Nigeria vs Italy USA '94: A day Nigerians will never forget in their rich footballing history

Nigeria vs Italy USA '94: A day Nigerians will never forget in their rich footballing history

Nigeria's best outing at the World Cup remains the USA 94' tournament where the African side caught the attention of the globe in the soccer fiesta.

The Super Eagles came into the tournament as African champions, the same year they lifted their second AFCON title after finishing second twice and third once in previous editions.

Clemens Westerhof who handled the team from 1990 had developed a group of world-class players scattered in Europe along with a few home-based stars.

It was the country's first appearance at the Mundial and Nigerian was grouped alongside Bulgaria Argentina and Greece.

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The first game against a Hristo Stoichkov led Bulgaria was the kind of start the African champions needed to begin a competition.

A lovely build-up from Daniel Amokachi to Finidi George who gave the final pass to Rashidi Yekini to tap into an empty net had history written all over it.

Amokachi then got the second as a loose ball fell kindly to the FC Brugge player who rounded the keeper to doubled the lead for Nigeria.

Emmanuel Amunike wrapped up the scoring with a diving header from a Finidi's cross to give the Super Eagles a comfortable 3-0 win as they sent a note of warning to other teams in the group.

Nigeria vs Italy USA 94': A day Nigerians will never forget in their rich footballing history
Nigeria vs Italy USA 94': This period was the best fans got the best from the Super Eagles. Photo by Michael Steele
Source: Getty Images

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Westerhof's men got off to a flying start against the Argentines in the next game as Samson Siasia caught the keeper off his line to score Nigeria's first.

But a double strike from Claudio Cannigia later sealed the win for a team inspired by their charismatic captain Diego Maradona.

Nigeria needed a win in the last game against the Greeks to ensure they qualify out of the group and the African side did not disappoint.

A swift counter-attacking move from the team saw Finidi left one-on-one with the keeper as he intelligently chipped the ball into the back of the net.

Amokachi then scored one of the goals of the tournament after getting past four Greek players before his shot went into the top right-hand corner to seal a 2-0 win.

Nigeria topped the group and were seeded to face an Italian side tutored by Arigo Saachi after managing to scrape past their group stage with just a win and a draw.

Nigeria vs Italy USA 94': A day Nigerians will never forget in their rich footballing history
Nigeria vs Italy USA 94': Roberto Baggio was the star of the show as he broke Nigeria's hearts scoring two goals. Photo by Tony Marshall
Source: Getty Images

The fearless Africans took the lead through Amunike after a corner-kick fell kindly into his path to score the first goal.

To make matters worse for the Italians, Gianfranco Zola was shown a straight red card for retaliating against Augustine Eguavoen as they played with ten men for the rest of the game.

The West African side seemed to have crossed the finish line to qualify into the quarter-finals and a fixture against Spain was already on the minds of fans.

On the other hand, the Azzurri's dominated the game and were in search of an equaliser until the last minute to the end of the game.

All of a sudden, Roberto Baggio who began the tournament on a quiet note found his rhythm against the Nigerian side.

The Juventus forward intelligently finished off an attacking move with a smart finish that put the ball past Peter Rufai as the match went into extra time.

Eguavoen crashed into Anotonio Bennarivo in the box as the Italians were awarded a penalty which was finished off by Baggio.

It ended 2-1 as Saachi's men went through to the last eight and ended the fairy tale story of the Super Eagles at the tournament.

Most of the games were played in the early hours of the day according to Nigeria time and the round of 16 loss to Italy broke the heart of fans across the nation.

There were no early morning celebrations like the wins over Bulgaria and Greece. Some green and white faithful wept uncontrollably while others went to bed begging for sleep to come.

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Meanwhile, had earlier reported that Nigeria's U20 side recorded one of the biggest comebacks in football at the FIFA U20 World Cup played hosted by Saudi Arabia in 1989.

It was the closest the Flying Eagles came to winning the tournament which was eventually won by Portugal.

However, there were unforgettable memories the Nigerian team left in the hearts of fans and in the history of the round leather game.