When you take to the field to face a team parading Diego Maradona, Gabriel Batistuta and Claudio Cannigia – there is need to avoid unnecessary fouls.
The Super Eagles lost 2-1 to Argentina in a group match that was a spectacle, indeed the African team entertained and gave the South American outfit a good fight.
Nigeria’s persistent fouling outside its penalty area proved fatal, though, in its clash with experienced Argentina at Foxboro Stadium.
After the 4-0 trouncing of Greece, Argentina joined Belgium and Brazil as the only countries in the tournament with victories in their first two games. They have already won their groups.
After their impressive 3-0 triumph over Bulgaria in the first game in the tournament, in Dallas, the Super Eagles took the lead in this game on Samson Siasia’s goal in the ninth minute. Siasia scored when he eluded two Argentines and chipped the ball over the head of Luis Islas, the goalkeeper, who came off his line to narrow the angle.
Siasia started a wild run after his goal, and his teammates caught up with him when he stopped to do his dance near the right corner flag, in front of a section occupied by Nigerian supporters.
The Nigerian drums that started before the game continued to sound just as loudly when Caniggia’s two goals put Argentina in the lead to stay as a result of two free kicks.
Each Argentine goal came after a free kick. Maradona made the initial touch on both and Caniggia finished them to the delight of the predominantly Argentine crowd, some of which celebrated the victory by staying in the stadium for more than 30 minutes after the game.
Caniggia’s first goal came in the 22d minute after Maradona touched the ball to Gabriel Batistuta, who fired a shot from the top of the penalty area. The ball was going so fast that it was virtually impossible for Peter Rufai to smother it safely, and Caniggia was there to blast it under the roof of the goal.
Sorry Eagles! They were up against the King of Naples, a man with 37 lives, blessed with quality.
It was Maradona’s genius that created the second goal, which came in the 29th minute. The captain of Argentina saw Caniggia.
Clemens Westerhof, the Dutchman who coached Nigeria, was asked whether he thought the referee, Bo Carlsson of Sweden, had called too many penalties on his team.
“Maybe he is a distant relation of Maradona,” said Westerhof. “I hope we get a chance to play Argentina again later in the tournament, but with a different referee. But I’ve told my players to forget it all.”