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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | SOCCER

Nigeria's Eagles Catch Argentina in Its Own Trap

Soccer: No call on offside ploy gives African nation another upset, gold.

August 04, 1996|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATHENS, Ga. — Nigeria's Olympic soccer players have a proposal for Johannes Bonfrere, the reluctant coach who quit the Nigerian team for five weeks this spring in a dispute over back pay owed him:

Will he accept gold as payment instead?

With their second stirring 16-minute rally in as many games, Nigeria's "Super Eagles" became the first African nation to win a soccer gold medal Saturday by upsetting Argentina, 3-2, in a wild, controversial final before a sellout crowd of 86,117 at Sanford Stadium.

Three days after scoring three goals in 16 minutes to defeat tournament favorite Brazil, Nigeria erased a 2-1 deficit against Argentina with goals by Daniel Amokachi and Emmanuel Amunike in the 74th and 89th minutes, although the Argentines will be griping about Amunike's for quadrennials to come.

A minute before the end of regulation time, Nigeria had a free kick outside the left corner of the Argentine penalty area. As soon as Nigeria's Wilson Oruma struck the ball, Argentina's defense executed an offside trap, pushing up quickly to catch Nigeria offside.

It appeared to work too, as Amunike looked to be behind the last defender as Oruma kicked.

The linesman, Peter Kelly of Trinidad, kept his flag down, however, so Amunike whirled and volleyed, hammering the ball out of midair into the bottom right corner of the net.

Goal, Nigeria.

Gold medal, Nigeria.

Unless, of course, you're polling the Argentina starting lineup.

Asked about the play, Argentine forward Ariel Ortega shot back, "We lost, that's what happened. Their third goal was offside. That's what happened."

Daniel Passarella, the Argentina coach, seemed to agree, judging from his protestations from the bench, but after the game, he deflected numerous questions about the call with a pat "It is premature to make any analysis of what happened in the game."

Bonfrere simply shrugged.

"The referee is always the problem when you lose and always OK when you win," he said. "It's very difficult to referee in modern football. The game is played at a high level of skill and a high level of speed."

So fast sometimes that a referee occasionally can't tell the difference between a foul in the penalty area and bad acting, as was the case with Argentina's second goal.

Nigerian defender Taribo West barely grazed Ortega's right sleeve while contesting a ball in Nigeria's 18-yard box. Ortega, silver medalist in soccer, would have taken the gold in diving with his resplendent head-first layout.

Sure fooled the Italian referee, Pierluigi Collina, though. Collina awarded a penalty kick, Hernan Crespo drove the ball into the right corner of the net, and Argentina led, 2-1.

The suspect calls evened out eventually--one gift goal per side--but the bottom line was that Nigeria outplayed the two top-ranked teams in a four-day span.

Now, maybe the financially strapped Nigerian soccer federation can scrape enough currency together to pay its coach. Fed up with being stiffed on pay day, Bonfrere resigned in early April and was coaxed back in May only at the request of his players.

"I came back because the players asked me to, and I believe in these players," Bonfrere said. "It was nice to play with this team. Together, we brought this team to a high level."

In the words of forward Augustine Okocha, when asked if he ever thought Argentina's 2-1 lead was too great to overcome: "Oh, no, no, no. We never give up. We're Africans."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

MEDALISTS

Soccer

MEN:

Gold: Nigeria

Silver: Argentina

Bronze: Brazil

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