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Sunday November 17 2013
When Baggio shot down the Super Eagles

With Italy and Nigeria set to clash in London, Giancarlo Rinaldi shares memories of that epic encounter in the USA.

My father had put his jacket on to leave. He was at the door, ready to turn his back on a calamitous end to Italy's World Cup. But then Roberto Baggio intervened.

Even now the goal has an improbable look. Find it again on YouTube and it tracks a path which could make a believer of the most ardent agnostic. The shot finds the narrowest of gaps on its journey to the net. It threads its way between a defender's heel and an attacker's foot, past a goalkeeper's glove and sneaks inside the post. It's a strike which increases your incredulity every time you watch it.

Italy, as improbable as it seemed, were back on level terms with Nigeria. And my father had to take his jacket back off.

Even by the standards of delicious torment Arrigo Sacchi's side distributed during the 1994 World Cup, this game was a high point. They had stumbled their way out of a group containing Norway, Mexico and the Republic of Ireland with a win, a draw and a loss. Their goal tally was a meagre two strikes. But it was enough to get them the final spot in the last 16 as a best third-place finisher. The traditional Italian low-key way to progress in a tournament had been achieved once more.

Nigeria, for their part, had emerged as group winners in a section containing Bulgaria, Argentina and Greece. Daniel Amokachi on his own had matched the Azzurri's goalscoring exploits. Plenty of pundits were predicting a World Cup upset for the then three-time World Cup winners when they faced the Super Eagles.

The card-happy Mexican referee Arturo Brizio Carter made his mark early, booking present-day Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo after just two minutes. That was the first of 10 cards he would wave during the game. Minutes later Daniele Massaro was next into the referee's notebook.

That was symptomatic of a tetchy and tense opening period before Nigeria broke the deadlock. A moment of defensive slackness from an unexpected source cost Italy dearly.

"I was marking someone - I forget who it was - who was very good at heading the ball," recalled Paolo Maldini. "I was watching him more than the ball."

"Maldini could not get it away and it bounced over my head and ended up right at an opponent's feet," added defensive colleague Roberto Mussi. Emmanuel Amuneke needed no second invitation to give the lead to Clemens Westerhof's men. The "shock" elimination was on.

And it only seemed to get more likely as the game progressed. In climatic conditions Maldini described as "ridiculous," Italy failed to scale any great heights. When the half-time whistle blew, the body language of players like Beppe Signori suggested they had little faith in turning things around. Years later, Sacchi insisted he still had confidence during his team talk.

"I was quite tough and told them it was a game we could not lose," he said. "I did not think Nigeria were as good as people said."

He made his first change during the interval with Dino Baggio replacing Nicola Berti in midfield and it almost paid off at once. The man on his way to Parma from Juventus came as close as anyone to levelling matters. But after that chance went begging, things fell flat again. So, on 63 minutes, the ex-Milan boss made a move which would have an even more profound effect. Off came Signori and on went birthday boy Gianfranco Zola. It was the first action he had seen in the whole tournament and he would last about 12 minutes.

"I tried to get the ball back and I got it without touching the defender," he remembered. "He threw himself down and made a real meal of it. I thought it was odd when the referee whistled for a free kick - then I saw him moving his hand to get a card and I couldn't believe I was going to get booked. But he sent me off instead. When I saw the red card it took me a while to realise he had actually sent me off."

Zola fell to his knees in disbelief. "The world caved in around him," said Mussi. "He was crying in the dressing room." Millions of Italy fans around the world felt the same. There had been little prospect of recovery with 11 men, what hope was there with just 10? Metaphorically at least, most of us had our jackets on ready to head home like my father.

"Something happened to me during that game which never happened before or since," admitted Sacchi. "I could see us going up the steps of the plane and heading back home to Italy." One can only imagine what kind of reception the Azzurri in general - and Zola in particular - might have received. Tomato sellers might have been anticipating a busy day.

But, with two minutes to play, the reporters would have to rewrite their sporting obituaries on Italy's World Cup dream. Baggio suddenly seized his role as the man of destiny for the tournament and delivered his pinpoint strike. The release of joy among the European side was as intense as the sense of deflation in their African opposition.

Sunday Oliseh, who would go on to play with Juventus, reckoned they showed their inexperience. Instead of making their opponents chase the ball when they were a man short, Nigeria indulged in a few unnecessary tricks and flicks. He has never been able to watch the game again, such was the pain it caused.

Baggio's redemption was complete in the first period of extra time. He chipped a through ball to Antonio Benarrivo who tumbled inside the box. The Divine Ponytail's spot-kick kissed the post on its way into the net and Italy had the lead. By hook or by crook - and with one famous Dino Baggio clearance - they held on to victory.

"It was as if a train had just passed over the top of us and we found out we were still alive,” said Sacchi. There was certainly something of the miraculous as the Azzurri progressed all the way to the Final at that World Cup. For my dad, who thought his anguish had ended against Nigeria, there were still three more matches in the competition to suffer.

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Have your say...
@Viktor
Monti useless period!
on the 20th November, 2013 at 2:53pm
@ Tonyita

Don't waste your time with Viktoria. He never understands English, and if you throw some Italian, he would never even try to read your post, only picks word to bang on. He probably feels sore because his national team got knocked out last night. But hey, he never stops making a fool of himself in every blog.
on the 20th November, 2013 at 9:44am
@TonyITA

"For best part Monty was useless" that makes no sense?

Are you our trying to say monty was useless at best? Basta basta
on the 20th November, 2013 at 1:55am
Wasteful wasteful Italy and they got punished for it. 2 goals in 5 mins from the Eagles. Italy midfield was rapid strong 1 touch passing till it came to the cross or last ball.

Must we talk about balo all the time...he was OK average. His turn to set up Rossi was all he did. Rossi still had a lot to do before scoring and when he returned the favor to balo he could not finish. Parolo showed more hunger in his 15 mins on the field and did more

Baggio forever! no1 has lived up to that mans class
on the 20th November, 2013 at 12:31am
Basta cosi!
on the 19th November, 2013 at 11:07pm
Using gangsta words like Holmes, maybe you need to grow up kid!

As for diversity I live and breathe it, where I grow up was multi cultural, multi national, race, creed colour as one. So don't try lecture me about respect.

For best part Monty was useless, as for Balo I rate him highly always have done, now with Rossi alongside we should see even better.

Basta means just, abbastanza detto - enough said!
on the 19th November, 2013 at 10:59pm
@tonyita

Diversity is a dance troop? What are you talking about? Grow up and learn how to respect and appreciate diversity. Listen kid. Read the papers, all magazine agreed that monty did a great game. I guess you know better.

Balo did ok? Let me correct you, Rossi did ok with Balo. Balo is first pick NOT rossi.

Balo is the reason the offensive looked good. Did you see he's turn when setting up Rossi? Did you see monty pass to balo setting up balo?

Basta.
on the 19th November, 2013 at 10:37pm
@Tonyita, tell me how many players are actaully on par with Pirlo? Not many. You may not like Montolivo but he is a very good midfielder. Perhaps it's just Milan that you don't like? Monty has been very good.
on the 19th November, 2013 at 9:41pm
@Viktor were you there?
okay more like 98%. Monty is rubbish, no vision.. Diversity is dance troop!

I did say Balo did well with Rossi, missed some good chances though. Monty no match for Pirlo.
on the 19th November, 2013 at 9:15pm
@TonyITA

Why monti?

He was one of the better players on the field including balo. Are you serious? You sure you watch the right game?

Absurd saying 99% italians too. 2013 holmes, ever heard of diversity?
on the 19th November, 2013 at 6:52pm
The Lippi's team of 2006 went through the entire competition conceding just two goals - one of which was an own goal and the other a dubious penalty. That is 2 goals in 7 games. This team conceded 9/10 goals in 3/4 games in the conf cup. That is just unacceptable for a national team with a reputation of having a solid defence. In my view, a team without a solid defencee does not do well in the WC, let alone win it. Keep dreaming Prandelli....This Italy team has no chance.
on the 19th November, 2013 at 6:05pm
The new article proves Prandelli is a joke this guy is gonna cost us big time get rid of him. I wish this blog had no restrictions.
on the 19th November, 2013 at 5:57pm
The atmosphere last night was amazing 15K+ fans, 99% Italian. This should've been like a home game for Italy. Hats off to those that were there. Big up to the Bedfords Italians from the Swindon Italians. CP sort things out in defence and midfield, why Motta and Monty??. Pirlo is a maestro! Balo and Rossi did well. Parolo was good should've scored. giaccherini well taken goal but needs to find a better final ball when he gets down the line.

Entertaining game!

Forza Azzurri
on the 19th November, 2013 at 5:23pm
It was very entertaining & its nice to see an Italian team looking pro-active & not sitting back. There were positives, in particular Rossi & Balo's understanding. The defence is still a huge concern. We need to be more aggressive, alert, & get more tight. Maggio just let the player cross the ball in without putting in a challenge & Pasqual was too weak at the far post. We have to be more clinical, (we should have scored at least 5 last night), & not relax when taking a 1 goal lead.
on the 19th November, 2013 at 4:04pm
I agree with mez this is turning out to be a big joke what has the la Nazionale become we pride our selves on the back-line and not conceding goals and to tactically and technically break down our opponents. That's all changed under Prandelli and I think if where gonna give ourselves the best shot to do good at the WC we need to go back to our traditional style, or will just concede so many goals,Amazing how drastically the defense talent decreased in Italy.
on the 19th November, 2013 at 3:59pm
This team would be lukcy if it manages to go past the 1/4 finals in the WC. They concede far too many goals. And, I don't care what anybody says about MB. The guy is just a liability - just another Cassano waiting to mess things up - and he will do so sooner or later. One of the hallmarks of every Italian team has been their solid defence. This team has none of that verve and smart and it will not go far. After the WC get rid of CP.
on the 19th November, 2013 at 2:34pm
Cesare cant help the fact we have no real quality defenders anymore, but he can work on the issues in defense and look at systems that don't leave our defenders so badly exposed. I think Buffons performances in the last year hasn't helped either, he had conceded a fair few goals for Italy he would have easily kept out in the past. Although Sirigu took 2 goals last night as did Marchetti against Armenia. So maybe in hindsight that isn't a factor. None of the 3 keepers are really impressing.
on the 19th November, 2013 at 10:37am
People can question me but I don't rate Cesare. We concede bags of goals under him. The confeds cup was painful, 10 goals conceded in 5 games. We concede 7 in qualifying in an easy group. Cesare change of formation is a fairly big factor in euro 2012 defeat with Spain. He swaps and changes the team, doesn't know his best 11. There is no focus on our inability to defend set plays and on our constant mistakes in defense. Anyone who thinks we will win WC under Cesare in the summer is dreaming.
on the 19th November, 2013 at 10:32am
Also we need a killer instinct and kill teams off. Last night is a typical example we play well score the goal, the tempo drops and we concede twice, although one shouldn't have counted. As soon as we lose temp and control we concede. If we had gone 2-0 up I think it would have been an easy win. Cesare says it was a great performance, but we didn't win. We can create all the chances in the world but if we don't take them we don't deserve to win games.
on the 19th November, 2013 at 10:29am
Maggio was poor also. I thought Parolo was great when he came on, shame he missed the sitter, also hit a post and looked good. Far better than the dead wood like Aquiliani. Rossi was great, so good he is back and Balo played great he just needs that goal. Still need Cassano in the team instead of Gila and Quags for Osvaldo. We cant win the WC because we are inept at the back. We need De Rossi protecting the defense and Chiellini needs to raise his game. We need to work on set plays.
on the 19th November, 2013 at 10:26am
Its the same old painful story. We miss loads of chances, we hit the bar, their keeper plays well yet we don't win the game. We aren't clinical enough in front of goal and at the back we are a shambles. First goal should have been disallowed though. Ranocchia is so crap, he is useless how the hell he gets picked is beyond me, mistake after mistake. Ogbonna has potential but looked shaky, he seems low on confidence. Sirigu could do nothing with the goals but baring that looked decent.
on the 19th November, 2013 at 10:22am
And to add to Daniel Giambrone's statement, Roberto Baggio came into the World Cup that year coming off a fresh achilles injury. Say what you want but, he was never fully fit.
on the 19th November, 2013 at 10:16am
Maradona had an injury going into 86 finals too if we are going down that route. 90s side had Baresi, Bergomi, Ferri, Ancelotti, Donadoni(underrated gem), Giannini(ab class)Vialli, Mancini, Baggio and some useful players like Di Napoli, Serena, Carnevale, Vierchwood, Ferrara, Schilacci(we all saw what he did). Home ad or not they were gr8 as they showed at West Germany 88. I'll pick em over Mussi, Evani, Casiraghi, Albertini, Bennarivo, Massaro, Conte, Costacurta, Minotti, D Baggio, Zola anyday
on the 19th November, 2013 at 12:20am
Roberto Mussi who delivered the ball that lead to Baggio's first goal. If not for that pass, Itay lose. I remember that like it was yesterday. Zola's red was horrible.
on the 18th November, 2013 at 11:30pm
Dennis, if I remember correctly, Baggio had an ankle problem going into the Ireland game, & during that game he didn't look fully fit to me. Maldini's Heir, great points about Sacchi, Signori, & the center midfield pairing. I think that we really missed the flair & creativity of Giannini. A front 3 of Baggio & Zola, in behind Signori would have been great. Nigeria impressed in the summer when they played Spain, they created numerous openings. A win against them would be a good result.
on the 18th November, 2013 at 9:27pm
This midfield that's playing tonight is pathetic.
on the 18th November, 2013 at 8:45pm
That WC 94 Azzurri team would have won if we had a better coach - it's just that simple. If you had to put that defense together today on a club team it would take at least 150 million euros nevermind the rest of the positions. if Prandelli had this team at his disposal today the Azzurri would plow by opponents.
on the 18th November, 2013 at 7:08pm
Then you had Baggio and Signori in top form (although the former was injured and the latter played out of position). I did say they had the best potential. As a team the Italia 90 side might have played more consistently throughout the tournament and were unlucky against Argentina. Then there's of course the 2006 team. I think its fair to say the 94 team was better than 2010 team though...
on the 18th November, 2013 at 6:40pm
@ Dennis you could probably say the same of the Italia 90 team and they were playing at home. I just feel that certain players had reached a certain stage by 94 including Maldini and Baggio although equally you could say that Baresi was starting to wind down his career. Also Milan had relied quite heavily on the 3 Dutch men before 1990. The Milan side of 93/94 was very much built on that incredible back four. They actually scored 36 goals that season in the league.
on the 18th November, 2013 at 6:38pm
@ Dennis Baggio was injured going into the tournament. It even says on Wikipedia that he was recovering from recovering from an injury to his Achilles tendon if you want to be even more specific. And what part of the 5 goals he scored to single handily get Italy to the final didn't make him Italy's best player? If your initial comments were odd your persistence makes you sound like the self-proclaimed Dominator under a different name.
on the 18th November, 2013 at 6:34pm

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