BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
Five days after Argentina defeated the Super Eagles of Nigeria in a USA ’94 World Cup Group D match, the Nigeria Football Association formerly lodged a protest to FIFA, seeking a reversal of Argentina’s 2-1 victory and the award of the match and also with three goals, to the Super Eagles.
The protest was lodged ostensibly to avoid Nigeria crashing out should the last group match against Greece, slated for the same day failed to go in favour of the Super Eagles.
On that same day, Argentina, the group leaders with six points, were to face Bulgaria who, like Nigeria had three points to set up a three-horse qualification race. Only Greece, losers to both Argentina and Bulgaria were arithmetically out, but could still qualify should they beat Nigeria and Bulgaria lose to Argentina.
Such a complex scenario, coupled with Argentina’s withdrawal of Diego Maradona from its squad after failing a dope test in the match with Nigeria and the subsequent 15-month ban imposed by FIFA, clearly informed Nigeria’s protest letter signed by General Secretary, Sani Ahmed Toro.
The letter reads in part: “We have the honour to draw your kind attention to the information which has just reached us to the effect that Argentina has withdrawn Diego Maradona from the rest of the on-going FIFA World Cup championship matches, following the outcome of the dope test conducted on him after the game between Argentina and Nigeria on 25th June, 1994.
“We have also have it as information that he has been suspended by FIFA for Eighteen (18) months.
“However, we wish to draw your attention to the following issues which we consider as being relevant to our objectives in the championship:
“1. Player Diego Maradona wearing jersey NO. 10 for Argentina took part in the game against Nigeria on 25/6/94.
“2. The player was very instrumental to the final result of the match which Argentina won by 2-1.
“3. The contribution of this player (Diego Maradona) to the outcome of the match will affect the final placement of teams in Group D.
“4. The player was directly involved in the two goals scored by Argentina against Nigeria.
“It therefore follows from the above that;
“1. The withdrawal by Argentina of the player Diego Maradona following confirmation of his being tested positive to banned drugs is a direct admission of guilt.
“2. Under the strenuous conditions games have been played in this championship, an undue advantage will be given to Argentina if the result of the game, (Argentina/Nigeria) tremendously influenced by the player, is allowed to stand. This is without prejudice to the FIFA sanction already imposed on the player.
“In the light of the above conclusions and the fact that the aims of doping control based on the three fundamental principles of:
“a. Preserving and defending the ethics of sports
“b. Protecting the physical and mental integrity of the player, and (c) maintenance of equal opportunities for all, refer to Doping Control Regulations 93/94. These all have been defeated by the acts of the player.
“We therefore wish, with due respect, to request that the match between Argentina and Nigeria of 25/6/94 be awarded to Nigeria.
“It will be highly appreciated if our observations and prayers above could be favourably considered in best interest of football and for the protection of teams which have fallen and may fall victim to unfair methods and tactics.”
FIFA however declined Nigeria’s prayers. On 1 July 1994, in a response signed by Sepp Blatter who was the General Secretary at the time, FIFA pointed out that the Organising Committee of the FIFA World Cup dealt with the matter the same day that Nigeria protested.
“Based on the jurisprudence of FIFA applicable for cases of this nature and in application of the FIFA World Cup Regulations USA ’94, the match Argentina vs Nigeria on 25 June 1994 has to remain counted.
“Therefore, the result of the above-mentioned match still stands. This decision id final (cf Art. 8 par. 5 of the World Cup Regulations).”
As at 1 July 1994, when the outcome of the protest was released, it never mattered whether the Nigeria’s protest was upheld as on-field situations had taken care of it. Both Nigeria and Bulgaria scored late goals to record 2-0 victories over Greece and Argentina respectively.
Even though the trio of Nigeria, Bulgaria and Argentina finished with six points each, Nigeria topped the group on account of superior goal difference, upstaging the hitherto group leaders, Argentina.
The South Americans tied on points and goal difference with Bulgaria but dropped to the third pace on account of the result of head-to-head confrontation with the Europeans.