We played in front of 100,000 supporters in Paris.
“I still remember that afternoon and the noise when Di Biagio hit the crossbar.”
Forget the jeers from the opposing supporters every time he ran onto the pitch for a warm-up prior to a match. The noise stemming from Di Biagio’s penalty will forever remain the most unpleasant one of all.