BY KUNLE SOLAJA
Nigeria’s Super Eagles have scaled the group stage hurdles in three of their six World Cup appearances.
But they never got into the quarterfinals as Cameroon did at Italia ’90 or followed the footsteps of Senegal at the 2002 edition and the most recent stellar performance of Ghana’s Black Stars who were even at the brink of getting to the semifinals in 2010.
The nearest Nigeria ever got into scaling the Round of 16 hurdles came on this this date, 5 July 1994, when the Super Eagles were just 90 seconds to qualification for the quarterfinals.
Suddenly, they saw their golden chance in smokes at the Foxboro Stadium in the outskirt of Boston at the USA ’94 FIFA World Cup.
Playing against the then three-time former champions, Italy, the Super Eagles took a first half lead through Emmanuel Amuneke and held on grimly to the tiny and fragile lead.
The goal came in the 25th minute when Amuneke connected a corner kick from Finidi George whose parabolic shot from the right wing swerved past Italy’s Paulo Maldini and got to the path of Amuneke who tapped past Goalkeeper Luca Marchegiani.
At a point, the Italians were reduced to 10 men when in the 75th minute, substitute player, Gianfranco Zola retaliated a foul on him and was instantly expelled by the Mexican referee, Arturo Brizio.
The clock began to tick down to the last minute. Italian coach, Arrigo Sacchi was shouting himself hoarse at the touchline. The Super Eagles who had grown in confidence, suddenly began to toss the ball around and entertaining the crowd in an apparent intention of humiliating the former World Cup winners.
They paid dearly for it. An angry Sunday Oliseh had conceded a throw in which found Roberto Mussi who pushed forward down the Nigerian left side of the defence. He found Roberto Baggio in the penalty box who tapped a low drive past a sprawling Peter Rufai in goal, just 90 seconds to regulation time.
The equalizer pushed the game into extra time in which Nigeria conceded a penalty kick in the 100th minute. Baggio was on hand to score, inflicting a 2-1 defeat on Nigeria. It was Clemens Westerhof’s last outing with Nigeria.