DF: Hello again everyone, this is Damian from the languagecaster team and you are listening to the Learn English Through Football Podcast. We hope you are all well and still staying safe in these difficult times – I’m here in London on a typical Spring day: wind, rain and now we have a little sunshine!
Now as many of you may know, here at languagecaster.com we have been following some of the classic World Cup matches that have featured on FIFA.com’s website in their #WorldCupAtHome series. We have already looked at the match between Spain and the Netherlands from the 2014 World Cup, the quarter-final between the Netherlands and Brazil from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the second round match between Brazil and Italy from 1982 and the cracker between France and Brazil in the quarter-final of the 1986 World Cup.
On today’s podcast we look back at the 1994 World Cup last-16 match between Nigeria and Italy. Now, for this World Cup I watched the games in two different places: For the first-round group games I was in Málaga in the south of Spain – watching the Ireland vs Italy match was a particular highlight! I then returned to Ireland for the summer and that’s where I watched the rest of the tournament and this game between Italy and Nigeria.
In this podcast, first of all, we look at some of the context and build-up to the finals and then we discuss some of the language used to talk about the game itself before finishing up with a quick look at what happened in the rest of the tournament.
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1994 World Cup: Background
DF: The 1994 World Cup took place in the USA for the first time and despite the fact that the hosts did not have a full-time professional league – this would appear in 1996 – the 15th edition of the tournament was viewed as a major success, not least because of the number of fans who turned up to watch the matches – the highest average attendance figures for any World Cup.
24 teams took part including three countries who were making their debuts: Greece, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria who were the African champions. There were some major omissions – none of the four home nations (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales) qualified, while the European champions Denmark, along with Portugal and France also missed out from Europe, as did Uruguay from South America – Bolivia were the surprise qualifiers from the CONMEBOL region. The favourites included the holders Germany, who were ranked first before the tournament, alongside the Netherlands, Italy, Brazil and Spain. Dark horses included Argentina, who had a re-juvenated Diego Maradona back in their ranks, as well as Colombia who had thrashed Argentina 5-0 in Buenos Aires to clinch qualification nine months previously. The 1994 tournament also had a ‘Group of Death‘ – Group E had Italy – ranked the fourth best team in the world, Norway – the 6th, the Republic of Ireland – the 14th and Mexico – the 16th.
Controversies and Shocks
Belgium were beaten 1-0 by debutants Saudi Arabia in their group match but both sides still qualified for the last 16 – three teams qualified from four of the six groups meaning there were few chances of major shocks. However, one of the pre-tournament dark horses Colombia did not make it to the knock-out stages after losing 3-1 to a Gheorghe Hagi-inspired Romania and more surprisingly 2-1 against the hosts USA. Sadly the Colombian defender Andrés Escobar, whose own goal helped the USA to victory, was shot dead five days after that defeat sending shockwaves through the football world.
Perhaps the biggest tournament controversy surrounded Diego Maradona who failed a drugs test after Argentina’s second group game win against Nigeria. He was sent home in disgrace and the Argentinian side never really recovered as they lost their final group game against Bulgaria and then were defeated 3-2 by Romania in the last 16. This was Maradona’s fourth World Cup and he left his mark in each of them: sent off in his first tournament in 1982, winning magnificently in 1986, a runner-up in 1990 and now four years later kicked out of the tournament.
Last-16: Italy vs Nigeria – The build-up to the game
Italy should have been clear favourites for this tie – they had seven players in their squad from the AC Milan side that had won the Serie A title and the Champions League (European Cup) that season, indeed Milan had thrashed Barcelona 4-0 in the final. However, the TV commentators before the kick off felt that neither side could be seen as clear favourites. This was really due to the fact that Italy had played so poorly up until then – they’d only managed to score twice in their first three games, had their goalkeeper Pagliuca sent off against Norway and lost their captain Franco Baresi and key midfielder Dino Baggio to injury. The Nigerian side, on the other hand, had easily swept aside Greece and Bulgaria in the group stage and had a full strength side for this encounter.
The Italians, despite their absentees, still had a wonderful starting XI. All of their players played in Serie A which was seen as the strongest league in the world at the time – both the European Cup and UEFA Cup winners (that’s Inter Milan) from 1994 played there. Their keeper was Luca Marchegiani who although second choice was also the world’s most expensive goalkeeper. Paolo Maldini played alongside his AC Milan team mate Alessandro Costacurta in the centre of defence, while Albertini, Donadoni and Daniele Massaro, who came into the side after scoring against Mexico in the group stage, were also part of that amazing AC Milan side. Lazio forward Giuseppe Signori had been the top goalscorer in Serie A for two consecutive seasons and of course there was Roberto Baggio, the ‘Divine Ponytail’, who at the time of the tournament was the FIFA Player of the Year and the holder of the Ballon d’Or.
Nigeria on the other hand were playing in their first ever tournament after defeating the Ivory Coast and Algeria to qualify from the African Confederation. Unlike the Italian squad, many of their players played overseas – 16 of the 22 were playing for European clubs including Finidi George at Ajax, 20-year old Jay Jay Okocha was at Eintracht Frankfurt and forwards Sunday Oliseh and Daniel Amokachi both played in the Belgian League, while their main striker, and the African player of the year, Rashidi Yekini had been the top scorer in the Portuguese League that season.
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1994 World Cup Last-16: Italy vs Nigeria – July 5th
The game took place in Boston in blazing sunshine in front of almost 60,000 supporters in the Foxboro Stadium, the day after Independence Day when the hosts had been defeated 1-0 by ten-man Brazil. Only 90 seconds after kick off, the Mexican referee showed a yellow card to Nigerian defender Michael Emenalo for a bad tackle and we wondered if the game would be as tough as the earlier Super Eagles’ match against Argentina when they registered a record 33 fouls. The African champions, under Dutch coach Clemens Westerhof, were clearly not as attack-minded as they had been in their group games, preferring instead to rely on long balls to their front two, while the Italians tried to play through midfield much more and it was the European side that had the best of the chances in the first half.
But then, almost in their first attack of the game in the 27th minute, the Nigerians scored from a corner as the ball cannoned (or rebounded) off Paolo Maldini into the path of Amunike who reacted before everyone else to hit home the opening goal. The goal was definitely against the run of play but now the Italians, and in particular their coach Arrigo Sacchi, were under real pressure. They responded with a flurry of chances towards the end of the first half, including a shout for a penalty when Baggio was clearly pushed in the back as he was about to head in the equaliser, while five minutes later the commentator called Paolo Maldini’s missed header from a few yards out ‘a sitter‘. So, despite having been the better side, the Italians trailed 1-0 at half time.
Dino Baggio came on at the start of the second half in place of the ineffectual Nicola Berti and within a minute he volleyed a shot just wide – it glanced the post. The Italians continued to push their opponents back so much that the Nigerians were finding it difficult to get out of their own half, while their persistent fouling also frustrated the Italian attack leading to Signori receiving a yellow card for diving in the box. Their frustration increased further when substitute Zola was sent off after 75 minutes when the referee adjudged that he had lunged across the defender. Zola was distraught as it appeared to be a harsh decision. It really was looking like one of those days for the Italian side.
Their luck seemed to change a few minutes later when Paolo Maldini clearly hauled down Yekini as the forward was running through on goal but the referee only gave him a yellow card when he could so easily have received a red instead. And then with under two minutes remaining an attack down the right side allowed full back Mussi to break into the box, square the ball to Roberto Baggio who stroked the ball into the bottom corner of the net for the equaliser. Relief not just for Italy but also for Baggio and of course his manager Sacchi.
In extra time, rather surprisingly, the Italians controlled the pace of the game and created the better chances even though they were down to ten. Just before half-time their left back Benarrivo was brought down in the box after a wonderful chipped pass from Baggio – he lifted the ball over the defender – and the Italian striker then stepped up to score from the spot to give the Italians the lead. Almost immediately the Nigerians could – and really should – have equalised but Yekini missed a great opportunity from inside the six-yard box (another sitter?) allowing Dino Baggio to clear off the line. Facing elimination, Nigeria finally threw players forward in the second period of extra time and although they had one or two chances the Italian defence held firm to win 2-1.
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What happened next?
Well, four days later at the same Boston venue Italy faced Spain, who had thrashed Switzerland 4-0 a week earlier, in the quarter-final. A fully fit Dino Baggio opened the scoring mid-way through the first half with a screamer – he rifled the ball past the keeper – before Spain equalised with a deflected shot from Caminero. The result of the game then hinged on two one on ones: In the 82nd minute Julio Salinas was through on goal with only the keeper to beat but he scuffed his shot and the keeper was able to save. Five minutes later Signori played in Roberto Baggio and he rounded the keeper and coolly drove the ball home from a tight angle. Italy had left it late again but Baggio was their hero once more.
Two more goals from him in the semi-final against Bulgaria saw the Azzurri through to the final where they faced Brazil for the second time in a World Cup final. But this was a very different affair from that 1970 game when Brazil won 4-1 as this one finished in a stalemate; a tense 0-0 game in which neither side could break the deadlock. It went to penalties – the first time this had happened in a World Cup final – and yet again Baggio proved to be the main character. With the score at 3-2 in favour of Brazil, Roberto Baggio skied his penalty over the bar and Brazil won the title for the fourth time.
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That’s it for this World Cup memory – don’t forget we’ve also looked back at games from the 1982, 1986, 2010 and 2014 World Cups and we’ll be looking back at some more World Cup memories at the weekend again. We also have some World Cup quizzes where you can test your knowledge about the World Cup and you can do that by coming along to our site at languagecaster.
Now, before we go, don’t forget that you can contact us here at languagecaster via our various social media platforms: that’s Facebook’s Learning English Through Football, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. Spread the word, come and ask a question on our forums, make a suggestion or simply drop us a line and say hello at firstname.lastname@example.org. Take care everyone – stay safe and we’ll see you soon. Bye bye.