Former Super Eagles’ captain and head coach, Augustine ‘Cerezo’ Eguavoen has reflected on his days in the national team, and recalled the agony of their loss to Italy at the World Cup in United States of America, on July 5, 1994, a defeat he now says was caused by poor time management by the Nigerian team’s technical crew, megasportsarena.com reports.
Indeed, it was barely two minutes to the final whistle during the round of 16 match at USA ’94, with Nigeria leading the Azzurri’s 1-0, only for Roberto Baggio (The Divine Pony Tail) to lead the Italians back in stunning form to snatch a 2-1 win in added time, but ‘Egu’ says inexperience was the Eagles’ biggest undoing in that encounter.
FIFA’s technical report about the match stated in part: ‘Arrigo Sacchi’s Italy were hardly built for offensive firepower, especially with Baggio shaken, and a brutally hot day did them no favours. Full of self-belief, the Nigerians defended solidly even without usual captain Stephen Keshi, who had been left on the bench by coach Clemens Westerhof.
‘Things got even worse for Italy in the 75th minute when Gianfranco Zola was sent off just ten minutes after coming on as a substitute. Italy, however, continued to dictate the action as Nigeria retreated into their own half to run out the clock. They were just two minutes away from doing that when Baggio began his march into the history books.
‘A quick move down the right fed Roberto Mussi, who did well to carry the ball into the box. He slid it perfectly into the path of Baggio, who forgot his struggles and with his first touch calmly slotted the ball inside the left post from 14 yards out.
‘After Dino Baggio’s flicked ball into the box for Antonio Benarrivo drew a clear penalty in extra time, there was no question who would take it. Undone with two minutes to go in regulation time, Nigeria could find no way back despite an ugly late miss by Yekini, and the day belonged to Baggio.’
Although he was the one that gave away the penalty that allowed Baggio score Italy’s winning goal in the dramatic late comeback win, Eguavoen stated during Mega Sports on Star 101.5 FM, Lagos that everyone in the Nigerian squad made mistakes, from the players to the coaches, as he recalled that they were all overwhelmed by the technicalities of the moment.
He, however, pointed the bigger finger of blame at then coach of the side, Clemens Westehorf for failing to instill time saving tactics in the team, which could have helped them contain the Europeans and run down the clock till the final whistle, which would have been a very historic victory in what was Nigeria’s first ever appearance at the Mundial.
Nonetheless, despite still harbouring painful memories of that day in history, Eguavoen takes a look back with consolations as well, with a view that it was a learning curve that has stayed with him over the years, proving a reference point to avoid repeating such errors and has helped him, especially, in his coaching career.
Eguavoen recounted: “Yes, we talk about inexperience and all that. We did not have enough of the experience that is needed at that stage, and that affected us. We all made mistakes; it was about the whole team, not a single player.
“It was also about management. While the players lacked experience, the same was with the technical crew. At that point, we were leading with just few minutes to go, we could have wrapped it up, but we lacked the experience in time management.
“It was a mistake in terms of management, but we all make mistakes. Even in my coaching career, in the early days, I also made mistakes, but they helped me to learn and get better. I was able to use each experience to improve myself over the years.”