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WORLD CUP DAILY REPORT

Bora Aids Paraguay's Advance

Group D: Nigeria coach Milutinovic rests many key players in 3-1 loss.

June 25, 1998|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PARIS — And so let it be written that on the third day of match play in Group D, Bora rested seven starters.

Such was the genesis of Paraguay's second trip to the second round of the World Cup, achieved through the goodness of Nigeria Coach Bora Milutinovic on Wednesday in Toulouse.

Having wrapped up first place in Group D with victories over Spain and Bulgaria, Milutinovic, to his unique way of thinking, had no reason to go all out against Paraguay.

No reason except the essence of fair play, the spirit of honest competition and pride of an entire African nation naive enough to believe that taking a 3-0 record into the round of 16 might be useful for team morale and momentum.

To say nothing of Spain's chances of advancing to the second round.

Paraguay, which had failed to score in its previous 120 minutes, pummeled Milutinovic's Nigerian B team, 3-1, and qualified for the second round ahead of Spain, which at the same time was recording the most useless 6-1 victory in the history of the World Cup 530 miles away in Lens.

Spain routed Bulgaria to put itself in position to go through, provided Nigeria won or tied. But if Spanish Coach Javier Clemente could have seen Milutinovic's starting lineup, he would have thrown up his hands and called it a tournament then and there.

On the bench for Nigeria:

--Victor Ikpeba, who scored the winning goal against Bulgaria, rested because he was carrying a yellow card.

--Mutiu Adepoju, scorer of the first goal in the 3-2 victory over Spain, rested with a yellow card.

--Jay-Jay Okocha, catalytic midfield playmaker, rested with a yellow card.

--Captain Uche, out with two yellow cards.

--Fullback Celestine Babayaro and midfielder Finidi, out for reasons only Milutinovic knows.

--Striker Daniel Amokachi, sidelined because a knee injured during warmup (Amokachi's version) or a private dispute with Milutinovic (Bora's version).

Goalkeeper Peter Rufai, one of four Nigeria regulars on the field at kickoff, said Milutinovic had told the team before the game to "go out and enjoy ourselves, to take the game easy. Although we lost, we still feel great and we are in great shape.'

Bulgaria Coach Hristo Bonev had warned tournament officials earlier in the week that Milutinovic might pull something like this, saying, "I hope that FIFA will be vigilant and I especially hope the Nigeria will give their all."

Milutinovic said he saw no need to apologize to anyone.

"We had problems with the players who had yellow cards and couldn't risk [playing] them," Milutinovic said. "We must protect our game. . . .

"We have to think about the match on Sunday [against Denmark in the second round]. I'm sorry for Spain, but my only concern is Nigeria and Africa."

Paraguay Coach Paulo Cesar Carpeggiani, not one to look a gift ride to the round of 16 in the mouth, played down suggestions that Milutinovic had rolled a red carpet onto the pitch for the Paraguayan players.

"We had to make changes too," Carpeggiani said. "It was still a very strong Nigeria side."

Paraguay needed all of about 50 seconds to score against that side. Nigeria defender Ben Iroha fouled Miguel Benitez, setting up an indirect free kick outside the right corner of the penalty area.

From there, Francisco Arce lifted the ball across the Nigerian goal mouth and Celso Ayala headed it in for the quickest goal of the tournament.

Ten minutes later, it was 1-1, courtesy of a slick piece of dribbling by Tijani Babangida, who split two defenders at the top of the box, cut back and passed to Wilson Oruma, who drove the ball past goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert.

It was the first goal of the tournament yielded by Chilavert and Paraguay.

Benitez put Paraguay ahead in the 59th minute when his powerful 20-yard attempt struck the underside of the crossbar and ricocheted down beyond the goal line. Twenty-seven minutes later, Jose Cardozo put the game out of reach with Paraguay's third goal.

"It was a dream come true," said Carpeggiani, whose squad next plays France on Sunday in Lens.

For that he can thank the mad dream weaver of Nigeria, Bora Milutinovic.

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