On Wednesday, November 25, 2020, world football legend, Diego Armando Maradona passed on at the age of 60 after suffering a cardiac arrest. Tributes have been pouring in from all parts of the globe for the Argentinean who is regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time.
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For many Nigerian football fans and players, Maradona’s death hit differently owing to the fact that Nigeria was the last country he played against during an illustrious international career. A 2-1 win against Nigeria at the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the United States saw the football legend hang his international booths after he was found guilty of using a performance-enhancing stimulant (ephedrine).
However, what no one could take away from Maradona was his commitment and dedication towards the beautiful game of football. His stand-out performance against Nigeria which saw him assist his team’s second goal after locating Claudio Caniggia with a pass from a free-kick proved important in his nation’s advancement into the second round despite his absence.
For some of the players in the 1994 Super Eagles squad (the Golden Generation), facing the Argentine legend was not an easy task. Sunday Oliseh who was just 19 then, knew it would be no easy job coming up against Maradona in the midfield.
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‘He was going to be my direct opponent during the game. I knew that and so the night before, I went to bed early so I could rest and focus. When we got on the pitch that day, it was just that Nigerian mentality of never wanting to give up that helped me stand up to him. It took us about 10 minutes just to begin to figure him out because his movement was so unpredictable. Even when he had his back turned to you, it was like he had eyes at the back of his head.’
Super Eagles goalkeeper during the 1994 World Cup, Peter Rufai, described Maradona as a ‘’prowling lion,’’ as he narrated his experiences on the pitch with him.
‘He had this way of always looking at me, always reading me but without making it obvious that he was doing it. Like he was measuring me, my position, and anticipating what I would do next. He was like a prowling lion, looking for breakthroughs, for opportunities to break into a solo effort. On my part, I kept one eye on him and one eye on the rest of the game. I was tracking him all through because his movement can be devastating.’
Maradona’s affair with Nigeria would not end with his playing career. After qualifying the Argentine national team for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the South Americans were drawn alongside Nigeria in Group B of the tournament. His first game at the World Cup as a coach was against Nigeria, a team who he hung his national team booth after playing against 16 years back. A Gabriel Heinze header in the 6th minute gifted the Argentines a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Nigeria. Nigerians will always remember Maradona as one of the greatest.
Featured Image Source: Aljazirah News
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