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.

Have your say...
Italy should be ok in Brazil. Gigi still decent. Chiellini and Barzagli awesome. Pirlo Derossi class. Balo and Rossi upfront. We have a fantastic spine to our team. I think that a Totti inclusion would be great for the tornamnet. Baggio should have gone Japan 2002 but never. Lets not make that mistake with Totti. I just hope we learn from past mistakes that against the better teams we need a 5 man midfield. Forza Italia! ps Balo showed against Germany that he has everything needed to be a star.
on the 24th February, 2014 at 1:51pm
@Daniel, Hi, Balotelli is a great player & most great players build up to their 25 usually, Balo is only what 22. He has the potential but he needs to control his temperament.

@Sam, Hi, Totti is class but he's getting on, same with Di Natale, Quags is not match fit. Cassano is great but I think he's had his time. We need to build the squad around younger players now & build them up. WC2010 was a big lessen for us when Lippi insisted on using the WC2006 players & look what happened????
on the 10th December, 2013 at 12:55am
Balotelli (who is 23)is a good player, but he is not great yet. If he was clinical then he would be. I would like to know his shots-goals percentage, I can imagine it being low. Another player that doesn't score as many goals as he should do is Insigne. If we are going to continue to keep shipping goals in defence, then it is vital that we choose forwards that can put the ball in the net:we cannot continue to be so wasteful!
on the 24th November, 2013 at 4:14pm
Donadoni says it all CASSANO DESERVES ITALY RE CALL. Cassano and Parolo should both be in world cup squad. Balo, Cassano, Insigne, Rossi, Quags should be in the final 23 and one from Totti, Cerci, Di Natale, Gabbiadini, Osvaldo. Forza Roma. Lets get back to winning ways on Monday, expect Juve to win tomorrow so we must respond to stay top. Gervinho back and Destro maybe too, just need Totti now and we are in business. Forza Roma.
on the 23rd November, 2013 at 10:23pm
I totally see your point. Mine is that balo is 21. If he is left out of the next world cup he will help him to see that he isnt bigger that club or country and that his nonsense will not be tolerated. Wev had opportunities to try other strikers- players like messi n ronaldo were a cut above the rest at 18. Balo isnt. So instead of wasting our time making him something he isnt we should be using other youngters. Balo should be in the squad but not made out to be the saviour.
on the 23rd November, 2013 at 1:35am
I dont question your devotion my friend. I question your knowledge of football, with the crap you come out with its clear you no very little. Its great that you can name the teams but knowing afew names isnt understanding football.
Next time you meet Gunnar Nordahl ask him to teach you about football coz naming names means nothing if you cant back up with knowledge, experience and understanding...
on the 23rd November, 2013 at 1:26am
Prandelli, I could try to fight his corner but I cannot explain how Ranocchia is playing for Italy or how you could pick a side that has the possibility of Candreva, Cerci and Diamanti in the same line up. Then theres Aquilani being a contender or expecting Gilardino to score as a lone striker. Then again most national sides have players that you shudder when you see them being picked (Cleverley, Henderson, JENKINSON, Milner, Arbeloa, Jo, Sissoko of Newcastle, Maxi Rodriguez,javi Garcia etc
on the 22nd November, 2013 at 9:47pm
Nigeria creating havoc in their defence. Let us move away from the past as he is not a Baggio or DP or Totti but football has moved towards the athletes not the artists where poetry in motion was the order of the day. Now you have the Messis and CR7s that are more athletic that exploit weak defences and spaces than the Baggios that would score thru the eye of the needle. Have you noticed how every little thing is "the best ever"? Thats the media for ya and not balo's fault, its his era. As for
on the 22nd November, 2013 at 9:36pm
@mm you are missing the point, I never said Balo was great, I said he is the best option Italy have of causing problems by quite a long way. Liability? So was Stoichkov but Bulgaria would not have got that far without him in 94. I too think he is more Dennis Rodman than MJ, a reality show kinda persona but he is the best Italy has and there is no need to be talking about Totti, Di Natale etc cos they are too old and in their prime did not exactly set tourneys alight. Balo played well against
on the 22nd November, 2013 at 9:27pm

I got Curva Sud in ink all over my back. Ive met with Gunnar Nordahl in person several times. I never missed a game.

I never said Balotelli is WORLD CLASS, thats something you made up. I'm aware of he's unreliable temper which causes havoc to teams. Although I believe that it will slowly fade away and when Balo is on top of he's game he is one of the better out there.

Don't ever question my devotion to Milan again. Your WAY off.

I can write this in 4 languages if it helps.
on the 22nd November, 2013 at 7:28pm
Valid points and opinions, but on balo I dont agree at all and slowly slowly many more ppl are realising that hes not as great as the hype would suggest. Im sick of hearing the media and cp praise him for having a 'good' game where he hasnt caused a problem or been sent off. We shouldnt have to expect him to behave like every other player does. We spend 90mins worringy about what hes going to do next, the only certainty is he wont score! He need to learn that he isnt bigger than the team
on the 22nd November, 2013 at 6:40pm
Im 100% milan, I can name you the squads, I can boast having been to see milan play in serie A and champions league.
Iv followed milan and italy all my life and have seen the best strikers grace both milan and azzurri jerseys, so when a half wit comes on here telling me balotelli is world class and beckham is on par pirlo then I have to question the man that claims I have a low IQ.
You claim to understand so much but its clear you understand nothing. I can write this italian if it helps
on the 22nd November, 2013 at 5:49pm
@Vicky - where are milan in the table? I love Italian football, but Monty isn't living up to his hype so what if he's the captain. If that's the case then he should get Balo on track for milan and the azzurri. Pirlo he isn't.
on the 22nd November, 2013 at 5:35pm
@mark f
I agree that italy never show up for the friendlies problem is we havnt used these games to find strikers. Scoring- so if scoring is an issue with osvaldo/balo/gila why didnt he use others instead of waiting for rossi. Our defence is horrid we have never conceded so many goals.
I dont see 'nearly' beating spain in a tournament where we conceded more goals than the previous 8 world cups as an achievement at all. Euros we were smashed coz of CP fielded injured players and left ses benched
on the 22nd November, 2013 at 5:09pm
@tonyit(I think not)

He's doing nothing for Milan? Are you crazy he's our captain. He's been doing great for Milan. Watch our games instead of hate
on the 22nd November, 2013 at 3:27pm

I no nothing about Milan? I can name every team Milan used since -90. Can you do the same with your team? Thought so now be quite and focus what matters
on the 22nd November, 2013 at 3:25pm
Italy does not have great defenders but then again no side does. Brazil concede goals, so does Germany (4 against Sweden in 1 match and 7 in 2 games); Argentina has a crappy defence; Spain cannot always count on luck and Iker to prevent them from conceding so let us ease up on the history lesson already. Jeez the ball has been changed, referees give fouls for nothing nowadays, good defenders are at a premium and Italy is finally creating opportunities with above average players it must be said.
on the 22nd November, 2013 at 2:50pm
Argentina, Haiti, Equitorial Guinea, SA, England, Chile (2 times) then getting beaten 3-0 by Brazil and I am not including chances ceded to the opponents. Ppl talking about 2006 as if Cannavaro and Buffon were not voted best players in the world on the back of their performances, meaning Italy ceded a lot of chances. Italy played well against Nigeria, who are African champs btw and had just qualified for the wc. South Africa beat Spain and did not qualify for the world cup.
on the 22nd November, 2013 at 2:43pm
I'd like to address some of the issues on here from ppl that think they are kings of football 1)Juventus does not concede goals like Italy--really? what happened to them against Chelsea, Bayern, RM, Gala? Italy does not play against Chievo, Parma, Livorno and the like. 2) Without the "overrated" Balotelli, Italy do not stand a chance(its an opinion not a fact)3) Spain can defend and that is how they won all their titles--really) How many goals did they conceded in friendlies against Portugal
on the 22nd November, 2013 at 2:37pm
I am filled with nostalgia whenever i remember this game. I was still quite young but Roberto Baggio made my day. It lives on as one of the fondest memories i have in football. He is my greatest and favourite all time footballer because he wasn't only supremely talented and gifted, but he played with a lot of grace. He played football with a lot of respect for others and had a lot of dignity. How many ballon d'Ors would he have now if he was in the current generation of players?
on the 21st November, 2013 at 7:29pm
@Vicky(tor) - monti in due to being ex-fiorentina. and he's not doing it for Milan either and CP hasn't a clue.

Forza Azzurri
on the 21st November, 2013 at 7:28pm
Glad we have some ppl who understand football and the history of azzurri on here.
The warning signs were there from the final of euros, from team selection to formation CP got it all wrong. Then in the confederations well that was a joke. Hes the only manager in history thats taken a team thro 2 tournaments but is still experimenting. Hes experimented in every single game since he arrived and still seems none the wiser. Its disgraceful
on the 21st November, 2013 at 5:40pm
Hahaha your a joke. You come on here like a philosopher of football, you think you know everything yet you know nothing. Your arguments are childish and stupid. You know nothing about italy/milan/balo or anything. You compared beckham to pirlo coz he scored a few free kicks you tell us balo is a world class striker but he doesnt score! To win a WC you need a complete TEAM that works as a unit. Ppl like you make feed the balo ego and thats why he'l never be anything but overrated!
on the 21st November, 2013 at 5:23pm
If you don't realize that this is how this team has always been you don't really follow or know or understand the Azzurri!
on the 21st November, 2013 at 4:31pm
If anyone knows anything about the Azzurri, they should know that ANY game leading up to any tournament they go into is usually not played very well. Not sure many expected them to get to the finals at the last Euro. With the excpeption of the last game they were the best team there. They came within a hair of knocking off Spain at the Confeds. Only their finishing let them down. All this bickering about formations and player selection is irrelevant. They'll be fine when the show starts.
on the 21st November, 2013 at 4:30pm
"mm" is spot on about Prandelli which is what I and lots of others have been saying for ages. I agree totally. Cesare comments in the last few days have only added to the worry, he is clueless and we are going to badly come unstuck ib Brazil. Cesare has no tactically awareness, he is inept defensively and plays no attention to this alarming area, or the amoutn of set play goals we concede. Great teams build from the back. We won in 2006 like this and spain won last 3 tournaments the same way.
on the 21st November, 2013 at 3:14pm

Your lack of knowledge is disgusting. Balo is doing great for the azzuri and not so great for Milan at the moment but he's a rock in the national.

I mentioned that beckham and pirlo had similarities in the way they played and they way they take/took set pieces. Pretty valid statement most people would think. I'm not saying that they are identical. I guess you need to have a higher iq then the size of you shoes to understand that which in other words excluded you.
on the 21st November, 2013 at 1:18pm

I've been living on manhattan for the last 8 1/2 years. We've gone through this before. I took my ba and MBA here. I speak German, Spanish, English and Swedish. Your barking at the wrong tree for claiming there's something wrong with my English kiddo.
Regarding the national team I don't really care as I've always thought club football is more entertaining then nationals.

@tony(jersey?) I wonder why cp picks him every game and have him as captain now and then.
on the 21st November, 2013 at 1:10pm
CP still has no idea what system to use.. what formation.. what players. He isnt big or brave enough to leave media hungry balo at home. He couldnt do any better if you gave him all the baggios italy had to offer. Hes useless. This isnt exciting football its risky unorganised and a mess. He still picks gilardino I mean jesus ppl that alone is enough evidence that he is not the man for the job.
We have conceded more goals in 3 years than we did between '90 to '07.. its disgusting.
on the 20th November, 2013 at 11:02pm
Everyone.. dont listen to viktor. He actually came on here once and said beckham and pirlo are the same! Hahahha
balotelli is average at best. Over rated (vikor will call me a hater now). Prandelli is useless. The same defence that juve have yet I dont see juve conceding 2-3 goals a game. Wev lost our identity. We cant defend we cant score bar pirlo we dont create anything. We go on and on about balo- hes a striker that doesnt score. Get rid of CP get a boss who isnt blinded by media.
on the 20th November, 2013 at 10:50pm

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