In one of those rare moments of sincere introspection, former Super Eagles’ captain, Augustine Eguavoen has come out to accept part of the responsibility for Nigeria’s ouster in the second round of the USA ’94 World Cup by Italy.
Nigeria was at the verge of causing the biggest upset in World Cup history since USA defeated England in the Copa du Mundo in the early days of the competition, but the surge to the famous win was halted by the ‘Divine Ponytail,’ Roberto Baggio, who scored two goals to swing the game to the Azzuri.
Following Cameroun’s dramatic run to the quarter-finals of the 1990 FIFA World Cup, there were high hopes for Africa’s representatives at USA 1994. Nigeria were the newcomers, but the boisterous football the lads, led by Clemens Westerhof, played at the Tunisia 1994 African Nations Cup had given them away as the team most likely to ruffle big feathers.
That, they did by beating Bulgaria 3-0 in the opening game, losing narrowly to Maradona’s Argentina in the next before shoving Greece aside with a 2-0 victory.
The second round match against Italy at the Foxboro Stadium, Boston, promised a lot of excitement as Italy was in danger of exciting the competition ignominiously after losing to Ireland and barely managing to scale through as third placed team, while Nigeria had the most entertaining team of the 24 sides in American soil.
Nigeria were expected to beat Italy going by the performance of the two teams after three games, but at the end of the game, the Azzuri and their talisman, Baggio, were back as one of the title contenders. The story would have been different though.
The Italians took the game to Nigeria, but straight out of the blues, Emmanuel Amuneke gave the Super Eagles the lead in the 25th minute by flicking a deflected Finidi George corner above the outrushing Luca Marchegianni.
With Italy reduced to 10 men when Gianfranco Zola was sent off just in the 75th minute, 10 minutes after coming on as a substitute, everything was going Nigeria’s way. But rather than make the superior number pay, the Super Eagles failed to clear their area allowing Baggio to score the equalizer just before the referee blew his final whistle.
With 100 minutes played, including extra time, and fans getting ready for penalty shoot out, Eguavioen was adjudged to have pushed Antonio Benarrivo in the Eagles’ penalty box and up stepped Baggio to slam the ball beyond Peter Rufai for Italy’s match winner.
That was 24 years ago, but Eguavoen has not forgotten events of that ferocious night.The event this time was the ‘Wave your banner’ programme organized by Sports Radio 97.3 Brila FM to commemorate the beginning of the English Premier League.
With the opening game between Arsenal and Leicester City over, it was time for the fans to savour the expected thrills of the league through the programme put together by one of the EPL’s broadcast partners, Brila FM.
Among the football lovers at the event held at the Lekki Coliseum were some Nigerian legends of the game, including Eguavoen, Kanu Nwankwo, Peter Rufai, Victor Agali, Ifeanyi Udeze, Victor Ikpeba and Gbega Okunowo.“I think this is the right time for me to apologise to Nigerians for causing the penalty that cost us the game against Italy.
“We were a young team and largely inexperienced, but we showed that Africans can also play the game very well. If not for that penalty and some mistakes we made in the game against Italy, we would have gone very far in the competition,” Eguaveon said.
That is right because Italy went on to beat a poor Spain in the quarterfinal, defeated Bulgaria (who were earlier beaten 3-0 by Nigeria) in the semifinal before losing to Brazil in the final via a penalty shoot out.
Also speaking at the event, Brila FM’s Chairman, Larry Izamoje, who was accompanied by his wife, Mrs. Bridget Izamoje, thanked the legends and fans for finding time to celebrate with his station.
He pledged that Brila FM would continue to serve the best of sports to Nigerians.Aside the football match, which ended 4-3 in Arsenal’s favour, there were music and comedy from popular artistes, including Soma of the Big Brother Nigeria fame, Kofi and Elenu, to spice the night.
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