26 years after, Amokachi rues glory lost at USA ‘94

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Daniel Amokachi (right) celebrates with Emmanuel Amunike, who scored Nigeria’s goal against Italy at the USA ’94 World Cup.

• Rubbishes claims Italy match was fixed

Nigeria was within a minute of beating Italy at the USA 1994 World Cup to qualify for the quarterfinal of the competition. The Eagles, coached by Dutchman, Clemens Westerhof, had taken the lead in the 26th minute through Emanuel Amunike, but Roberto Baggio levelled for Italy in the 89th and gave the Azzuris the winner in the 101st minute through a penalty kick to send Nigeria out of the competition.

After the game, many football followers believed that the Super Eagles would have won the game if they had more experience. Daniel Amokachi, who was one of the strikers in that team, agrees with such sentiments. He said Nigeria lost the game because its most experienced player, the late Stephen Keshi, was not on the pitch.

Reminiscing on the game that broke Nigerians’ hearts 26 years ago, Amokachi said the Super Eagles were naïve and allowed the more experienced Italy to outwit them in the game.

The Italians knew that Amokachi and goal scorer, Emmanuel Amunike, were dangerous forces and set out to eliminate them. Amokachi was the first to succumb to the Italians’ tactics when diminutive Demetrio Albertini sent him off with a clever, but match-ending tackle. The Italians also injured, before Baggio eventually equalised and won the game for the Azzuris.

Speaking yesterday, Amokachi said Nigeria’s cause was worsened by the fact that USA 1994 was the technical crews first appearance in a competition as big as the World Cup. He added: “I believe it was ordained for us not to have gone far… and I have always said that the team we took to the ‘94 World Cup probably would have been the first African country to win the World Cup. But it was not written that way.

“The only thing that popped out on everyone’s lips after the match was that supposed we had gone to the 1990 World Cup, the experience gathered there would have been useful for us at the USA ’94. Even the coaching crew too would have gained some experience.”He said the Eagles were soaked in the adulation that followed their performances in the earlier round and in the process failed to do some basic things.

“We were just carried away, too excited to play beautiful football and that is just it. If the element of maturity were there, it would have been a different story. Don’t forget that Keshi was on the bench in that game. If somebody like Keshi were on the field, probably his leadership quality would have played a difference in the game of 11 players just having fun. It is a lesson for coaches and players that it’s never over until it is over,” he stated. The former Everton of England star rubbished the allegation that the match against Italy was sold out.

“May be I was the one that sold the match,” he said jokingly. “It’s crazy, it is football. For anybody that knows me, if I go down (after incurring the injury) then it means I must have really been hit hard.

“I sustained an ankle injury that I played through in the last game against Greece and it was strapped up. In the game against Italy, I was also strapped up and it was a twist that I couldn’t help,” he said, adding that if he was still fit that he would have continued up till the end of the match.

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