It was a roller coaster performance for the USA ’94 Super Eagles World Cup Squad.
With a Squad full of players with lots of International experience but no world cup experience, they came into the world cup as rookies and as African champions having beaten the Chipolopolo of Zambia 2-1 in the Tuisia’94 Nations cup finals. Against Hristo Stoichkov inspired Bulgaria side, they won 3-0, lost 2-1 to Argentina and humbled Greece 2-0 in Group D of the USA’94 World CUP fixtures.
Indeed, the Super Eagles were poised for a remarkable second round showdown with the Arrigo Sacchi tutored Azurris of Italy. With a game plan that was expertly executed by Italian defenders, Eagles Key men, Emmanuel Amuneke and Daniel Amokachi had various degrees of injuries inflicted on them by Antonio Benarrivo and Alexandria Costacurta
In fact, the Early Substitutions of Amuneke and Amokachi owing to injuries changed the entire complexion of the game after Eagles had gained a first half off lead off the boot of Emmanuel Amuneke. Nevertheless, the eagles imposed their game on the Azurris and masterfully outplayed and outwit their more illustrious opponent but failed to convert numerous chances and perhaps avoid any imminent comeback. Despite the super Eagles dominance which failed to translate into more goals, the Eagles further enjoyed numerical advantage as one of the Azurris players, Gianfranco Zola got sent off after a violent tackle on Nigerian defender, Austin Eguavoen.
However, with defeat steering the Azurris on the face, they were desperate for an equalizer and their star man and danger man, Robert Baggio was always lurking round the Eagles defense. It took tenacious and intelligent defending from Chidi Nwanu to keep the Pony-tail Italian Star, Roberto Baggio quiet and at bay.
More so, the entire Nigerian team worked tirelessly throughout the duration of the match. But with less than two minutes to eliminate the Italian from the contest and qualify the Super Eagles to the quarter finals, the Nigerian defense Capitulated and lost concentration- thereby allowing Roberto Baggio to place a far post effort that went in between legs, and, into the far corner beyond goalkeeper Peter Rufai’s reach for the much needed equalizer.
Indeed, it was a heart-breaking goal as efforts and goal scoring opportunities that ensured in extra-time went a begging.
The resultant Penalty infringement committed by Nigerian defender, Austin Eguavoen during extra time compounded the woes and miseries of the Nigerian side. The mercurial Italian playmaker, Robert Baggio, confidently dispatched same with consummate case and aplomb to set the entire nation of Italy into a State of euphoria and ecstasy.
It was a heartwarming victory for the Azurris but a sad loss to the Eagles who did everything right throughout the duration of the match but a two minute momentary loss of concentration, cost them a place in the quarter finals.
On the whole, it was indeed a sad day to be remembered by Nigerian Soccer fans that watched their National team on the brink of historic qualification for world cup quarter finals, but, blew same away ingloriously apparently due to inexperience and naivety.