Twenty-three years after Nigeria lost to Italy in a dramatic match at the 1994 FIFA World Cup, Ex player Austin Eguavoen has apologized for giving away an ‘avoidable’ penalty that eventually saw the team eliminated.
Eguavoen admitted to his ‘crime’ at Sports Radio Brila FM’s, football fan Carnival, “Wave Ur Banner” in Lagos on Friday.
The former defender made the admittance when he was introduced to the packed Hall of the Lekki Coliseum on the night.
He said, “Let me tender an apology, Nigeria Italy. We lost that game through a penalty. That penalty could have been avoided and it was caused by me.”
On that day 5th July 1994, Nigeria played in the round of 16 of the World Cup – the first time ever – against Italy who were three-time champions of the tournament.
It was the African nation’s first appearance at the World Cup and the Clemens Westerhof-tutored side snatched a shock lead on the 25th minute through Emmanuel Amuneke.
Nigeria entered the tournament as African champions, but were swimming in uncharted waters and the inexperience showed as 10-man Italy drew level with only two minutes of regulation time to play.
Italy had a man sent off on the 75th minute. Substitute, Gianfranco Zola clipped Eguavoen after the latter tackled him off the ball.
Mexican Referee, Brizio Carter Arturo had no doubt it was a foul and showed the forward a straight red for the offence.
Thirteen minutes later, Italy’s maestro, Roberto Baggio slotted home the equalizer to force extra-time.
Italy continued on the offensive, producing a brilliantly worked out routine play.
The ball was chipped over two Nigerian defenders, but rather than cover Eguavoen clattered into Antonio Benarrivo, though the Italian had barely touched the ball.
Referee Arturo did not consider it a bookable offence, but about the legitimacy of the tackle, he clearly favored a penalty.
Baggio sent goalkeeper, Peter Rufai the wrong way; his kick aided by the upright, to give Italy the lead with 102 minutes on the clock.
The game ended with Nigeria’s elimination from the tournament after an adventurous run.
Group stage victories against Bulgaria (3-0), Greece (2-0) and the 2-1 defeat to a Diego Maradona inspired Argentina were the culmination of Nigeria’s fairytale experience in a debut world cup appearance.
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